Monday, July 16, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

At the Museum

The museum was reasonably empty. The continuing series on feminist art in Eastern Europe was not as big of a draw as the curators had hoped, and the height of the tourist season was still far off. Only a few die-hards and lunch-hour office refugees were in the central atrium.

Luis tore open the family sized bag of Cheetos that he and Michael had brought with them. “Hell yeah!” said Michael as Luis poured the phosphorescent snacks into his waiting hands, spilling many of them on the floor.

“Come here, man, I want to show you something,” Luis said. Michael followed him up the escalator to the second floor galleries, munching and dropping Cheetos as he went. Michael and Luis stepped on some of the Cheetos they had dropped, pulverizing them and leaving a trail of powder. Many of the Cheetos ended up getting caught in the grooves of the escalator’s steps and comb plates, forming a caked-on layer that would take many hours to clean.

Luis and Michael arrived at the Abstract Expressionist gallery. It was decent, though without any major works to anchor it. The de Kooning studies and the Barnett Newman sketches were nice enough.

“Here it is, dog,” Luis said as they rounded a corner and came face-to-face with a monolithic Rothko.

“Damn!” Michael said. “This is crazy.”

They approached the canvas.

“This painting, I’ve always felt, is almost suffocating,” Luis said. “This was towards the end of Rothko’s life, and it’s as if he could almost drag you with him into the depths of despair. Your average person looking at Rothko would perhaps accuse him of being too simplistic, but they end up mistaking an all-consuming obsession for a facile approach to the work. The use of blue here is particularly disturbing.”

Luis gestured to a section towards the middle right of the Rothko. He placed his finger directly on the canvas for emphasis, and when he removed it was to reveal a streak of Cheeto residue on the painting.

“Excuse me, sir.” It was Carl, the security guard. Luis and Michael spun around.

“I’m sorry,” Carl said, “but do you mind if I grab a couple of those Cheetos?”

“Oh, sure, man! Go crazy.” Luis held the open bag out to Carl.

“Thanks,” Carl said, fishing out four Cheetos. “Man, I love Cheetos!”

“Me too,” Luis said.

They high-fived and an orange cloud effervesced into the air around them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Papa Newt

Mitchell Tucker has made his name as consistently the best-informed, hardest-working man on the politics beat at the Des Moines Register. Always the man with the choicest sources and the scrappiest demeanor, his byline appeared on articles that blew the lid off of some of the biggest stories of the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Michelle Bachmann's use of taxpayer money to fund an emergency health spa retreat, Ron Paul's admission of having had his blood entirely swapped out in the 1970's, Rick Perry's holiday moon bounce filled with poison; nothing escaped the keen eye of the man who could well go down as the greatest of his era of news jockeys. In March 2012, Season in the Abyss, his memoir of the 2011 pre-election cycle, will be released by Little, Brown. We present here an excerpt detailing his time reporting on the Gingrich campaign.

"Beep beep!" I could hear the former House Speaker make his way forward from the rear of the Newtmobile, the unofficial name of his Van Hool T2145 touring coach. "Comin' through! Oh hey watch out Melissa, I almost spilled this all over your blouse! Haha!"

The tray of cold cuts was quite cumbersome and difficult for Gingrich to maneuver through the narrow confines of his campaign bus. Vacuum-sealed as it was in cellophane, however, I felt confident that Deputy Communications Director Melissa Behan's latest Coldwater Creek purchase would remain unmolested. Nonetheless, she scurried out of the way, relieved perhaps to take part in at least this one moment of levity. It was the third week of June 2011, deep in the darkest hours of the Gingrich campaign's post-resignations period.

When his staff and many of the reporters on the bus first saw Gingrich cradling the tray of salted meats, we exchanged worried glances, fearful that he would consume the entire thing himself. A notorious stress-eater, Gingrich had lately been ignoring his doctor's orders and continuing to help himself to large helpings of fried food and rich desserts. The burdens of a flagging campaign and seemingly nonstop church dinners and cookouts certainly did not help. It had been weeks since anyone had seen a fruit or vegetable pass between his lips.

So it was cause for relief that, rather than locking himself in the bathroom with the deli spread, he swung wide the front door of the Newtmobile, shouting out, "Hey Dave [Parsons, Gingrich's chief aide], watch this!"

