January 11, 2010 2 Comments
Now that I no longer have cable TV, I’ve been listening to early episodes of the fantastic radio show This American Life. While there’s an irritating 90’s angst to some of the writing that was featured on the show back then, most of the old content is rather relevant. Stories about people kind of always are. A couple weeks ago I listened to a show from March of ’96 that was simply called “Liars.” It was an hour chronicling the wreckage left in the wake of a compulsive liar. One woman recounted the story of a boyfriend who had claimed to be an Earl and then proceeded to cheat on her and leave her $65000 in debt. He purchased a car for her on a credit card he’d fraudulently taken out in her name. She thought the car was a gift. Listening to this story, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my “Earl”—George David Marks (not his real name—just the name he gave me). A friend has dubbed him the Talented George Ripley; the name is a reference to the Matt Damon film The Talented Mr. Ripley, in which he first impersonates and then kills his friend/object of desire. While I’m pretty sure my life was never at risk, the name is oh so apropos.
For some reason, George has come up a lot lately in conversation; probably because ‘tis the season. For two years after we broke up he would call me right around Christmas time. So this year when the lights went up and the radio stations started playing holiday music 24-7, he got into my head and wouldn’t get out. So I’m doing what I do when I can’t get something out of my head: I write about it. Frankly, I consider this a public service announcement long overdue. Beware of George David Marks. This is his story.
I met George in January of 2006. I was 45 minutes late for our first date because I’d forgotten to set my alarm before a rare afternoon nap. I have a feeling that this immediately put me at a disadvantage. I went into that date already apologetic and trying to be agreeable. I spent the next eight months being agreeable to utter madness.
On our first date, he mentioned twice in the same conversation the life expectancy of a male in Lesotho. I told him that he’d repeated himself and he made an embarrassed comment about going senile. At 42, he was 12 years older than I was, but still a long way off from senility. Of course that’s assuming he wasn’t lying about his age. I now think he was probably closer to 50—it would explain his complete retardation around a computer and just how damn old he looked. But since he never once produced a piece of ID in eight months, I had no way of verifying this. He didn’t carry a wallet. He didn’t carry a driver’s license, though he drove everywhere. I assume he’s pulled this con before because he seemed to know that he’d be able to rent a parking spot at my apartment building without ever producing proof of his identity or of ownership of the vehicle sitting out there. I’m pretty sure he didn’t keep the registration for the vehicle in the car either. Or at least nowhere I could find it. And believe me, I looked.
His alleged back story was thus: he was born in South Africa during apartheid and became some sort of activist for equality. His activism, however, got his young common-law wife and their unborn child killed by letter bomb. I know what you’re thinking, but there’s more. He married later in life and then his second wife died of cancer.
Writing this down now, I realize I wouldn’t be able to suspend my disbelief if I read this in a novel or saw it in a movie. Who ends up twice-widowed by 42? But there it was. The story was so tragic that I didn’t dare question it. And because of his great tragedy I immediately cut him an enormous amount of slack.
Next quirk: George paid cash for everything. Not once in the time that we dated did he pay for anything with a credit or debit card. I guess that stands to reason since he didn’t carry a wallet. He offered to buy me an $800.00 couch one day—in cash. I’m only sad that some sense of what’s appropriate caused me to decline.
I never met anyone he knew. He basically said that his friends were oldish, married and busy with their kids, lives and various extra-marital affairs. When pressed, a more compelling reason was introduced: that he really didn’t have any friends. He was such a rude, anti-social bastard, that in a way, that made plenty of sense.
George rarely spent the night—maybe three times in nearly a year. That was another sticking point. Rather than stay over, he’d drive home half stoned at 2:00am sometimes.
During my birthday, he told me that he’d be in Torino, Italy. This was during the winter Olympics in ’06. This man brought back not one souvenir of his trip and I still believed him. Another time he told me that he was in Alberta looking at property—his stated career was property manager—but when he called me one night during the trip the number had a Toronto area code. When questioned he said that he was having the calls route back through his home phone number. When I told him the number on my call display was that of a Bell phone booth and kinda started to freak out about why he was lying to me, he said he’d be happy to have me come and meet him at the airport if it would calm my fears. But of course his imaginary flight was landing in the middle of a work day. So I let it go. I let it go despite a call to Bell Canada to ask if a call routed through your home phone number could possibly appear to be originating from a phone booth. The woman I spoke to said no.
The biggest red flag though, was too big to even be called a flag; it was really more of an enormous crimson banner. And sometimes I’m still pretty embarrassed that I fell for this. He wouldn’t let me in his house. I never set foot in the house. I never even saw it—well not until a couple weeks ago when I took a look at the Google street view with some friends.
His first excuse was a renovation. I think that held up for about three months because I was too busy to think about it too hard. And then we spent the next five months fighting about it constantly. At some point he said it was an issue around emotional encroachment and expressed shame for feeling this way. So for a while I’d let him off the hook, but then I’d get mad or sad about it again.
