The following audition material won a stand-up comic/philosopher a paid gig at the Green Peak Restaurant and Comedy Club in East Dorset, Vermont, last September:
• Revelation! God is androgynous — but chauvinistic!
• Here’s a primer in classical philosophy. Memorize it and you’ll have the basic differences among three ancient philosophers at your tongue-tips: “To be is to do’’ — Aristotle. “To do is to be” — Plato. “Do-be-do-be-do“ — Sinatra.
The most recent snapshot of the comedian portrays a fellow of average height and slim build. His eyes are gray, his mustache and short gray beard are flecked with white. There are no distinguishing marks on his even-featured face. He has no children and has never married, but he is close to an uncle and a first cousin who live in San Diego, and he has a cadre of exceptionally devoted friends — scholars and clergy, mostly — who have known him for decades.
Besides being a sports buff, he is equally enthusiastic about Marlboro Lights, God, and (his own) poetry. His birthday last January 12, which he celebrated downtown in San Diego’s County Jail, marked the end of what philosopher/comic/poet Mark Yavorsky jubilantly describes as the best year of his 44-year life.
Early Sunday mornings, children in dress-up clothes run playfully down the dingy jail hallway; babies sit in strollers or recline in infant seats. Adults converse, mostly in Spanish. Sitting pensively is a young man waiting to see his incarcerated father. A lanky blonde carries a red-cheeked Gerber baby peacefully sucking a pink pacifier; they visit a young black inmate with a silky mustache. Lamenting the loss of her bus pass, a worn, middle-aged mother visits the drug addict who has violently abused her and the five-month-old infant sleeping in her arms. "We’re all sinners in the presence of God,” announces a pale woman wearing the consummate thrift-shop get-up. She intrusively blesses each visitor. “We all fall short of God’s glory,” she repeats like a mantra to an 88-year-old great-grandmother as she walks shakily with a cane to window seven. The old woman’s grandson has been in county jail for a year, waiting for disposition of various felonies. “He tried to kill me a few times,” his father adds.
The comedian/poet walks up to window one wearing dark prescription sunglasses and a broadly radiant smile. His appearance evokes the late actor Lee Marvin. In dark blue prison garb, he looks considerably older (and 51 pounds lighter) than he did before he broke parole and went AWOL 17 months ago. He likes to describe this period melodramatically as his year on the lam. “My comedy career was abrupt. I was about to earn $75 for 45 minutes of stand-up shtick. And I’d been hired to pick apples for $60 a day, six days a week. My earnings would have bankrolled a trip to Europe via Canada,” he grins. “So much for the best laid plans of rats and men!
“I hadn’t been on stage for four years — not since Hotel Universe at the Coronado Playhouse. When I read the audition notice for Fiddler on the Poof in Manchester [Vermont], I imagined myself in the lead. I’d never done a musical before,” he says, explaining the events leading to his arrest, “but I was free, white, and 43, and game for anything — even singing on stage!”
He arrived early for the audition and sat on a stone wall smoking a cigarette as he listened impatiently to young men lauding Iron Mike Tyson. When he could no longer resist joining the conversation, Mark commented that Tyson had more trouble outside the ring than inside. “The biggest kid picked up the gauntlet. He told me I have to respect someone like Tyson. ‘Respect him? Why? Because he's rich and famous and can knock anybody out? How can I respect him when I don’t even know him?’ ” Mark says he told them.
"The kid said he was from Tyson’s neighborhood in the Bronx and that Tyson could kill me,” Mark continues. "If he kills me, he fries, I told him, because a fighter’s fist constitutes a dangerous weapon.” Then Mark suggested that they box. “Well, the kid freaked out and dashed for his car to get a baseball bat. He was bigger than I, and I wasn’t about to wait around for a baseball bat beating, so I got my butcher knife from under the front seat of my car. When I came back, he was sitting on the steps with his bat across his knees. Standoff! He told me he’d done some time on Riker’s Island. Not thinking, I told him I'd done some time in San Diego. We shook hands. I went into the audition, sang my heart out, thought I was terrific — and didn’t get the part.” Eight days later, on September 15, 1988, minutes after he had paid his landlady $35 for the room he was renting by the week in Shaftsbury, Vermont, escaped fugitive Mark Joseph Yavorsky was apprehended by four uniformed police officers. “The director of Fiddler had my San Diego actor’s resume — and the young tough on the stone wall had fingered me,” Mark figures, “so I never got to make my comedy club debut. That’s the last time I ever audition for a musical!”