Easing himself onto the front steps, Gingrich addressed the considerable throng that had gathered at this latest stop in New Hampshire.

"I just wanted to thank you all for coming out today and showing your support," he said, a raspy tone in evidence from a morning spent defending his campaign on talk show and cable news interviews. "I know it's hot out here and you guys'd rather be down at the pool or cooking up some dogs, but you came out to show your support for building a better future for this country, and I know that's what's going to help make all the difference next November!"

Robust applause followed. Gingrich withdrew the plastic lid from the deli tray.

"Now I just want to say," he said, "and I think you'd all agree with me, that we stand at a great precipice. This country's economy is in the toilet, and it's not getting better anytime soon, and President Obama is ready to press down on that handle any day now!" More applause, along with a few grins.

"But I'll tell you what I think," he went on. "What Obama doesn't understand, and what you and I know about this economy, is that we need to inject a little red meat into the system! And I think that's what everyone out here needs too! A little meat injection!"

Before the crowd could entertain any notion of a double entendre, Newt had plunged his fist into the latticework of cold cuts, extracting some ham here, some salami there, a little turkey. He began tossing the meat into the crowd, laughing jovially, calling out an occasional "Here ya go!" or "I know you're hungry!" The crowd put forward outstretched arms, snatching the treats from the air and eagerly gobbling them up.

Soon people started approaching Gingrich.

"Mr. Gingrich," said a woman of about fifty, "I just think it's wonderful that you would come down here to the Shriners Hall. We really are glad to see you and we're hopeful for 2012."

"Great to see an old snake charmer like you back out on the trail," said an excited young man. "This country's going to hell in a handbasket unless you can show 'em the way!"

"That's great, haha, thank you." Gingrich was gradually building a rapport with the crowd. We had all seen this routine before. Usually he would win the people over, sympathize with them a bit about lost jobs or blown retirement funds, then delve into the wonkish policy talk that was his stock in trade.

"You know," he said, "that meat is from a local deli not far from here. And boy is it delicious, I never tasted smoked ham like that. The guy who ran the place, he said to me, 'Newt, I just don't know whether I'm coming or going anymore. I've been running this place for fifty years and it seems like I struggle just to keep my head above water.' And I see where he's coming from, I really do. You see, small business is the engine of-"

"Mr. Speaker! Mr. Speaker!" The insistent cry came from a few rows back in the crowd. Gingrich attempted to plunge ahead.

"...the engine of our economy," he continued. "And it's the current administration's failed policies that-"

"Mr. Speaker!" The young woman had jostled her way to the front of the crowd and was now standing before Gingrich on the asphalt beneath the Newtmobile. She looked a bit haggard, and the glimmer in her eyes could have betrayed either devotion or desperation. She cradled an infant child in her arms. "Mr. Speaker," she said, gesturing to the baby, "this is Colin."

"Oh, heh heh," Gingrich responded, a little taken aback and perhaps hesitant to fully commit himself. Nonetheless, duty called. "Well, let's see what little Colin has to say!"

Scooping the child up in his arms, he lofted him above the gathered masses. The baby seemed confused but intrigued, and not at all upset. Gingrich spun the child around, so that he and Colin were face to face.

"You wanna join my campaign?" he asked. "Are you gonna help me fix this country?"

The audience duly charmed, Gingrich began to hand Colin back to his guardian. The woman, though, had vanished as if into thin air.

"Ah hell," I heard Gingrich mutter under his breath. Then, speaking to Colin and to the crowd at full volume, "Well, where'd your mommy go? We gotta find her! We'll take care of you though. Here ya go, Dave."

Gingrich handed the child off to Parsons, who withdrew with Colin in hand to a black Chevy Suburban parked fifty feet away. Neither was seen again for the duration of Gingrich's speech.

I forgot about the Colin hand-off for a good while. Disasters were occurring seemingly left and right in Gingrich's camp, and it was all I could do day-to-day just to keep up with the latest cataclysm. It fell from my mind until later, when I was getting the damage report from Parsons.

"All in all, today wasn't so godawful," he was saying. "Oh, except for that goddamn kid at the Shriners Hall, God I hate when that happens."

I told him I didn't know what he meant.

"You serious?" he responded. "You haven't been on this beat long, huh?"

"Does Gingrich really hate dealing with kids that much?" I asked.

