Originally Published July 13th 2010
all photos: Kimberly Cadena
When we first decided to unmask grant guru and local hero Matthew Lesko’s fridge, we were merely excited to be allowed in his question mark filled house. Little did we know, we’d hit it off, bff style, and he’d decide to take us on a tour of his awesome wardrobe.
Do you think his attire mimics The Riddler?
Moving on! Matthew and his wonderfully gracious wife, Wendy, have allowed us to attack them and their house with questions.
Top: rye bread, white bread
Door: Apple juice, water, Coke, chocolate syrup, ketchup, ranch, chili pepper, mustard, mayo, spray on butter, chipotle Tabasco, vanilla Starbucks syrup, almond syrup, fat free milk, brown eggs
Middle shelf: Perrier citron seltzer, Honest Tea, Champagne, Sparkling Raspberry Seltzer, Fat Free Milk, blush wine
Top Shelf: Dannon yogurt, egg beaters, jelly, butter, lemon
Bottom Shelf: blueberries, fresh spinach
Crisper: tortillas, ham, cheese
Bottom Drawer: beer, beer, beer, diet coke
Freezer: Stuffed Salmon, whet germ, Limeade and assorted frozen juices, bread, dog food, frozen shrimp, frozen vegetables, ice pack, frozen raspberries,
And on to awesome Matthew Lesko…
BYT: Do you normally eat rye bread or white bread?
Matthew Lesko: It doesn’t matter. I eat whatever’s up there.
Are you a sandwich guy?
I do once in a while. I’m not a big foodie. To me, food is like a gas station. I go out to eat a lot. You know, as you get older you don’t need much food.
So- you have vanilla Starbucks syrup, do you love coffee?
Yeah. Well I sometimes give it up. I gave it up for a year, and then it came back. Yeah, we have three or four of [cappuccino machines] hanging around here as back ups.
What’s your favorite kind of coffee?
Just a latte, a skim latte. In the morning, I rarely eat. Mostly a lot of nuts or something. Spinach, I’m not a big vegetable guy. So I’ll grind up spinach in the blender with orange juice and a banana and that tastes great! Raw spinach I don’t mind, but cooked spinach I won’t eat. Any vegetable that is more than one syllable I try to stay away from.
So what will we always find in your fridge?
Usually some kind of seltzer, skim milk because of the lattes, beer. I don’t drink much beer. Kids, I have 2 boys in their mid-20s and that’s their (beer). Wendy likes beer, my wife. And the spinach and orange juice, even though I just ran out of it.
What is this? Is this salmon?
This is, I don’t know. Looks like stuffed salmon. I have one boy whose girlfriend is a vegan and he’s almost vegan so we have a lot of stuff. This is wheat germ, so for health shake kind of things.
Are you a picky eater?
What don’t you like?
Most things. Like casseroles, for example. To me it is like prison food. I grew up back in the 50’s and we just had canned vegetables so I hated every vegetable. My parents would make me sit at the table until they were all gone.
I hated that! I would hide mine in my milk.
I’d out-wait the son of a bitch. And my sister who was cleaning hated me because I would hide my food. Especially potatoes, I hate potatoes.
What kind of potatoes? Any kind?
Most mashed potatoes. I eat French fries, and baked potatoes are fine. But once you get to mashed man…I will never touch them. And I used to hide them in my pants cuffs.
What about leftovers? Do you eat leftovers?
Have you ever made any food into question marks?
No, I mean once we probably got drunk at a party and I put applesauce in question marks on the walls or something. No one’s even done a cake in a question mark for me. Maybe because they know I’m not a foodie.
How many question marks do you think you have in your house?
You want to see my closet?
(This is where the interview turned from awesome to AMAZING, as we (Kimberly and I) walked up the stairs with Matthew we were not ready for what hit us next. We couldn’t include all of the factoids about his family, like how Wendy does great work for girls in Malawi and his sons had a bill passed by Congress when they were less than 10 years old, but we did give you all some great photos to ogle over and be jealous of.)
Do you have any tattoos of question marks?
I’m thinking about getting one. My one boy has a bunch of tattoos. And I wanted the entire family to get a little question mark.
You totally should!
But I’ll probably get one. I saw one that was interesting that was a little question mark on their thumb. I’m trying to think of something. I would worry about at your age getting something that would just turn into a blob in 50 years. But at my age, pfft, who cares!
So what’s your favorite outfit?
I like thinner pants, but they make me feel healthier. If I walk around in old man clothes, I don’t feel as energetic. like tight jeans on. And its hard to get suits and they’re still not as tight as jeans. That’s why I’ll wear a jacket with jeans.
So how do you get all of the question marks on the clothes? Do you have them personally tailored?
Yeah. I get a suit off the rack. And I’ve got this lady in Baltimore that I’ll send, I’ll go to G Street Fabrics and get ultra-suede. Get about a yard, yard and a half of ultra-suede. Send them up there.
And she just does as many as she feels like doing?
Yeah. And my jeans, there a nice Russian lady off Connecticut, and I take my jeans down there. She puts them on there.
Has anyone stolen anything from you?
Not a suit, but I used to get a lot of requests at Halloween.
