My uncle is Albert Einstein.
One day each year.
His latest transformation was on March 14, 2070, for the 100th anniversary of Communiversity.
Uncle Ed chose mismatched socks and shoved his feet into a pair of sandals, donned a thick camel-colored cardigan and stormed his hands through his overgrown white hair and presto — Albert Einstein. There are thousands of Einstein impersonators, just check the internet and you’ll see an abundance of the wild-haired genius ready to perform at weddings, corporate functions, bar mitzvahs or New Age yoga retreats. Some look a lot like the original. Some just have those rubber scalp masks that look more like old bathing caps women wore back in the early 20th century but with a bunch of hair growing out at odd angles. Some are actual physicists or other brainy people that can chat with festival-goers about quarks, relativity — maybe even throw in some string theory. But those typically did not look anything like Einstein, except for the hair mask. One astrophysicist from Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study decided to help out one year and wore the rubber mask. Unfortunately, at six foot 11 inches and being a hearty eater, he scared the younger kids away and was labeled FrankEinstein.
Uncle Ed, though, was made for the job. Even when he was 30 years old, he looked like the Einstein most people picture when he was past age 50. And when Uncle Ed got to 50, he still looked like Einstein in his 50s. His job as a security guard at the Institute for Advanced Study gave him a lot of time to think about the math and science that was surrounding him. Calculations on chalkboards or computer workstations became his crossword puzzles — something to while away the time in the buildings that were abandoned each night.
His first day as Einstein was purely by accident. It was on March 14, 2062, at Princeton’s annual Pi Day, celebrating the famous math calculation and the fact that it not only starts with 3.14 (though it’s followed by endless numbers) but, coincidentally, it is also Einstein’s birthday. It was early morning and festivities had not yet gotten underway. He was crossing Nassau Street near Palmer Square to get a coffee when he passed one of the white tents that had been set up for one of the events. A beer bottle whizzed by his head and as he turned to see where it had come from, a stocky man with straggly white hair and a cigarette dangling from his mouth bumped into him, then careened off down the street. Two other people emerged from the tent — a dark haired man in a gray suit and a tall woman, her red hair pulled tightly back, also in a gray suit.
“That cannot be our Einstein. No way,” the man shouted.
“It’s too late to get anyone else, John. We’ll just load him up with coffee. What else can we do?”
“Alright, Maureen. Go get him back. But next year we need a backup genius.”
Ed overheard the conversation and could not believe it. The Pi Day organizers were desperately using an Alcoholics Anonymous dropout to represent Albert Einstein to impressionable young children and the general public.
“You can’t do that,” he interjected.
They both looked at him like, “Who are you?” and then, after really looking at him, they said, “Oh … but YOU can!”
The rest was history. Or history reenacted.
Uncle Ed became the official Albert Einstein every March 14th thereafter.
Even after Princeton rolled Pi Day into Communiversity and made it one big town holiday, Uncle Ed was still the annual genius for a day.
For the 100th Communiversity, though, things started to get out of hand. Rumors that there had been a scientific breakthrough in Princeton in time travel technology has been swirling around for months. A leaked memo said that they were trying to bring the real Einstein back from 1935 for the special occasion, which was also 135 years since Einstein had taken up residence at 112 Mercer Street in Princeton. The media attention caused the organizers to go overboard. Since they knew the rumor was untrue, they decided on a baker’s dozen of Einstein impersonators and then, to top it off, Google brought in a high tech version of Einstein — a pop-up building with an interactive Einstein hologram exhibit. This was mainly done to celebrate their new Google East headquarters at the site of the former Princeton Battlefield. Though they had carefully relocated the whole historic site (including trees and lawn) to the rooftop of their new 20-story building, Google was still getting a negative response from the community. This was just one of the PR stunts they thought up to prove their updated company slogan: Do Only A Little Evil.
Uncle Ed had a lot of competition this year, both real and imagined.
My family had not gone for years, but we decided that Uncle Ed might need some moral support, so off we went. The main road for access into Princeton, Route 1, was still a nightmare even with four more four-lane roads stacked on top of the original road — sort of like a highway lasagna.
When we finally parked and made our way through what seemed like all of the 100,000 people that had packed into downtown Princeton, we were able to catch Uncle Ed just as he was wrapping up a presentation to a packed group inside the Princeton Historical Society headquarters. Seeing us, he directed the crowd’s attention our way.
“Ah,” he said, with one hand to his heart, “I believe zis is my relative (carefully placing his other hand on my head), and zis is my relative (my wife, Zelda’s head), and zese two children are my relatives (then both hands on our twins, Eloise and Ramona’s, heads). “This is my famous theory of relative-ity.”
He smiled and thanked the audience.
Zelda whispered to me, “Not bad, but he still seems a little down, don’t you think?” I mumbled in agreement. We joined Uncle Ed for a walk through the festival. The smell of fresh crepes, kettle corn and assorted barbecue kept us from thinking too much about the crowd and the heat, but not from worrying about Uncle Ed. He looked dejected when we passed the long curling line outside the Einstein hologram exhibit.
Then we heard some people at the end of the line yelling out that the real Einstein had just walked by. Soon there was a crowd around Uncle Ed and he was doing his relative-ity bit and going into well-rehearsed stories about Einstein’s past. When he snuck in a little math or science lesson, it was curious to see the crowd — all the children were hanging on every word while the parents were busy texting or looking off into the distance.
Of course, all the kids wanted to check out his hair, and Uncle Ed had told us many times of his warning to himself: “Don’t stoop, stupid!” since every time he would lean over or stoop down to greet a child, they would invariably touch his hair with their cotton candy fingers. This time, though, he looked over the crowd and saw the neon sign for the Einstein hologram. He crouched down in the middle of a bunch of kindergarteners. After a few minutes, he emerged with streaks of blue and pink goo highlighting his staticky white hair. He grabbed hands with Eloise and Ramona and walked straight down Nassau Street to the main entrance to the University.
Crisscrossed walking paths were lined with tables, each with the international students offering examples of their culture or cuisine. The twins were giddy with excitement as they sampled Korean ice cream and Turkish pastries and got their faces painted with their names in the Japanese alphabet. They were both flapping their hands, pretending to be butterflies, when they knocked over a huge display as they walked past the Chinese table. I rushed over to reprimand them, but Uncle Ed stepped in and became the famous scientist again.
“Ah,” he softly started, his hand pointing to the girls’ arms and then slowly moving to point to the table, “these girls have just proved chaos theory. If two butterflies in Princeton flap their wings, it can cause a building in China to fall over.”
He picked up the pieces that had fallen, handed them to one of the students at the table, and walked off with Eloise and Ramona.
It ended up being a much better day than we had anticipated.
My uncle is Albert Einstein.
For many people, he always will be.
Jeff Jacobs was born in Princeton and lives in Hamilton with his wife, two children, and three cats. His novel, “Darkness Descends On Princeton — A 1930s Murder Mystery” is scheduled for a summer release.