Years ago, after finding myself recently divorced while I was living in a house full of hard partying engineers while working for a company that specialized in building rockets, I came across the ultimately player.
I’m not talking about model rockets, I’m talking about the kind of rockets that are as tall as a football field is long, rockets which launched satellites into orbit.
One weekend evening, Brad Uhlig, a Mechanical Engineer, Bill Glomski, an electrical engineer, Perry Gordon, an Aeronautical Engineer, and myself – a Computer Science Engineer – all working for a government contractor named Orbital Sciences in Chandler Arizona – decided we needed a break.
All of us were single.
And while I had gone through a difficult divorce mere months prior to moving in with this odd crew, each and every one of us had our own reason for having a high degree of awkwardness in social situations which didn’t make any of us the greatest at approaching members of the opposite sex.
On this particular evening, we were heading from Tempe to a place called “Maloney’s”, a highly trendy tiny version of a Cheer’s like pub in the high rent district of downtown Scottsdale.
Maloney’s was – for all intents and purposes at the time – one of the few casual pubs in the Phoenix metro area where you could reliably predict the most attractive women would congregate.
And engineers – we tend to love predictable.
Not like it made a difference to our success rates, as more often than not each one of us would come up with a list of reasons a mile long justifying our innately programmed fears of approaching members of the opposite sex.
As nerds, we each had a history of rejection so rather than confront it, we just put ourselves in the immediate vicinity of attractive members of the opposite sex and hoped for dumb luck to strike us.
As we were driving to Maloney’s – Brad said “I have a friend meeting us there”.
One of us asked “Male or female”.
A collective groan followed his response of “A dude”.
We were all versed in mental math and understand dilution quite well and how this effected the odds of a chance encounter adversely.
Brad continued though “Mark’s not like us. He’s a bit of a player.”
It was the first time I’d heard the term.
“Mark? Mark Who?,” Perry asked.
“Arshinkoff,” Brad said.
“Arsh is coming? Right on,” Bill said.
Bill was a man of few words , but by his overly exuberant response, and I say that without sarcasm, I knew there was something unusual about Mark.
“A player, “ I asked, “What do you mean?”
Everyone in the car snickered. I was a good four years younger than everyone else in the car, so they all had considerably more ‘adult’ experience than I did.
Brad broke the silence, but tactically released very little further detail.
About thirty minutes later, Brad and I were standing inside Maloney’s with a beer in hand and two on the table, one for Perry, and another for Bill.
Perry was still outside, talking to a friend he’d spotted on the way in.
And Bill had dropped us off at the door as he drove around finding a parking place.
Within minutes, Mark walks up to Brad, and introduces himself to me.
By Brad’s response, I had already gotten a clue as to what ‘player’ meant, so as I’m analyzing Mark, I see that Mark’s a fairly attractive male about the same age as my friends – in his late 20s, but in all honesty – he’s short, Italian looking, and with his hair gelled up and stylish clothes on – sure he has a definite pretty boy look about him but I couldn’t see him standing out in a crowd.
“Did you get me one of those?,” he said to Brad pointing at his beer.
“Negatory, good buddy,” Brad said.
Brad was a cheeseball at times.
Nonplussed, Mark walked up to the bar right behind an attractive girl. As Brad and I are talking with each other, Mark’s eyeing this tall, leggy and extremely attractive blonde, as he looks at Brad and then looks at the girl.
“Here we go, “ Brad said
About that time, Mark walked back over with his beer in hand.
“How much you want to bet against me that I can’t take that woman home with me tonight?,” he said.
“What about your girlfriend,” Brad said, knowing the response before he even asked it.
“Miss November?, “ Mark responded, taking a sip of his beer, “Broke up last night. I could use some strange before we get back together.”
Brad looked at me and smiled.
“So. Takers?,” he said?
I was entertained. “$20 says you can’t”
Brad shook his head and shifted himself in a way that implied ‘why are you encouraging him?’
I added “in 30 minutes or less.”
Mark smiled mischievously, as he said “Let me give this some thought,” and pulled himself off to the side.
Brad pulled out his wallet, “If he takes this, I’m in on it too,” as he fished a $20 bill out of his wallet.
I looked at the woman, and considered every angle I could imagine. The woman was about 5’9″ tall, long straight blonde hair, and had a wonderful tan. Her and her friend both wore short black skirt, and while both of these women were classy women, they didn’t appear easy by any means.
Mark walked back over.
“30 minutes. You’re on,” he said.
Brad then chimed in “Ok, I’m in too, 20 bucks.”
Mark turned, looked at the woman, and then said “Ok”
Brad then added “We’ll pay you at work on Monday,”
It was Brad’s way of mitigating the risk that the woman might be a prostitute and Mark new something we didn’t about her already.
“That’s fine,” he said.
Oh sure, I’ll be the first to admit she still could have been. But she didn’t look or act the part and she’d have to have been a very high priced one, where $40 bucks certainly wouldn’t have covered that. Not even close.
Mark looked at my hand as I shoved the $20 I was about to ante up, but said nothing.
“Give me five minutes to prepare,” he said.
“And 25 minutes left to win the bet,” Brad said, he was being rough, I would actually have given Mark the time.
“Fine,” he said, and walked back to the table with our two beers.
He sat there, eyeing the woman intensely from across the bar, silently tapping his finger to his knee.
About then Bill walked in, walked to the table, and grabbed a beer from our table that only Mark was at.
“Arsh”, Bill said.
Mark held up a finger to silence him, when Bill walked away from him to us.
“He already at it?,” Bill asked.
“Broke up with his girlfriend last night,” Brad said.
“What’s new?,” Bill said, “She catch him screwing another woman again?”
“Probably,” Brad said, “He didn’t go on”
Mark’s gaze stayed locked on the woman as he continued tapping his finger to his knee.
Brad and I’s attention was clearly diverted to the entertainment.
“Who’s his target?,” Bill said.
“The tall tan blond in high heels at the bar,” I said.
“Nice,” Bill said. “How much?”
“$40 between the two of us,” I said.
“It’s like taking candy from a baby for him, you should know that by now,” Bill said, looking at Brad.
“30 minutes or less,” Brad said.
Bill looked over at Mark, and then the woman.
“Might be a challenge,” Bill said.
About then Perry walked in, who was about to say something to Mark, but at about the same time Mark stood up from his seat, walked over to the woman he’d targeted and intentionally stood in between the woman she was chatting with at the bar – impolitely – by wedging himself firmly in between the two.
Perry grabbed his beer.
“Already? You couldn’t have asked him to wait for me?,” he said to us.
“Gregory instigated it,” Brad said.
“How much?” Perry asked.
“They bet $40, I’m not in on it, “ Bill said, “I know better.”
About that time, as if in slow motion, right as Perry was about to say something else, I see the woman’s left hand back up, and then in full force she slaps Mark with her open palm.
A sight that incidentally I saw happen with another friend years later, Spencer Anglin, under similar circumstances.
Mark walked away as the women talked angrily to eachother.
“Looks like we won,” I said,
Brad was quick to follow up with “He’s not done yet”, when no sooner did he say that when Mark looked at us with a smile, he held his index finger to the air as he twisted around in place and walked straight back and leaned over and said something to the woman.
For a moment there, I swore she was going to slap him again as she pushed him away, but this was different.
She pushed him, then grabbed him by his shoulders pushing him back a little, when she leaned over to her friend, said something, and the two began laughing.
“I don’t know how the fuck he does it. Every time,” Bill said.
“Games not over yet,” Brad said.
“You might as well give him the money now,” Perry said.
“He’s got 22 minutes,” Brad said, tapping his watch.
But for all intents and purposes, I had never seen anything like it as I watched this guy in action, and was admittedly in awe. It was over. I knew it already.
Five minutes go by, and Mark’s doing a body shot off both girls’ necks.
And with 10 minutes to spare, the girl he’d focused on grabs his crotch and gives him a huge kiss, as the other leans to him and says something to which he then nonchalantly puts his arms out and both women put their arms in his.
He’s smiling as he walks by us and leans over to Brad on the way out with these two equally attractive ladies, whispering something none of us could hear.
Perry, Bill, and I watch Mark as if we had just watched God walk out that door.
“What did he say?” Bill said to Brad.
The nervous combined with jealous kind of laugh that all of us knew – deep down inside – as engineers – that it was quite likely we’d never figure out Mark’s magic mojo with the ladies.
Over the next year, I came to run in the same circle of friends that Mark ran with.
I’d learned about Mark, and learned that he attended Arizona State University for his undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering.
I studied Mark because of his confidence in who he although not being ‘the perfect male’, a confidence that I wanted to understand for myself.
During this time, I learned while Mark attended ASU, he belonged to a ‘jock’ fraternity at ASU named the Pi Kappa Alphas – or PIKES for short. The PIKES were known for being one of two primary popular guy’s houses, and it was then I began finding similarities in self confidence to others who had attended Universities and went to fraternities.
Within a year of meeting Mark, my company suffered a massive downturn in business. I myself had been attending community college classes part time from 1988 until 1993 while working at Orbital, who paid for my classes while leverage my skills as a programmer, and with the sincere desire to develop my own self confidence not just with the ladies, but in general, Mark inspired me to both volunteer for the layoff and severance package when it occurred at Orbital – and to ‘rush’ the same fraternity Mark had.
I’d already noticed this pattern and had considered fraternities anyways.
But the two houses – one the jock and popular guys house, and the other – the Delta Sigs – was the self professed nerd house – BOTH I actually admired for separate reasons.
In the end. Having a confidence deficit, Meeting Mark was serendipitous, as I rushed the PIKE fraternity, where I learned the younger brother of one of the in crowd ‘high school’ guys who attended the same high school was in the same fraternity, which sealed the deal for me making the choice to pursue the PIKE house.
Meeting Mark you could say changed my life.
And Mark, if you’re reading this.
Thank you for playing a ‘bit part’ in the story of my life.
Your role, while short, impacted my life in ways I greatly appreciate your influence of.
On a final note:
This is all a true story and what really happened with all the real names of the key people I remembered as I remember them happening. One caveat: I am not sure if it was Perry or another guy, another old roommate, by the name of Rob. I THINK it was Perry but it could have been Rob. VERY dissimilar personalities, but as was often the case in nights out on the town with the guys, sometimes the periphery players stood second to those in focus.
And thanks, Ian, for the inspiration for the topic today.