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 I once dated a girl with whom I had the following exchange:

Will: Hey, I just started reading this new book.

Girl: Really? What is it?

Will: Actually, itís the book version of The Perfect Storm. Itís really great.

Girl: Great? Excuse me? To me, Edith Whartonís The House of Mirth. is a great book. The Perfect Storm? Great? Please.

Needless to say, we didnít date much longer after that. (You know how you often think of an awesome comeback to statements like that a little too late? If I were faced with that today, Iíd gleefully retort, ďWhat are you talking about? Entertainment Weekly gave it a ĎAí!Ē) Her comment didnít catch me by surprise, however; it was already clear this girl had long since decided I was not a smart person. Not stupid, mind you, not unable to string together words in sentences without drooling on himself, but just not intelligent, not the way she, with her Ivy League education and Manhattan upbringing, was.

And she was right, of course. Intelligence is one of the more nebulous, shifting concepts we have, and from my experience, if people consider you smart in a conventional fashion, you probably canít change a tire. We all had that one person in our class who was a straight-A student, was involved in all the extracurriculars, was accepted to a fancy private school, and typically wore her bra backwards.

When I was in grade school, I was renowned for being a whiz at all the standardized tests. Ninety-ninth percentile, on just about all of them. The geniuses who ran Mattoon High School thusly put me all the ďgiftedĒ classes, where I responded by making fart noises in the back of class and forgetting to sign my name on class papers. When it came time for those nasty ACT and SAT exams that everyone dreaded, I aced them, scoring the highest in my class on both. After I received the scores from a giddy guidance counselor, she informed me my fly was open. The day after earning All-State Scholastic Quiz Bowl honors at a big tournament, I tried to change a lightbulb using a screwdriver.

How does one define intelligence? Iím excellent at trivia. If you wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me which Woody Allen films received Oscar nominations in the last 10 years or who holds the record for most RBIs in a season, I can tell you. (Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite, Sweet and Lowdown,, and Deconstructing Harry; Hack Wilson, with 191. Thank you, thank you.) Ask me why I wore a maroon sweater with florescent orange pants to a dinner party the night before, and I have no answer. Get my drift?

They say that Einstein couldnít tie his shoes, and, truth be told, Iím kind of grasping onto that idea. Because there are so many things in this world that I cannot do. To some people, not being able to do them makes me a moron. To others, itís a sign of my intelligence.

It all depends on whom you hang around and what you value. When Iím back in Illinois, I can make myself feel that Iím smarter, that I had the otherworldy insight to leave, which the sorry minions whom I went to high school with lacked. I actually had the temerity to imply this to a Mattoon friend once. She looked at me. ďWill, you pay 1,000 bucks a month in rent, you live 1,500 miles from your family and you donít have a car. I have a mortgage thatís half that, I can see my parents anytime I want, and I even have a garage. Oh, and I pay two bucks less per pack of cigarettes. Tell me again how smart you are.Ē

To change the subject, I sprung up a cerebral monologue about boogers.

I was having a conversation with my girlfriend the other day. She, in all sincerity, asked me if I considered her intelligent. There was no doubt in my mind.

ďOf course. Youíre so smart. You get whatís important. You treat people with respect, you know how to take care of yourself, you know the score. You get the most out of life, and you do it on your own terms, without ever having to betray what you have ingrained in you as right and just. When I look at everyone else in this world, youíre just about the smartest person Iíve ever met.Ē

She was unimpressed. ďSo youíre saying that Iím nice. Thatís not smart. Thatís nice.Ē

But Iím serious. To me, thatís what intelligence is. An understanding of your place in the world, the wisdom that comes with being comfortable with who you are, an inherent sense of empathy for every speck of humanity that crosses your path. Thatís smart. Being able to realize what really matters.

In other words, Iím an idiot.



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