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Thursday, April 30, 2015



Raised in Buena, NJ, John attended Sacred Heart in Vineland, then entered the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia at age 15. John’s IQ is 165, and his SAT score was 1560, just 40 short of the maximum. John’s math score was perfect.

When I confessed my SAT score was only 1110, John laughed, “I hear McDonald's is hiring.”

At UPenn, John earned his B.A., Master’s then PhD (at 20-years-old) in applied mathematics. The Defense Intelligence Agency recruited John, and he worked for it and the army for 18 years altogether. Decrypting and encrypting communications, John was based in Washington D.C., but he was also sent to various European countries, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You hide images within images, data within images.

"I was never a living large kind of guy. Did I like my Johnnie Walker Blue? Yeah. Do I like smoking Cubans? Yeah, occasionally, but I never did any recreational drugs, of any kind.”

“Wouldn’t they have kicked you out for that?”

“It wasn’t an issue. I was an officer, so I wasn’t tested very often. They left me alone, because I did my job and I was good at it.”

In his late 20’s, John showed signs of mental illness that turned out to be schizophrenia, and that’s why he was finally discharged. With his monthly pension of $2,700, John should be OK financially, except that he’s contributing $2,000 to his 76-year-old mom’s nursing home cost. His half sister and the government split the remaining $4,000.

“At first we had her in a cheaper nursing home, but we visited her on Tuesday, and she’s wearing a sunflower dress with a mustard stain, and when we visited her on Saturday, she’s wearing the same sunflower dress with the mustard stain, plus ketchup and chili stains.

"When you have alzheimer’s, you really need one-on-one care at meal time, and she wasn’t getting that. If no one is paying attention to you, you may not eat at all.

"It is a sacrifice, but I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I’m happy to take care of mother.” John has spent $44,000 on his mom’s nursing home cost so far.

“My stepfather is a problem. When my sister and I decided to move her to a better nursing home, my stepfather said, ‘Why do you want to move her to a place where you have to pay? She won’t know the difference.’ And I hit him.”

“You hit him?!”


“In the face?”

“Yeah, I broke his nose, tipped him over. He knocked his head. He was 70-years-old. It was in Florida, where it’s a big deal, you know, to assault an at-risk adult. That’s what they call it. Luckily, I got the charge dropped. The fact that I was a disabled veteran played into it. I was in jail for a week or so.

"My sister bailed my ass out and said to the judge that the only reason I hit my stepfather was because I had been in the army, though I wasn’t really, and so I had better reflex, because she would have hit him herself!”

“And that’s her father, too”

“I don’t see her as my half-sister. She’s just my sister. We shared the same mother, you know what I mean. We shared the same womb.”

“You have a very cool sister!”

“I have a very cool sister. I had $100,000 in the bank then, so I could have bailed myself out. She didn’t have that kind of money. She had to put up her house.

"He was mean to me when I was young. I alienated him intellectually. I intimidated him intellectually. He was around very early on, when I was one or two years old. In fact, until I went into the army, I didn’t even know he wasn’t my father.”

“Your mom didn’t tell you that wasn’t your real dad?”


“That’s very strange.”

“It is very strange.”

“Vietnamese families do that.”

“We were Irish, and in that town, most people were Italian. It was a big deal.

"Also, we didn’t get to Buena until I was, like, seven, and fifteen years later, we were still seen, ha ha, as the new people.

"It’s very rural there. Lots of farms. That area was the egg capital of the world.”

I asked him if being so precocious academically created social problems, “I mean, did you have a hard time dating?”

“No, I certainly got laid in college!”

“But you were 14, and surrounded by girls so much older! Did you date 18-year-old girls as a 14-year-old?”

“Yeah. I even dated 20-year-olds! I was so unusual, they liked me. Plus, I could help them with their calculus and trigonometry homework.”

“You weren’t like the Unabomber!”

“No, I wasn’t. It's funny you’re bringing him up. I actually crossed paths with him.”


“At conferences. Universities.”

“How was he in person?”

