A Single Drop of Water Helps to Swell the Ocean


"Although he didn't attempt it himself, Einstein seemed totally amazed, sometimes engrossed, at my ability to skip stones across the surface of the lake, some with up to four or five bounces. As Einstein spoke with my uncle, all the while ensuring that I was within easy earshot, he recalled how he used to summer in Maine regularly several years before, and how he had a friend there he would walk with on the beach nearly everyday who, it seemed, could easily skip rocks a half dozen times before they eventually sank into the water."


By Pete Nicely

People liked to quote everything Einstein said, so he said the same things over and over. Like �God doesn�t play dice with the universe.�

He probably said that a hundred times to a hundred people who went straight home and wrote it down.

One of his friends, the scientist Niles Bohr, was so familiar with the �dice� line that he had an equally quotable response, �Einstein, stop telling God what to do.�

But my uncle never heard the old man say anything about dice. Not once.

�He wasn�t trying to impress me,� my uncle said, always modest about his slight brush with fame.

They weren�t friends, really. Not equals, not the sort of entangled souls who search each other out and make a connection that lasts through time and space, if those things really exist. But when Albert Einstein came to Maine for summers in the late 1940s (and his stepdaughter wasn�t there or none of his scientist friends were around), my uncle and he would walk together on the beach every day.

Einstein, like most human beings, loved the way my uncle could skip a rock across the waves a half dozen times before it plunked into the ocean. It was an easy and reliable display of experimental physics because my uncle�s arm was strong then. He was in his mid thirties. And, at least in pictures, he still looked like a boy in the spring of 47 when his mother and father died in a car accident. They�d left him and my father two houses and enough money to retire. My father, who was only twenty-one at the time, kept on with his life and finished his degree at Cornell then went on to law school, while my uncle took a few years off to �mope and stare the sea.� During that time, he got so good at pebble tossing that it was something he could still do well even into his seventies when I came to spend a week with him for the last time.

With the consistency of a trained alarm clock, he�d wake me up in the dark, and we�d stroll along peeling browns of the dawn�s sky. He�d throw a couple of stones until he got the reaction he was looking for: An involuntary �Ahhhhhh� of breath that escapes as a solid chunk of stone hits the tip of a wave, pauses, and then again skips once or twice more, cutting through the ether with impossibly regained momentum.

So, every morning, we�d eat one hard-boiled egg and catch the sunrise, exactly as my aunt had trained him to do.

He�d met her on that beach then married her when he was forty and she was twenty. But she was dead now. Colon cancer, summers ago. Every one thought he�d follow before the next fall, but God doesn�t play dice.

What I�ve come to understand about Einstein, as much as I can, was that he believed the world was absolute. He thought reality existed, not probabilities of how things might behave but actual, strict reality. The observer changed nothing. He also thought that everything was already determined, which is a fancy way of saying that we don�t really have free will. Things happen as the universe wills. That�s why he was certain that my uncle had been sent to entertain him for a few summers by skipping rocks and helping him to find Ogunquit, the nude beach somewhere nearby.

They only found it once. It was a drizzly day and the sands were dotted with droopy old men and women holding umbrellas. All that sagging flesh, according to Einstein, offered definite proof of the laws of gravity.

After that, they stayed on the beach that connected their cottages, walking back and forth. When it was warm enough, Einstein would take a sailboat out and scribble equations until his wife called him home for dinner. A nice enough life for a genius.

Looking out at the boats along the coast filled with ordinary sailors in silly hats, I�d ask, �He�d really sit out on a sailboat, bobbing along, scribbling math?� It was one of those absurd rumors that bordered on parody. Like that Joe DiMaggio preferred to eat in restaurants alone or JFK banged mob bosses� girlfriends in the Rose Garden. Too good to be true.

�Yes, but it didn�t get him anywhere. He was done, done figuring things out by the time he got to America,� my uncle said, and he knew since he was a mechanical engineer, just like Einstein�s son who was working as a professor at Berkeley by then. His technical inclination was the other reason Einstein could stand his company. He didn�t have to explain everything to him.

