These words come in the frenzy of the upcoming Expo East with my mind anticipating the comforting calm post show. But in the right-here-and-now I’m set in deep sadness. Al Berg, a visionary deeply ingrained in this scribe’s journey and of equal impact as a friend, has died. The only way I seem capable of coping is with some personal anecdotes. Allow me.
I’m in the company of Al and his wife Gayle, witnesses to an ORBIS Flying Hospital mission in Kingston, Jamaica, facilitated via support from Marchon Eyewear. We are en route to the Kingston airport where the flying hospital DC-10 jet is providing much needed medical services and education to numerous patients of all ages. Driving through the relatively scary concrete jungle of Kingston’s rough Trenchtown aboard a dilapidated school bus, I note a group of precious school kids in their wonderful parochial uniforms of glen-plaid skirts and vests. I note they are the heart of Jamaica’s future. Al sincerely notes, “We need to get their eyes in shape so they can better see that future.”
Later that same day, I’m observing an intense oculoplastics procedure occurring in the plane’s operating room via a live video stream in the same plane’s classroom compartment for local eyecare professionals. I suddenly realize Al, suited up in full scrubs, is witnessing the event IN the operation room right alongside the docs.
Location shift with me to the old Marchon digs on Route 110 on Long Island. Brainiac Dave Chute is explaining the “space-age” qualities of Flexon with Al beaming as he listens in on the attributes of this memory metal. Al: “Here’s our chance to be astronauts, James. One small step for mankind. One giant step for Marchon!” Perfect.
And finally, standing around at the debut of the Sean John Eyewear Collection party. No Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs in sight. Al fields a call on his Blackberry. “Sean. Where are you? Not coming? I suggest you rethink that. When you have something new you only get one debut.” Combs was there in less than 10 minutes. He had a great time. So did Al. So did I. As I was leaving, Al pulled me aside and said, “James. Let’s make him a star.” At that moment we were just two kids from Long Island building dreams with smiles on our faces.
I’m not smiling at this very second Al, but these moments and so many more will certainly give me grins as they ferment into my future inspiring memories of you.
• James J. Spina