Saturday, May 3, 2008

Einstein and the bird

Gillett Griffin [curator of the Princeton University Art Museum] offers a tale involving acceptance into the Einstein fold via a toy bird. [Note the European male attitude of a certain domestic chore.]:

In 1954 an invitation to dinner at the Einstein home in Princeton, New Jersey, and a toy brought Gillett Griffin into the life and family of Albert Einstein. The dinner party included professor Einstein's stepdaughter Margot, his housekeeper and another woman.

And then mid-way through dessert he apologized. Said he had to get to work. Said he had a lot of things on his mind. And so I thanked him profusely. As he was leaving the room I turned to the ladies and said, "Let me help with the dishes," says Mr. Griffin. "Einstein turned around and said, Ach, in Europe the men never do the dishes." And I prevailed anyway. They let me dry.

When the dishes were all done I thought I had better leave and I was getting ready to leave and thanking everybody. And Elaine Dukos said, "Did the professor show you his bird?" And I said no and she called upstairs. The typewriter was banging away upstairs. She said, "Professor, you need to show Griffin your bird." The typewriter stopped.

He came shuffling down the backstairs with a twinkle in his eye, beckoned with his head, went to a sort of baroque cabinet, pulled out a plastic dickey bird with suction cups and wound it up (and) stuck it on the mirror. Instead of watching the dickey bird going up the mirror, he watched my face. When the dickey bird hit the frame at the top, it fell into his hand. He said, "Did you like it." I said, "I loved it." Eventually I got three different telephone calls from the three ladies saying consider yourself part of the family. So how's that?

Being part of the Einstein family meant being challenged from time to time by the professor: He loved little plastic puzzles. Get the three balls in the center of a maize or get the ball up a ramp or whatever. And I hated those things because my brother would tease me a lot and that was one way of teasing me. But every time I would show up at the Einstein house he would hand me a puzzle. And I would work on it with…quietly…clouds of steam coming out of my ears. And then I would hand it to him and say, "You can do this better than I can." And he would say, "It just takes patience."

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