�What about the A-bomb?�

�He didn�t work on that. He just figured out it was possible. Or he figured out the principle that made it possible. And he helped convinced Roosevelt to start building it, which I think he regretted. We never spoke about it,� he assured me.

�But he knew it had to be made.�

�Before there IS a German Atomic Bomb,� my uncle said.

Einstein knew the Nazis too well. He�d lived in Berlin and watched them seep into power, nursing the discontent and envy of a defeated Reich into an amazingly lethal hatred. Coincidentally, Einstein was visiting the US in the early thirties when the SS seized his homes. But it probably wasn�t coincidence. He was the one Jew they knew they couldn�t get away with killing, not just then. He�d been famous for more than a generation: The Jew who pointed out that matter was just energy. The most popular Jew since Jesus.

�But he had to be the man to make it all possible. It had to be him. God doesn�t play dice,� I said, trying to figure it all out.

My uncle silently pointed to a pebble that he wanted me to pick up for him. Silent because I don�t think he liked what I�d meant at all.

My uncle first saw the girl who became his wife when he was walking with the old man. It was the last day of Einstein�s last summer in Maine, the last time they�d ever walk the beach together. Einstein had to get back to Princeton to meet with Robert Oppenheimer who was taking over the role of Director at the Institute of Advanced Study, where Einstein was playing the part of �a living museum exhibit.�

Einstein�s wife died that next fall, and he never wanted to vacation anywhere they�d been together. Even though he was never entirely faithful, they were still close like that. They were also first cousins, which I can�t stop myself from pointing out.

That last day, my uncle met Einstein at sunrise. They wanted time to get their walk in.

The sky was all colors, though the purple stood out, anticipating the red of the new sun. Neither of the men was used to being up so early when �the wise one showed off a bit,� as Einstein said.

Nature loves simplicity. But there�s nothing simple about the sky off the coast of Main exposed to the sudden contrast of the sun climbing through the horizon.

So, they stopped to stare. To let it burn into their brains like a daguerreotype.

After a minute or so, my uncle picked out something on the ocean, just past the rumblings of the forming waves. The roundness suggested a head, and he pointed it out.

�I see,� the old man said, squinting his eyes almost entirely away.

As the waves pressed forward, the suggestion of a body was revealed in the murk. It was a female shape, and the tips of the hair formed thick lines that lay against her pale, seemingly nude shoulders.

It was walking toward them, away from the sun.

�It was a perfect body,� my uncle admitted. �A perfect girl�s body.�

There�s some awkwardness here: Basic math tells me that the girl was only fifteen at that time. People make the case that fifteen then wasn�t fifteen now. Many girls were married with a baby by then or even now, in some parts of the world. But the problem was my uncle was more than twice as old. But ultimately, to me, at least, fate balanced that impropriety with a fifty-year marriage. There is something so sanctified about a fifty-year commitment that they could have met in a brothel and the story would still be just as inscrutable.

She wasn�t actually nude, but in a plain white dress that barely concealed her. It only worked to form her body into a single shape, without legs and other imperfections.

�Why couldn�t she have been at Ogunquit?� Einstein whispered, his accent abusing the native word with German harshness.

Then, as the universe intended, both men sat down in the sand and watched the girl. First she danced, keeping her toes along the edge of the water, teasing the waves. Then she crouched and picked at the sand, touching it like some part of a body whose function she didn�t quite get.

As the men leaned back, digging their back into the sand that seemed to anticipate their shapes, they realized she wasn�t putting on a show. Not consciously.

�She�s a mermaid, playing in the sand,� my uncle said. Einstein grunted an agreement. At a certain point, it seemed that if they spoke too loud, she�d dry up and disappear, but the mist in the air combined with the haze of their fixation kept her damp and alive.

