Relativity Speaking, Einstein Was a Slacker

Dear Albert Einstein:

Rest assured, in the 50 years since your passing, your name still comes up in conversation. Usually the context is something to the tune of:

"Thank God I have a ton of money because, believe me, my kid is no Einstein."

Or, "Yeah, that's why the title is 'Death of a Salesman,' Einstein."

Or, "Bernie, you have to get it looked at. I know a cosmetic orthopedist over at Einstein."

These statements should make you feel good about yourself. However, they also make it difficult to inform you that, in retrospect, you were a world-class underachiever.

Perhaps you feel that dreaming up E=MC2, the unified field theory, quantum theory and the theory of relativity by the age of 30, then moving to America and focusing the rest of your days on dating our college girls, constitutes a full life, but that's not the way we do things. Not here. Not now. Not in the 21st century.

We never stop striving. Take my neighbors, Al and Mathilda Tuthill. Their 54 years together has been the marital equivalent of ethnic cleansing. But do they give up on life? No. Ruth still gets weekly pedicures. Al goes with her to every appointment and insists on signing a "Do Not Resuscitate" form. How's that for stick-to-it-tiveness?

Oh wait, you don't know what a "Do Not Resuscitate" form is ... Einstein.

My main problem with you, Albert, is that, with your brains, you could have helped humanity so much more than you did. But you squandered everything on physics, a science that is, at best, worthy of a hobby.

If you had ditched the secrets of the universe and discovered a way to make Diet Coke taste exactly like regular, we wouldn't be having this discussion today.

Oh wait. Diet Coke is a mystery to you. But E=MC2? That you understand. Anyway, I can't completely dismiss your life. You did rather well considering that, as a child, everyone thought you were slow in the head. At what age did you start talking, 8?

Well, if you were a kid today, you would be plied with so many pharmaceuticals, your parents would be happy if you just masterminded the theory of not eating mud.

But once you started talking, you were magnificently eloquent. This makes it all the sadder that the world today is so far removed from your hopes.

For instance, you were a great lover of the arts. You know what we consider art today? Investing. Consulting. Marketing. Relief pitching. Polling. We don't administer the Heimlich maneuver, we perform the Heimlich maneuver. Like squeezing a piece of sirloin from someone's esophagus is a piano recital.

(Heimlich? No, no one you knew.)

Now Albert, after the bomb, you admirably philosophized on world peace. Your poignant insights take up pages of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. Unfortunately, we're not really into peace. At best, we're into tolerance. We don't respect strangers, we tolerate them. In Los Angeles, there's even a Museum of Tolerance. It's like the Museum of Natural History, except instead of dinosaur remains, they have exhibits about being nice. And yet, if someone opened a Museum of Zero Tolerance, they would blow those better angels right out of business. They're not exactly raking it with those exhibits about hate crime.

Oh. New term: Hate crime. Every crime now is either a hate crime or not a hate crime. No "he gets on my nerves" crime; no "she's not my cup of tea" crime. Just hate or not hate. That's how bad things are: After we victimize someone, we rate how much we like them. If we really like them, we commit identity theft. Identity theft?

Well, suffice to say, the world is a different place today. Let's see you dream up the unified field theory while juggling four PIN numbers, eight secret codes, 12 preset radio stations, five TV remotes. You'd be like us, doing anything -- anything! -- just to clear your head.

Personally, between my massages, acupuncture and yoga, I barely have a minute to myself. And the thing is, Albert, we all partake in these comforting anesthetics without truly believing in any of them.

You should see people gazing at the sunset from the bluffs of Santa Monica every night just waiting, waiting, waiting for some revelation about life that never comes.

"I shall never believe that God plays with dice with the world." Recognize that quote, Albert? One of yours. No, don't rethink it. I'm sure you believed it at the time. You were a good guy who lived before we figured out where to draw the line on being a good person.

Boy, 50 years ... can you believe it, Albert? Anyway, how are things with you?

Peter Mehlman, a television writer and producer, worked on


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