(This is a joint blog entry, composed by Matt and Sweetie.)
Most people know Matthew Lesko as Question Mark Guy (or some derivation), the man who screams about free money on infomercials late at night. But for my Sweetie and I, he has long been a metaphor for our sometimes uncertain relationship. The first time we saw him, Sweetie and I were just starting out. It was September 2005, just a few weeks into our nascent relationship, and we were taking in a movie in Chinatown. At the time, I was uncertain whether Sweetie, a Latin teacher, was playful and quirky enough for me, or whether her "magistra" tendencies (magistra is Latin for "teacher") would dominate. A question mark lay before us. That night, for the first time in our lives, we saw Matthew Lesko.
Fast forward to December of 2006. We had already broken up, but Sweetie came to my Christmas Concert with the Choral Arts Society anyway. During the concert, she sat alone, wondering what would become of us. At intermission, from the balcony, she saw him: a man decorated head to toe in question marks -- dress question marks, no less!
After the concert, Sweetie brought the sighting to this tenor's attention, feeling it was a terrible omen. Sweetie was distraught, because she saw Question Mark Man as symbolizing the end of our relationship. It had now come full circle -- questions in the beginning, when Matt wasn't sure if she was right for him -- and questions in the end, when Sweetie didn't know if they would ever really spend time together again. We spotted his question-mark-adorned car in the parking garage, and decided to wait for him, intent on questioning the man ourselves. What do you mean?? we wanted to ask. Why are you always here during times of discernment? Do you have any answers for all your questions? We would not get the chance to ask. After waiting in an empty parking lot for half an hour, we realized the Question Mark Man would remain a mystery that night. As we drove out of the parking garage, we noticed yet another question-mark-adorned vehicle, and realized that the man had decoys, likely to prevent insane people like ourselves from stalking him down and trying to squeeze out of him answers to the greatest mysteries of existence.
The third time, Sweetie saw the Question Mark car through tears. I had just returned from London, and we decided to go to dinner and the theatre together. It was Sweetie's favorite kind of evening, full of feelings of love and affection. This night was an experiment: We wanted to see if we could still go out and enjoy a nice evening together whilst remaining single. The experiment failed. As we sat in my car at the end of the night, Sweetie consumed by emotion, we looked across the street and our jaws dropped as we saw the Question Mark Car yet again. It was parked right in front of Sweetie's building. It was definitely a sign. But a sign of what? Alas, there would be no answers to these incessant question marks.
Fast forward yet again. Although the future remains unclear, the Sweeties find themselves in a place of relative calm, having made plans to take an educational road trip next weekend and teach Matt a little bit about our nation's history. Today, just after Sweetie dropped off Matt's lunch at his place of employ, she happened to glance into the Starbucks across the street. She left a frantic voice mail on Matt's phone.
"Sweetie. I just happened to pass Starbucks, and -- Guess. Who. I. Saw. Question Mark Man." Her voice didn't sound surprised. In fact, it sounded like she completed expected to see him. "I swear, every time something exciting happens for us... there he is. This would be a great time to talk to him. Call me back."
I bolted through the stairwell door, confident I could run six stories down faster than it would take to wait for the elevator. I couldn't let this chance to talk to Question Mark Man -- to get some ANSWERS -- pass us by.
I ran across the street to find Sweetie pacing outside the door of Starbucks. "He's right in there!" she shouted breathlessly. "What should we do?"
"We should go in and talk to him, of course!" I said, calmly.
"Sweetie, I can't go in!" she said. "What would I say? I'm scared!"
I laughed and rolled my eyes. Sweetie was scared of everything. Now, at the prospect of finally getting answers, she was scared to find out the truth. I told her to Wait Here, and I walked inside.
Question Mark Man was on the phone. I beckoned Sweetie in, and had her grab a table just across from him, as I waited in line for a perfunctory iced chai with which to wait him out. I returned to the table where Sweetie was conducting not-so-covert surveillance, and there we waited.
"Sweetie," I said, "stop staring!"
"I want to make sure he doesn't leave."
"Sweetie, we don't want him to think we are stalkers."
"But we ARE stalkers! We need to know the truth!"
I sipped my chai and glanced at the newspaper as I waited for Question Mark Man to get off the phone. He had the handset pressed to his ear, doing so little talking that Sweetie wondered aloud if perhaps he wasn't really on the phone, but was just holding it up "to look busy." I responded that if he wasn't really on the phone, he was holding it up so that he could avoid being accosted by people like us.
"Maybe we should leave," Sweetie said.
"WHAT?! We get so close and then you would have us leave?"
"He could be on the phone for a long time."
"He's RIGHT THERE! All our questions, waiting to be answered!"
She looked a bit sheepish and agreed that, as usual, I was right. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Sweetie disagrees with that line, calling it "revisionist history."] After a few more minutes, Question Mark Man ended his conversation. Sweetie and I looked at each other excitedly, and then, after quickly arguing about who would speak first, we approached him.
"Excuse me, Mr. Lesko?" she said.
The bequestioned man looked up and smiled, knowing a fan when he saw one. He stood to greet us, shaking our hands.
"We have been wanting to talk to you for a long time," Sweetie said.
"Really?" Question Mark man looked surprised.
"You have been present at every important stage in our relationship."
His eyes widened as he realized he was going to be here a while. Boldly, pulling up a chair, Sweetie told him, "Take a seat."
I chimed in. "Do we have a story for you."
Several minutes later, after recounting his fortuitous appearances throughout our entire relationship, and offering him sound business advice ("You should ride around on a question-marked Segway!"), it became apparent that he had no answers for us. In telling him the story, we had answered our own questions. Instead of him telling us what his purpose was, we told him what he meant to us.
He looked a bit overwhelmed. In person, this friendly man was not wild and crazy at all, but rather soft-spoken and contemplative. He paused, as though taking it all in. Then he smiled.
"Gee," he said, "usually people just want to tell me how I helped save them a lot of money!"
(Under my breath) "Sweeeetie.... why aren't you waaaaaviiing...."