“A little weird, but a lot of mathematicians are like that.”

“I've read the Unabomber’s Manifesto, and much of it does make sense.”

“I agree […]

"I was more intelligent, more mature than my parents at five or six. They were not my intellectual peers when I was five or six. I mean, God bless them, my mother was an attorney and everything, she’s an intelligent woman but, you know.”

John is taking seven psychotropic drugs a day, “I freak out over nothing. Last month, I had a bounced check and it made me suicidal! I’m serious.”

“It’s only a $35 fine!”

“I know. I’m not as stable as I could be. If there’s stress, I tip over. When I start worrying about bills, you know, and car insurance…

"I’m usually not this social. I have a hard time talking to people.”

“Have you ever been married?”


“Would that help you out?”

“I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want to subject any woman to this. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in terror […]

"Every room I walk into, I’m the smartest guy.

"When you have an IQ of 165, regular people are like special need kids. They’re retarded. Once you go below a hundred, you’re talking about a chimpanzee, dude, or a severely retarded human being.”

“Oh, come on, man, that’s not a chimpanzee!”

“From my perspective, it is. That’s a severely retarded person!”

“It is true that people hardly know anything, in any field.”

“In any field.”

“It is sad how that has happened.” Walking by, a young, attractive and bright-faced woman smiled at us, so I blurted, “She smiled at us, did you see? I don’t fuckin’ care how smart she is. She has a great spirit. She smiled at us, for no reason!”

“But how can you have a conversation with her afterwards?”

“You can ask her, I don’t know, how she feels.”

“I don’t care what she feels! I don’t care if she feels.”

“Oh, come on, man. What about children? Children aren’t smart, and you can deal with children. You can think of really dumb people as children.”

“Severely retarded ones.”

“Oh, man, but look at all these beautiful people! I love people! I’m not as smart as you, but I find people very beautiful!”

“If I meet someone with an IQ of 120, which is considered pretty smart, it’s like I’m talking to a bonobo. Bonobos are almost humans.

"You can’t blame someone for being a retard. You hug them and kiss them, but you don’t want to be around them 24/7.

"What if you’re always surrounded by retarded people? How would you feel?

"Genius and madness are intertwined.”

Pointing to passersby, I declared that I find most people very charming, “And stupidity is not malice, John. Even the people you find stupid, they’re not trying to harm you.”

“Yes, they are.” The mirth in John’s eyes showed that he was joking, however. “Whenever I go to the Seven Eleven to refill my Big Gulp, they charge me a different price. That’s stupidity! They make me so mad, one of these days I’m going to have a seizure right there on the floor! So you see, they are trying to harm me physically!”

Living near Trenton, John’s sister doesn’t even know that her brother is homeless, “I tell her I have an apartment, and whenever I go to see her, I make sure I wear clean and new clothes. I have a storage space.”

Most incredibly, John has read me before this meeting, “Someone at the Broad Street Mission mentioned you, so I looked you up. I’ve read you. There was one piece I really liked. You write well.”

“Was it Stephanie who mentioned me?”

“No, it was someone else.”

John brought up my Vineland Postcard. He knows its main character, Ray, an Aikido teacher and owner of the East Landis Bar and Hotel. Sometimes John goes there to escape the cold. A week there only costs $110. About the nicest thing you can say about the East Landis is that the Travel Inn, on the next block, is even worse.

“So what’s the plan, John?”

“I have no plan.”

“Still, you have this steady income, this $2,700 a month. You’re in better shape than most people.”

“I know.”

“When you no longer have to care for your mom, John, you’ll be fine. I see you moving to some remote place where you won’t have to deal with so many stupid people.”

“Like where?”

“Montana.” That’s where the Unabomber was living as he sent bombs through the mail to targeted strangers.

“Ha, ha.”

As for this country, John doesn’t see it deteriorating further. In fact, he believes the US will be “the world’s chief source of oil by 2020. We will be the new Saudi Arabia.”

This assessment made me seriously doubt the value of John’s 165 IQ, and it made me think even less of our intelligence agencies, but what do I know.