"That's got nothing to do with it," he said. After mulling it over for a moment, he said, "Come with me. I want to show you something."

Parsons and I hopped into one of the campaign vehicles, another Chevy Suburban. The town where we were staying wasn't far from Hanover, and it wasn't long until we were pulling into the parking lot of the RNC's regional office.

After we had checked in, Parsons led the way down a long, drab corridor to an unmarked door.

"I wouldn't be showing you this if any of the staffers were here," he said. "Lucky for you it's two a.m."

Swinging the door wide, Parsons ushered us in. The room was silent except for the shuffling of papers and the hum of an air conditioner. It was a large re-purposed office with old computer monitors and fax machines hustled over to one corner. Long plastic folding tables stretched in rows down its length. Stacks of glossy brochures and other campaign literature were heaped onto the tables, along with even larger stacks of envelopes. Sitting along each row were groups of pasty, undernourished children of varying ages dejectedly stuffing and sealing the envelopes.

"Look alive people!" he shouted. "Outsider! Outsider!"

Some of the children looked up, bleary-eyed. Most continued their work as if nothing had happened.

Parsons turned to me. "Well, this is where they all end up," he said.

One of the more junior staffers approached us. "Mr. Parsons," she said, "All we have to eat is graham crackers and water, some of us are falling asleep a lot-"

Parsons cut her off. "Sarah," he said, "can't you see that I'm talking to Mr. Tucker about the race to the White House?"

"Mr. Parsons," Sarah said, "Tommy can't sit up straight anymore and he says he sees sparkles in his eyes."

"Sarah," Parsons said, "do you remember what Papa Newt said the last time he stopped by to see you all?"

Sarah thought for a moment. "That was a long time ago, Mr. Parsons," she said. "Where is Papa Newt?"

"I would venture a guess that he's a bit upset with his helpers, Sarah. Papa Newt doesn't want to come here anymore, if it means that he has to hear little titterings and yammerings and have his helpers tell him they can't do their tasks."

"Were trying," Sarah said, getting frustrated. "But we're tired and there's not enough room for us all to sleep in the kitchen before the big helpers get here in the morning and-"

"Sarah." Parsons was done negotiating. "I want you to sit your little behind down in one of those chairs and get back to putting those special documents into their envelopes. If Papa Newt is going to be able to race for the White House for another day, he needs you, needs you, Sarah, and all of you, to send out these special documents. No one else can do it in all the world!"

Sarah had clearly heard this before, but she was too weary to put up an argument. She let her arms fall limp by her sides and plodded back to her chair, where she set about folding another "NEWT FOR AMERICA" pamphlet into threes.

Seeing that I still didn't get it, Parsons took me aside. "Hell," he said, "I thought it was an open secret at this point, but I guess not. It's 2011, buddy, Presidential campaigns are veritable traveling caravans of lost or abandoned children. Either they hand them off to us, like you saw today, or they just leave them behind after campaign stops for the staffers to round up afterwards. Tamara, our intern, that's pretty much all she does these days."

I must have looked aghast. Parsons tried to reassure me.

"I know how you must feel," he said. "I remember when I first started in this game with Dole in '96, I couldn't believe my eyes. You get used to it though. We put a roof over their heads and keep them busy enough so they stop asking about mommy. Better than leaving them in foster care and letting them become leeches on the system, am I right?"

He went on: "I just wish we had a deeper roster, y'know? Romney, after he ran in 2008, he managed to set up a whole office staffed with the little guys, I think it was the Houston office. Anyway, we're scrambling just to catch up, because he's got all of them this time around again, and they're old enough to use the Internet now and social network and all that, get the word out and all.

"Wondering if it's legal, huh? I don't really know myself. This is just the way we've always done it, and no one's stopped us yet, so Santa's workshop here just keeps chugging along."

We left the envelope stuffers to their work and quietly stepped out of the room.

Mitchell Tucker continues to write for the Des Moines Register. You can also follow his Tumblr account, a season-long enumeration of items stolen from the hotel rooms of various members of the Minnesota Vikings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Important Announcement

After much consideration regarding our role as a lynchpin of dialogue and commerce on the World Wide Web, Das Vidanya feels that it is only appropriate that we "go dark" in order to protest Congress's proposed SOPA/PIPA bills restricting freedom of expression on the Internet. Starting at midnight tonight, users will not be able to access this site for a period of twenty-four hours.

