The nearest side road was still too far from the house, making it impossible to take a good picture from it. We needed to get closer.
“You and the houses of the famous ones,” Metida scoffed.
I made a quick U-turn and pulled over next to house where Albert Einstein spent the last twenty years of his life.
Several signs “Private Residence. No Trespassing” made it clear that onlookers were not quite welcomed.
“Why Albert Einstein’s house is not a museum?” Monkey Princess asked.
“Because Albert Einstein didn’t want it to become a museum. Perhaps, he was tired of all the visitors who bothered him during his life. And he wanted to be left alone, at least after his death,” Metida explained.
“It’ll be just a second,” I promised, getting out of the car. “Albert Einstein’s spirit or whatever won’t be disturbed.”
It was still early, and Mercer Street of Princeton, NJ, looked deserted.
I made a picture of the house from the pavement. Still, something was missing. Probably, a bigger picture.
Trying to capture the entire house along with a part of the backyard, I stepped back.
A blue Volkswagen appeared at the far end of the street. It moved very slowly even for a sleepy empty town street.
After approaching our car, the blue Volkswagen stopped.
I glimpsed at the grey haired elderly gentleman in the Volkswagen, and flinched. No, of course he didn’t look like Albert Einstein at all.
So, why did he stop?
It didn’t look like the driver was having a heart attack. Quite the opposite, he seemed quite healthy and agile, his grey moustaches almost dancing under his nose.
Was he singing along a radio or cursing at me for blocking his side of the road, it was hard to tell.
He could easily pass out car by on the empty two-line street, but for whatever reason decided to stop. Was he making a point about how inappropriate my picture taking was? Or just was super obedient to the driving rules?
In any case, I decided that an extra second or two wouldn’t kill him off.
I went back to my picture taking. Backyards were important. They usually told different stories that houses facades. The depressing backyard where Nabokov burned the manuscripts of “Lolita”, for example, turned out to be the most rewarding part of my pilgrimage to Ithaca, NY.
Metida nodded toward the Volkswagen and rolled her eyes.
The elderly gentleman started to roll back and forth impatiently, his eyes staring at the road and gaining resemblance with stone-heavy yet furious Venetian glass.
Now, it became clear that only his dignity prevented him from getting out of the car and setting me straight.
Soon, another car lined up behind the Volkswagen. And another one.
I quickly wrapped up my photo session.
“Just wanted to get something authentic about Einstein to remember, some feeling,” I tried to justify myself while driving away. ”There are always so many explanators and specilators, all these wonderful middle people standing between anything slightly significant and the rest of us. They are like project managers and processes excellence vice presidents at my work, important folks producing endless fluff between developers and users. Why should I always dance to the music that they play?”
“I just wish Dad was arrested by the police and put to jail!” Magi murmured dreamily.
About an hour later, I saw an elderly gentleman from the blue Volkswagen at the back end of the gift shop on Nassau Street.
He was talking to the gift shop owner, and elderly lady clearly bored out of her mind.
By that time, Metida and Magi had departed for a Princeton University campus tour, and Monkey Princess and I were exploring the gift shop back end.
“See, there is an Albert Einstein’s museum in Princeton!” Princess whispered gleefully.
The corner of the gift shop looked, indeed, like a small Einstein shrine. It was filled with souvenirs and t-shirts bearing Einstein’s quotations, as well and pictures and documents photocopies handing on the walls.
Monkey Princess read a letter from a little girl to Einstein asking him to get a decent haircut. She played with a small soft toy Einstein, the signature hair sticking out of the doll’s head. The she tried on a pink T-shirt with Einstein’s words of wisdom: “The Difference Between Stupidity and Genius Is That Genius Has Its Limits”.
“I don’t get what this means, but I like the color!” She announced, looking at herself in a mirror.
“But this is not it!” I complained. “These are just merchandise that have nothing to do with actual Albert Einstein! There is still time, let’s go to Fuld Hall and find former Einstein’s office in its basement! That might give us something authentic to remember!”
Princess sighed with disappointment.
I moved toward the exit. Yet the narrow aisle between the wall and the shelves with clothes was blocked by the gentleman from the blue Volkswagen!
After a minute or two of waiting, I realized that the gentleman was not in a rush to let me through.
I couldn’t hear what he and the shop owner talked about, but it was clearly an unhurried chat of old acquaintances about some insignificancies.
The gentleman from the blue Volkswagen glimpsed towards me and couldn’t contain a revengeful smile.
So, now he was blocking me, I realized.
As it turned out, it was not so much about revenge than it was about Albert Einstein’s spirit.
Suddenly, the gentleman from the blue Volkswagen looked at me with a light smile and nodded towards the corner with Einstein-themed merchandise invitingly.
It looked as if he was saying – here is everything about Albert Einstein that you may need, tailored especially for you tourists, so enjoy yourself!
I made an attempt to pass him by, but he, having turned back to his vis-a-vis, stood firmly his ground.
Princess tugged my sleeve impatiently.
“Buy it!” She seized the moment, handing over an Einstein toy and a pink T-Shit with his saying about the difference between stupidity and genius.
I looked at the clock in desperation.
“So, how was the University?” I asked while driving out of Princeton.
“They gather to sing in the arches, enjoying their great acoustics!” Metida shared cheerfully. “And they have a bad movies club where they eat terrible food and watch horrific movies!”
I looked at Magi in the rear view mirror questionably.
“Princeton University has the worst toilet paper ever!” He stated firmly, with passion.
“Well, that’s an important factor to consider what college to apply to,” I sighed.
We passed Albert Einstein’s house.
“Bye-bye!” Monkey Princess, dressed in the pink T-Shit with Einstein quotation, made her Einstein doll to waive to the house with its tiny soft hands.
“Please do not stop again! Police is probably waiting!” Magi yelled, setting up GPS to our next destination. “Here, please hurry up so that we’d have some fun today, at last, at Six Flags! Kiпgda Ka, the tallest roller coaster in the world, is finally open after a repair!”