Other walkers appeared on the beach. One stopped to point at the gray flame of Einstein�s hair, recognizable in any environs.

My uncle told the old man, �They�re watching you watch her.�

�That�s the wrong choice,� Einstein said, not flinching.

�You don�t mind?�

�Only a fool pretends not to be alive.�

And when the sun had broken the horizon, ascending to a place far past the spectacle of a sunrise, she turned to walk back into the water. She disappeared into the rising tide, which took her hair last. The reach of her arms and her legs out of the bubbling blue-green surface were the last signs she needed air to survive.

My uncle sighed and looked at the old man.

A huge bead of sweat had paused on Einstein�s forehead, between the bushiness of his hairline and his brow. He sat up and wiped it away. �I think that�s why I was here,� he said, certain she was gone and his words wouldn�t spoil anything.

�To see her?�

He showed my uncle his palm. The bead of sweat was pressed into a slight streak. �A single drop of water helps to swell the ocean,� he said.

�May I write that down?� my uncle asked, his constant sincerity almost begging to be read as sarcasm.

�Can I stop you?�[1]

Their �walk� took so long that Einstein�s wife and his assistant had already packed up the car by the time the two approached. While the assistant led the old man to the front passenger seat, Mrs. Einstein handed my uncle the keys to return to the owner, a Harvard professor who only visited on Easter, and placed a kiss on both sides of his chin.

Fate is the only physics I think about every day.

Am I am where I am out of some accident? Or punishment? Or worse, could this be my reward? With every possible outcome considered, easy, constantbreathing, not having open sores, not fearing constant marauding, knowing that tomorrow will resemble today�these things all are gifts, I suppose.

I think in the end everyone feels like life happened in the right way. Like there�s a right way. Like we�re not all so bad at life that maybe we might spend out whole lives with the wrong people or person. Or maybe the right person is too sick to get out of bed to be in that spot where they were supposed to catch our eye that one morning. Or maybe we never became the person we needed to be to catch their eye. Or maybe the person we�re meant to be with is in diapers, the infant type or the geriatric type.

It�s terrible to think that any of it is meant to be.

It�s only worse to think it�s not.

People are so simple, so base, so predictable, when it comes down to it. It�s difficult to believe that fate is any other way.

So, my aunt and uncle met twice.

The first time they didn�t speak. My uncle just leered at her under-aged body along with the greatest mind of the twentieth century.

The next time they met was in the middle of a hurricane.

The power was out for days and the local Episcopal Church had become an emergency shelter. It was filled with candles and a small generator that kept the radio running at all hours, though at certain points the local broadcasters were at the Church and not on the air.

On the last morning of the storm, my aunt wandered in the Church with her mother, holding each other�s elbows in a way that signified that they were all each other had in the world. They were the only two in their family who made it out of Poland before the war began. Now they both worked as servants for a newspaper family who would only hire Jews as servants. Their own personal version of Israel.

My uncle stayed in the dark of his home for most of the storm until he ran out of matches as the sun set the last night of the storm. That�s how he found himself in a Church for the first time in his life. He ate something, borrowed a surplus blanket and found himself sitting next to my aunt.

After a day amidst the pews, her mother had gone back to the house with a neighbor and a flashlight to make sure the buckets containing the leaks weren�t too full.

For hours, they sat there next to each other silently, still while rain pounded from above and the candlelight scattered shadows constantly, like leaves in the wind.
My uncle�s placid, damp appearance contained the giddy dance of his insides, which could hardly believe he was so close to this girl�this icon of femininity that had been burnt into his mind and replayed nearly whenever he stopped to look out at the waves for too long. He couldn�t even look at her really look at her, except to check occasionally if she had legs or if she had left. Finally as the announcer on the radio said it was twelve AM and the storm, which first appeared in the Lesser Antilles, was finally moving off the coast, drawn toward Greenland like a returning Viking.

Storms didn�t have names then. I imagine that made them seem even more powerful.

