A Cheap (re)Mark
When I first moved to DC, I roomed with my friend Chrissy. We both graduated Miami of Ohio in the spring of 1989. She packed her stuff and tried to make something of herself in the city known for democracy and mayors who like nose candy. I opted for the more illustrious career at the Olive Garden.
It turns out I’m not as keen on alfredo sauce as I had thought, so I too packed my bags and headed east. I joined Chrissy and two other college friends in a two-bedroom apartment in Alexandria, VA. Chrissy became the Ellis Island for most Miami grads. I was taking the place of Amy, who was still unemployed after a year and needed to move back home. Her misfortune was my luck as I inherited her 25-year old queen size bed and a collection of milk crates that would later become my dresser.
Within three months, we moved to group house that held six. We took in Horizontal Pam, a friend of Chrissy’s and inherited a current resident of the house, Brian. Rounding out the group were college friends, Greg and Mark.
Mark was one of those people who seemed normal until you lived with him. We’d all known him for the last three years of college, but you don’t fully comprehend the nuances of someone until you live with them. A recent grad that had been recruited by Arthur Andersen, he joined the DC office since his girlfriend was getting her Masters at Johns Hopkins.
Most of us worked at non-profits in DC, so our company culture was a little less strict. Mark was a company man. He had a small list of do’s and a huge list of don’ts given to him by AA. He was not allowed to bring lunch to work. He had to carry a briefcase and not a backpack or messenger bag. And he had to wear a suit coat when he was dressed for work. He took these rules very seriously.
Every day when Mark would pull up to the house, he’d get out of the car, reach over to the back seat and put on his suit coat. Then he’d walk the 20 feet from the curb to the front door and remove the coat when he entered. It was like watching some 50’s sitcom, as he’d question the group, “so how was your day?” This routine occurred whether it snowing or 100 degrees and became the focal point of our evening happy hours.
Mark was also possessive. For his birthday, his parents bought him a corduroy recliner. The day it arrived, Mark stayed home for its delivery and promptly moved it to his favorite corner of the living room. That night we came home to find a note lying on the seat of the chair.
“Hi, I’m Mark’s new chair. You may use me, but you must follow my rules. You can’t eat or drink in me. If you decide to use my footrest, you must remove your shoes. Only one person is allowed to sit in me at one time. And no one can throw their legs over my arms. That is disrespectful. Thanks. Mr. Chair.”
Our roommate Brian immediately walked to the kitchen in disgust and returned with something in his hand. “I’m eating this entire can of bean dip and then will drop the biggest fart I can into Mr. Chair.” And thus set the standard of the chair.
Worst of all though, Mark was cheap. Not as in frugal… but freaking bloody cheap. Mark stole from the house. We had group fund for the common items such as dish soap or paper towels. The rumor around the house was that toilet paper was disappearing faster than normal. We took his keys one day and went to his car trunk. There lay 10 rolls of paper along with a bottle of Pam’s new shampoo. We took it all back. Mark used our food in the common fridge. Our butters and syrups would disappear in record time while his would be three years past an expiration date.
Battle lines drew in the bathroom. Greg came out one day after his shower and walked into my room. “Dude, you should really bring your soap and shampoo into your room each night. My soap was all hairy this morning and Mark’s was bone dry.” (Mark had a slight ‘natural sweater’ issue going on.)
One Friday night, we all went out to our favorite place for beers. Back in 1991, our hang out in DC was the Tyber Creek Pub, which had yard beers. After getting blitzed, the group would go down to the basement and dance.
This particular evening, they were raffling off a diamond bracelet through a game of musical chairs. Mark beamed, “Wouldn’t that be great to win? Then I wouldn’t have to get Susan (his now finance) a birthday gift.” Ah yes, true love at work.
Sure enough Mark was picked to be in the contest, along with 20 other people. Most were people in their twenties and thirties, all pretty drunk from an evening of music and dancing. The sentimental favorite however was this thin woman who clearly was in her 70’s.
The music stared and slowly people began getting eliminated. As the groups circled, Mark intently scouted and planned his next moves. On the complete other side of the spectrum was the older woman who just happily danced to the music and always found her butt in a chair.
As the first five or six were eliminated, Chrissy leaned over to the rest of us. “I have a bad feeling about this.” It was then we realized the other players were working together to let the older woman win. Well, all the players except one.
With ten contestants left, we started to get worried. “I think we’d be wise to cash out in case we need to leave in a hurry,” Greg said and went off to get the check. Pam was off in the corner with her tongue in some guy’s throat, so Chrissy went to see if she’d be coming with us or doing the walk of shame the next morning.
We were down to five. The old lady was still dancing and waving to everyone as she walked around the chairs. Mark began sweating and looked to us each round with a huge smile. We kept making “abandon ship” motions but it was too late; the dollar signs were in his eyes.
There was a thought to just leave him to the savages, but we had the pact never to leave a man behind, no matter how little he tipped. (Pam was exempt since it was always her ‘behind’ that got us in trouble.)
And then it happened; the final two. One chair, an old lady and Mark.
At this point, the entire bar was engaged in the contest. Everyone had been watching Mark and began to wonder if he was capable of being so ruthless. A woman leaned over to our table. “Your friend if going to let her win, right?”
“Sure, he loves old people,” I said as we put on our coats.
The music started and stopped.
I’d really love to be able to say that Mark had a change of heart, but the woman hit the floor when the he won. She hit it hard. She actually screamed as she fell.
Mark through his hands up high in victory. Even the DJ was fairly disgusted. As Mark walked toward us, we yelled that we would meet him at the car and ran. People yelled in anger as others checked on the woman.
A bigger man would have given her the bracelet. But not a cheaper one.
We rode home in silence. As we exited the car, Mark inquired why weren’t happy for him.
Finally Chrissy looked over and said, “If you ever steal another thing from us in our own house, you won’t have enough of toilet paper in your trunk to help get that bracelet out of your ass.”
Mark moved out when his lease expired. We never heard from him again. He’s now a realtor in Northern Virginia.