Walking In The Shadow Of Albert Einstein
What's it like to walk with someone in the rain who knew Albert Einstein?  I found out as I walk Mary to celebrate my newest grandson's baptism.  Along the way, I wonder what Albert would think today of a world on the brink of biochemical war, racing to get nuclear power to threaten others?   I begin to realize his Fourth Theory, the one related to Universal Unity, was more about Vigilance than Terror.



September 16, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 369
Walking In The Rain In The
Shadow Of Albert Einstein

Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, September 16--As we exited Nativity Church where our grandson, Angus, had just been baptized, Whiskers, a New York Bowery relic who lives in the Catholic Worker on 1st Street, muttered to me.
      "You walk her, Cliff."
      Whiskers was struggling with his walker, negotiating his way down the three steps leading into the East Village Catholic Church on 2nd Avenue.   His caretaker, a young girl who just enlisted in Dorothy Day's hostel for the homeless, attempted to help him down.  Whiskers stomach protrudes as though it were weighted by three overripe watermelons, oozing out his unbuttoned shirt tucked into the pants donated by others to the Catholic Worker.

      He points to the woman on crutches.   She wears a green hat and sunglasses, and her lips are painted a bright red.  I can't tell her age, but I know she is infirmed by time.
     "Okay, Whiskers," I reply.  "Okay."
     It is starting to rain.   The crowd who gathered for the noon Mass and baptism hurry out the door and head up 2nd Street toward our daughter's apartment where food and Irish music await them in celebration of Angus' baptism party.  Besides the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, a host of Catholic Worker volunteers--mostly young, idealistic people dedicated to working with the street people of New York City--a collection of homeless will be attending.  They are the disenfranchised, marginalized people our older daughter and son-in-law have dedicated their lives to working with over the years.    They too, are Angus' family, as they were for Matt, now 6, and Sarah, 4.
      Our daughter and son-in-law lived at the Catholic Worker, cooking meals for the homeless, feeding, clothing, providing community for them.   They also, in accordance with Dorothy Day's charter, offer peaceful protest against inequities among the poor, and demonstrate against war and violence. 

      The Catholic Worker newspaper, with a circulation of nearly 100,000, is a forum for their articles.   The newspaper is the only penny paper left in the country.
      The rain pelts down.   The crowd hurries up Second Street, past the Marble Cemetery, locked so that vandals don't spray the ancient headstones or deface the history of the dead, past the corner of 1st Avenue and 2nd Street where Alice's restaurant once provided the best and cheapest breakfast in New York City, but fell victim to not paying its rent and is now replaced by Mama Bamba's, a semi-upscale eatery whose prices double those of Alice's and who abandoned the Polish "family" atmosphere for a more chic, ethnic appeal.

       I watch the long line of people hurry past the former S&M bar tucked in a non-descript doorway just around the corner from the world famous Lucky Cheng's, where cross-dresser waiters (waitresses) serve the curious public.    The S&M bar is gone, replaced by a Hawaiian eatery with live parrots staring at you from the window instead of black-leather garbed dominatrix who would spank you in public for $25 to the cheers of the groupies who gathered there late at night.
      "Mary," and I inch along.   She moves delicately on her crutches, victim of various ailments which prohibit any fast movement.   She seems nonplussed by the rain, as I am.   I let it wash over me.  It is like a shower.  The air is humid.  The rain is refreshing.  
      "I hope you don't mind moving so slow," she says in a soft, halting Voice.   I wish I could see her eyes.  Eyes tell tales of a person's inner being.  But the sunglasses are very large, hiding most of her face.   It is dreary out, overcast.  I wonder why she wears them, but I don't ask.  
      "I'm so glad I saw this baptism," she says.  "I missed the other two.   I was sick.  They evicted me.   But Sabra and Joe helped me get back in.   When lawyers gave up, they got me back in."

