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  QUESTIONS FOR MATTHEW LESKO, THE QUESTION MARK MAN.  
   
   
  It's difficult to listen to a man who has snot hanging out of his nose. Something about the way the glistening blubber mimics the ebb and flow of his upper lip causes you, the listener, to discredit whatever it is that he's saying. Of course, you have no idea what that is because  
 

you're too busy focusing on the nasal goop. How can you take this man seriously? The answer is: You can't. You just can't. Finally, you throw your hands up in surrender. You must tell him that if he doesn't stop now, he's going to swallow it…

At that, the speaker releases a hearty guffaw, for this is the fruit of his ploy. The booger -- the one he was about to digest -- is merely a prop. Yep, he put it there. In fact, it's the driving force behind his philosophy.

This is kind of what it was like interviewing Matthew Lesko, a man who is probably better

 
   
 

known as "the guy who runs around TV wearing those obnoxious question mark outfits." His message to the world is as loud as his three-piece suits: Rape the government for all the cash you can-and I'll tell ya how! Matthew promises to teach readers how to get money from the government so they can quit their jobs; how to get free government help, and how to get free White House greeting cards, moon rocks, fishing posters, cookbooks, and photos from the Space Program.

"Your tax dollars have paid for it, so ask for it!" Lesko reminds you, claiming the federal government gives away $350 billion in free money and grants each year. All you have to do is ask for it. But how can people focus on government aid when they've got 300 question marks haunting them like guilt?

 
 

What are you wearing right now?

I have a purple one on today. I'm doing a phone interview and working on my computer, but I'm still wearing my suit.

Didn't you used to wear a jumper? A question mark covered unitard?

Maybe I wore something like that just fucking around. I'm a clothes whore. My wife and I have 2 closets. Guess who has the bigger one?

You're so liberated. I'm jealous.

Yeah, I have a yellow Mini Cooper with question marks on it. I have a little orange Scion with question marks on it -- looks like a boxy refrigerator on wheels. I usually ride around on a Vespa -- with question marks on it. Question marks are my anti-theft device.

Do you believe you need to wear the outfit so that people will take you, well, seriously?

Oh, the outfit to take me seriously? It's the opposite. I've been kicked off of shows because of it. I've lost millions because of it. I was on the Home Shopping Network and they said I had to change my suit. I thought about it and decided, 'This is way too important to me.' Years later they had me back. It was one of those hard decisions that become great later. Your loved ones tell you that you're being silly, that you need the money. But as a result of following my heart, opportunities opened and my business tripled. So now I sell tons through the Home Shopping Network, but they still don't like the suit. We're back to them wanting me to change it again. I can imagine if Jesus Christ was here they'd say, 'You know this rope sandal stuff…we're really appealing to the wrong demographic here.'

One might think that in your line of work, wearing a suit and tie might be the obvious option. What type of marketing edge do you believe this, umm, alternative street wear provides?

Marketing has nothing to do with it. Harvard business school wanted to know about this "branding." This is just me who happens to be writing books. Strategic branding? It was a pure accident. I'm just not that smart.

I'm in the business of encouraging people to do what they want to do in life. Relationships. Everything. I try to encourage my wife to do what she wants to do. She's worried about making Christmas cookies and cleaning the floor and shit. I want her to be happy. It makes my life a hell of a lot happier. It's always that bully who's not happy with his life who's kickin' the dog when he gets home from work.

On that note, would you say that your garb is equivalent to, say, Superman's cape? Like, when you're not wearing it, you're simply Clark Kent? (And would not wearing the outfits equate to stumbling upon Kryptonite?)

You know what, in a way, when I have it on, it does something to other people. When I first started wearing it I was so self-conscious. I was walking down the airport and every step was like lugging around 500 pounds. I felt so stupid, but I just had to do it. Now people smile when they see me. I get discounts on airplanes and hotels. Pretty girls come up and talk to me for the first time in my life. Where were they when I had more hormones?

I feel like I could walk into the toughest biker bar at 2:00 in the morning and feel comfortable. It disarms people. I mean, the buzz creates my life.

Kryptonite?