My uncle turned to my aunt. He was determined to introduce himself. But her hand was covering her eyes. She was crying, obviously.

�What�s wrong?� my uncle asked at least a dozen times before she answered. She had a thick accent that made her seem even younger than she looked. She also called her mother �mommy� as she explained she�d been gone for five hours, which didn�t make her seem any older.

They were driving toward the Newspaper family�s home when my uncle discovered that she was seventeen. The rain had eased into a steady drizzle that allowed the headlights of uncle�s Packard to be useful as he did the math and realized the age of the girl he and Einstein had been staring at two years ago. He asked the universe for forgiveness as he listened to the girl explain for the third time that her mother had left five hours ago to check the leaks with the handyman from the house next door.

�Don�t worry,� my uncle kept saying. �It�s fine. It�s going to be fine.�

The house was dark except for some dithering light coming from one room on the second floor. The girl explained, or tried to explain, that the family hadn�t visited all summer. My uncle responded to that with another, �Don�t worry.�

He told her to wait in the car, but she didn�t listen. She followed him through the unlocked front door, waited as he lit a candle, and then kept her hand on his back as they made their way up the stairs. He opened each door. Some smelled of mildew from open windows, most looked as unused and impractical as Betsy Ross� house. There was only one door left. They approached it in tiny steps. Something fell inside the room. A sudden thump, followed by a consistent rattling. My uncle turned toward my aunt, his candle as far from his body as possible. �Stay here,� he said.

And this time, for some reason, she listened.

My uncle measured his steps with his toes until he was directly in front of the door. The rattling kept on. He looked back at her, the blur of the shadows making her shape impossibly familiar. He leaned into the door, turned the knob and was met with the sight of two bare, teardrop breasts. Wild gray hair flying everywhere. The woman�s body was swaying, writhing over two impossibly hairy legs.

It was a beast. The beast of two adults making love.

My uncle shut the door and turned so quickly that he put his candle out.

Aware enough of where he was, he turned and ran. He grabbed the girl and led her down the stairs. He didn�t stop until they were standing in the glare of his car�s headlights, looking up at the lighted room. �What�s going on?� the girl asked.

�She�s fine,� my uncle said. �Just fine.�

�Are you sure?� She turned to go back in.

He grabbed her arm, as softly as he could.

�Are you sure?� she said, her eyes so large that it aged her instantly, made him feel younger, too young.

�I�m absolutely sure.�

They got in the car. Both of them silent.

As he turned the key, she said, �I�m not leaving.�

He looked at the girl, trying to figure out how to say it. There were a million possibilities. None of them were right. But �I think your mother has a boyfriend,� was how it came out.

�Ohhh,� the girl said. �Ohhh.� She put her hands through her hair, sunk her head and laughed. �I understand,� she kept saying.

As they drove back, she apologized again and again. �It�s fine. It�s fine,� my uncle said.

He parked outside the church. The drizzle had become a spray that blew then calmed along with the wind. Neither of them moved, they looked out the windshield as if something great were about to happen, but it was just the same, a lot more of the same. Minutes went by.

�So,� the girl said, approximating an American, �you�re the one who throws rocks.�

My uncle nodded. �I never hit you, I hope.�

She laughed. �Not yet.�

And he couldn�t look at her because he could imagine his own goofy smile.

The wind blew hard, then stopped. Just stopped. It was too quiet.

�So,� my uncle finally said, �what�s your name?�


The above article is attributed to one Pete Nicely, AKA Jason Emma Sattler who writes for Ten Car Train and a number of other web based sites --- usually found under a number of pseudonyms, of which Nicely is one. Sattler states the article is basically a book report he wrote on "EINSTEIN: His Life And Universe" by Walter Isaacson. If it can be taken that the uncle Sattler refers to as walking with Einstein in Maine is his own (that is) Sattler's uncle remains to be seen.

