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,


Monday, August 8, 2011

Tough Bar

"I don't know about this," Cal said, his hands tucked firmly into his jacket pockets as he and Doug stood at the threshold of the biker bar.

"Come on, man," Doug said. "I've been wanting to try this place out for months. A real biker bar!"

"Dude, it's just, this whole thing seems way too 'Blue Velvet' for me," Cal said.

Doug had seen this coming, and had prepared a counter-argument.

"Tim and Frank went here last week," Doug said, "and they said it was fine! At least it can't be worse than another night at Twistee's."

This struck a nerve. "All right," Cal said after a moment's consideration. "Let's give it a shot."

The bar seemed calm, even serene. There was no sign of the violence and dystopia that Cal had dreaded. Most of the regulars were content to nurse their beers and smoke resignedly.

"What'll it be, boys?" asked the bartender, a man with a gentle bearing despite his immense size and imposing facial hair.

"I'll have a Schlitz," said Doug, fearlessly.

Cal mulled his options. "Do you guys have Yuengling on tap?"

"Nope, sorry."

A voice reached them from the other end of the bar. "First time here, college boy?"

"Excuse me?" Cal replied.

Cal and Doug could just make the man out in the dim light with which he had cloaked himself. He was grotesque in his elephantism, his girth spread across at least half of the bar and the three bar stools he placed in a row to support himself. His skin was sallow and pasty, shimmering with perspiration where the scarce light chanced upon it. His speech was kept to a minimum, as he was shaken by racking coughs with every few sentences that escaped his mouth.

"He's new all right," the man said, ignoring Cal. "Better give him the Brown Bag Special, Tommy."

Tommy, for that was the bartender's name, chuckled softly and shook his head. "I dunno, Patrice, he doesn't look like he's got hair enough on his balls to handle a Shirley Temple much less the Brown Bag Special."

"Ain't that the rule?" Patrice was working himself into a huff, punctuated by an abhorrent run of very wet coughing and wheezing. "Ain't that always been the rule that first-timers gotta drink the Brown Bag Special? I swear Tommy, sometimes I don't even know what kinda establishment you're runnin' anymore."

Tommy considered this. He eyed Cal somewhat cagily, then made up his mind. "All right, I guess you got to do it."

"God dammit!" Patrice gleefully pounded the bar in front of him, causing Cal to jump nearly out of his skin and knocking over several tumblers which had luckily been emptied of most of their contents. "I ain't seen a Brown Bag Special been drunk around here in a dog's age!"

Before Cal could give voice to the many questions racing through his mind at that moment, Tommy produced a brown paper grocery bag from a compartment beneath the counter and set about filling it with Bud Light from the bar's tap.

Cal was growing increasingly worried. "Uh, sir? If it's all the same to you we'd be happy to go on our way, we don't have to do this Brown Bag Special at all."

Tommy did not look up from the tap. "Sorry boy. Doesn't seem like you've got much of a choice."

It was then that Cal realized that the bar's exit was barred by two menacing individuals, one of whom was brandishing a pool cue.

Cal tried to protest. "Wait, now just hold on a second..."

"You got to do it boy." Patrice was beside himself with delight. His wheezing had become truly offensive, and flecks of spittle were gathering on his lower lip and chin. "You got to drink the Brown Bag Special."

By now the paper bag was full to the brim with beer. Tommy carried it with no little difficulty to the bar, and placed it before Cal, where it writhed and jiggled, spilling over the top.

"Doug." Cal was fully in disbelief. "Doug, I-"

"Dude. I think you have to drink it." Cal was staring fixedly at the sack of beer, his eyes betraying the zeal of the converted.

"Can't you help me out here, man? Or at're new here, too, shouldn't you have to drink the Brown Bag Special too?"

Doug looked at Tommy, who gravely shook his head no.

"No," said Doug.

Cal could see that he was out of options. He approached the beer bag, leaning his head over the brim and taking little sips.

"Uh-uh," Patrice said. "You can't be doin' that. You got to hug it close up to you, like a lady."

The grocery bag full of beer was extremely damp by this point, so it was with a great deal of disgust that Cal attempted to negotiate the act of lifting it up and bringing it to his lips. He managed it, though, and began now to take full gulps of the brew, pausing to hack up pieces of bag that had peeled off in their saturated state and become lodged in his throat. These he placed on a pile that grew larger with each sip.

After twenty minutes of this, Doug offered some sage advice. "Dude, I think you should just dunk your head in the bag."

Cal was drunk and desperate enough by this point to see the wisdom in Doug's statement. Positioning the bag on his lap, he submerged his head fully into the beer, opening his mouth wide and inhaling the Bud Light in truly awesome quantities. Patrice guffawed and clapped his hands together, shaking the entire bar and sending some glasses and beer bottles crashing to the ground. "Woop!" he shouted.

Cal finally looked up from the bag. His eyes were red and he looked as though he held onto sanity with but a tenuous grasp. "I...I can't..."

A dull tearing sound followed by a splash was heard. The bottom of the bag had fallen open, soaking Cal's lap and the ground beneath him. Cal tried to stand, but slipped on the spilled beer and smashed his lip open on a nearby table.

Tommy was unmoved. "You failed the Brown Bag Challenge," he said.

Patrice was inconsolable. He smashed several ashtrays and was overcome by a coughing jag so monstrous that even Tommy had to look away.

Doug turned Cal over onto his back and could see that he was weeping.

"I just," he blubbered, "I just wanted this place and...and you made me...YOU MADE ME."

"You blew it man," Doug said.

"I need a...I need hospital."

"What you need," said Doug, "is to be a little more open to new experiences."