He was a mess. A big fat mess, full of piss and impropriety. Too crazy for his own good. Every time he went outside, he cleared the streets. Women screamed at the sight of him, and children cried. Men of all ages shivered in their boots. He didn’t care. He laughed into the face of love. He struck fear into the heart of the world.
He was a magnificent beast.
He was Albert Einstein.
Yes! Einstein! That randy gambler! That rotten swindler! Did you think you knew him?
You didn’t. You have no idea how much you did not know him.
But I knew him. In fact, I knew him well—or at least I believed I did. It’s possible I didn’t know him in the slightest. He was a man of many secrets, my Albert, and he fooled a lot of people. Maybe I was one of them—just another link in his long chain of deceptions, another notch on his belt. I hope not. I really do, for the times we shared were the most glorious of my life—filled with wonder and terror and quickening chaos.
Oh, it was wonderful! A constant delight! I wish I could describe to you and make you understand what it was like to be with him, but I’m afraid I can’t. You just had to be there. Even now, looking back on my memories of him, all I can recall are disconnected images and sounds—things he used to say, things he used to do. The scattered droppings of a crazed animal. Bricks through windows. Screeching tires. The smell of burning turpentine.
“Twist it, you bastard! Make it bleed!”
Why did he say that? I don’t remember. I’ve tried to make sense of it, but I can’t. Perhaps I’ve blocked it from my memory, like the details of a horrifying accident which I am afraid of recalling, and my instinct for self-preservation has covered by mind’s eye with a blanket of self-protective amnesia.
But I do remember some things. God help me, I do.
St. Louis, 1953. Early spring. Me and Albert Einstein at three-thirty in the morning, dressed in black and chasing cats through the filthy alleys of the city. Always after the cats, was my Albert. I don’t know why he chased them or what he would have done if he had caught one. Fortunately, I never had to find out because he never caught a single one. Who knows, maybe he just enjoyed chasing them—although he tended to make horrible noises as he did it. Awful sounds. Strange slurps and growls mixed together in the back of his throat, like Gollum drinking a milkshake. My God, what a thing to remember. Thank God the cats could run faster than he. I already have too many nightmares in my life.
Dallas, 1972. In a bar on the west end, getting stoned out of our minds, watching the Dallas Cowboys on the television above the bar. He hated the Dallas Cowboys, did my Albert. I can’t say I blamed him. He’d lost shitloads of money over the years by betting against them, and money was a precious commodity in those days. He had sworn revenge many times on Tom Landry, and he never missed a chance to describe in grisly detail all the things he would do to the man’s throat if he ever got the chance. He was quite fanatic about it. Rabid, even. Piss-drunk and frothing at the mouth.
“The fucking scumbags!” He screamed it every time they scored. Hell, every time they did anything at all. They’d come back from commercial and he’d start screaming. “Fucking scumbags! I hate their ever-fucking guts!”
I still recall the game—NFC Wildcard, Cowboys and 49ers. The Cowboys were down by twelve and the game was winding down and Albert was as happy as a pig in fresh shit. He had three hundred bucks on the 49ers and was already calculating his payout. But then, with less than two minutes left in regulation, Roger Staubach—the Cowboys’ quarterback who’d been injured in pre-season and hadn’t played a game all year—suddenly came off the bench and stunned everyone in the stadium by leading his team on an amazing comeback to a 30-28 victory.
Albert went nuts. He screamed and cussed. He broke glasses. He broke everything. He burned the bar down. We stood in the street and he screamed at God and the city of Dallas and the entire Dallas Cowboys franchise. The heat-waves from the fire blew his hair all around his head, like a thundercloud. He hollered and hollered. He was so furious, I thought he would explode. He might have done it, but he was cut short by the sound of approaching fire engines and we split town before the police and the bookies caught up with us.
Three days later, we were in New York City. We became separated at the bus station. I ducked into the men’s room, and when I came out he was gone. I didn’t see him again for five years—and by then it was too late. He was in bad shape; worn down by the forces of evil and reason, front-page editorials and law enforcement. He was on his way out. He could barely keep his eyes open.
It was in Nashville. Late November and cold. I found him behind the Salvation Army, covered in an old blanket, shaking in his sleep. I woke him up and fed him beef jerky. He didn’t say thank you, or anything else for that matter. I don’t think he even recognized me. He was fucked up. He was wrinkled and bloodshot and ruined, and I could see the holes where the bastards had gotten hold of him. I couldn’t get him to stand up. He just chewed on the beef jerky and he grimaced and then he swallowed it, and then he laid his head down and drifted back into his fitful sleep.
I sat next to him for a while. Watched over him. He whimpered and twitched beneath his blanket. Dreaming, I suppose. A restless brain full of dazzling visions, tortured by the merciless uncertainties of the universe.
An amazing and terrifying beast, forever hidden from the world.
Forever hidden from me.
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