We do not make this decision lightly: by taking this action, Das Vidanya stands to lose millions of dollars in revenue as well as the support of uncounted numbers of philanthropists, scientists, professors, and public officials. To them, this site is an indispensable and vital resource to their life and work. Any inconvenience, though, must regrettably be borne. The clarion call has been sounded, and we must let our elected representatives know where we stand on this era-defining issue.

It should be noted that we will not only be suspending the site's content; many of the services normally offered by Das Vidanya will also be discontinued for this period. DVI Financial will not be operating, and any account activity will have to be put off until the following day; this includes deposits, money transfers, and all other banking services. Das Analytics will not be accessible, though staffers will still be on-site at our Sunnyvale campus and can provide any urgently-needed information via e-mail or phone. Make sure to use a land line, as our cellular network will also be down.

True Path Charters will still be making flights, though with only the 737s in use; anything bigger is a logistical nightmare when operating on such a pared-down scale. To the managers of some of our off-shore holdings, I can say only that the sparrow has preyed upon the leopard, and that Maat remains in flux.

We will all have to make sacrifices see us through this day. Some will perish, while those that survive will take their seat upon the throne of glory. Write to your Member of Congress today!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Story of Disco

Anyone reading the work of New York magazine reporter Dale Soresley knows his strengths: with a biting wit and a penchant for thorough reporting, he is an expert at illuminating aspects of our culture that once huddled in the dark. Beyond that, his reputation among his fellow journalists is that of the great Confessor. Simply put, no one is better at getting people to talk.

For the better part of a decade, Soresley has been compiling an oral history of the disco era, a tome that has become an all-consuming passion. Whenever I or other colleagues would encounter Dale at some event or function, talk would inevitably turn to the music of the mid-to-late 70's, and some previously-unheard-of figure who was instrumental in bringing this music to the masses. Hard as it may be to believe, the years of blindingly difficult work have finally paid off, and Soresley's Sequined Nights, Dusty Days: the Distention and Demise of the Disco Dynasties is set to be released by Random House on November 15.

Here we present a small slice of the story one of disco's unsung heroes: Mark Devlin, former fixture of the dance music scene and current inmate at the Wallkill Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York.

Marty Crandall, bass player for The Prismatics and Flash!: None of it could have happened without Mark Devlin.

Kate Winterley, promoter: "The Disco Don," that's what they called him, "The Disco Don."

Mark Devlin, Owner, Panama Nights: I, you know, I never wanted to be at the forefront of a vanguard of anything. I mean, look at me, I'm just some fat Jew from Nyack with a bad hip and a mortgage. For Chrissakes, I carry around antacid tablets on me at all times! Look, I've got them right here in my breast pocket! Look at them! But I knew a hot thing when I saw it, and let me tell you, I knew that disco music was the hottest thing around!

Ansel Jones, keyboardist for Irma Witherspoon, 1973-1980: Nobody really knew what he did outside of owning Panama Nights, but he must have had some kind of cash flow because that club made no money before the disco era. There were always rumors that he owned some women's apparel warehouse and treated his employees like garbage, but no one really knew.

Karen Childs, singer: There were other clubs in New York at the time that would play disco music, but it was mostly an after-hours sort of thing. Panama Nights was the first place that really catered to the disco crowd, and I think to Mark Devlin's credit, he saw three steps ahead of the game in that there was a huge untapped market for this music as far as the gay and minority audiences were concerned. That's the other thing about Mark, he was always very open-minded, even at that time.

Devlin: I always said, I don't care what you look like or where you're from, if you want to dance and have a good time at my nightclub, you're welcome. Just don't try any funny business!

Winterley: He's such a kind, funny guy, Mark is. People would always talk and say he was affiliated with Murder Inc. or running arms to secret Israeli paramilitary groups, but I didn't believe it for a second and I still don't today. I remember one time, I had this cat that I absolutely loved named Tinkerbell, and one night he got out, and of course I was distraught, running all over the East Village trying to find him. Finally I gave up all hope and I figured I'd pop over to the Panama for a drink. So I walk in, and there's Tinkerbell sitting on the bar with Mark hand-feeding him corned beef! "Your little boyfriend looked pretty hungry," he tells me. Honestly, just the definition of a mensch.