At onetime, on his Stumbleupon Homepage, he provided the following:

Jason is a 30 plus year old guy in a relationship from Lafayette, California, USA. Member since Feb 06, 2007 I think Stumbleupon is the best thing to happen to my web browser since Google.

I am a writer and a teacher in Northern California. I read wildly and compulsively. Right now I'm in the middle of Middlemarch, Brothers K, Superfudge, The Four-Hour Workweek, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Naked Lunch, a book on Faulkner and the Modernist novel and, finally and ironically, Getting Things Done. If you Stumble humor or fiction stuff, you may see some of my stories from dosmasks.com, tencartrain.com or valleyjew.com around. The opinions on and quality of both my writing and teaching vary. Verily I say to you, if you like one thing I write, you'll like something about most if it. If you hate it, your hatred will fester and seethe like a scar on Harry Potter's forehead. Now, I return to Stumbling.

The story regarding Einstein with the summer walks, skipping rocks, and uncle's meeting boss looking babes half their age was taken, or at least inspired by, a college-required book report written by Sattler on Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein. Below is a link that will take you to a free no sign-up PDF version of Isaacson's book:





Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.










Footnote [1]

In the above main text Einstein and the uncle are walking on the beach on the last day of Einstein�s final summer in Maine when they spot something bobbing in the ocean just beyond the surf line, the roundness of which suggested that of a human head. As they watched, the object began coming toward them and with each movement closer revealing more clearly a female shape, seemingly with nude shoulders. "It was a perfect body," the uncle admitted. "A perfect girl�s body.'

"Then, as the universe intended, both men sat down in the sand and watched the girl. First she danced, keeping her toes along the edge of the water, teasing the waves. Then she crouched and picked at the sand, touching it like some part of a body whose function she didn�t quite get.

"As the men leaned back, digging their back into the sand that seemed to anticipate their shapes, they realized she wasn�t putting on a show. Not consciously.

"'She�s a mermaid, playing in the sand,' my uncle said. Einstein grunted an agreement. At a certain point, it seemed that if they spoke too loud, she�d dry up and disappear, but the mist in the air combined with the haze of their fixation kept her damp and alive."


The observance by the two men of the young girl along the water's edge that was so overwhelming captivating for not only the uncle, but even that with the stature of Einstein, is one of those happen so rarely sequences men dream of, that for some unknown, mysterious coming together of place, time, and universe, happen. An event not at all unlike an equal or like earthshaking interaction between two men and their observance of a girl-come-woman one evening on the campus of the University of South Carolina at Columbia sometime early in the year of 1954.

The two men had gone to the university under pretense of seeing an avant-garde movie being shown in the auditorium. Although both had gone to college, one, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the other to Harvard, neither were college or university students at the time, but actually bottom of the line 21 year old GIs from a nearby military base. The girl herself was neither college nor university student either, having dropped out of high school and barely 17 at the time, pursuing her education in her own fashion, studying in libraries and on college campuses --- a combination of which, each in their own way, put all of them together at the same time at the same place.

Sitting in the auditorium in the subdued light prior to the movie the two GIs took notice of a young girl sitting alone a few rows in front and several seats over, a girl one of the men would later describe as "having never seen anyone more beautiful." Waiting for the movie to start he and his buddy talked back and forth how neither of them would ever have a chance with a girl that looked like her. While the film was being shown, in the dark, unbeknownst to either of them, the girl who had been so much the center of their attention had got up and moved to the seat right next them. The GI who had been quoted as saying the girl as him having never seen anyone more beautiful has also been quoted as saying the following:

"It was not just the beauty of her face that transfixed him. Her skin was the purest, palest and almost unearthly whiteness. At the time most girls kept their hair closely styled. Yet hers was so long and so lovely, it reminded him of the print he'd seen once of Botticelli's naked Venus emerging from a clam."

