Wednesday night, my good friend Mark was attacked while riding his single-speed bike through a rough neighborhood on his way to pay a surprise visit to a friend. Unfortunately, the friend didn't know he was coming, and his wife had gone to bed, so nobody was expecting Mark... until the morning came and he was nowhere to be found.
When he was found at 7am Thursday in a yard, he was still alive, but he didn't last long enough to the arrival of the paramedics. We're haunted by the thought of him gravely injured, lying alone for hours. (UPDATE: Turns out this was misreported to us all: He was in fact dead in the morning, and probably had expired shortly after his attack.)
We've been spending a lot of time over with the family - he has four kids aged 15 to 3, and a wonderful wife. We're all in shock over this. Some have questioned what he was doing in that neighborhood... the fact is he rode through there a few times a week on his way to his friend's house... rarely calling before showing up for a late night laugh, or even a ride for a few miles to a favorite pub. He was doing something he had done dozens of times before, but this time somebody was waiting for him.
So I've been thinking about Mark a lot these past days. And I want to tell people about him.
Mark was one of the funniest people I've ever met, and with my gang of comedians, that is saying something. His wit was razor sharp, but he had a true gift for physical comedy: His robot impersonations were legendary: Every move made with a servo or pneumatic sound, with mechanical gestures to match. His "old prospector" persona could appear at any time, with him whistling his esses through his teeth... (actually sounding maybe more like the gopher in Winnie the Pooh...)
Walking toward him in a hall was always an adventure: If he didn't run right into you, he'd take a sudden detour down a row of cubes, and come back up behind you... or duck under a desk to hide... he was unafraid to pull any gag in the office, unafraid of what it might make people think.
I used to speak German with him... with full, rich accents... which would devolve into us speaking English with German accents, at full volume, right in the middle of the cube farm.
I met him 12 years ago at an insurance company; I was a contractor, he was an employee. A manager casually mentioned to me that "this guy Mark really likes music, like you. You should go say hi". So I dropped by, and we hit it off immediately: the awesome production skills of Trevor Horn was our first conversation.
We were work pals for a while, but worked on very different projects, and then he went off to something new. A few months later, he called me up with a fascinating new opportunity: He was part of a team moving a Prescription Benefits company from Detroit to the Twin Cities, and they needed to build a team FAST: Did I want to help?
So I joined him, and we worked very closely, at which point he invited me over for a party... so Pamela and I showed up. One week early! But he invited us in, and we had a great time for hours... maybe more fun than the "real party"... at least I remember our pre-party more. We carpooled for a year, and grew very close. He notoriously mixed me the "killer" eighth martini at my 30th birthday bash. I of course blamed it on him making it with Gin... not the obvious issue of it being the EIGHTH.
In 1998, when we bought our first house, Mark and Samantha were the first people we had over to warm the place up. At that crazy evening, Mark introduced us to "Flash Bazbo, Space Explorer", a National Lampoon radio skit with Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest that still makes my sides hurt with laughter. Not long after, we had our first "Wig Night" - for his benefit: It was a surprise party for him, and 8 of us were to meet him at a restaurant. We decided to take it one further: We all bought wigs and fake moustaches, and strange new outfits... and were in disguise at the table. He walked right past us... and when Samantha turned him around to see us, he was just slack jawed with amazement. We had a few more wig night outings in the years that followed.
Around 1999, things started to go south at the Prescriptions company: We were bought out by another company filled with horrible horrible people. Everybody bailed out for different places. I started up a consulting company focusing on data warehousing. Mark went to a Lutheran-focused life insurance company. We stayed in touch... but admittedly we drifted a bit in the early 2000s.
Finally last year I was able to bring him in to work with me at the big Hospital - and for the last 5 months of that project, we sat next to eachother. It was just a wonderful thing to be back together with him, and we had laughs every day. I got caught back up in his life and he with mine. After I left for my new Cardiology gig, we stayed in touch, chatting almost daily, keeping the friendship going. I had only just had a 10 minute message chat with him earlier on Wednesday.
There are so many things in life that were running gags with Mark, that will choke me up to even think about them (and forgive me, but these probably won't be funny out of context, but they mean something to me).
- Taking a restaruant name like "La Casita" and saying "You may not know this, but 'La Casita' is actually Mexican for 'The Casita'"
- Seeing a mattress by the side of the freeway and asking the driver to stop so you can pick it up "there's a perfectly good mattress back there". This got to the point where we would actually call eachother to report perfectly good mattresses.
- When describing the ingredients of any drink or dish, adding at the very end "and with just a HINT of urine". (or Goat urine, or Yak urine).
- Long detailed discussion of men's room urinal etiquette.
- The following two jokes told in sequence:
- Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?
- Pete and 'smash me in the face with a broken beer bottle' were in a boat. Pete fell out. Who was left?
- When offered something, making a big show of saying "Oh no I couldn't", but before even finishing the word "couldn't" switching over to eagerly lunging forward saying "Well OK if you insist". Sort of like a light switch change.
- When getting a tour of someone's home, patting on the master bedroom bed and saying "aha, the old workbench, eh?"
Mark's passing leaves a huge hole in my heart, and I will miss him. He was a great father to his 4 kids, and a good friend to so many of us. Thanks for letting me share a little about my friend.