Opinions, Column

The Smartest Man You’ll Never Meet

Al Gomez opens phone calls almost as well as he curses. Finding either of these qualities in a person is rare, which by transitive properties makes Al Gomez a rarity. Never has the word “f—k” sounded so graceful. Never has a phone conversation started so jarringly. Never has there been a smarter man that you’ll never meet, with a crackling laugh you’ll never hear. Language and ink cannot capture the madness that Al Gomez is, but damn me if I don’t try.

Al Gomez knew two things above all else when he was 14: He wasn’t going to college, and he was going to join the Marine Corps. His father wanted him to become a doctor, and his father reluctantly signed release papers when Al turned 17. The year was 1977.

Basic training started in August. Lasted three months. Artillery for two years in North Carolina. Four-month NATO Cruise for a show of force. Germany. Denmark. Scotland. Stationed in Okinawa for two years. Philippines, six months. Korea, one month. Along the way, Al was promoted to lieutenant. Tour of duty ended. Reenlisted. USS Kitty Hawk in the San Diego Harbor. Transferred to the USS Constellation. Kenya. Diego Garcia. Al spent his free time reading, recording what he finished. Stephen King’s 1,400-page magnum opus, The Stand, is a highlight. Philippines, again. Singapore. Tour of duty ended, and at 25 years old, Al Gomez went to the tiny, public Adelphi University in New York to get his undergraduate degree.

Once you’ve seen the world with a gun strapped to your chest, starting a conversation with a stranger is a cinch. Al believes in connection. Networking. Ideas. Al enjoys people. Listening. Finding something in what someone else has to say. Al’s voice thunders the chords of a room. Every word is punctual. Adrenalized. Dressing the part at a black tie event, Al can captivate a room of philanthropists balancing martini glasses with well-placed, crass jokes—as long as no one kicks him out for crashing the party. Al drinks like an 18th-century sailor. He curses like one, too.

Now, there’s a wife, a kid, and a home in Texas. Al keeps the buzz cut, the stocky body. Lighting white smile of very white teeth. Al gets through about 20 books a year. He finds John Grisham too politically correct, and Bill O’Reilly better in writing. He’s just finished Madame Picasso, and is fishing around for something new. Al works monitoring call centers at JP Morgan Chase. He calls me, every so often, to see how I’m doing.

The phone rings one morning, and in an exhausted stupor, I answer with a muffled hello. Al is livid. “You’ve got life by the balls and you answer the phone like that?”

My favorite though, by far, is the Sunday morning phone call I made recently, standing outside of a coffee shop. “A good Irish boy like you shouldn’t be sneaking calls in from the church pew, now.”

To complete your understanding of Al Gomez, I feel the need to make a point about intelligence. Yes, there is a high correlation between the degrees and the grade point averages of an individual and that individual’s intelligence. Al, in his graceful manner, sees grades and degrees being the number one indicator of intelligence, like I do, as “such bulls—t.” Awarded credentials don’t equate to superior intellect.

In the morning, when the alarm clock drones for the masses, and everyone showers in feigned interest, and brushes teeth with forced laughter, and dresses up with believed inhibitions, Al Gomez smiles that cheeky smile and walks butt-naked into the world.

There is no rigid way to define intelligence across all people, but for you to be intelligent, you need to ask yourself how much of you there is in you.

Imagine opening the mailbox one day to find a vibrant purple, red, blue, teal, yellow, and green card from Al Gomez. It reads “Bat Mitzvah” at the bottom. You’re not Jewish. Or a girl. Has anything of any importance happened recently? The inside of the card is filled corner to corner with Al’s scrawling handwriting. Novel advice. Good wishes. Sent because he wanted to send it.

Al picked the card because it had the best looking cover, and that’s all he needed—his words did the work, the feared heavy lifting, and filled the empty spaces up, saying something that can’t be bought for the $1.99 the card was worth. Or any price, for that matter.

I forever raise my glass to you, Al Gomez.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Editor

November 13, 2014

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