On the morning of October 1, 1987, Mark had appeared before Superior Court Judge Norbert Ehrenfreund concerning two skirmishes blighting his parolee status. "One was two sticks of grass, for which I spent a month in the psychiatric security unit and then attended a ten-week course on drug abuse. In May, I made a vow to God not to use marijuana again. The second incident was an altercation in which I bloodied a fellow’s nose after extreme provocation. The D.A. said that as far as the state is concerned, my parole was indefinite.
“As we left the courtroom, I told my lawyer I was restless. I'm 42, I said, and I haven’t seen China yet. Friends knew I was planning to leave town. After I left court that morning, I decided I would leave California later that afternoon.”
At the board-and-care facility where he was living, on Elm Street, he picked up his SSI check (for $632) and cashed it downtown. He also had $250 that a friend sent, along with an invitation to stay in Florida. He gave $200 to another resident mental patient who was providing moral support for the getaway. While a taxi waited to take him to the airport, Mark packed a big suitcase he’d bought in 1971 in Afghanistan, a black briefcase he had acquired in Denmark five years later, and a 20-year-old Smith-Corona electric typewriter. “I was headed for Miami, but I had trouble finding an immediate flight directly to Florida, so I bought a ticket to Tucson that was leaving in 15 minutes,” he says, and the first leg of his picaresque journey had begun. When his plane landed later that evening in Ft. Lauderdale, it was raining. He considered the rain a sign of rebirth.
During the four months he washed dishes at the Sailfish Point Country Club in Stuart, Florida, Mark earned $5000, financed a Yugo with a down payment from an undisclosed source, and had no trouble with the law. (He bought a bumper sticker for his car that read “God couldn’t be everywhere, so he created mothers.”) While San Diego authorities were concerned that without medication (Prolixin) he could be a danger to himself or others, Mark says he used no drugs — either illicit or prescribed — and never felt better physically or mentally in his life. In sheer ecstasy, he wrote "A Dishwasher’s Hymn to God”:
- Lord, are you in the garbage that I haul out to the dumpster every night and the flowers I salvage from the garbage can to place, in your honor, on top of my machine, or am I an atheist?
- I see your signs everywhere, or is it just the god in me that I see reflected in the glory of Sailfish Point where I work or am I,
- the King of the Dishwashers, a believer?
In a similar ecstatic state, he initiated correspondence with a sex therapist whom he'd recently seen discussing "sexual secrets" on Geraldo Rivera’s program and on other national talk shows. "I knew her 20 years ago," Mark explains. “She’s the ex-common-law wife of my former roommate at graduate school. I sent poems, books, roses, and letters proposing marriage, but she declined."
Without divulging his specific whereabouts, the fugitive sent faculty members at USD, UCSD, and Palomar College carefully typed folder-bound collections of his poems, along with letters explaining that indefinite parole under the conditional-release program was not beneficial to his psyche. “One evening, I even telephoned Judge Ehrenfreund at his home," Mark recalls, “just to let him know I was okay.” After the judge told him that the authorities would be looking for him, Ehrenfreund immediately notified the district attorney of the call from Florida. Why Florida? “Well," Mark pauses. “I was born there."
It was in a Jacksonville naval hospital that he was born in 1945, shortly before World War II ended. His grandfather and uncle were medical doctors; his father was a navy surgeon. In 1946, Mark's 36-year-old father died suddenly of bulbar poliomyelitis. Immediately after her husband's death, Mark’s mother “lost touch with reality"; she spent a year in a hospital grieving for her husband. Her psychiatrist predicted that Mary Yavorsky would never recover her sanity, and he encouraged the aunt and uncle who were caring for Mark and his older brother to adopt them. But after a year, the young widow recovered and reclaimed her sons. In 1948, a year after her recovery, she remarried, and the following year she gave birth to a third son. Shortly afterward, she and her second husband separated.
Mary headed west. (Her nurse had married her first husband’s younger brother. They settled in Chula Vista and produced five cousins for Mark and his brothers; the psychiatrist who made the dire prediction wound up committing suicide.) In 1951, for $11,000, Mary bought a modest two-bedroom pink stucco house at 1243 Diamond Street in Pacific Beach. The three fatherless boys attended Saint Brigid’s Academy, three blocks away at the corner of Diamond and Cass, where Mary earned money cooking meals for the nuns. The following year, in perfect pentameter, seven-year-old Mark made his mother the subject of his first verse:
- I love my mommy very much.
