Jay Kottoff and Mark Matey: The Bright Side of Stalking
33 years together! Somebody must be doing something right. Brooklyn-born Jay Kottoff is the president and CEO of Action Builders and Remodelers in Philadelphia and The Handyman Company of Delaware Valley, Inc. Always the free spirit, he turned down a lucrative accounting job when he was told to cut his long hair (it was the ‘60s, after all). Cabbies in Manhattan have no such grooming requirements, so Jay drove a taxi in Midtown until he joined VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a domestic version of the Peace Corps. In that capacity, he worked as a business consultant for a community-owned organization in Cleveland and taught a course in construction techniques. Jay eventually joined his brother-in-law as a distributor of office furniture.
Though Mark Matey was born in Cincinnati, his dad’s job with the Pennsylvania Railroad shuttled his family to and from quite a few homes in quite a few cities. By the time he was in sixth grade, Mark found himself in Philadelphia. His mother put her foot down, saying, “This is it!” Well, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, so Philly is where they stayed. Mark describes himself as the “black sheep” of his devoutly Catholic family. Disillusioned by the dark cloud of pedophilia that enveloped Philadelphia’s Catholic schools (and in spite of his tenure as an altar boy), he chose to fall away from the church at an early age. In spite of his decision, he and Jay’s relationship with his family couldn’t be better.
Mark graduated from Westchester State University with a degree in education, but became increasingly enamored by his work with institutionalized patients as a Psych Tech. In order to advance, he needed a nursing degree, so he went back to school and earned his R.N.; spending the next 15 years working in the field.
Unhappy with the corporate restraints of the office furniture business, and simultaneously coming to terms with his sexuality, Jay bought himself a broken-down VW bus to travel the country. Note the words, “broken down”—it wasn’t long before he limped back into South Jersey. He jump-started a new career as a handyman by placing an ad in the Cherry Hill Shopper’s Guide and moved from a building full of straight singles to a spot in Philadelphia’s Center City “Gayborhood.” “Once I came out, I came out with a vengeance,” Jay smiles. As his business got busier, so did his private life. But family was concerned: “We can’t possibly tell your father,” they warned. It was around that time that Jay met a young man named Jeff.
Turns out that Jeff had a great appreciation for monogamy. But the newly out (except to dad) Jay was having none of it. Also turns out that Jeff had trouble taking “no” for an answer, responding with stalking, death threats, and the launching of bricks through windows. One night around 1 a.m., the phone rang at Jay’s parents’ home. “Mr. Kottoff,” a muted voice intoned to Jay’s half-awake dad, “I want you to know your son is a homosexual. Your wife knows, and your daughters know, and I just wanted you to know.”Nobody said anything to Jay until three months later when his mother began a conversation with the words, “Your dad got a phone call….” Jay was furious. He stormed out of the house and ended up at a downtown Philly bar called Equus (now iCandy). “Through my anger,” says Jay, “I noticed this tall, blond Adonis across the room—with red suspenders. Frustrated, I turned to leave. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. Attached to that hand was Mr. Red Suspenders, who gently asked, ‘Where are you going?’”
That was 33 years ago. Jay sums it up: “In his misguided desire for the ultimate hurt, the jilted boyfriend started a chain of events that created the luckiest night of my life.”
Mr. R. Suspenders, aka Mark Matey, had a successful career with Magellan Health Services, but he wanted to be part of something more gratifying. So around 2004, he became the Clinical Coordinator for Stepping Stones Children’s Partial Hospitalization Program, providing daily education and therapy to disturbed and violent children. “They deserve a chance,” Mark says.
He and Jay decided in 2010 that they wanted their time away from the Gayborhood to be spent in an equally welcoming place. They tried the Jersey shore, but ended up crossing paths with many of their business associates. So naturally (and like many of us reading this article), Rehoboth’s translation to “room for all” made the decision for them. They bought a beautiful home here in Rehoboth Beach.
Jay’s a big-city boy through and through, and I’m singlehandedly working on him to loosen up and wear flip-flops when he’s here at the beach. No success as yet. But the last time I saw him he was wearing the cutest little silver flip-flop earring. OK, Jay. It’s a start.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek