#009 - Mat Marquis

With Zero and Nomad

Profile image of Mat Marquis

Mat is an independent developer, an amateur boxer, an aspiring chef, a published author and chair of the Responsive Issues Community Group. He keeps busy.

Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pets have you brought along with you today?

Mat: Submitted for the approval of the Developur.rs society: not one, but two orange do—uh, cats:

Zero, the loose cannon:

A Portugese Podengo Grande and a Shiba Inu dog, hanging out together
Zero (left) hanging with his best pal

I ended up with Zero thanks to a woman named Helen. She worked at the previous iteration of the Rosebud Diner in Davis Square—back before some “serial restaurateur” took it over and turned it into another generic-ass brunchateria. I grew up in North Cambridge, a few blocks out of Davis, and Helen remembered my family. My grandfather used to get chewed out for taking me there as a kid—back when Rosebud was a big biker hangout.

One morning, Helen told me to call my sister and give her the phone. My sister is a vet tech.

“Your brother needs a dog,” Helen said, without consulting me on the matter. “Your brother, all alone, in this city—he should have a dog.” My lease did not allow dogs; presumably, neither did my roommates. I said this. “You gotta get him a dog,” she continued, “okay… Okay. Thanks.” She hung up, disappeared for a moment, and returned with a Sharpie-on-printer-paper sign reading “LOST. PLEASE GIVE ME A HOME.” “You hang this around his neck, and what’re your roommates gonna do—kick him out?”

A week later, my sister shows up at the door with an eight week old Portugese Podengo Grande that had been abandoned at her office.

“Congrats on your new dog,” she said.
“I can’t—”
“His name is Zero,” she said sharply, “and nobody loves him, so figure it out.”

I offered to keep an eye on him for a couple weeks—y’know, until she could find a suitable home for him. That was six years ago.

I would go on to learn that Podengos are a “minimally domesticated” breed—a little like having a coyote live in your apartment. He was a nightmare as a puppy; we saw trainers-plural and behaviorists-plural. We fought over scraps of pigeon-or-whatever found on sidewalks. I got bitten. But we put in the time and the work, Zero and me; we figured it out. He is now, I say with some pride, a very good boy.

Nomad, the no nonsense, by-the-books Shiba Inu.

A Shiba Inu dog is comforted by a Portugese Podengo Grand
Nomad getting some comfort from Zero

Nomad graciously adopted Zero and I. He and Lisa Maria Martin moved up to North Cambridge a handful of years ago—for a boy, of all things. For a while, we had to take the pups on carefully orchestrated safe-distance-away walks: Zero is a little iffy about other dogs. Zero is especially iffy about other dogs that seem a little iffy about me, which Nomad was, at first. We made it work, though.

Now, Nomad is an extremely good boy. Nomad has never done anything wrong in all his twelve years of life, including the things that he has done wrong, which were fine, actually, and in fact maybe even good to do. Nomad is deserving—as we speak—of a biscuit. Old dogs get special rules; that’s just how it is. Were it not for that rule, I would mention that Shiba Inu aren’t the most even-tempered dogs of all time. But after braving Zero’s feral puppyhood, Nomad’s… occasional behavioral quirks didn’t even register.

Nomad needs a little help up and down the stairs, but listen, I been there. He has anxiety attacks, sure—but, hell, it’s 2018, how could he not? Besides, Zero is here to help his friend.

Andy: Gosh darnit, Mat, those are very good cats dogs you’ve got there. Some of the best pets are the ones that just end up in your life.

Speaking of which: I had an actual cat called Podge, and Zero’s origin story reminds me of hers a bit. Podge was chill and we mentioned her briefly in #001. Her origin story is that I, being the reprobate that I was as a teen—would often sneak out of the house to have a crafty cigarette. Podge and I had these nice moments with each other where she’d spend 90% of my cigarette working out if I was good or bad. She’d then come over and get really into some scritches. That was how we made friends with each other and the “sussing out” phases got shorter and shorter over time.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I came home one day and she was just sat on our couch like she’d been living in the house for ever. Our existing cats, Heidi and Sophie sat staring at her, completely bewildered. After about 5 years of living with each other, they tolerated each other, so it was all good in the end. This was a good result for Podge (and me, she was the best cat) because she was not having a good time with her previous owners who we think were abusing her.

