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Hey Einstein!

Treppenwitz - German for the clever or devastating rejoinder one thinks of too late after a heated discussion or debate. (An innocent German term unlike Gotterdammerung, indicating devastating calamity, war, disorder.)

Twice in my life I have been told "You look like Einstein." This occurs only when my hair and mustache grow out too long. Both times I have resisted or forgotten to reply, "Thanks, I feel smart." Failing to employ the snappy rejoinder. But hearing Trump always saying how smart he is, I can barely stand the term. And, when I look like Einstein, it's because I'm unkempt, and unlike the great scientist, I'm not too intelligent to not still care about personal appearance. This is from my mother, who drilled it into my head to care about how I looked. At age 71, I care less about it, but still don't want to look a bum.

Bums, hobos, slobs. Now we have "the homeless." My first turn at homelessness was when I was 17 or 18. Things went all to hell on the home front and the house was repossessed. But I was smart enough (ouch) to not show it. My high school dress code directed girls to wear skirts that touched the floor if they kneeled, and pants were strictly forbidden. Apparently there were male teachers creepy enough to make the girls kneel before them to make sure the skirts touched the floor. I'm certain it was a select group of these men who chose that responsibility.

Dress code for boys forbade denim trousers, and required a clean shirt, tucked into the pants. This thing about shirts tucked in got me many visits to the principal's office. Because I often wore shirts that were designed to not be tucked in. When I was able to buy clothes I went into the city (Hartford CT) to get them at a store whose clientele was mostly black. This was a long time ago and those guys knew how to dress. More than once at school, I was asked "How far did you have chase the nigger to get that shirt?" by some moron. My first encounter with small town New England racism (by senior year we had one black boy and one Chinese girl, that was our diversity).

Ironically, despite the taunts from idiots and the visits to the principal's office, I was up for "best dressed" in the yearbook. There were two of us up for voting. I represented the rebellious faction and the other guy was of the "prep" crowd. He won the vote of course. The principal would have had a hemorrhage if I'd won. But aside from personal taste or style, thanks to my mother's advice, I knew how to "put myself together."

I would think, in Einstein's day, people dressed better. Even up to the fifties, films show that people dressed pretty well. If Einstein became unkempt in his dotage, that was his pleasure. But the other thing is "looking Jewish." Which I learned in day camp when a blond, blue-eyed kid started pelting rocks at me, calling "Jew, fuckin' Jew." Well this was a new one on me. Despite my parents being from New York, I didn't know who was Jewish or not, and had no clue about Jewishness in general.

So now when someone says I look like Einstein, I may be unkempt, but unkempt like a smart Jew.


  1. Jim Gibbons March 21, 2018

    Remember when you told me in Hawaii back in ’86, “You’re no Kimo?”

    Well, my belated response today is, “You’re no Einstein.”

  2. Jeff Costello Post author | March 21, 2018

    Thought I said as much in the piece.

  3. Jim Gibbons March 22, 2018

    You did, I was just agreeing with you, and the comment reminded me of your comment.
    By the way, you know who used to remind me of Einstein with the hair and mustache and someone I consider to be very bright? Becker.

    • Jeff Costello Post author | March 26, 2018

      Yeah, but no one would say he “looks Jewish.” Have you visited him since the mail-order wife?

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