He then goes on as saying:

"(It) didn't take long to figure that there was more to her than beauty. She made the move, he decided, because she was lonely and they looked interesting. What she wanted, he saw right away, was to talk to someone who was likely to understand her, someone conversant, it developed, with the Greek plays and the poetry of Swinburne, Shelly, Keats, and Blake."

The girl, none other than the Beat Generation's missing woman:



the Wanderling

The following is being presented by me primarily for two reasons. One, because I met Einstein personally when I was just barely into my teenage years, and two, because I had an experience similar to the one he had on the beach.

The meeting between Einstein and me, which I cover more thoroughly in Skipping Rocks With Einstein, took place during the summer before I started high school, near a dock that was close to what I was told was a boat house, along some lake near, I guess, Princeton, on the day of a new moon night of August, 1952.

My experience similar to Einstein's experience on the beach happened just short of almost exactly ten years later, edging toward the very end of the span of time that existed between my graduation from high school and me being drafted into the Army. During that period of my life I was basically not much more than an inexperienced young man, just into my early twenties and yet to see the world. The similar experience began when a person who worked for a close acquaintance of my stepmother stepped up out of a crowd one day and handed me an envelope containing a note for me, along with a business card of a lawyer.

Handwritten in cursive writing on the back of the business card was a name of a long time old friend of my stepmother. She had been in Los Angeles from the east coast dealing with some proceedings related to her divorce and wanted me, through the lawyer, to set up a meeting with her for reasons undisclosed. Because of my stepmother I had met with her a year or so before when the woman lived in Long Beach, and now she was requesting we meet again at a certain time and date outside her old place on East Ocean Avenue. When the time came I was there, but she wasn't. I gave her a couple of hours, then, since I was on Ocean Avenue I thought I would go down to the Long Beach Museum of Art for a while then come back and see if she showed up. In the end she never did, nor did I ever see or hear from her again.

In one of those mysterious unexplained flukes that just happen to happen for some reason, as I was walking around the gallery in the museum --- and totally unprepared for such an event --- I saw a woman that up to that point in time I think was absolutely the most beautiful woman I had ever personally seen in my life. Unwittingly staring at her almost as though I was frozen in a trance, she turned from the exhibit painting on the wall toward my direction and when she did the two of us made eye contact. The exact moment our gaze connected it was a though my life force had been sucked out of me, my knees even buckling from the weight of me standing. Having lost a total sense of dignity and somehow feeling a need for air I immediately went outside, crossing the short distance across a park adjacent to the museum overlooking the ocean. Within minutes if not seconds, for reasons I am yet to fathom to this day, the woman was suddenly standing next to me saying something like, "Didn't you like the exhibit, you left so abruptly." I don't recall what my answer was or how one thing led to the next, but soon the two of us were agreeing to have lunch together, although instead I ate breakfast, at a little restaurant she knew just a couple of blocks away called The Park Pantry.

During small talk while eating I told her I was at the museum because I was supposed to meet a friend of my stepmother's who was going through a divorce, only she never showed. The woman told me after nearly ten years of marriage she herself was going through a divorce and only recently separated. From that, in a quick finger counting mathematical sequence I figured she would have to be 26 or 27 or maybe 28, making her at least four years older than me, although to look at her I would never have guessed it. She told me she was born in Los Angeles but grew up in Long Beach and graduated from high school in Long Beach practically the same time she got married and, even though she was in the process of divorcing she had children, including one only eight months old. Seeing I didn't flinch at the thought of kids or an infant, she continued. She was separated from her husband and although it was atypical for her to be in the area generally, on that particular day she was or had been visiting family and friends and was in the process of revisiting old haunts in Long Beach in a nostalgic sort of way. She said she may have been to the museum before, although she couldn't remember a specific instance, but in that she always liked the building and location she stopped in for no other reason except to do so, then she saw me. She said when I left so abruptly she was overwhelmed with the strangest inner feeling, as though she had found something valuable I had lost and she had to return it --- yet she had nothing except for that strange feeling that felt so real.


(for more on the woman click either image)

(please click image)