I knew his address. I’ve sent mail to that address and he’s ostensibly received it. I could have just shown up, but I wanted to be invited. The street view showed a nice house; number 217 on a nice street in a rich area. There’s a basketball net over the garage. I assume he has children.
Amazingly it was not the house issue that was the final straw. It was the European vacation—or lack thereof.
For months he talked about us taking a trip to Europe in the summer. He’d pay airfare if I covered accommodation and he was happy to sleep on the cheap. I booked two weeks off work in the summer and started looking at apartment swaps and various guest houses. Then, with about a month or so to go, he nixed the whole idea. The reason was some sort of legal wrangling over a property. What’s ironic is that in my journals from early that year, I had written a note to myself to never actually believe that the trip was going to happen. I guess I was working with a clearer mind back then. I begged for a weekend trip together in lieu of our big European vacation and that never seemed to be a possibility either. Then, not one day after we’d had our last argument about the weekend trip being a no-go, he was asked by a friend to help sail a boat for two weeks. Within 48 hours he had gone away. Or not. Maybe he just had two weeks of wife and kids to deal with. I spent three days crying and when he “returned” we stuck it out for about one more week. I gave him a list of demands—that I must meet one of his friends, that I must be invited into his house, that we must go away together—and he said he couldn’t comply and that was that.
Despite his calls to see me for the next two years I never did see him again. The last time I laid eyes on him was when he dropped off my keys in September of ‘06. And I think that was a good thing, because when his lies were confirmed, it didn’t hurt that much.
Whenever George called me the number always came up as “Private caller” on my display. On December 26th of 2008, when he called me there was a name displayed and the number was different but the last four digits of the number were the same as the one that I had for him. I asked him where he was calling from and he said home and I told him that the call display was indicating a name that I didn’t recognize. And there was silence. I said it again and the silence continued and then he canceled dinner for that night. It took me a minute after he hung up, but I put two and two together, reverse searching the phone number and coming up with his alleged address. I e-mailed him then and told him to stay out of touch or risk police intervention. While there isn’t a crime I could charge him with, I’m sure he’d like to remain incognito, so he’s never contacted me again.
During the radio show that I mentioned before, the woman who’d been duped by the Earl had decided that the man’s insistence on continuing to keep in touch with her after all the shit had hit the fan was about his love for her. Even though he’d conned her and cheated on her and bilked her out of money, she was convinced that he must be keeping in touch out of love. I figured that George was lonely when he’d do his post-break up calls but I didn’t even think he was in love with me while we were dating let alone two years later. And once the jig was up, it was pretty clear to me that it was all about control—all about seeing how long he could get me to keep playing his little game. One year, he called and wanted me to help him decide if a woman he was interested in was attractive enough. Attractive enough for what? For the con?
When I first found out, I watched my credit cards for a while—he’d had access to one of my card numbers. I sort of reeled for a moment over the fact that he might have given me an STI while we were dating. I assumed I was the more sexually active of the two of us, so I was the one who went and got tested as we started dating. In reality, I was probably the one at risk. All’s clear, but that was creepy. I think what’s irksome at this point is not knowing exactly what he was up to. He was probably just married with kids and I was likely just his mistress, but you wonder. This dude managed to make a goodnight call to me every evening and I couldn’t imagine a married man getting away with that.
I once heard him refer to himself as David, rather than George, on a phone call. We were walking up Roncesvalles on a nice spring night shortly after I’d moved to that area. When I asked him about it he fought me on it for about five solid minutes, insisting that I had not heard what I’d heard. When he finally realized that I wasn’t going to let it go, he made up some bizarre excuse about his first name actually being David but preferring his middle name, George (his actual first name was David). The funny part is that his excuse was overkill. It was more fishy than the incident itself.
He caught me once looking through the contacts on his cell phone. He walked into the door of my apartment, back from a smoke, and caught me red-handed before I had a chance to put it back down. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more stupid. We were pretty close to breaking up then, but it was sort of horrifying to see my bad behaviour reflected back at me. I can only imagine how much worse I would have been if we’d stayed together for another year or two years. There’s something about engaging with someone who is constantly dishonest that starts to make a person crazy. The cognitive dissonance—the reality of the situation versus what you want to believe about the situation—makes you do some fucked up stuff.
I learned two major life lessons from my time with George. Never date Mr. Right Now. You’ll likely fall for him even though you know he’s unsuitable. And never feel like you have to prove a red flag. People are inclined to believe that they are being told the truth, which already makes it difficult to suss out a liar. People like George have a leg up on the rest of us because human nature causes us to give the benefit of the doubt when it hasn’t been earned at all. But when your gut is telling you something’s off, just listen to it. When there are so many red flags that you could start selling them to family and friends, don’t worry about being able to prove the reasons for your strange inventory—just get out. It could have all been a lot worse—and I’m just lucky it wasn’t.