Monday, February 27, 2017

Mark A. Peterson 1978-2017

I was surprised and astonished to hear of the passing of my online friend and real-life acquiantance Mark Peterson. After nearly a month of uncharacteristic silence on Twitter, I learned rather abruptly of his death on February 25th, six days after the fact. Mark had been battling colitis for the last five or six years, and an epic flare-up in mid-January resulted in an extended hospital stay. Whether his death was the result of C.Diff or a previously unknown ailment, I guess we'll never know. A memorial service had been held, and as I write this Mark has likely already been cremated. I found out about his death while on a road trip, so I haven't been able to articulate my thoughts until now.

For those of you that were regulars on TV Tome or in the mid-to-late 2000s, he was known simply as mp34mp, that opinionated fellow in the SNL, Conan, and sports forums. After he was ignobly banned in 2009, he resurfaced under the alias Dolph Rudager, and maintained that alter ego on Twitter, his sole social media platform. I bonded with him on a variety of levels: we were both from the west Chicago suburbs (he was from Naperville, and I grew up in Downers Grove, we were comedy and music nerds, and we were ardent Chicago Bears fans. That alone was enough to fuel a correspondence that lasted just over 12 years.

In an indirect way, our connection was yin and yang. Where I usually took the high road in internet discussion boards, Mark could be an argument waiting to happen. His presence at TV Tome and could be polarizing; he was frequently sarcastic and bilious, and had strong opinions that often veered into the minority of the site's groupthink. Even if his penchant for asseveration wore you down, Mark never resorted to name-calling or character assassination. Mark's true weakness was that he was opinionated, and that his opinions were in multitudes.

It was only a matter of time before other site members began to report Mark. CNet was bought out by CBS/Viacom in late 2008, 3 1/2 years after CNet bought out TV Tome's founders and overhauled the site. This noble effort to create a high-quality, all-encompassing TV episode guide and discussion board struggled to make a dent in a crowded market, and the new bosses assumed it was because of internet trolls. The decision to exile Mark and at least a hundred other regular users brought the glory era of to a halt, and the beginning of its gradual decline into a co-opted clickbait site with a fledgling "community." Alas, Mark found a way to return a few months later --it took me a moment to realize he was Dolph-- but the diminishing rate and quality of discussion was enough to turn him away on his own volition.

I only met Mark once in person. I had a table at a card show in south Naperville, and toward the end of the day he dropped by to say hello. Mark drove a 90s model Ford pick-up truck, and scuttled across the parking lot in 30-degree weather in a light zip-up hoodie. He was tall and a little gangly, with big expressive eyes. I wasn't sure what to anticipate, but he turned out to be gawky and a little awkward. His opinions were legitimate, but he expressed them in a timid and skeptical manner. We spoke for about an hour before we went our separate ways. Mark suggested going bowling sometime, depending upon my schedule. Once he started having back issues, which then segued into colitis and other ailments, the suggestion was shelved indefinitely. Mark suggested going to a White Sox game last summer, specifically for throwback jersey giveaway, but we both forgot that we'd even discussed going. Perhaps we dodged a bullet.

Through email, IM and Twitter, I was able to paint a clearer picture of what Mark was about. He was a loner, a quiet do-it-yourself type living in a small house in unincorporated Naperville. Mark was an only child, and he had a strained relationship with his parents, who psychologically abused him. He was fascinated by greasy fast food, especially White Castle and Arby's, but also adept at cooking. Mark was also a whiz with Photoshop. As for late 2016, he was coming out of an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman in a messy divorce. Mark was living on disability, and was only working sporadically after his last construction job in the late 2000s. His political beliefs were somewhere between libertarian and moderate conservative.

Even if Mark could be trying to be around, he shouldn't have died the way he did, nor as abruptly or as quietly as he passed. He was perennially thirty-something going on 60, ready and willing to be the ornery crank that shouted at kids to get off his lawn. He had just a handful of friends in real life, but was part of a greater community online. In a way, he returned the favor; we seldom agreed on anything, but he was one of my first followers on Twitter when I finally joined in August 2011. The inherent brevity of 140 characters fit him like a glove. If he disagreed with or was annoyed by a tweet, he would say so in a half-joking manner. Mark Peterson wasn't a close friend but his presence, intangible as it often was, will certainly be missed.

NOTE: I will update this post in the next day or so to include a picture of Mark.


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