When the Weird NJ office phone rang and the Greek was on the other end of the line, I knew it was sure be a strange call.
“Mark,” he said excitedly, “I’ve got something you’ve just GOT to see! It’s got to be the weirdest place you’ve ever seen, and really belongs in your magazine.”
When the Greek, the mad genius behind Greek’s Playland in Monroe (featured in Weird NJ #43), one of the most bizarre locations in the state, says something is weird in HIS eyes––well I thought, that’s got to be a real sight worth looking into. At first I assumed the Greek was going to invite me back to his Playland to show me a new display he had created––the place is constantly in a state of flux and new and unusual attractions are always being born out of the Greek’s ever fertile imagination. That was not in fact the case though.
“It’s my ophthalmologist’s office in East Brunswick,” he said to my bewilderment. “His name is Doctor Mark Leitman, and he’s a real collector. You’ve just got to see the place to believe it––I’m telling you, you’ve never seen anything like it!”
I must admit I was dubious. I mean, how weird can an eye doctor’s office really be, right? But based on the Greek’s enthusiasm and insistence, I decided to give the good doctor a call and make an appointment. He agreed to meet with me on a Saturday morning when the office was not open. When I arrived, the door was unlocked and I let myself into what looked more like the aftermath of a Mardi Gras novelty factory explosion than an ophthalmologist’s office. Stepping through the glass door of what looked like just an ordinary brick medical arts building on the outside was like traveling through the looking glass into a kaleidoscopic wonderland of color and sound. As soon as I entered the vestibule, even before getting inside the main waiting room, the show had already begun. There was stuff everywhere, tacked up to walls, taped onto windows and hanging from ceiling tiles. A seemingly randomly arranged display of brightly colored trinkets, toys and paraphernalia festooned every inch of every surface in sight. There were glistening crystals and gemstones, some of which looked quite precious, which were either placed on shelves in glass display cases or simply scattered out in the open on tabletops. There were inspirational messages scrawled in day-glo paint across the walls, ceiling and even the floor. There were seashells, dolls, bobbles and beads, 45-RPM records, vintage board games, and clowns––everywhere I looked, another clown. There were jaunty jesters, happy harlequins, melancholy mimes – so…many…clowns.
There was so much Technicolor ephemera to look at that it was hard to even get a sense of the size or shape of the room itself. It was like walking into another dimension altogether, one where I couldn’t focus my vision onto any one object without my attention being fractured by another. Add to this the soundtrack of calliope carnival music that swirled around my head from the office sound system, and the whole experience began to seem like a weird psychedelic trip. I wandered through the office, disoriented, slowly pushing doors open and calling out “Dr. Leitman, are you here?” repeatedly. But there was no answer. After checking the waiting room, I looked around the treatment room, then the receptionist’s area and even the lavatory, but found nobody. When I emerged from the bathroom and scanned the cluttered waiting room once again I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. There was a life-sized mannequin standing across the room from me with what appeared to be the grinning face of an Asian deity. I stared at it for a moment, transfixed, and wondered how I could have missed that before. Then all of a should as shiver shot through my body as I came to realize that it wasn’t a mannequin at all – it was a live man in a Buddha head standing there still as a statue almost completely camouflaged amongst the clutter. How long had he been standing there watching me, I wondered. “Dr. Leitman…” I said slowly and suspiciously, “is that you?”
With that the mysterious stranger removed his papier-mâché head to reveal a white haired gentleman who appeared to be in his late sixties, wearing a smile just as broad as the one on the mask he had just taken off. He wore several strings of multi-colored beads the size of Christmas tree balls over a red and green flannel shirt, faded blue jeans and running shoes. He introduced himself as Mark Leitman, then he started talking rapidly, hardly ever taking a breath or staying on any one thought for more than a sentence, if even that long.
Dr. Leitman told me that he had been practicing in this same office, located in a small medical arts complex on Brunswickwood Drive, for the past forty years. And that his collection of, well, everything, has been growing bigger that whole time. When I asked if his practice was mainly geared toward children, thinking that perhaps the office was decorated such as it was for their amusement, the doctor simply replied, “No.” The truth of the matter is that the office is decorated as it is for the amusement of the good doctor himself––and he certainly does seem to revel in its eccentricity. I asked Dr. Leitman to answer some questions for me as he pointed out some of the many points of interest around the office that might just be the weirdest workplace in the entire state.
WNJ: You’re a friend of the Greek, how do you know each other?
ML: He likes rocks. He was going to build an amusement park, but couldn’t get approvals. So I told him, “Listen, you understand rocks. So why don’t you do rocks?” Because that’s what I do. So I told him were to get the rocks. He chartered a jet, supposedly, and went to Tucson, and he brought a lot of people with him, and he bought a whole museum.
Yes, he has quite an extensive collection. So how many years ago did this take place, when you suggested that he get into rocks?
Probably 14-15 years ago.
How did you come to make his acquaintance?
Well, he had a lot of stones outside. And I’d always go and inspect them. You know, the big boulders? And I’d buy a lot. At my house I have a lot of boulders. In fact, the big ones outside, the mica from Colorado with the red quartz, was from his.
So you must have some vintage stuff here.
Oh, some invaluable stuff. I would outbid the little kids on the rocks. The mines are closed now, so I got good stuff. You can’t get it anymore.