- I love her as I should.
- But sometimes I get mad at her,
- And I'm not very good.
He became an altar boy at Saint Brigid’s, collected Tarzan comics, joined the Cub Scouts (Mary was den mother), and was a lieutenant of Saint Brigid’s Academy safety patrol. Later, when he entered Saint Augustine High School on Nutmeg Street, he was elected commissioner of athletics by a landslide.
By then his poetry had progressed. Father Anthony Wasko, his English teacher, describes Mark as an earnest student "His verses were onomatopoetic and his cadences were remarkable," Wasko recalls. "I used his poems as models for subsequent students. Out of a class of highly competitive youngsters, Mark was a shining star." And at the University of San Diego, the star continued to shine. He had a varsity basketball scholarship, was captain of the university’s basketball team, and was assistant editor of Pequod, the university’s literary magazine. His professors, Monsignor Brent Eagan, now USD chancellor, and prominent poet Lee Gerlach, then head of the English department, acknowledged Mark’s literary promise and encouraged his writing. When he received his B.A. in 1966, Mark was high on the waves of attaining majority in the Me Decade. "That year for the first time I smoked tobacco, drank alcohol, got laid, smoked my first marijuana, and took my initial LSD trip," he smiles. And that year he earned $50 for winning Pequod's short story and poetry contest. Haunted by dreams of the father he never knew, he wrote "Family Tree":
- I have his name and voice but knew him not.
- My father's grave is in the family plot
- In Belle Plame. Iowa, beneath a stone
- His father set whose father chiseled stone
- In the Old Country, when the family name
- Began with J. but was pronounced the same.
- The line continues. Brother George prepares
- To mend his country in the Third of Wars
- Which mounts upon the Russian Steppes, or where
- The China Wall surrounds an ancient air
- Of barbarism, fierce and innocent.
- A red cross is the standard of descent,
- Worn on the arm a first and second time.
- Abhorring violence and patching crime
"I was destined to be a writer for life!" Mark says.
While he was a graduate student and a teaching assistant at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Mark seemingly embodied the Zeitgeist of the '60s. He absorbed Doctor
Faustus and The Waste Land and Thus Spake Zarathustra, experimented with amphetamines and mescaline, dropped acid, ate peyote buttons, and wrote a dark poem he called “The Indictment."
- I killed a man. I hesitate to say
- Who he was or who I am. In the course
- Of conversation, sometimes I dismay
- My friends, and blurt it out
- When we were friends
- We quarreled, till he gave me no recourse
- Except to end him. Now I crave amends,
- Though I am not to blame for this remorse:
- He was my weaker will, and
- I obeyed
In 1967 Mark invited himself along on the honeymoon of friends and spent six weeks in Munich at the Goethe Institute studying German. Two years later, shortly after he received a master's degree in English literature from UCSB, he inherited $8000 worth of blue-chip stocks from the estate of a distant cousin and began traveling merrily across Europe with an assortment of women. He was busted for marijuana possession en route to Sweden from Denmark (a bribe kept him out of jail), he smoked hash in Stockholm, opium and cocaine in Kabul. When the cash ran out, he supported his travels eastward as a trader of valuable goods. "I traded a Czechoslovakian camera for 300 turquoise pebbles in eastern Iran. In Basra, on the Persian Gulf, I traded a gold bracelet for pearls. I smuggled jewels from India into Italy in my crotch." He went from Damascus to Beirut to Baghdad, carrying electronics and precious gems. During that period, letters to his former English professors were filled with religious overtones and obscure metaphors and had become increasingly incomprehensible. By the end of 1971, he was learning Arabic and wearing nothing but Muslim robes, sandals, and headgear.
In the spring of 1972, when he was 27 years old, Mark gave up alcohol, of which he had grown quite fond, and was seriously studying Islam. He was living in a two-story white and pink marble madrassah (school of Islam) in Karachi, the most revered madrassah in Pakistan, he says. "In a brief ceremony in which I officially embraced Islam," Mark smiles, “one of the mullahs and I settled on my new name: Mohammed Omar."