Ace Franklin, guitarist/producer:
I don't even remember the first time I went to Panama Nights. It just seems like something that was always there when I think about that era. Starting in about '76 I guess was when the scene at that place really started to pick up. And of course, it was October when that Karen Childs single was released, "I Can Come When I Wanna."

We cut it in a pretty run-down studio in Brooklyn with a pet store on one side and a Baptist church on the other. The Baptists would holler and yell while we were recording and some of that made it onto the final pressing, which is where the rumor came from that one of the maraca players got in a knife fight and was murdered during the sessions.

Gerry Murphy, owner, Crosstown Records: We were mostly a soul and R&B label before that 45 came out. I have to admit, I did not want to release it. It was Mark Devlin, that rat bastard, he talked me into it. "Gerry," he said, "The kids love this stuff, I've never seen anything like it." He went on and on about how this was going to be bigger than Elvis and the Beatles and all that. I thought he was selling me a bill of goods on account of his nephew was the drummer or something on the track. But I figured, oh well, the label's broke anyway, I'm filing for Chapter Eleven as soon as the year's out, might as well put the thing out. And of course the record took off, Mark was vindicated beyond his wildest dreams, and he suddenly had a captive market for all the coke he was ferrying into New York through the Bahamas.

Devlin: Listen, I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I know a hit record when I hear it!

Jones: That was the record where it all came together. You had the funk, and you had the soul, but then you had that four-to-the-floor rhythm on there too, and that just put the whole thing over the edge and made the people lose their minds!

Crandall: People would just go absolutely insane when that record came on. It was an orgiastic display like nothing I'd ever seen.

Winterley: Oh God, they would cry, throw up, the works. I witnessed all sorts of ecstatic, painful bodily contortions when that song came on. I mean you had people showing up to the club with canes and hastily improvised whips! We had to call the fire department so many times that they finally stopped even showing up. It was great!

Childs: I knew that we had something huge going before "I Can Come When I Wanna" was even released, but I was not prepared for the reception to that record. I had grown men, gay and straight, throwing themselves at my feet, calling me their "lover bitch." I have no idea how that got started.

Crandall: It was a lyric in the song, right? "Tell me where to make it itch/You can call me lover bitch."

Winterley: Karen claimed for years that the lyric was misheard. It hardly mattered, though. The disco era had begun!

Murphy: Pretty soon I had Mark coming into my office every two weeks with some new act he had pulled up from the depths of obscurity. I had my doubts each and every time, but each and every time we hit a home run.

Peter Crindle, singer for Flash!: The first time I met Mark was at my job at Nussbaum's Deli. He used to get these huge sandwich orders, I mean like a hundred sandwiches, at least twice a week. One day he says to me, "I like the way your nose goes with your face." He invited me to some party at a warehouse in TriBeCa, and I felt pretty weird about the whole thing, but Mr. Nussbaum, he said, "Petey, what are you, a moron? He keeps this place running! Get your skinny ass over there!"

Winterley: I'll never forget when Mark introduced me to Peter Crindle. We were in the middle of this raging party at Richard Berenson's loft and Mark strides up to me with this kid who looks like he just walked off the starting line-up of my father's high school basketball team. We shake hands and he says, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Winterley," totally sincere and everything. I almost died. Two days later Mark had him in the studio.

Crandall: We cut the first Flash! single in about the space of an afternoon. It was "Fire Sale," with "Soap and Water" as the b-side. Mark realized pretty early on that as long as you could grab some musicians from the neighborhood and teach them the basic disco backbeat, you could make hit records for cheap. But he knew the song had to be memorable. I had brought in some little numbers I'd been working on at home, and Mark seized on this phrase I had jotted down, "your love is like a fire sale," just some stupid shit. But he built it up into this crazy production, with sirens and clanging bells and even some fake crackling flame noises way down in the mix. He refuses to take credit for it, but he wrote the hook on that thing, which is all anyone remembers now anyway. He was doing rails of blow at a miraculous rate.

Murphy: "I Can Come When I Wanna" was a smash in all the clubs, but "Fire Sale" was the first track to get radio play. It even cracked the pop charts. It helped that their singer looked like your average all-American guy, even if Mark had him done up in a checker-patterned velour tuxedo half the time.

