Mark Dewitt has the look of any big-city bum: unkempt beard, long graying hair, missing teeth, wrinkles. He wears dirty Levis and a secondhand Stanford University sweatshirt.
Men who look like Mark fit right into the urban landscape, their presence as expected as the streetlights, the potholes in the sidewalk, the lack of available parking spaces.
But Mark, 51, never much liked urban landscapes. He lives on the Main Line, among upscale fur and jewelry shops where his presence is as welcome as a stock market crash. He says he has been a rebel his whole life.
“My dear, sweet mother said I was a rebel, a troublemaker, and a hoodlum.” He counts the charges off on his finger. “She was wrong. I’m no hoodlum!” He laughs and points to a tattoo on his right forearm that reads Fight Authority. “But she nailed me on the first two! Yeah!” he roars with a grin. “Hi!” he shouts to a man passing by on the street. The man walks faster.
#%$! Main Liners
“People are too damn snotty out here. Where I’m from, you didn’t stick your nose in the air just ‘cause you had something. F—k the Main Line!” he shouts.
Mark is originally from Montgomery County. He ran away from home when he was 16 to avoid beatings, groundings, and rules. He’s lived on the Main Line since 1998.
“I’m a noted character around the neighborhood,” he says. “They give me s–t here ‘cause I don’t look all hot s–t and whatnot. They say they’ll call the cops? S–t, I know the cops better than they do! I practically lived with ‘em!” he laughs. “But I don’t want to go back there.” Mark says he prefers his subsidized studio apartment near the Ardmore post office to his former prison cell.
The fourth floor walkup is sunny, even with all of the shades drawn. An unmade twin bed stands in one corner beside an ashtray, a pile of empty prescription bottles rests in another. A single chair with a broken back supports piles of mail and loose papers. Narrow wood planks peek out from underneath old newspapers, clothes, and cylinder tobacco tins. A bookcase with a single shelf holds small statues and portraits of Pope John Paul II, Jesus, and Mary.
“My Dear, Blessed Father”
“These things are irreplaceable,” Mark says, lifting a small box from the shelf. “My dear, blessed father gave this to my dear, sweet mother,” he says, uncovering a silver cigarette case. He lifts two black and white photos of a young man and woman and gazes at them. “Hell, that was some woman. She used to whup me good!”
He lifts another photo of a muscular, shaggy-haired but clean-shaven young man wearing Aviator sunglasses and a smile full of straight, white teeth. “You may recognize the man in this one,” he says, grinning at the man he does not resemble. “That’s me on the day I got my GED,” he explains.
“I shouldn’t say it, because they’ll lock me up for it, but I would kill for the things on this shelf,” he says, fingering two wedding bands that his former wives each gave him. “I have memory damage.”
He puts down the photographs. “They tell me I have all this shit,” Mark continues. He nods at the prescription bottles piled in the corner. “15 milligrams to prevent seizures, 15 for tranquilizers, and 10 milligrams to sleep. They tell me I’m confused and I don’t know what the f–k is going on. I cuss ‘em all out.”
Drinking and Drugs
Mark says he started drinking and doing drugs when he turned 13. “Old habits die hard,” he says. He looks at the image of his younger self. “When I used to party, I partied for decades!” He smiles for a moment, then frowns. “But you can’t get high when you’re in the program.”
Mark receives disability assistance from the government and has periodic check-ins with a social worker. He has been diagnosed as suffering from a variety of maladies, both mental and physical.
Looking around his single-room apartment he says, “The assistant director of the program is coming tomorrow. I should clean up.”
Instead, he puts on a Pink Floyd CD, reclines on the bed, and lights a cigarette.
“They, this, that. Lighten up! It’s called life,” he says. “But I really should clean up. Or maybe I should just cuss ‘em all out.”