Catholic Workers protesting rent hikes

      Mary tells me how my daughter and son-in-law wrote letters that finally succeeded in Mary bending the judge's ear.   She had been evicted two years earlier from her rent controlled apartment, and fought to get it back to no avail.  Then she pleaded for help.   Our daughter and her husband constructed a letter that won the judge's sympathy, and Mary was reinstated in her one-room $400 apartment the landlord was renting out for nearly $1,500.
      "You don't mind walking slow?"
      I tell Mary I have herniated disc, and walking like a snail is okay.   She shuffles her feet on the wet pavement.   She tells me about the East Village--how it was when she first arrived in 1960.
      "This was the drug capital of the world," she says.  "It took a while for people to accept me.  People got stabbed all around me.   They just robbed me.  They didn't stab me.  Thank God for the Catholic Worker."

       As we pass the Marble Cemetery she tells me famous people are buried there.   She doesn't know any names, but she knows they are very famous, she says.  That's why it is always locked.
       Then she tells me about meeting Albert Einstein.
       "He was very old.  He looked like a street person," says.  "I thought he was one of us.  Then he got up and spoke.  He was a guest lecturer.   He was very old."
       She can't remember what he said, but she remembers how he was very old and still alive with energy.   "I think he was mad that his ideas led to making a bomb that could kill so many," she says.   "He was very old.  Rumpled.   He didn't look famous."
       I asked her if he lived nearby at one time.  "No, he lived in New Jersey where it was safe," she said.
       The rain starts to pour.   I take my hat out of my Manhattan Messenger hip bag and cover my head with it.   I notice she is soaked, but the air is tepid.  It is like a shower in a warm room.  I note her lipstick doesn't smear, and her eyes never leave the ground.
       I want to ask her how old she is.  But I know better than to ask an old woman such a question.
      "He looked very rumpled," she repeats.   "But his eyes were alive.   I saw youth in them."   She speaks of Einstein as though he were a neighbor, someone who came by her apartment for tea and talk.  

      "I read that Einstein says human beings were designed to live to be 150 to 160 years old," I say.
      "That would be nice," Mary replies.  "It would be nice to live that long.  To see everything change.  Everything changes, you know.  This area used to be very bad.  Now it is nice.  It's safe.   It wasn't that way before.  You could get stabbed walking down the street."
       We walk slowly across the intersection where Alice's once was, past the corner deli with so many flowers lined along its front your eye softens to the pastel palette, and your mind forgets the ground upon which you walk was littered with blood from victims who fought over drugs, or raped or stabbed others.   You forget the East Village was once a Land of Terror.  But Mary didn't.
       "It's nice here," she says.   "I'm glad to be back when it's safe."
       As we near my daughter's apartment door, Mary hesitates.  In a smooth, grand motion she smoothly leans down and deftly scoops up a wad of money someone dropped.  It is sitting in the middle of the sidewalk.  She slides it in her pocket.
       "Money," she says, "my lucky day."


        We continue on.  I am amazed at how she moved, almost without stopping when she scooped up the money.   All the way her head was slightly bent downward, and I thought it might be from her illness, but now wonder if she was scanning the street for coins or bills.   She extracted the money from the cement with aplomb, as a crane might swoop down upon a placid lake and scoop a fish into its bill without fluttering its wings in the process.
       "Einstein would have picked up the money too," she said.  "I think he was one of us at heart.   I think he was just a regular old person with a big brain."

        I open the door for Mary and let her into our daughter's apartment.   She is swallowed into the crowd of people there to celebrate Angus' baptism.  She sits alone on a wooden chair, never taking off her sunglasses or her hat, her head slightly thrust forward, marginally bent as though genuflecting to some higher power.
      I become busy taking pictures.   I forget about Mary.
      Then this morning I read about how Israel is preparing for war.  I read about how the 1.8 million homes have a requirement to have a "fortified room" ("bomb shelter,) and how Israelis are preparing for an attack from Iraq should the U.S. wage war.  In the1991 Persian Gulf war 39 Scud missiles struck the country.
      I also read how Saddam Hussein has purchased old Russian planes to use in "suicide attacks" to drop "dirty bombs" on Israel, contaminating the city with radiation.   What shocked me was that health officials state they have enough smallpox vaccine stockpiled to inoculate the entire country of Iraq--6 million population--and post Nine-Eleven America's headlines screamed there wasn't any smallpox vaccine for Americans.