After protracted periods of hibernation and crying jags, he suffered a mental breakdown in June. "When Pakistani police forced their way into my room at Madrassah Arabiyah Islamiah, I threw a few punches their way. As I was being led away to neighborhood police headquarters, I kept muttering in Arabic, ‘Sucra-la,’ which means Thanks be to Allah.’ For two days I was chained to a wall. Then I was put in a padded cell for ten days. I was treated well, but the accommodations were primitive. Their version of a toilet was a mound of fresh earth in the corner. Resting on top, I noticed a solid, well-formed turd. I was convinced that it was Jesus’. Since I hadn’t taken Communion for a while, I ate a small piece of it,” he says. “Then, with a lit cigarette, I burned my forehead, my hand, and my foot.” After his release he wrote:
- Your Muslim brothers were their brother’s keeper:
- ten days’ incomprehensibilities
- locked in, shut up, made manic by degrees
- whose dusty dirty depths were sounded deeper
- than a deep blue sea of faith made molten mud,
- whose mythic heights, scaled, swam in a mind’s eye,
- pacific, past all present tense, an eye
- for an eye, illimitable, as flesh and blood
- two thousand years ago today, tomorrow.
- Yes, you are he that lost the fish at sea
- at Rosarito Beach on LSD,
- dead to the world as dead can be in sorrow,
- who in the Asian Ocean found a star,
- who will be always, always were, and are.
Meanwhile, back in America, Mark’s younger half-brother, John Wathan, was playing major-league baseball. His older brother George was practicing medicine in San Francisco, where he was living with his wife and children. It was he who sent Mark $700 for a plane ticket back to California. Mark said he missed the house on Diamond Street. "It was my womb with a view,” he said. On the flight back in his brown Muslim robes, Mark began drinking beer again.
The ten shock treatments he had at Mercy Hospital that fall seemed to ease his confusion. He returned to Diamond Street and his mother, who was now working at a Pacific Beach retail store selling business equipment and who, for recreation, read the Reader’s Digest and lives of the saints. Mark soon initiated an intense period of backyard stickball. According to Dick Peacock, co-author of Learning to Leave — A Woman's Guide and the USD professor who taught Mark the history of the English language, Mark obsessively kept statistics on everyone’s hits and pitches. The backyard was filled with ballplaying cousins, neighbors, and strangers.
But he had other interests as well. In 1974, Mark was employed at the Old Globe box office, where he had worked during summer Shakespeare Festivals of 1963 and 1964. By 1976 he was teaching writing at USD, his alma mater. During that year, when he became a stage actor, he achieved immediate recognition. He appeared at the Cassius Carter in The Hot L Baltimore, and the following year, he won an Atlas Award as best supporting actor for his role in That Championship Season. His mother put the award in the living room on top of the TV, right next to the hollow plastic madonna in which Mark would deposit $100 every month from his SSI check. He played the elder in Shaw’s Too True to Be Good and a sniggering, borderline psychotic (his description) in David Rabe’s In the Boom-Boom Room. He landed a CETA-funded job at $700 a month as a researcher, writer, and performer. And at the Lamb’s Players’ inaugural production, he gave a critically acclaimed performance as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons.
He also fell in love. In 1978 he met an actress named Gail Stein. ”I gave her a silk rose and a tiny emerald,” he recalls. "She gave me a golden letter, chai. In Hebrew it means ‘life.’ ”
In May of 1979, while he was a teaching assistant at UCSD’s drama department and was enrolled in the master’s program in drama, he won the role of Agamemnon in Orestes! Orestes!, an adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy. During rehearsals, his behavior grew bizarre. When he ranted from the roof of his mother’s house in a bathrobe — with a photo of his father in one hand and an American flag in the other — neighbors called police. “That was the first time my mother ever admitted that she was afraid of me,” Mark remembers. During the following week, which Mark spent sedated at Mercy Hospital, Michael Addison, the play’s director, telephoned him to say he had no choice but to replace Mark in the role of Agamemnon.
Nevertheless, the play remained a shadowy presence in Mark’s life. “I bought $70 worth of tickets and distributed them among friends, including former roommates from UCSB.
I hadn’t seen them in years, but I convinced them to drive down here,” Mark says. “This play was very important to me.” Dressed to kill in his best clothes, Mark took his mother and his fiancee Gail and his college chums to the opening performance held just outside the UCSD library. The play was disturbing — especially the Greek chorus taunting Orestes, chanting "Mother killer!” after he had murdered his mother. "I was originally miscast as Agamemnon,” Mark mused at the time. "I should have been Orestes.”
In addition to Orestes, Mark was haunted by a Wallace Stevens poem called "Sunday
Morning.” Especially these lines:
- the holy hush of ancient sacrifice,
- the dark encroachment of that old catastrophe,
- naked among them, a savage source,
- death is the mother of beauty.
