I first met Al Wahnon formally at a reception for the announcement of the new Floor Covering News. I had seen Al over the years at the carpet markets and knew him from reading Floor Covering Weekly.
I was awestruck by finally meeting this industry giant, dressed in a tux and shoving shrimp into his mouth, until I looked down after our conversation to find shards of shrimp plastered onto my suit and tie. My star struck opinion of him changed at that time. It became a running joke with us and we laughed repeatedly about it.
It is because of Al that my career blossomed. He always denied it, saying it was me who orchestrated it but it was he who gave me the platform to be, as he called it, an “industry celebrity.”
I will be eternally grateful for all he did for me. I’ve had a handful of mentors but Al was by far the most significant. He was at times like a father to me.
I remember vividly calling Al shortly after the birth of FCNews and asking him about the possibility of me writing a column on claims and complaints. He was intrigued, asked me if I had enough material to sustain the column and I told him, “til the day I die.” His response: “Go for it.” We never looked back from that day.
That is why I said he made me, even though he would never take the credit.
Al would rip me apart; go into tirades, calling me every name in the book. Told me I was a mental midget, a runt, that I slept in a drawer, lived in Lilliput, but for all that, he still nurtured me all the way. He never put restrictions on anything I wrote; in fact he encouraged me to shake things up.
I marveled at his writing. No one I have ever met could compare. He knew the root of every word in the English language. I’d call and ask him about words, such as the word “hyperbole” in his column; although I pronounced it “High per bowl.” He went nuts laughing. You can bet I got lambasted that day; I’ll never forget it and he never let me.
I remember the times in the Atlanta market when all the “old timers” got together; Al, Bernie Diamond, Eric Arjie, Stan Licker, Herbie Wolk and countless others who’d go at each other, one bettering the other. I was a bystander laughing at the banter. There will never be times like those again.
There were the times I’d go to Al’s house, spend time with he and his wife, Rose and eat Chinese take out. We’d go shopping at the mall or bargain stores. Rose reminded me of that at Al’s funeral.
There were scary times too; you’d take your hands into your life riding in a car with Al, the best driver in the world he wasn’t. And he was challenged finding his way home, another thing we’d all laugh about.
Al introduced me to all kinds of people, he gave me legitimacy, he nurtured my growth, he taught me much and he never told me no, he made sure I was included in events and he made me laugh. I loved being chastised by him—and I was every time we talked. I swore my allegiance to him, something he didn’t demand but loyalty to Al was most important.
As we both got older and busier, we didn’t take the time to talk as much; there weren’t the spontaneous phone calls but the love I had for him never waned, nor will it. The only regret I have is that I didn’t take the opportunity to talk with him before he died. Another lesson he taught me without knowing it.
I will be forever grateful for all he did for me, his belief in me, his nurturing, teaching and most of all the memories he gave me. May you rest in peace. I’ll miss you.