Matthew on Asking the Right Questions (by Danny Harris)


Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“I grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. When I graduated from college, I couldn’t get into graduate school and rather than be drafted into Vietnam, I joined the Navy and went to Officer Candidate School. I spent a year watching the war and two years in Scotland as a diplomatic courier. I came to Washington in the early 70’s. I had G.I. money and went to get my MBA in computers at American University. My first job in town was in the information business. I was a paper boy and delivered the New York Times at 5 a.m. everyday.

“I always knew that I wanted my own business. I would sell hot dogs on the Mall if I had to. I started a few businesses that failed. Then, I became a consultant. Funny how when people fail, they become consultants! So, I started with a phone and a desk down at Foggy Bottom. I was getting free government information and selling it to Fortune 500 fat cats. It shocked me that a schmuck like me from Wilkes-Barre could make a free phone call and turn around and sell that information for thousands of dollars to some rich person who was too lazy to get it. It was basically a shoe shine business. People spend $5 to shine their shoes when you can get a $2 can of shoe polish at CVS that will last your whole life. That mentality is what this town is all about. After helping rich people for a number of years, I figured that I would spend the rest of my life helping the rest of the country find out how to get useful government information.

“Now, I look back on my failures and realize that they were the result of me not doing things my own way. I thought if I failed that I would have a permanent ‘F’ on my forehead, but people don’t give a shit. They are too worried about themselves. It took me a couple of failures to figure that out. When I started this business, I wanted to have fun. I figured that the worse that would happen would be failing again. When I started having fun, things became different. I realized that I was good at acting foolishly on television. My parents did not admit that I was their kid for the first ten years of my career! They wanted me to act like Henry Kissinger. I wouldn’t sell shit if I acted like that. Life is trying to realize who you are. The more you go through this education system, you are told to be like everyone else. We should be bringing out the best in everyone and encouraging people to do what they are really good at.

“To me, that is what the question mark suits are all about. About ten years ago, I was in a down cycle and bought a cheap suit and had someone embroider a question mark on it. I always wanted to have a suit like that. Had I been a teacher or accountant, I would have gotten the same suit. To me, the philosophy behind the question mark is that we live in a society where we have more accessible information than at any other time at history. You can go to Google and get a million answers. The answers are easy, it is the questions that are hard. I really believe that we need to struggle in life to ask the right questions.”

Learn more about Matthew Leskohere.

20 Comment

  • man, i saw the headline and i thought, what, another famous person being profiled? i like the plain ol folk ones. the dude on the street, the ex con gone straight. just regular people.

    but this lesko one was pretty interesting.

  • This guy is a piece of work… two quotes from him in a Post article a few years back:

    On his first book:
    “I plagiarized the whole thing, I didn’t write a lick.”

    On his business model:
    “I get stuff for free and I sell it for as much as I can get.”

    Dude’s basically a scam artist – I’m sure he appreciates the free PR though.

    • I don’t see what’s wrong with selling people information that they can get for free if they looked for it themselves. He is (I’m assuming, never actually looked at his stuff) packaging and organizing lots of free information in a way that’s faster and easier to obtain than looking for it yourself without any guidance. If I remember his commercials correctly, he explicitly states that all this info is from the government, so people should know it’s free. He’s not forcing anyone to buy it, so someone must think that it’s a valuable product.

      • Exactly. His analogy is spot on. You can buy shoe polish for $2 and have enough for a year or pay someone $5 to shine your shoes once – it’s your choice. People will pay (often good money) to have someone do things they don’t want or don’t have time to do themselves. Kudos for him for figuring out a way to capitalize on that.
        Like the kids say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

    • By nature, Capitalism rewards the clever. If it works, it’s good. That’s the system, baby.

  • Anyone with a library pass could do their own house construction too. Does that make a librarian a scam artist? A scam artist is someone who sells you something that doesn’t exist.

    Don’t insult people without knowing what you’re talking about DB.

  • As a librarian Lesko bugs the crap out of me. Not so much because of what he does but because what he does makes people think applying for government money is easy and that there is just pile of money lying around for any lazy slob who wants it. Can not tell you the number of times I tell people that you have to be eligible for money for it to be available to you. And you have to prove it! Then I just direct people to http://www.govbenefits.go let them fill out the questionnaire and find out that much of this free money is either what they already know about or really is a loan and has to be paid back.

    Then there are his commercials. Drive. Me. Nuts!! And that suit needs to be burned.

  • I’ve seen this guy many times in Tryst. He’s got those goofy question marks and hot pink/lime green colors all over his outfit, down to his shoes, socks, eye glasses frames, and probably his undies.

    Whatever. My hat’s off to him for packaging the info in a way that people want to see it and pay for it.

    His kids must be mortified when he shows up to PTA meetings, though 🙂

    • i actually know his son (through a friend of a friend). he’s a really cool guy. i’ll see him at a party this weekend..

      and no, he’s not mortified

      • I’ll be there too. The ‘Lesk is quite a hoot at parties. Dude can pound Miller Lites like there’s no tomorrow.

        You doing the keg stand again this year?

    • I was teaching at Walter Johnson when he showed up for Back to School Night. Wearing the suit. I thought the same thing you did.

  • He was at just about every Jazz in the Sculpture Garden this Summer. Totally cool guy, people would flock to him to take pictures and he’d yuck it up with them for quite a while.

  • Anyone else think he bears a resemblance to Jim Graham, especially w/ the colorful glasses?

  • I saw him in Adams Morgan last night. He was just walking down the street by himself, in the suit, at around 9. Seemed very quiet for someone in such a noisy outfit. I started cracking up uncontrollably the second I saw him and briefly felt bad about it, but then I realized he probably loved the attention. The worst part though was that I somehow forgot to tell him that I dressed as him for Halloween 2004. I hope I see him again.

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