"On Friday, June 8, 1979, when I told Gail that I had to kill my mother, she humored me,” Mark recalls. "On Saturday, June 9, I walked with my mother to Saint Brigid’s, so she could make her peace with God. While she was kneeling in the pew, I walked around my childhood church and stopped at the holy water fountain. As I drank the water from my cupped hands, I murmured, ‘Her blood is on the hands of the Christians.’ Later that evening, I asked my mother if I could sleep with her in her double bed, and she said yes. She didn't know that I was secretly planning to seduce her — to make love to her. But I was in her bed for a only few minutes when I began to cry. All I could think about was my marble collection. I wanted to play with my marbles. My mother wasn’t sure where they were,” he says, "and she went to sleep. I couldn’t sleep. Everything in the house was luminous — luminous with meaning: the picture of Jesus on the wall over the couch, the paint-by-number landscape my mother had done, the crucifix with two palm fronds stuck behind it from Palm Sunday service, everything. In my agitated state, I was convinced that by morning the nuclear holocaust would destroy us all, so I turned on every light in the house and kept them on all night.
"Early the next morning, Sunday, when my mother was sitting in a green rocking chair in the living room, I took a pillow and began to smother her,” he continues. "Then I stopped. She was astounded. She asked me to go into the kitchen and get her a cup of coffee. When I came back, I noticed that she had run across the street in her bare feet to a neighbor’s house. I realized, of course, that making love to my mother would be the ultimate, the most unpardonable sin, so I decided to choose the lesser of the two evils. I had to kill her.
"I called Lee Gerlach, one of my USD mentors — one of my father figures. He had never been to my house, but I told him it was urgent, to come right away. Then, from the trunk of my 1965 Falcon, I took out a baseball bat. Also a ceremonial sword from India that I had found once at the New Palace Hotel on Elm Street. I was wearing a bathing suit I had bought at Buffalo Breath on Garnet and my St. Augustine letterman’s jacket. In my bare feet, I walked across the street, greeted the neighbor pleasantly, and handed him the baseball bat. Then I walked past him into the dining room where my mother was. She smiled. With the sword, I penetrated her belly — her womb — seven times. [Court records indicate she was stabbed 28 times.] I watched her feet. They were dancing. 'You’re killing your mother, Mark,’ she gasped with her last breath. When I heard a peal of thunder, I knew I was sending her to God and to my father. She fell toward the kitchen, and her warm blood spattered all over the linoleum. I knew that if God could forgive me for this, he could forgive anyone. I tossed the sword on the neighbor’s linoleum floor. ‘Be at peace now, Mother,’ I murmured, touching her little bare foot with my hand. Then I went home and slammed the front door.
“A policeman gently motioned me outside with his finger and led me into the police van. Just then, Lee Gerlach pulled up. ‘How’s your mother, Lee?’ I shouted. It was a very hot, cloudless morning, and the air was filled with gnats,” Mark remembers. “My hands were cuffed, so I caught them with my mouth.”
Later that day, in the admissions tank at San Diego County Jail, after Mark hit a couple of drunks, he was taken by deputies to a rubber room. Psychiatric examinations indicated that he had killed his 65-year-old mother in a delusional, psychotic state. To the charge of voluntary manslaughter, he was declared not guilty by reason of insanity. There was no jury trial. Superior Court Judge Norbert Ehrenfreund heard the case and in August of 1979 sent Mark to Patton State Mental Hospital for seven years. “Driving toward San Bernardino, to Patton State Hospital for the criminally insane, I was in chains with several others in the back of a van,” says Mark. “Two deputies were in front with a screen between them and us. I was close to tears the whole way, but I didn’t cry. As we neared our destination, I looked forlornly, desperately, at the stores and houses. I realized it would be a long time before I would see a free community again.
“I was assigned to a locked dormitory and given a psychotropic antipsychotic drug called Haldol, which I took for the next five years. At group meetings, we were told that we were all here because of a failure in our impulse controls. I always remained silent. Occasionally, we were taken on outings. On one such outing to a county fair, I waited outside the freak show tent. Whatever freaks were inside had nothing on me!”
During his first six months of hospitalization, Mark was visited nearly every week by his fiancee, who also wrote and telephoned often, until her parents convinced her that there was no future with him.
