A Genius In The Closet

Originally posted in 2005.
When I was in grade school, we had a genius who lived in my closet and smelled of garlic. He lived on the third floor of our house, slept at odd hours of the day, and kept his mail in our cereal cabinet. It’s a credit to my absolute belief in the normalcy of my family, that I didn’t find this strange in the least.
The genius and I shared the third floor, which was basically a converted attic. His bed was near a large walk-in closet and that is where he kept most of his processions including his TV. Most nights, while I was trying to fall asleep, he would be watching TV. The light would emanate from inside the closet like some weird Close Encounters moment, backlighting his inert body. The sound would be just loud enough to be distracting, but not loud enough to be entertaining.
How he came to live with us escapes me now, but what I do know is that my father had known him for years, and the genius, being without a place to live at the time, had been invited to come live with us. His name was Tom.

Tom was an honest-to-god, off the charts brainiac. He was a charter member of MENSA and in fact was close personal friends with the founder. Tom’s IQ was off the charts, but he suffered from serious food allergies, various medical problems and emotional issues. Because of his many issues, Tom was on permanent disability. As a way to try and combat his illnesses, Tom was very into holistic medicine and ate raw garlic as a way to cleanse his body. It’s safe to say that Tom wasn’t sneaking up on a lot of people. When he was in the room, you knew it.
In the years that he lived with us, and even years later when he would get his mail from us, he would walk in unannounced, with this hair doing a pretty good impersonation of Albert Einstein, wave, open the cabinet over the stove where we kept the cereal and retrieve his mail. Despite his troubles, he always seemed happy, always had a nice word to say and though weird, was a gentleman. He had become such a fixture over the years, that we barely noticed him. I could be sitting in the kitchen with a friend and Tom would come in, say hello, get his mail and leave. My friend would just look at me.
“What,” I’d say.
“Who the hell was that?”
“Oh, that’s just Tom,” I’d say.
Then we would go back to watching cartoons. Almost nothing fazes kids. And I never really felt the need to explain Tom. He was a friend of my father’s. He lived in my room once for a time. He smelled powerfully of garlic.
What else was there to tell?
David Todd McCarty
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