Right, let’s talk about Nomad. I felt real feels when you mentioned the panic attacks. Is this common with Shiba Inu dogs?

Mat: I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. I mean, they’re not known for being the most mellow of all pups (see: the infamous Shiba scream. Shibas are a “basal breed,” more closely related to wolves than, say, a golden retriever. Which means they can come with some, uh, behavioral quirks—nothin’ that wasn’t immediately familiar after raising Zero from a glassy-eyed murderpup to the well-behaved hound he is today.

Nomad is getting up there in years, and his joints get pretty sore. He still gets around okay, but sometimes mornings can take a little extra effort, and he needs a little help with stairs. I’m sure that’s a big part of the panic—you wake up and your first thought is “I don’t feel good about standing up,” yeah, hell, that’d mess me up too. It did mess me up, back when my leg was real bad.

It took us all a little bit to get it dialed in, but we’ve got the anxiety attacks pretty well under control. Us humans have found the right combination of medications and little changes to the daily routine that help make it all a little more manageable for him, and help him with aches and pains. For Nomad’s part, he has settled on a specific noise that means “I need a little help getting up,” become very decisive about when his walks are over, and learned to communicate “I am starting to get nervous and need your help” through shin headbutts. It’s a team effort.

He’s a good boy.

Andy: Gosh darn it he sounds like the best boy.

Animals have a real talent for tugging on your heart strings when they’re getting a bit old and stiff. It sounds like he’s in the perfect place though.

So, are these good boys good work buddies?

Mat: Generally, yeah. When not gazing longingly out the window at squirrels he would one day like to consume or napping, Zero spends his workday following me around and/or staring at me; he’s super attached. But for all his puppyhood… challenges, let’s call them, he ended up being a pretty low-maintenance dude. If he needs something, he makes “hup” noises at me until I follow him—if he’s out of kibble or water, he leads me to the empty bowl and swats at it; if he needs to go out, he leads me to the front door and hups again. All the training and attention he needed early on means he and I got pretty good at Dog Communication™ over the years.

Nomad is a little trickier, as a co-worker. If he’s feeling a little anxious, he might bark about LMM and I not being in the same room, or one of us being behind a closed office door, or just bark and pace because he’s nervous, and he doesn’t know why, but it feels like something is wrong, and he would like help. But we figure it out, and we’re all getting better and better at keeping it all in check from the get-go. Anxiety is rough miles for anybody—people and pups alike—and he’s doing his best. The thing about dogs, I figure, is that they’re only ever doing their best.

Andy: I like how you call them co-workers. I often refer to my cats as colleagues, which results in funny looks from folks—usually from people who don’t work remotely.

I’d usually use this as an opportunity for a slick segue to talk about the web, but we have more important things to discuss which we’re both way into: cooking.

Let’s talk about your food blog. How’d that come about?

Mat: Oh, hell yeah. The short version is that I needed 1. a better system for recipes than scraps of notebook paper tacked the the fridge, and 2. an excuse to tinker with CSS Grid. Zach Leatherman’s had just rolled out 11ty, too, so I fired that up.

The longer version is that I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life. Not by choice, but because I just can’t eat meat; something-something proteins and enzymes and whatnot? Fats and such are fine, though, thankfully.

Ma was one of seven kids—first generation outta Ireland—so the vegetarian-friendly pickings were pretty slim. My old man could cook, though, thanks to a classically-trained French, uh, “friend of the family” that taught him. He taught me a bunch of stuff as a kit, and I took to it in a big way. I watched a lot of Yan Can Cook and The French Chef, and I still have a copy of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook—shout-out to Fannie Merritt Farmer—with crayon in the margins.

I’ve always wanted to do something with it all. So, I figure, what the hell; why not get a foodblog going, for funsies.

Andy: Oh damn, I didn’t even click that you were vegetarian. When I look back over the recipes, it makes total sense. It’s good that you can still make meaty stocks and stuff because there’s a lot of flavour base there.

French cooking is the bomb. I worked with Italian food, mainly, so you could say that my techniques are loose. Still, knowing how to cook well is probably the most useful skill that you can learn, so read Mat’s blog, folks. I benefit from my short stint in “professional” cooking every day.