When other visitors came — including Dick Peacock, Monsignor Eagan, and Judge Ehrenfreund — he sobbed continually, telling them he was Satan, the Anti-Christ, the Prince of Darkness incarnate. Like Dali, Mark viewed himself/the artist as demonic-obsessive. “I was prone to crying jags at the drop of a memory. If Ironside was on TV, I’d remember that Raymond Burr was Mom’s favorite actor,” he says. “In 1980, I received a letter from Sacramento revoking my community college teaching credential.
“Strangely enough, after about a year and a half, one of my psychologists recommended my release. Nothing came of it. I was terrified of dying an old man screaming, screaming in abject terror at what I was certain awaited me after death. So I plotted to hang myself. I saved dirty sheets in my locker, gazed at the big pipe at the rear of the restroom ceiling. I even wrote my younger brother a cruel letter telling him that by the time he received it, I’d be dead. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was afraid I’d botch it and they’d keep me in the hospital longer; I was afraid to commit suicide because the Church teaches that suiciders go to hell. That was ridiculous, since I knew to the marrow of my soul’s bones that hell was where I was destined for anyhow.
“It wasn’t dreary all the time, merely quietly desperate,” he remembers. “I played cards, watched TV, borrowed books from the library, played miniature golf. I even played a little softball, but I was Sisyphus rolling a rock up a steep hill, day after day after day. Then everything changed. There’d been some escapes, and state security officers took over. There were no more outings. Concertina wire went up all around the top of the fence. And there were strip searches. We were escorted to the medical wing in leather restraints. Further restrictions meant further isolation. I wrote anguished letters to family and friends and made occasional anguished phone calls to relatives. I asked if I could live with them when I got out. They all said no.”
When Mark entered Patton, his hair was brown. By the time he was released, in October of 1984, five years and two months later, it was white and beginning to recede; his 51-pound weight gain was attributed to medication and inactivity. He was 39 years old when he was paroled to Central Manor, a San Diego resident facility for mental patients. The parole conditions included weekly psychotherapy, biweekly urine screens, no alcohol or drugs or lethal weapons, no travel in the area of Pacific Beach where he killed his mother, and no travel outside San Diego County. He was also obligated to seek full-time employment and to write monthly letters describing his activities to Judge Ehrenfreund, who visited him at Central Manor. In addition to being on the bench, for years Ehrenfreund has appeared on local stages and in film, which might be why he encouraged Mark to resume his stage career. In November of 1984, the month after his release from Patton, Mark appeared (under an assumed name) as an elderly man in Hotel Universe at the Coronado Playhouse. Judge Ehrenfreund, Tom Burke (Mark’s social worker), Dick Peacock, and several other friends were in the audience. “It was a dull, outdated play,” Peacock remembers, “but when Mark walked on stage, it came alive. He filled the theater with his presence.” Ehrenfreund congratulated Mark on his performance and continued to leave him free tickets at the Marquis Theater box office where the judge was performing; the two continued to trade complimentary letters praising each other’s theatrical talents. Ehrenfreund encouraged Mark to apply for a job at the Marquis Theater and the San Diego Repertory Theater, but nothing came of either. “I look forward to your letters,” Ehrenfreund wrote to Mark, “because they contain so many literary delights.”
“I thank God for your spirited interest in my case,” Mark responded. In their correspondence they discussed literature, drama, poetry, and the World Series. (In 1982 John Wathan, Mark’s half-brother, had set a major-league record for the most stolen bases — 36 — by a catcher in a single year, and in 1987 he became manager of the Kansas City Royals.) When Mark told him he was writing an autobiographical novel, Ehrenfreund asked to see an outline and two sample chapters. But aside from Ehrenfreund’s encouragement and visits from former schoolmates and mentors who took him to baseball games, movies, plays, and to their homes for family dinners, Mark continued to live what he considered to be an institutionalized life — reading, taking short walks, and listening to ballgames on a transistor radio.
It was an era he called the Passive Purgatory of Parole. “I had inherited $30,000 from my mother’s estate. It was held in trust by a bank, and a conservator paid psychiatric fees, room and board of $550 a month, dental bills, spending money, and family financial debts,” Mark says. “The money was gone in two years. Then, in 1986, when the conditional release program began, my SSI checks paid the rent at Central Manor, leaving me with $78 a month for spending money.’ ’
When Mark applied for a new teaching credential for community colleges, he sent letters of recommendation from Judge Ehrenfreund and Dr. Wait Griswold, his primary therapist. Meanwhile, Ehrenfreund kept encouraging him to continue filing job applications, which he did (unenthusiastically) at the U.S. Grant and at Le Travel Store in Horton Plaza and Zales Jewelers — all within walking distance of where he was living. But it wasn’t until April of 1987 — six months before he went AWOL — that he finally took a part-time job soliciting on the telephone for the Union/Tribune. “That's where I learned to deal with almost certain rejection,” he says, but he didn’t stay around long enough to pick up his last paycheck. “They still owe me about 60 bucks!”