Crindle: The whole thing was just crazy, and so totally unexpected. We even got to go on "Express 4-5-6"!

Murphy: "Express 4-5-6" was this New York dance program, basically a two-bit "Soul Train." It was hosted by this old fossil, Bensonhurst Freeman. The guy had been around since the jazz era and just kind of hung on. He's still alive to this day! He hosts a radio show where he never plays music and just talks for three hours straight about the drop-outs hanging around in front of the corner store in his neighborhood. Anyway, we went on the show and it was a disaster.

Devlin: It was categorically not a disaster. Gerry thinks it's Pearl Harbor if everything doesn't go exactly as planned.

Crandall: Some fairweather moral crusaders got wind that disco was "gay music" and decided to picket the studio before Flash! went on. They shouted down the producers, the camera operators, everybody. I'm not going to repeat the things they said.

Devlin: "Faggot" and "queer" and every variation you could think of. They poured a can of blue paint on Terry Terrell, the keyboard player. I just missed getting hit in the face with a full beer bottle. It was quite a scene!

Winterley: Somehow they managed to break down the studio doors during the actual performance and throw paint all over the set and make a big show of smashing the Crosstown 45s in full view of the cameras. The show aired live so everyone from Newark to Great South Bay saw it happen. Some poor young thing got up on the bandstand with a sign that said "SODOMITE" and a big arrow pointing at Marty. The audience just kept right on dancing, and pretty soon I realized they thought it was part of the act! It was the saddest thing having to listen to Marty afterward on the payphone with his dad, explaining to him yes things were fine with Stacy and no he wasn't a fag.

Devlin: That week we sold more copies of "Fire Sale" than we had in its entire run up to that point.

Murphy: Listen to me, here I am bitching when really, we had it pretty damn good back then. Better than we were gonna have it, anyway. And that's probably why you detect a hint of, shall we say, a caustic tone: I know about everything that happened later. You have to remember, this is before the bust and the mansion fire and the Noriega thing. So it's easy for me to feel bitter now. But I have to admit, those were the salad days.

Sequined Nights, Dusty Days will be available on Amazon and at all major retailers. Watch for Dale Soresley's feature in the upcoming issue of New York about a continental breakfast based on the life of Katy Perry.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Letters of Albert Einstein

It is natural, in viewing Albert Einstein, that the legendary and nearly mythic figure of the man should eclipse the very human essence of the individual. Beyond being simply iconic, he is one of the few scientific or even scholarly personages that figure so fixedly in the collective consciousness. But Einstein's private correspondence reveals the conflicted, often disturbing world of one of history's great minds. Many of the letters recently uncovered by the Paris Einstein Foundation were stained with tears and rum, the paper scratched and torn sometimes beyond comprehension. Three of the letters are reproduced here unabridged for the first time ever.

A note on reading: Einstein himself was of course blessed with a comically exaggerated German accent, and it does him no small measure of justice to read these letters using just such a voice. Enjoy!

May 26, 1892

Dearest Ilsa,

It is known to all that I am a man of science, and as such, I can say without hyperbole that your milky thighs are certifiably one of the great wonders of our vast universe. Even to glimpse their firm, quaking mass is to call into question the rational and dispassionate cosmos in which I so steadfastly believe. Does their existence not prove the beneficence of some lovely Dionysian God? Indeed: a God with a visage smiling down upon the hour when I was fortuitous enough to glimpse the momentary slipping-down of your bathing trousers and bear witness to the marvelous gams contained therein!

Sadly, though, I must recall myself from such reveries in order that I might apologize for my behavior in front of your aunt and grandmother this weekend past. It was inappropriate for me to call your aunt a "revolting bitch," especially in the presence of one so noble and serene as your sworn guardian and forebear. It is not for me to festoon enlightenment upon those who insist on maintaining such a closed-minded view of the world they live and work in each day. If your aunt, fine and elegant though she may be, insists on calling into question all of my work and the work of those many brilliant men of science who have come before me, based solely on the scant reasoning and base superstitions of a worldview that can barely glimpse two feet in front of it but for the dense fog of idiocy clouding its mind, I suppose I must greet this with patience and good humor, and must resolve to avoid the line of thinking that results in outbursts such as the one you were unfortunate enough to witness.