You mention your amateur boxing on your blog. How did that start out? Do you find having to stay at a certain weight for fights tough while making dope food?

Mat: Hah, yeah, it sure as hell put a damper on baking for a while. If you go back through my Instagram feed, you’ll eventually hit patches of non-stop French omelettes with morose captions about missing bread.

Boxing came about because I wrenched my back up pretty bad—Jesus, more than a decade ago, now— due to a severe case of Making Twenty-Something Decisions. It messed up my right sciatic, and that leg went from “achy” to “screaming” to “dead weight” over the course of a year. I had a pretty severe limp for a while. Thanks to a couple rounds of cortisone shots and an exceptionally lucky recovery I got the use of it back, but with nerve damage and pretty badly atrophied muscle—so, I ended up moping around on my couch watching MAS*H for a long time, even after it got to as-normal-as-it-will-ever-be. It didn’t do me a ton of favors either fitness- or mobility-wise.

Years later, LMM and I are trial-and-erroring some fitness efforts. Running was out, because it 1. sucks, and 2. I couldn’t, really. We tried some pretty standard stuff, we tried a couple circus classes (because what the hell, why not). We walk into this gym—Boston Boxing—in the dead of winter, because I’d boxed at some crummy chain gym in my early twenties and always wanted to get back into it. The exercise machine nearest to the door was “some hammers near a tire,” and I’m like “alright yeah, this is the one.” We’ve been there for… three, four years now? It was pretty rough at the outset. Y’know, they’re not the gentlest workouts for getting one’s skeleton back in working order. But thanks to the coaches there—and ice packs, and ibuprofen, and hockey tape—I managed to go from wheezing my way through the “fitness”-y classes to competitive training.

But I started late, already at retirement age for an amateur boxer (and at kind of a disadvantage). I’m gonna keep up the training, but I think I’m just gonna stick with smokers from here on out—which means no weigh-ins, and eating all the bread I want.

Andy: I thinks it’s admirable how you let young-guns punch you in the face. All I do is go to the gym 3 times a week and moan all day afterwords.

Speaking of taking a lot on: we’ve got a lot to thank you for in terms of images on the web. Can you tell us more about what you do with that and on the web in general?


“I thinks it’s admirable how you let young-guns punch you in the face. All I do is go to the gym 3 times a week and moan all day afterwords. ”

Hey, three-a-week is nothing to sneeze at!

“Speaking of taking a lot on: we’ve got a lot to thank you for in terms of images on the web. Can you tell us more about what you do with that and on the web in general? ”

Ah man, no thanks needed! In fact, I’m pretty low on the to-thank list, if you ask me.

I might’ve always been the loudest member of the RICG, but I’m sure as hell not the best and/or brightest—if I get credit for any part of the responsive image saga, it’s just for acting as a rally point for some of the best and brightest designers and developers around. I’m not really picking fights on mailing lists anymore, these days; in fact, I’d even stepped back from some of the “responsive images” evangelism for a while. With the native markup patterns worked into major CMSes, scores of designers and developers out there writing and speaking about images and performance, and me being so steeped in the topic, it started to feel a little like a solved problem, y’know? I sort of took it for granted.

But still, I was finding that my performance advice almost always seemed to come back around to issues with images—and a lot of the same problems from one site to the next. So I started sketching up a super early draft of Image Performance from a running list of performance audit notes, and the team at A Book Apart shaped it into something a little more book-like. Fingers crossed, people are finding it useful!

Andy: What a book it is that you’ve put together, too. I’ve found it to be very handy indeed.

I’ll also extend thanks to the folks who got involved with the RICG because you folks gave us some really nice stuff to work with for what is a crucial part of designing for the web. I’m a big fan.

Mat, I reckon this steak is nearly cooked, so let’s baste it in butter, a sprig of rosemary and garlic. Can you tell us all how we can find you on the web and how we can support the work that you do?

Mat: Ah man, I’m all over the shop as “Wilto”—Twitter, GitHub, and so on. I’ve got a snippet of the new book up at matmarquis.com. And of course, you can find my recipe blog and, fingers crossed, eventual retirement plan at https://wiltomakesfood.com.