The Captain and the Commander
Coming from an economics backround, Mark had to become a student of botany, horticulture, and plant identification right out of the box—all prerequisites of speaking the language of a botanical garden. In fairly short order, he impressed us (and himself) with his growing mastery of pronouncing tongue twisters like Brachychiton rupestris, along with his ability to identify native plants such as an emerging Rumex hymenosepalus (dock) he recently saw poking it springtime leaves out of the ground. He would name drop these and others at precisely the right time, with the right people, and often asked one of the staff horticulturists to stand by in case he found himself over his head.
Mark was a bona fide people person (though he claimed not to be) and preferred face-to-face interactions over all others. In fact, he is the first manager (maybe the first human being) I’ve ever known who actually enjoyed being interrupted. He would lean back in his chair, prop his legs up on his desk, and give his full attention. His creativity and energy thrived in small groups of staff and some of his best ideas came from impromptu brainstorming sessions that began as a casual interruption.
Mark was the captain and the commander, and relished taking a lead role whenever it presented itself. He always knew what he wanted to say, where he wanted to go, and was ready to take on all facets of responsibility of the man in charge. A common theme, particularly in the early years, was to say in department head meetings, “It’s all about me.” He said it facetiously, in a way, to quiet everyone down and get our attention. And when he still felt that he wasn’t the center of our world, he would double down and say,
“Are the eyes on me? I don’t feel the eyes.”
He was accustomed to being that person in charge and clearly uncomfortable when he found himself in situations where he wasn’t. But he took it on with gusto. He did his homework, was always on time, followed through on his commitments, and never forgot an appointment. I never knew him to give less than 100% of his attention to any task he committed to. It wasn’t really about ego or arrogance, but rather the only way he knew to get things done. To use the Seinfeld (TV show) metaphor, Mark was always willing to suffer for his soup.
Mark smiled a lot. It wasn’t just a reactive smile, but often proactive, as if he substituted it for what he really wanted to say. From day one, he had a well-defined persona he wanted to maintain. He always walked at the same pace, and never showed any desire to pick the quickest way from point A to point B. Reaching a destination in style was every bit as important as the destination itself. Everyone called me the rabbit, because I could get on my mountain bike and cover five times the distance in the same amount of time. But Mark was nonplussed.
His dress was “Italian style,” as he called it, but Americanized. He wore an un-tucked long sleeve shirt with cuffs rolled to the elbows and some version of a leather loafer with no socks. On one wrist was a decades old Rolex and on the other were several braided fiber bracelets, the meaning of which he never explained and I never asked about. I The purely American invention was the pair of 501 Levi denim jeans with a button fly that he wore every single day for eight straight years. When the situation demanded it, he sometimes wore a pair of seasoned high top hiking boots, but I never saw him wear anything else—except for the infamous yellow shoes.
They were made by Salvatore Ferragamo, and Mark spent some time considering whether a pair of bright yellow driving loafers were worth the $500 he considered paying for them. In the end, not only did he buy the shoes, but we shot an entire video with Mark wearing them in locations for which they were never designed. He climbed up and over gravelly rhyolite boulders behind the Cactus Garden and walked off- trail through thick desert scrub, while a camera crew followed each step of his yellow shoes.
We contacted the Salvatore Ferragamo company, hoping to enlist them as a potential corporate member. But as styles come and go, so did the yellow shoes and their prospect of peaking the interest of this particular high-end fashion company. The video we shot is located here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6A_4sXJRZQ.
Our staff didn’t exactly dress in rags, in fact we all had the opportunity to wear some sort of shirt or fleece jacket that displayed our logo and reinforced our ranking as official staff. But inevitably, particularly with the horticultural and maintenance staff, these identifying duds were compromised by the great outdoors, whether by mud, sweat, blue pipe cement, rips and tears from agaves and cactus spines, blood, or the permanent stains of paint, grease, and other on-the-job excretions and exudates from maintaining buildings and equipment.
Mark noticed it all (remember, this is a guy who had a stack of Vogue September issues going back a dozen years on the same bookshelf as Arizona Flora and The Cactus Lexicon), and it was all he could do to restrain himself from dragging the entire staff out to Nordstroms for a makeover. For me, someone who spends most of his time in front of a computer screen every day, I had no excuse for coming to work like I had just slept in the ill-fitting clothes I fished out a dumpster. I eventually succumbed to the need for a fashion intervention.
Mark was only too willing to help, so after work, he, Lorrie Polley, and I went shopping. We chose My Sister’s Closet, a second hand store that specializes in affordable designer clothing. Within moments of crossing the threshold, Mark had sized up the store layout, formed a tactical plan of attack, and like someone possessed, headed straight for the racks. When he found a good candidate–a long sleeve shirt, perhaps, or a sport jacket–he would hand it to me and I would try it on mid-aisle. He’d stop just along enough to examine the fit and the look, make a few comments about its suitability, and move quickly on to the next.
Lorrie stood behind me and maintained a subordinate position, knowing she was in the presence of a master, and held out her outstretched arms to receive each piece of clothing I just removed. Relentlessly, methodically, Mark pushed on with the concentrated focus of a surgeon. He was a machine, totally within his element, and Lorrie and I were in awe and out of breath before we reached the Tommy Bahama rack.
After that shopping experience, there was no turning back, and I continued on my own, impressing the staff with my new duds. Mark’s influence was pervasive, and as my fashion sense continue to evolve, I inevitably borrowed some his ideas. This trend, on more than one occasion, prompted an outburst from Mark that he could no longer hold back. “You’re stealing my look!” I reminded him that it was he who had set me on this fashion path. He had only himself to blame.