Crying Uncle, by RW Hughes

Crying Uncle
by Richard W. Hughes

 

When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in confederacy against him.

 

Jonathan Swift

GENIUS IS A funny thing. Those who possess it tell you it's just a matter of hard work, elbow grease, if you will. Those of us who lack it simply stand in awe – viewing a rare jewel – the sheer majesty of it all. In my lifetime, the closest I've come to that stuff is a man named Gerry Rogers.

I'll never forget the first time I met him. A reed-thin man with white hair was sitting at a restaurant table talking gems amidst a cloud of cigarette smoke. I overheard the phrase "trapiché emerald" and so wandered over and introduced myself. Soon after, we became friends – more than friends. He soon became like a benevolent uncle to me. Whenever a problem arose, there he was, always ready with sage advice, invariably finished off with a dirty joke or three.

Although he lacked formal training, Uncle Gerry had an encyclopedic knowledge of gems. Take the day he taught me about the toughness of jade by handing me a hammer and letting me have a go at a nearby boulder, daring me to break it. I flayed away like Paul Bunyan. But when the sparks and dust had cleared, only two things had broken – my wrist… and my ego. "Uncle," I cried. "I give up." I was beaten by a lousy piece of stone. Gerry, eyes twinkling as only his could, just chuckled.

Watching him work a buyer was like watching Bangkok bar girls strip the baht off a Young Republicans' tour of Patpong Road.

As a salesman, he was unsurpassed. Watching him work a buyer was like watching Bangkok bar girls strip the baht off a Young Republicans' tour of Patpong Road. He was able to do it because he loved what he was selling. Gerry truly believed that everything he sold was a gift of nature. Each piece was unique, beautiful. And each and every customer who walked away from him walked away with a rare treasure.

Belatedly, I've come to realize that, like the precious stones we deal with, human perfection doesn't exist. I no longer hope for flawlessness in my heroes or jewels – but accept the defects as the price for the keys to the kingdom. Like all of us, Gerry was far from flawless, a flurry of contradictions. Money poured through his hands without a care. It was maddening to watch. But nothing was more maddening than watching him work. A big measure of genius is problem-solving ability, and Gerry had that in spades. He possessed that rare gift of being able to stand a problem on its head – to extract the obvious from the obscure.

From the time of Adam, the holy grail of the gem cutter has been to retain weight and beauty. Gerry's solution? Something no adult had ever figured out, but that which any child could probably tell you…

Take gem cutting. From the time of Adam, the holy grail of the gem cutter has been to retain weight and beauty. Traditionally, this has been done by adding pavilion bulge, rounding the steps below the girdle.

The result? Extinction and windowing. Gerry's solution? Something no adult had ever figured out, but that which any child could probably tell you – round the crown. The pavilion controls most of the light, not the crown. Simple, obvious, brilliant… maddening! Why didn't I think of that? Today, buff-tops are a popular cutting style. Gerry was doing it long ago. Mad scientist, mad genius.

Much of Gerry's most important work in the jewelry business concerned heat treatment. He demonstrated things to me that are in no book, but which completely turn present-day cook books on their heads.

Perhaps the most outlandish idea Gerry ever had was his bid to reform the spelling of the English language. "Sure," I thought, "you and George Bernard Shaw."

Of course. Reform English spelling, save the planet. What genius!

But Gerry's whacky ideas always turned out to be so much more. He explained: shortening the spelling of English words by removing silent or unneeded letters would not only make it easier for Johnny to read, but most importantly, would do wonders for the environment. "If we can eliminate 30% of the letters in the average book," and he clearly demonstrated how this could be done, "we can cut paper use by a similar amount." Paper is made of wood. Ping! The bulb turned on and suddenly there I was, swinging upside down right alongside him in his tree, grinning like a quarter to three. Of course. Reform English spelling, save the planet. What genius!

Genius? Gerry had the answer to that one, too, as always, in the form of a joke. It went something like this: Einstein is 90 years old and is humping a woman many years his junior. His son accidentally surprises them in the room and exclaims: "Dad, what's this?" Einstein looks up and says: "Son, this is genius!"

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The phone call came at 5:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Gerry had moved on, from this life to the next.

What a beautiful jewel to behold. Breathtaking, really. Just his memory leaves me in awe, flaws and all. This time, Uncle Gerry, I'm really crying uncle.

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Author's Afterword

Published in GemKey Magazine (1999, Vol. 1, No. 4, May-June), this was installment #4 of my Digital Devil column.

 

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