Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mod Mark: Still the Definition of Hip

Picture the 18-year-old Lefty, wet behind the ears and full to the brim with Orange County pride, dropping in on Santa Clara University. Insecure, anxious and desperate to quickly sniff out the hippest, coolest corners of the school, he immerses himself in up-to-the-second early 80s culture.

He does his best, but one day, while cross the way too busy city street that runs between the student activities center and the library, he comes across a fellow freshman whose hipness is innate, organic. Where Lefty must read the LA Times entertainment section religiously and spend most of his guaranteed student loan on trips to Tower Records, this guy's casual mod hipness is like a birthright. "He," thinks the overwhelmed lefthander, "must be from L.A."

Because L.A. was a magical place, thirty minutes from Orange County but so frightening that the suburban southpaw and his sheltered crew didn't even entertain thoughts of L.A. nightlife until well into their senior year. L.A.was an attitude that Lefty felt set him apart from the dowdy, preppy Catholics who populated Santa Clara. L.A. was a grail, and the pursuit of this grail made me pathetic, something I realized only upon catching sight of someone for whom L.A. cool was an unavoidable fact of every day life.

It was many years later when I realized that Mod Mark, the guy I saw strolled across The Alameda that day in his Flojos sandals and flowered shorts, had become one of my favorite peole in the world. And I'm sure I'm not alone. Certainly, he is one of the quirkiest people presently walking the planet, and definitely one of the nicest. The hipness is a bonus, even today, on the evening of his 41st birthday, as effortless and comfortable as ever.

Oh, and he's the best dancer in the world.

I thought him unapproachable at first, some kid dropped out of Bret Easton Ellis' "Less Than Zero," probably bored with our provincialism. I could not have been more wrong, though. In the 20 + years since he cross the street, I've watched Mark evolve, following whatever interesting, sometimes strange path he felt inclined to follow. The mod was revealed to be a rabid Dodgers fan. In the right mood, he would don sunglasses and sing along to Van Halen. His mother once sent him a sportcoat in the mail. That day, at lunch, he looked around quizzically, his eyes huge, as usual, and said, innocently, "Should I sport it?"

Mod Mark was known for disappearing. "I'm going to find the bathroom," he'd say, reappearing two hours later with stories of the bar down the street. He was someone, I thought, that life happened to.

Everyone has their favorite Mod Mark story -- Mark locked in his own bedroom closet for an hour, pounding and pounding while someone else's stereo blared away; Mark and his family fleeing the revolution in Nicaragua; riding his Vespa from San Francisco to L.A.; buying a Volkswagen Cabriolet in 1987, then holding onto it for 20 years, the last 15 with someone's tag spray-painted across the hood. Mark tumbling down a flight of stairs in his apartment during the Loma Prieta quake of 1989.

We were roommates, briefly, in 1991, before I married Sandra Bullock. We lived in a flophouse in North Beach. You'd turn on a light and the cockroaches wouldn't scurry. Instead, they'd look up and say, "Would you mind turning that off?" One night, fed up with the bugs, Mod Mark took action. He grabbed the nearest can of bug spray and let fly. Unfortunately, it was not Raid, but a fogger. Everything in the bathroom was destroyed. He emerged, red-eyed, coughing, and went straight to bed. I left for two hours, to buy a new toothbrush. The next morning I woke up late and called S. Bullock. "Uh, Mark's still not awake," I said. "I hope he's okay."

And then he was gone, moved to Boston to follow the Paul Tsongas for President campaign in 1992. Out of nowhere, Mod Marky had turned political, leaving San Francisco, his chosen favorite city, and his friends, behind. We saw him infrequently, sometimes in L.A., where he seemed to be completely without a care, taking us to some weird breakfast place where ex-cons work as cooks.

In 1999, Mark got married. During a hurricane. Five years later, his bride suddenly announced that she was leaving him, and shame on her for that. Mark responded by joining the Army Reserves at age 40 (the secret accounting rangers? I wondered), and shipped out for basic training.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the friends I think about but don't contact nearly often enough. Mod Mark, who once took the train from Boston and arrived for an overnight at our mutual friend Indie Movie Guy's hip SOHO pad armed only with his Palm and a laptop, is at the top of that list of friends. I am better for having known him. And hipper, of course.

I hope this is your year, buddy. We're all pulling for you.


Anonymous flush puppy said...

good god. i thought you were going to say he died in iraq, til the last sentence. don't do that!

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Marky said...

Hey Bro - Good thing Lefty didn't transfer to UCLA as contemplated. School, and life for that matter, would have been that much less interesting. And there would be no wierd song requests calls to K-SCU. Thanks for the good word. Much better than last year's b-day, when I was doing push-ups with kids just out of highschool. B/t/w, the old VW is in a good home too, with an older couple that restores wrecks like mine. - Marky

2:21 PM  
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