You’ve got to realize something. The fire department came in a month ago. They’re very tough. It depends who you get. This one guy is particularly tough. Every year, once a year, just around this time, they come. But most guys are pretty easy. This guy is tough. He was here 15 years ago and I remember him. He remembered me. And they have rules. Ten percent can be flammable on the wall. So I had to replace a lot. And, you’re not allowed to hang anything from the ceiling, so everywhere you’ll see toggle bolts sitting in the ceiling. I took down maybe 15 cartons of stuff in the last week. So I put back some flammables, like these things, just for you. I’ll take them down tonight.
Would you like to show me some of you favorite things here?
You know the truth? I love it ALL.
I see there is more than just this one room, your waiting room. It seems like your office itself is decorated too.
You have no idea what was here a while ago. The whole floor was photographs. And covered with plastic. But they made me take the plastic down, even though it was not flammable. So I painted the floor. And what I try to do is get some worthwhile sayings in. I had maybe a couple of hundred sayings on the wall. Quotations. What makes my life so interesting, that I love, is I need new things. I have one saying, “Interesting things are usually new”? All right, “Change, constantly cherish your individuality but change something, anything.” I live my whole life that way. If you ask me what is the best thing in here, besides the minerals, these are the best minerals in the world. This is ruby, this is lepidolite, one of the biggest ones anywhere. So it’s really very special minerals.
And then what I like, what I mix, I love color. It talks to me. When I see colorful things…you know like Paleo man will see a blueberry a mile away? I see color. I’ll go to flea markets and I see a colorful thing two aisles away. I can’t wait to get to that aisle. If you ever saw my garage now…cartons and cartons of this stuff.
Is it just your office or is your home like this as well?
My home, I have cartons and I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, because they forced me to take them down. See these Christmas balls? I have the best balls anywhere and maybe a thousand of them. Like these with the feathers? My garage has hundreds of these dolls. These new types of dolls they have now at Toys ‘R’ Us––they’re exciting looking. Look at the costumes on them. It talks to me. So I want this here so I can look at it. I look at it as the patients are trying contact lenses, and it just makes them think, what does this mean? But it’s okay!
But each thing…when I finished the rocks, I have almost every mineral there is. So then I started on shells and went up and down both coasts of America, all the shell stores, and I got all the shells. When they started telling me that I couldn’t have flammable stuff, I started the tins, the Christmas tins. Because I like dancing and I like anything with dance in front, amusement parks, clowns. Clowns want people to be happy. I love going to amusement parks and photographing them. I have hundreds of pictures. I had them up, but they made me take them down.
And I love the jewels…and the dolls. You see these dolls like this? They’re pretty unique. You see this guy over here? This is unusual stuff. But, that’s flammable. And you say, “what’s the best?” I can’t even say it.
Where do you get things like this?
In San Francisco I got her. It stood in the window of a place in San Francisco. I saw it, I walked by it twice, usually I give it a second shot. And if I love it, I get it. I have maybe a hundred burlesque dolls. Here, this is probably $1,500.
This one was in New Orleans. I walked into these stores in New Orleans with the music blasting, and I saw her in the back of the store. And it shined. I said, “Ah, that’s it for today!” This one I got from Brazil when I went to Carnival. I was going with a Brazilian girl for awhile.
I was a coin collector as a kid. In other words, I love going and looking for the unknown. In fact, tonight I’m going to go into Manhattan. There will be 800 women. And it’s like a crap shoot. You don’t know what you’re going to get. So it’s the same. What I’d usually do on a weekend is I’ll go out in the flea market. The flea markets around here are probably the best in the world. Between Englishtown, Columbus, Meadowlands, Lambertville, Collingswood on Route 34. So you go there, you have no idea what you’re going to find.
But what about all of these spectacular gem stones? I don’t imagine you found these at the Englishtown Flea Market.
Isn’t it amazing? This is rare stuff. This one is jade. I paid a restaurant, it was in the window, in San Francisco, and I said, “Listen, I need that rock.” And I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. This big piece of turquoise, I saw that in the city somewhere. This one’s from a guy from Romania. This is from Missouri. And these mines, a lot of them are closed. This one, a guy comes from the Congo every year and brings malachite.
So where does the collection go from here? Is there any direction, or are you just going to keep collecting and displaying?
The truth is, this is a milestone in my life. First of all, I stopped surgery this year. I did it for 40 years and just this year I stopped. They don’t even pay you enough to do it anymore. It’s not even worth it. And I enjoyed it, but it’s stress. You never know what’s going to happen next. So I’ve done my 5,000 cataracts, I’ve paid my dues. All my friends are retiring. I’m now 68. I’m not going to retire, but you know how you should always have some kind of goal? I already collected everything. I can honestly tell you every single thing I’ve got and where I got it.
A lot of people have a fear of clowns, there’s even a name for the condition – coulrophobia. Do some patients come in and get a little anxious about all of this clownage going on here?
Yeah, Hyperactive kids. That’s the price. You can’t go by what a small percent doesn’t like about you. You’ve gotta take a risk. I have one saying, “If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking up too much space.” I know they’re going to be unhappy. I had a couple who just walked out last week. This wasn’t what they expected to find. So I know that.
I would imagine most people are pretty surprised the first time they walk in, aren’t they?
Yes, and they’ll leave, and they’ll ask my nurse, they say, “Is he crazy?” The guy who is the electrician here, he said, “You know, I should tell you my wife thinks you’re crazy with this office,” but I told her what it means and I straightened her out.
So you’re not crazy?
I have a good time. I know I’m sane.
Photos by ©Weird NJ/Mark Moran