Vendor Profile: Mark

Walk through the Red Line’s Davis Station on any morning of the week and you’ll see Mark. He is the slim, gray-haired man in the Red Sox baseball cap who sells Spare Change News at the bottom of the College Street escalator. If you have time, stop for a chat. He is one of the Red Sox’s biggest fans and, having lived in Somerville all of his life,  is also a mine of local information.

Mark has been selling the paper for nearly two years and he upholds his motto of “always being courteous, polite and respectful.” He is grateful for the chances he has been given since becoming sober nearly three years ago, and believes he should express his gratitude through actions as well as words.

Mark has not always been this cheerful. “I’ve always been an alcoholic,” he told me, “and I started drinking at the age of 18, almost forty years ago.” Addiction runs through his family: his father drank heavily and his brother died of problems arising from his obesity and over-eating. Although Mark has held a variety of jobs, his alcoholism blighted his opportunities and casted an increasing shadow over his life. After two failed attempts at detox, one in ’85 and the other in ’94, Mark’s life gradually spiraled downwards, with alcoholism as the primary contributing factor to his chronic homelessness.

Before becoming sober, Mark lived for seven years in a ‘wet’ shelter in Somerville that provides housing for homeless alcoholics. “It was a safe space which kept me off the streets in the winter time,” said Mark, “but in July 2011, I had reached a point in my drinking where I had had enough.” One of the workers at the shelter was able to get Mark into a detox program that same day, and Mark has been sober ever since.

Recovery from alcoholism is a slow and steady journey, but for Mark each step has been towards a happier life: “A lot of positive things have happened,” he told me. After detox, Mark lived in an access program for recovering alcoholics, graduated to a halfway house for six months, and was then given a single room occupancy at a different shelter. Finally, in November 2013, after more than a year of living sober in shelters and single rooms, Mark became eligible for a one bedroom apartment through a Section 8 housing benefit. “It feels wonderful,” he said. “At last, I have my own place!”

Mark’s friend Joe, who was interviewed for this column in January 2014, also sells Spare Change News at Davis Square station. The two men have been friends for more than 28 years and it was through this friendship that Mark first learned about Spare Change News. He started to sell the paper nearly two years ago and said, “Since starting to sell Spare Change News, a lot of good things have unfolded for me.” Selling the paper has contributed to his recovery and encouraged him to become more positive and outgoing.

“I tend to be an isolationist,” he said, “but selling the paper encourages me to get outside myself and be more outgoing.” He has regular customers with whom he makes “small talk and friendly chat.” But even people who do not buy the paper tend to say hello or return his smile. “It makes my day,” he said, “and it makes theirs.”

Regardless of whatever else was happening in his life, Mark has always been a great Red Sox fan. “As a matter of fact, the Red Sox don’t know it yet, but when they won the World Series last year it was on my birthday. That gave me a nice present!” He is looking forward to their new season and hopes he might attend a few games one day in the future.

Mark’s philosophy for his new-found sober life is to keep things simple. He expresses a tremendous sense of gratitude for the opportunities his new life has given him, and this past year has been a good one. He feels that he has gained the “courage, strength and hope” to address the future: “I was never like that before,” he mused. At the end of our interview, Mark put his Red Sox cap back onto his head and reflected. “You know, I’m on the right path and I just have so much gratitude. Since I’ve gone sober, I’ve never had a bad day.”







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