To borrow stuff?
Yeah, I mean people find me and call me up. I know a woman saw me somewhere wants to, she was opening up a new museum and she saw me at the National Gallery and she said, ‘Oh! I’d love a suit’. So I sent her one and I never heard anything back. It’s so funny, a neighbor of mine was a friend of hers so I got the suit back.
And then there was some asshole who lived on Park Avenue in New York that I sent one to. And he sent it back all screwed up.
The bow ties are amazing.
Yeah- they’re hard to find. The good bow ties are tough.
Which one is your favorite?
The ones that are more works of art are great. I just don’t wear them anymore, I just kept a few.
Do any mark specific moments?
This was the Obama inaugural.
Which suit did you wear with it?
I have a black and white one that went perfectly.
Can I see that pink one?
Yeah this was my first one where I started casual. Just one big question mark and then one little one on the lapel.
So this was the gateway suit.
Yeah this was the gateway for the weekend. But now this doesn’t seem enough.
Yeah, people expect a lot more now.
And I feel like I’m invisible if I don’t.
Are there any colors you won’t wear?
No, the brighter the better.
I belong to a snotty country club and everybody ignores me. I’ve been going there for 35 years.
Really? You’d think they’d be used to see you there.
Yeah, well- we never used to go much. But the kids, when they have kids. Kids are just like ‘Daddy the question mark guy!’ And so these people who haven’t talked to me in 35 years, now want to talk to me because their kid wants to talk to me. Yeah, certain zip codes people try to ignore me.
They just are so uncomfortable they just don’t know what to do.
Well, because you are so comfortable. And normally those people make others more comfortable.
Well it does if you enjoy it. See to me that’s why I love wearing it, because if you like this, then I’m going to like you. If you hate this, pfft, good. And you’re saving yourself time and me.
And even these are running stuff.
Do you run in question marks?
Well, no mostly spandex. I found a place online you can get spandex for 40 bucks a yard.
So you specially make these?
Yeah. Actually down at Fenty’s dad’s place (Fleet Feet-ed) used to have stuff like this, but then they stopped.
So does your wife have anything with question marks?
No, she’s jealous though.
You guys know burning man? This is my burning man outfit.
Oh and there’s your suitcase. I love that you branded everything.
Everyone thinks it’s one big design, like a marketing effort, but it was just natural.
Most genius brandings are organic.
It was just something I always wanted to do.
So how did you get started in the business?
I came here and AU let me into grad school and I was looking for government jobs. Then I taught computer science, I was getting an Masters in computer science. So I taught at UDC when it first started back in the 70s. And then I started creating business. I started a computer business that failed, started another business that failed and then I became a consultant downtown. And I was getting information for mergers and aqusitions for Fortune 500 clients and this thing grew to about 40 people. So I was very proud of myself, I finally had a successful business. But I got bored helping rich people. So I thought, ‘why doesn’t everybody know about this?’, because I was shocked a schmuck like me could call and get all this stuff. So after helping all these rich people, I said, ‘ehh, these rich people are going to get it with or without me, they don’t care how much it costs to get.’ So then it just became a mission: how do I get the average person on the street to know about what the government has for them. So it started with books, because that was the way to do it. And now, it’s all online. Now see online, I can almost do the same kind of service I was doing for the Fortune 500 clients.
What do you think right now is your most effective tool?
Marketing is the hardest thing. Let’s say you were a full time photographer, taking the pictures is easy, getting them sold is the hard part. So that’s the key to anything. So you’re spending 80% of your creativity, selling your work not doing your work. So now it’s just being creative enough to find a new topic that people are interested in. Or really the harder part is finding a new format.
You should do a blog.
Yeah, I’m doing mentoring on the kitchen table.
Yeah, you subscribe and I can sit here and people call up and I can talk to them online.
So that’s the best part about the technology because I can help them better. It’s better than just giving them a book. And now am a lot more reachable.
That’s great though that you took the initiative to learn the new platforms that you can work on.
Yeah, so to me the key is you try as many things as possible that don’t cost money. So instead of buying an ad, use a free place.
So where do you get your shoes?
Oh, my Ice Cream shoes, I really love those. I used to wear expensive shoes and now for 50 bucks you can get skateboard shoes. Funky is cheap.
Where do you get your glasses from?
I get a cheap pair of glasses and then paint them myself.
So when did you start putting the question marks on your cars?
That could’ve been the first. I used to travel a lot, I’d do a book a year and I’d travel for 4 or 5 months. So I’d park at the airport and I couldn’t find my car after 4 or 5 days. So I had an old Chevy and my kids were young and I gave them a can of paint and said just put some designs on the car. So they just put stars on the car, you know I didn’t care. And I said hey, that’s a good idea. Everybody knew my car and I didn’t get lost anymore, so that’s what started it. Then I got a new car and I didn’t want the kids painting it, so I found these instant sign places, you just print out the question marks and put them on and they’re on for 10 years. That’s what they use for the FedEx trucks.
Yeah, they totally work, because when I turned into the neighborhood, I was looking for the house and then I immediately saw the cars and knew it was your house. It was perfect.