The way you could hurt me is so many other

   

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The Many Faces of Matthew Lesko.













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ways. Inside stuff. Emotional. Injustices. People struggling that don't deserve it. I'll cry in an instant. It gets worse as I get older. I told my kids the other day, "You've got a dad with a closet bigger than your mom's and who cries more than your mom."

Then there are these people who don't show their emotions… Emotion is only one crayon in your whole box. People forcing themselves to be happy all the time? Now, that is dysfunctional.

How did the outfit evolve?

I graduated with an MBA in computers. I had a software company that failed. Failure was so liberating. At first, I thought failure would be like walking around with a big F on my forehead, something like a scarlet letter. Then I failed again in a second business. By the time I started my third business, I just wanted to have fun! Dig down everyday and figure out how to have fun. That's where the outfit came in. I just didn't get the balls to do it until I was in my 50's.

Did the outfit arrive before the books, or vice versa? The chicken or the egg?

I've been writing books for 25 years. My first New York Times bestseller was in '80. The outfits arrived about 10 years ago.

Who is your target demographic?

People who have $40.

Why does this apparel appeal to them? Do they have ADD?

I don't know about them, but I do. I'm ADD for sure. I'm positive. In school I was always beat up on by my teachers. "Shut up, Lesko. Sit down, Lesko." My type of behavior was never encouraged but it turned out to be my best quality. That's how I make millions. They just don't encourage that kind of stuff.

Question marks obviously symbolize inquiry, but why did you choose them over dollar signs?

Never even thought about money signs. It's all philosophical. I'd wear this outfit if I were an accountant. It has nothing to do with my business. I wear it on a regular basis.

Is it true that your fluorescent green pumas are made especially for you? What other colors do you have?

I have green Diesels. I wear funky sneakers. I wear bright colored clogs made by a company called Anywear. They're really hospital shoes. They're biodegradable. And they come in great colors, every color of the rainbow. Bright yellow, orange, purple. I wear mismatched socks too. I want them to clash. Perfectly matched and I look like some type of country clubber, which I actually am. I even play golf. Anyhow, I'm wearing fuchsia clogs right now to go with the purple suit. I have a lot of Pumas too, but they're not specially made.

How do you feel about the term "governmental rape" in reference to obtaining this 'extra' money? I'm going to use it in the intro?

Governmental rape? Did I say that?

No, I did.

Well who's raping whom? The taxpayers are raping the government? I'm just trying to show reality. We live in a democracy where this information should be available to everybody. Why do the rich take advantage of all the tax breaks available? Why do they have to hire accountants to figure out all the different tax codes? You shouldn't have to dig to find this information.

I really shouldn't be able to have a job doing this.

George Bush found out how to get a grant for his baseball team. A while back, he invested in the Houston Astros and became a partner. His initial investment was 600K. He became a general manager, an investor with a job basically. While he was working as the manager he got a $200 million government grant to build a new stadium. So his initial investment of 600K increased to $13 million because the value of the team increased due to their new $200 million stadium.

The rich use this stuff.

When Dick Cheney was an out of work congressman, he was president of Halliburton and he got $3 billion worth of government money. I saw that and I always thought Cheney was smarter than Bush. I mean $200 million versus 3 billion… No contest!

Is it okay if I compare your outfits to a transient booger? In a good way, of course.

Oh I don't care. What I love about life is that when I'm in a conversation, that's the first thing I'll talk about…the booger on someone's nose. On Friday I met a guy with a deformity on his thumb and I said, "God what happened there?" -- just to get it out of the way. It's not like they don't know it's there. He told me about some accident he had when he was a kid. My wife gets so embarrassed, but it's real.

The question mark suit attracts the people I want to attract. I wear a three-piece suit but people who generally like three-piece suits don't like this one. I'm trying to live as much from the inside out as possible, so all the shit from the inside will appear on the outside. If you act like someone else you're going to attract the wrong people.

I feel my work is very serious but I'm not very serious. I'll make a fool out of myself because my work is serious.

 

Gretel Going is hard at work on the launch of Number II Magazine, due out in Spring 2006.