This evening finds me in low spirits. I fear that my insights into Brownian motion are but the ravings of a madman, and as such have suffered from a desperate bout of indigestion. My room is damp, my neighbors are loudly fornicating, and a cockroach has just now skittered across my hand, chilling me to my very spine. Ahh, what ignorance there is in this world!

Yours always,


January 30, 1900

Herr Lipschutz,

Possessed as I am of a rational, scientific mind, it is puzzling to me that you now insist on payment in full of your loan made to me in September of last year. Have I not paid in each month since then at least three quarters of the agreed-to installments, plus or minus some of the interest? Is this not enough to prove to you that I am a man of my word?

There is no need for me to review with you once more the facts of my predicament: how I, wishing to test the laws of probability governing each sequence of events that occurs in this boundless universe of ours, made a series of "wagers" with myself as to the outcome of a number of horse races taking place outside of Vienna. How I, in a fit of what I in hindsight can only believe was sprightly good fun, decided to place a sum of money on these wagers in an amount equaling roughly forty-eight thousand kronen. How, in the course of things, essentially all of my hypotheses were proven to be incorrect, and I was summarily divested of the funds I had put forth.

I have already professed my gratitude to your generosity in this matter. Without the benefit of the money you forwarded to me in my time of need, much of my research would have been left in the lurch and potentially abandoned. You are indeed a benefactor of the world of science! It is not to call your magnanimity into question, though, to point out that the interest being charged on this loan is positively usurious! You know that these are lean times for me. I have accepted the lot of the "starving scientist," and it falls upon me to carry that burden, but I do not need you hounding me at every turn over financial matters! In any case, once my current paper is completed, it is assured that I will win scads of prizes and piles of money, and you will have your precious loan repaid, WITH INTEREST I MIGHT ADD, and you will rue the day you defiled my good graces with your oily ways!



February 10, 1908

To My Darling Mother,

I was so delighted upon receipt of your letter last week that I could scarcely speak! One would think that I, dispassionate researcher and scientist, would not be given to such paroxysms of emotion as the one that overtook me when I saw your unmistakable hand impressed upon the seven sheets of double-sided paper that arrived in my post box. I assure you though, it is true!

As always, I found your correspondence to be suffused with such wisdom as to rival the great sages of ancient Greece and Rome! I have long been accustomed to the lion's share of your advice as being characterized by such even-handed erudition, but in this case I feel you have outdone yourself. "A nice brisk walk never hurt anyone, Alby," you write. "Why don't you get out more for Christ's sake?" On the nose as usual!

If there is a passage from this latest (and welcome!) missive with which I could take some slight umbrage, however, it would be the page and a half dedicated to the subject of my darling wife, Mileva. I hardly think your description of her is quite fair, and it strikes me as unseemly of you to make such mockery of her dark features and prominent nose. Can you not see the beauty in her that I do?

It is tedious for you to hear me carry on so! Nonetheless, mama, this is the woman I have chosen to be the mother of my children! Her often short temper has on many occasions been the source of consternation for you, and it pains me to remember the scathing language that passed between the two of you during your last visit. Why can you not accept the woman I love?

I suppose it should not be of any surprise to me that you would feel this way. Although I have never doubted your love, I can call to memory many different occasions in which you, perhaps through no conscious thought of your own actions, have sought to undermine me. I do not like to dwell on these things, but on nights such as these, when the street lamps shine through my window and cast such an eerie light onto my writing desk that they seem to illumine the deeper recesses of my soul, I recall as if it occurred just yesterday the request I made before my eighth birthday for a young boys' chemistry set. "What do you want that for?" is what you said to me. "Why should I walk about the fish market with a scrawny little brat casting spells and potions under my feet?" You did not know, mother, and perhaps could not know, what that was to me!

These and other sad vignettes parade before my mind's eye on this cold night. I can call to mind few instances in which my youthful enthusiasm was met with anything other than a cold stare, a snide remark, sometimes even mocking laughter. Many nights I lay awake, torturing myself in confusion as to why you had chosen to bring me into this world. It is a question I cannot resolve even now. But I know that tonight, as I have drunken, angry sex with the woman you can barely bring yourself to look at, I will have my cosmic revenge. And you will have no choice but to face this reality when we meet you at the hot springs for next summer's holiday!!

With love,