n Florida, the ocean and the rampant street drugs reminded Mark too much of the San Diego he had fled eight months before. He decided to head north, and last July he drove to Vermont. There he washed dishes at four different restaurants in Manchester and spent the first month living in his car in the parking lot of the Sirloin Saloon — until the car was repossessed. One Sunday he went with a co-dishwasher (“a mental patient who lived and wrangled with his aged mother,” Mark notes) to visit the grave of poet Robert Frost at the Old First Church Cemetery in Old Bennington. He was very much taken with the church and with a visiting minister, and he told the pastor he wanted to join the church. “I volunteered for the food pantry, and a few days before my arrest, I cotaught Sunday school,” he smiles.
In the nearly three months he spent in a Rutland, Vermont jail fighting extradition (“I had applied to teach English at Bennington College — and I liked Vermont,’’ Mark says), he generated a furious amount of letters and poems, including one he entitled “Mother Killer! (Sed Quando Submoventa Erit Ignorantia)”:
- He loved himself, but was so lazy he
- did not care for himself; she loved her sons
- more than herself, worked hard to live and love,
- existing largely in the Mind of God.
- Her mate, the Doctor, died young after the War.
- A solitary day did not go by
- Without his resurrection in her
- mind's eye,
- incarnate in her eldest son, a
- Her youngest (by another
- man), the Duke,
- a sportsman all his life, performed his games
- to her delight — "Did K.C. win?" she'd shout:
- lit up a lot or down a bit accordingly.
- Her middle son wrote verse, played basketball,
- acted on the stage, traveled, taught,
- went mad and killed her with an antique sword.
- “You're killing your mother, Mark!" was her last word.
- Was it an evil thing, this blood upon his hand?
- Or was he merely ‘out of his mind’ with grieving
- for the world? Did he want to suffer, as had she
- when the Doctor died? Or was it just an act?
- I like to think (because that man was I)
- he exercised his will and chose to kill
- this single lady rather than the world
- by suicide... Armageddon written small...
He hand-wrote in pencil a dozen copies and sent them to friends and relatives. Along with the poems he sent to his brothers and to his uncle in Chula Vista, he enclosed blood-soaked Kleenex. “I didn’t mean the blood as a threat,” Mark insists. “While I was shaving, I cut myself deeply and I blotted the blood with tissues, which I sent to my family. I though it was a good idea to send the blood because it’s my blood, their blood, our mother’s blood. Blood is emblematic of life.” His abiding interest in roots, in bloodlines, is fueled by an aunt who fiddles with genealogy. He always knew that his paternal greatgrandfather was a Bohemian stonecutter in Prague, but he recently learned that on his mother’s side, he is descended, he says, from Olaf the Black, circa 1000 A.D. “He was a Norse Viking who pillaged and plundered the Scottish coast — and raped, too — and founded the clan Glenn in Scotland,” he says, “which eventuated in the Earl of Lothian. He got his title by defecting from the Roman Catholic Church.”
Despite the amount of mail he generated to try to prevent his extradition, the cause was useless, and he arrived “home” three weeks before Christmas. “Actually, the extradition flight was fun,” Mark laughs. “The two armed deputies who accompanied me were personable, congenial guys. One of them removed one of my handcuffs so I could eat.”
Contrary to the opinion of others, Mark is convinced that drugs played only a negligible part in his personal history. “Art, especially literary art, religion, and sex were the three primary factors in my madness/matricide,” he explains. “Both in 1972 in Pakistan and 1979 in Pacific Beach, I was not suffering from a functional psychosis — schizophrenia nor an organic psychosis — brain damage — but rather from what I choose to categorize as an active-poetic mystical psychosis: a modern parallel to what used to be described as a metaphysical 'dark night of the soul’ in reference to spiritual crises of saints and sage — though I claim neither sanctity nor wisdom. What I perceived humanity to be perpetrating against Mother Earth, I did to my own, loved mother, and in my mind, it was to be the Last Murder.
