The most interesting man in the world? I vote for Old Lyme's Paul Gleason

Old Lyme — In no particular order, this would appear on Paul Gleason's life resume:

He speaks English, Spanish, Polish and Zulu ... majored in marine biology and invertebrate zoology ... earned a soccer scholarship to Oregon State ... is a modern day Fred Sanford, running a junkyard in Quaker Hill ... once worked in Mexico as a charter boat captain ... accumulated 30 years' worth of lobster data as a marine scientist ... has won two state championships coaching girls' soccer at Old Lyme ... and used the words "erudite" and "proselytize" during this interview.

And the people at Dos Equis think THEY have the most interesting man in the world?

Turns out that Gleason, whose Wildcats seek their third state title in four years Saturday, has a story about Dos Equis, too.

"When we were in Mexico, the greatest joy was seeing the gringos come down, take the lime and push it into their beer," Gleason was saying from his office Thursday at Dean's Auto Recycling that has everything from the set of Sanford and Son except Redd Foxx calling Lamont a big dummy.

"They'd get a Dos Equis or a Corona and shove the lime down into their beer. Within seconds, the top of their bottle would be covered with insects. The lime was never supposed to go into the beer. The reason the Mexicans used a lime was to put them in the top of their bottles (like a cork) to scare the insects away because it's a natural insect repellent. You take the lime out, drink the beer and put the lime back in. The gringos didn't get it. They're like, 'oh, we love lime in our beer!' Really? It started to keep insects out of beer in Mexico."

Ladies and gentlemen ... truly the most interesting man in the world. Or at least our corner of it.

Hard to know where to start with Paul Gleason. Maybe the basics: He's been running Dean's Auto Recycling for the last 25 years on Bloomingdale Rd., coaching soccer in Old Lyme for the last six and goes for his 100th win in Saturday's Class S final.

He would have been a Division I soccer player at Oregon State, but stayed closer to home when his mother took ill. He transferred to Southampton College on Long Island and then to Central Connecticut.

He also played baseball in the Cape Cod League.

He was a marine scientist for eight years in Woods Hole, Mass., but quit after "a little bit of a disagreement with some of the stock assessments and how they were given to the Northeast Fisheries Council."

Gleason later met Scott and Howie Robertson in Wareham and took a $20,000 pay cut to run a junkyard for them in New Britain and later ran another one in Wallingford.

"My wife's family is from Old Lyme and we ended up buying their old house," Gleason said. "Dave Waddington owned (Dean's) and asked me one day if I'd run the place. About a month later (in the early 90s), he asked me if I wanted to buy it. Gave me a great offer. I've been here ever since, never intending to get into a junkyard, but always intending to get back into marine research."

He is a walking made-for-TV movie, equal parts encyclopedic and self-deprecating. He is a walking antithesis: a fascinating, hilarious, brilliant human being whose work clothes render him an unmade bed and whose job — junkyard owner — hardly screams returning champion on Jeopardy.

"Growing up, I was the junkman's daughter. An adventure. Always. Always something different every single day," Gleason's daughter (and faithful assistant coach) Allyson was saying. "He used to have me at his office lifting batteries and tires to make me a stronger player. I have to say that did help.

"My dad is a very intelligent human being. He reads all the time. Growing up, if my brother and I didn't know a word we'd have to look it up in the dictionary. We'd have to research stuff and he wouldn't give us the answer. He still does that to this day and it drives us absolutely mental. But it's for the better. We've been able to learn a lot."

Learning a lot is the family's chief export. Gleason, for instance, learned Spanish in Mexico as a charter boat captain. He later learned Polish and Zulu.

Polish: "I hired this Polish kid once. A great worker. He would be there at 6:30 in the morning and stay till 5:30 at night. He told me his cousin was coming from Poland. So I hired him, too. Since they had only been around six months, it was harder for them to transition into English from a Slavic language. I said, 'well, I'll learn Polish.' For five years I had nothing but Polish employees."

Zulu: "I went to South Africa twice. Once for a month and another time for another month. The language fascinated me. I tried to learn as much as I could. I never got the 'click' down to speak the language correctly. They have a 'click' as they speak it — like every other word. I still can't do it. But I learned a good deal of it. But it comes back into my brain every now and then.

"Like last year, (Old Lyme soccer player) Keelin Hurtt made an amazing shot in a tournament game and I don't know how she was able to do it. I screamed out 'inkosi yamakhosi!' which means 'king of kings' in Zulu. It just popped in my brain. Vickie (Day sportswriter Vickie Fulkerson) was behind me and she goes, 'what was that again?'"

Gleason coached the girls at the middle school in Old Lyme, always appreciating the success of previous coaches Rob Roach and Don Desautels, both members of the state Hall of Fame. He got a little teary Thursday thinking of the day he was hired for a job he always treasured.

Of course, this is the same guy who abhors the idea of Old Lyme playing schools of choice in state tournament games, once told Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos where to go and how to get there in the postgame handshake line and yet can still identify the catalytic converter off a 2001 Honda Civic with one eyeball tied behind his back.

And now he goes for state title No. 3 before he's back to being Fred Sanford on Monday.

"This is a more intense business than I had ever encountered. I had a background in business through landscaping that helped me get into this," Paul Gleason said. "I never imagined the state motor vehicle regulations and the state DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) regulations could be so difficult. If I could have done it all over again, I don't think I'd have gotten into this, even though it's been good to me.

"Like one time," he said, "we picked up a '93 Mazda and it broke in half on us. The tranny broke, gas tank broke and all the motor oil drained out. It took me hours to clean up. That's what it's like. Making sure the yard is clean and you don't have oil flowing up to your ankles all the time."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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