John does see a pandemic coming, “We’re overdue for one.”

“We have seven billion people now. How many will be left?”

“Maybe half. Maybe one billion.”

“Who are the most vulnerable? People in the Third World?”

“No. We will all be vulnerable. It would be nice if the dumbest people could be eliminated, but it may be me or you.”

Saying he’s becoming more political, John made this panhandling sign, “Baltimore… Riot or Uprising?” He had to ditch it, however, because too many people were giving him mean looks. To amuse potential givers, John decided on, “UNEMPLOYED. Clooney Body Double.”

The biggest stress of being homeless outside is never having any privacy, John said. As for the cops, they leave him alone since he’s clean, sober and is never rude to anyone, “None of the cops even knows my name, and that’s good. I’ve been on the streets for a year.”



x larry said...

thanks, linh!
good god, the people one meets! you should do a long interview with this guy, he's no doubt got more than enough material for a book. thanks again, and will try to check out some vietnam links. does one say 'happy anniversary'?--it must have been a happy day, i've not yet read your stuff on it, or love like hate. also, watched saigon video for second time, and it gave me chills. the last line, though, is there a reasoning there, that vietnam will be the last country standing? (my guess is toughness through war, or something like that, though i'd put afghanistan and both koreas high on the list too, and of course china)

Linh Dinh said...

Yo x larry,

The last country standing bit is merely Saigonese, Vietnamese or even Philly swagger.

As for April 30th being a happy day, many in the South felt nothing but terror and grief, and these feelings have lingered to this day. My New York Times piece begins:

"DEPENDING on which side you were on, Saigon either fell on April 30, 1975, or it was liberated. Inside Vietnam, the day is marked as Liberation Day — but outside, among the Vietnamese refugees, it is called Deep Resentment Day. (The resentment is not just over losing a war, but also a country.)"

Though I've said it many times before, I will repeat that the Vietnam War was a civil war, with much of the fighting and casualties suffered by North and South Vietnamese, and not Americans, though you wouldn't know it from American books and films. The US lost nearly 60,000 soldiers while the South Vietnamese lost at least 250,000. The North and their Southern allies lost about a million soldiers.

Again, Vietnamese on both sides fought for their own reasons, and not to serve American, Russian or Chinese interests, though the larger powers certainly used Vietnam to advance their agendas.

Similarly, the people in the Ukraine or Syria are fighting for THEMSELVES, although the larger powers are meddling. This is simply how it is with geopolitics.


x larry said...

thanks linh, and i did read that nyt article--but it was so short!

Linh Dinh said...

Hi x larry,

It was a miracle the NYT tolerated even 500 words from me!


swindled said...


Elizabeth said...

Such a gadfly you are! This guy, John, says he doesn't usually talk to people, and you got him gushing forth his honest opinions. I hope you realize you are a smidgen of an inch from a schizophrenic diagnosis yourself.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I really didn't have to gad. As I have learnt, most people will gush if you just listen. Eager to talk about themselves, they show very little curiosity about my life, and that's perfectly fine with me.

When younger, I had several bouts of manic depression, but I'm too seasoned and exhausted now to have mood swings in any direction.


Elizabeth said...

Yes, about the same here. But I find that most authentic people have similar experiences, so I'm not really surprised. I hadn't caught this comment when I last wrote to you this evening.

Anonymous said...

I liked when John's IQ was 1650. What a downer it was to see it was 165.

What is the worst thing about getting old? I can handle everything except people's infinite stupidity. I don't think it has much to do with IQ; it has everything to do with how they were raised, their experience, etc. Had three conversations last week with non-friends, and my Republican legislator was the least idiotic of the three.

I have learned that all of America's problems are due to unions, me, the daughter of a union organizer, a Communist union organizer!

CC said...

I believe you (or John) meant to say "bonobo," a type of chimpanzee that's considered the closest living thing to humans.

Linh Dinh said...

Hi CC,

Thanks for pointing that out. It's corrected. For some reason, I mistyped it twice!