Tidying Up

“The unified theory still eludes me.”

“That’s only because it isn’t there.”

Einstein sighed. “You are a quantum mechanic, of course?”

“So were you. And I’m also a relativist. So much so I can’t apply a single law of creation to all phenomenas. I also don’t want to. But you do.”

“That’s science.”

“That’s religion, sir.”

The old man shut his eyes. Then: “We cannot see what we are not given the means to see. In the end . . . ” He opened his eyes and stared intently at T. “We are stuck with that simple, rather dull Englishman and his theory of natural selection.”

T. had already come to the same conclusion. “Darwin. Yes, sir. To survive we must know more about where we are or if, indeed, there is anywhere for us to be located in and able to describe.”

The old man smiled. “Perhaps your—precocity is the next step toward our finding out. I seem to have completed my work, much against my will, if I may say so.”

T. nodded. “I know what you mean, sir, but something’s going wrong with me, too. Before the shift in time, things were so clear to me that all I had to do was press a button in my head and the equations came. Now my head’s a bit cloudy. Too much testosterone? I think I’m turning into everybody else. I’m a breeder who can’t think anymore.”

Einstein laughed. “That’s the price we pay for being human. Once there is Eros, there is Thanatos.”

On his own, T. had worked out the Greek for the human condition: once love—sex—began, death set up shop. “I know,” he said. “Better to be an amoeba and immortal. Just dividing from time to time.”

“Ah, but does that eternal amoeba see the beauty of an equation or even play Mozart badly? I started to fade at twenty-six and you’re doing it—let’s hope you’re not—at sixteen. Natural selection is speeding up, at our expense. Well, I have a second career. Soon the Jews will have their own country, Israel, and the Zionists have asked me to be the president. I told them that although I’ve always been a Zionist, I am far too stupid about politics to be a president.”

“If there is anything I’ve come to know, sir, being around here, it’s presidents. You couldn’t be any dumber than this lot.”

“You console me!” Then Einstein frowned. “Now, mischievous boy, let’s see what we can do to tidy up what you’ve done to space-time.”

—Gore Vidal, The Smithsonian Institution

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When I Worked

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