"People become what other people tell them they are. During the past decade, I've been labeled manic-depressive and paranoid-schizophrenic and schizo-affective. The last is a gray area between the two. A gray area! Wonderfully precise in their definitions, these secular clerics, these modern doctors of the mind!” He pauses reflectively. “They have a vested interest in their ‘customers.’ While they render lip service to the safety of the community, what really motivates the worst of them is feathering their own nests with prestige, power, and affluence. Their reports are laden with high-falutin’ obfuscations and generalizations.”
While he waits in the psychiatric security unit preparing for hearings concerning restoration of sanity and his breaking of parole, Mark describes his present life. "I’m in a dormitory with 22 men. We’re up at 6:00 a.m. for breakfast with the dawn peeking out the dining room windows. Then there’s mail call, medication call, and clean-up. On weekdays there’s bingo, Scrabble, and card games, then doctor’s rounds — two shrinks-in-residence, a social worker, activities coordinator, and the resident psychologist. We have biweekly community meetings to discuss practical problems like how we get along with each other. One or two nights a week we have video movies. Once a week, we’re treated to popcorn. The nurses work on three shifts around the clock, and medications are given four times a day. A few here are not on meds. I just got off Lithium on January 30, and now I’m drug free. God be praised!
“Every Sunday our vital signs are checked and we are weighed,” he continues. "Lock-down is at 10:00 p.m. — 11:00 p.m. on weekends — when we have night count with a deputy. Among ourselves we discuss our cases, our illness, mostly our crimes. My best friends here are two big thirtyish black fellows. I’ve known one of them since I was here in 1984. They’re undereducated but soft-spoken, well mannered, interesting, nice men. There are three mild-mannered Caucasians — two dentists and a young Mormon — who have killed people. The former dentists were given 27-to-life for first-degree murder, and the Mormon got 11 years for manslaughter.”
Because he was recently elected tank captain, his visiting times have been expanded from one-half hour to one full hour on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Although it has been nearly 23 years since Mark graduated from USD, his name is still mentioned among faculty; some remain staunch allies. (A fellow college roommate mailed him $50 last month as a birthday gift.) Dick Peacock, who left USD to teach film at Palomar College, is a frequent visitor. "I’ll never resolve what he did with how I know him,” Peacock explains. “I suppose we all have a dark side, and this darkest of acts may be in all of us. Being around someone who has done this ultimate deed — being his friend is symbolic of the paradox of the human condition. It reminds me of the darkness embedded in clarity and light. Mark is witty, passionate, and intense, yet he’s connected to a strong underground — a profound blackness,” Peacock reflects. ‘‘What’s frightening and fascinating at the same time is that none of us know the depth of our own darkness — and Mark does.”
While he prepares for his April 17 sanity and parole hearings, Mark ponders the future. "I'd rather serve my escape time in jail or prison instead of a hospital. The operative word is time. Jail time is determinate and so is any subsequent parole. Hospital time is indeterminate and so is a subsequent hospital parole or conditional release. Since I know myself to be sane, the kind of suffocating attention in a hospital setting doesn’t appeal to me. My future hopes include paying back the $1300 I’ve borrowed from family and friends, teaching and acting on stage, and my first long love — writing — as a free, respectable citizen. And I’d like to find a willing wife so I can sire children. The more the merrier.
“My current love is someone I’ve known since we were in high school. Her mother was my first lover in 1966. I was chasing her ballerina, virginal daughter, and the mother caught me — when I was 21 and she was 43,” he grins. “My girlfriend is my age. She never got married either. She knows about her mother and me.”
On February 1, 1989, after nearly a decade of involvement in the State of California versus Mark Joseph Yavorsky, Judge Ehrenfreund voluntarily withdrew from the case. Although there is no question of impropriety, Ehrenfreund's concern that their relationship might be misconstrued prompted his action. “Mark has potential as an artist, and I would like to see him fulfill it,” the judge explained. “Nothing in the correspondence and visits between us has interfered with my impartial judgment.” Even though Mark is assured that the correspondence between them will continue, he is disappointed. “Norbert Ehrenfreund is a humane, compassionate man — about as just as a judge can hope to be — and unusually literate for a judge — literate for any professional specialist working outside the literary milieu,” Mark smiles. “To me he is a fellow thespian and was a father figure — as were so many teachers, uncles, coaches, and friends in my life for a very long time. God — Jehovah — Allah is my sole father figure now and forevermore.
“Now all the primary roles in the ongoing courtroom drama have been re-cast,” Mark continues. “There will be a new judge and a new D.A., and I’ll either get a new defense lawyer or I’ll go pro per. The only original character left is me — and I’m new, now that I am truly sane.”