Post Nagasaki atomic blast

     I thought about "Mary's" visit with Einstein.   I wondered what he might think about the way the world was dancing on the razor's edge of both nuclear and biochemical devastation.    I wondered if he really believed living to be a hundred and fifty would be such a good idea were he alive today.  Einstein, born in 1879, died in Princeton, N.J., in 1955 at the age of 76.   If he was alive today, he'd be 123 and have 27 years yet to live.  I wondered if he could handle it.
       Mary seemed to think living an eternal life was good.   But, in checking with sources about her past, I found out the reason she wore the sunglasses was to secret herself.   She hid from the world behind them, the source alleged.   And, she suffered from delusions.
       I wondered if she had really met Einstein.   I knew better than to discount the possibility.   I had spent a day with Buckminster Fuller, and were I to tell my story to someone walking me up the street while wearing sunglasses in the rain, they might question my veracity.    Who was I, or anyone, to deny another's truth, whether real or imagined?

Israel practicing how to handle a Chemical attack

       But I was sure of one truth--that Terrorism is coiling.    Israeli's are preparing for the "gathering storm" of war, vaccinating their people, getting their gas masks out, preparing tent camps where victims can flee, muscling up their offensive strike capabilities to react to attack.
       They even have their "fortified rooms," ready to hold up in when and if they come under the weight of Iraqi retaliation.  Their army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, says:  "We are prepared so that nothing will reach the area at all."  His comment is directed both at Hussein and the people of Israel. 

Israeli nurse giving small pox Vaccine to medical worker in Jerusalem

        I wondered why Israel was so prepared with gas masks and smallpox vaccine, and the United States is as quiet as mouse about preparing its population for war.  If we are going to attack Iraq, it would seem logical our national defense posture within communities would be on high alert, preparing our nation for Terrorist attacks.
       But our headlines don't speak to that issue.   On the surface, one would think we can bomb Iraq with impunity, and whatever wrath is vented by Iraq against the U.S. will be directed to Israel, not the U.S.
       That seems so absurd to me.
       It also seems negligent on the government's part to not effect a national defense preparedness as Israel has done, arming the population with emergency services and protections against wanton, random retaliations by Terrorists seeking to wound America for assaulting Iraq.
      But no signs of such a warning are present on the horizon.
      I guess that's why I felt the shadow of Albert Einstein walking with Mary as we made our way through the rain yesterday.

      After all, Einstein was responsible for formulizing modern warfare, for creating the key that unlocked the door to nuclear fission that led to the development of the Atomic Bomb.
      Would he, at age 123, care about America being ready for war, or, would he, as Mary did, wear sunglasses to hide himself from the world, and only be excited about finding a swatch of money on the sidewalk?
       I hoped that Einstein, were he alive, would be a trumpet of Vigilance, and demand Americans prepare for war--that its citizens protect their children and families from potential harm.

      But the lack of such alarms made me wonder if the ultimate Terrorism wasn't Complacency--the lack of concern that American children will be caught in a nuclear or biochemical or simply conventional cross-fire by Terrorists within this country when and if the war begins.
       I thought it was time for America to take off its sunglasses and expose the Face of Vigilance and quit looking for money on the sidewalk.  I hoped Einstein would agree.




Go To September 15--Baptizing A Son Of Vigilance  

©2001 - 2004, VigilanceVoice.com, All rights reserved -  a ((HYYPE)) design