Albert Einstein and The Definition of Wishful Thinking

by C.F. Pierce

“I'm flattered you would ask for my input,” I said, not knowing know how to react or what to offer in the way of ‘input.

I was on delicate turf.  Whenever I engaged Melissa on any topic—I mean anything except the latest heat wave--that was her cue to go into attack mode.  Offhand remarks that normal people would not find contentious were cause for debate and met with belligerence.

Like the time we had candle-lit dinner at a little Italian restaurant with red-checkered tablecloths, mahogany walls and bookshelves, scent of tomatoes and garlic brewing from the kitchen, Sinatra singing Summer Wind in the background, sipping Chianti and forking down linguini in olive oil.  Conversation veered to how hard it is to make time for the gym, and I smiled and gently said “working out even fifteen minutes a day is better than not working out at all.”

She snapped back with “How do you know?” Exasperated tone of voice, hostile expression.  “Are you an expert on fitness?”  

The last time we spoke, she threw me a curve and mentioned surviving a near-death head-on collision that left her on her back in traction for several weeks.  

“Some geezer who had been told not to drive after he crashed into his own garage.  He kept saying 'I've been driving for 70 years, I can drive as long as I remember to wear my glasses and take my meds.'  When the police arrived and saw the smoke and twisted metal, they said ‘consider yourself lucky.'  Good God!  As if I didn't have enough on my plate.”

When I heard that, I slowly said “wow,”  had a moment of weakness and like a sentimental sap, sent her the one photo I had taken of her from that surreal month when (after meeting on a cheesy website for professional singles)  we had several long dates until she told me I wasn't “the one.”

“Can't believe you kept it,” she wrote.  “Hope it brought back good memories.”   It didn't. Not that she wasn't cute in that photo—long blond hair flowing past her shoulders down her back, bright blue eyes, toothy smile and tight low-cut red dress showing off enticing curves in a petite frame.  Photo triggered a longing for more encounters like the too few we had in her apartment where I persuaded her to pose for the snapshot.

When she mentioned the accident, I let my guard down and sent her the damn picture. And regretted it as soon as I got that kick-in-the-face response about good memories.   (Heaven forbid she'd just say ‘oh wow cool pic thanks.')

 Now years later and “feeling better than ever,” she was on the other side of the country and asking for help with her never-ending career search. “Please comment on my latest social media post and share it,” she wrote. “I would greatly appreciate it and I value your input.” 

She didn't want my input.  And as for her valuing it, I think not. What she wanted was for me to share her latest post on the internet so more people would see it.  It was entitled The Benefits of Being Unconventional  and was another one of her self-absorbed videos where she focused on---you guessed it—herself.  

In this one, she was seated behind a long shiny black desk that was clear except for a miniature American flag planted in a brass base.  “The Star Spangled Banner" faded into"God Bless America" as she began to speak.  Melissa was dressed in a white blazer over a blue silk blouse, and covering her head was a red wool fedora hat.

"Hey all you hiring managers out there.  Are you tired of employees approaching tasks in predictable ways?  If so, let me tell you a little story." Serious expression, voice resonating conviction. "When I was a student in college, I was assigned a paper for my freshman class in American history.  The topic was open-ended:  The White House in the 20th Century.  While most of my fellow students wrote on what you would expect, I compared and contrasted the hair styles of all the first ladies from Eleanor Roosevelt to Nancy Reagan."  She smiled with pride and said "I called it 'American Coif.'  The professor was blown away. And I don't mean his hair." She laughed out loud.  "He said it was the first term paper he had ever seen with glossy photos. If your company could benefit from someone who has a unique approach to problem solving," she nodded and chuckled as if to say you know what I'm talking about, "you might want to give me a call."  

Ever since I knew Melissa, she'd been looking for a job. She had a decent resume—bachelor's in psychology from Boston University. But no graduate degree and apparently no skills for anything in demand by Fortune 500 companies or even lesser known establishments.  If asked “if you could have any job in the world, what would it be? “she would probably smile and say something like “that's a toughie.” That was one of her problems.   And by no means the only one. 

In the interim, she had a history of part-time stopgap gigs like perfume demonstrator at Bloomingdale's, barista at Starbucks, telephone sales for the L. A. Opera--all for no more than 6 months at a time.  Her true career, her actual occupation—if she were honest about it—was job seeker.  That was what she did.   

The barely furnished studio apartment of her L.A. days was in a neighborhood referred to in rental ads as “Brentwood Adjacent.”  It was near the 405 freeway and about a minute by foot from the Nuart Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard.  She slept on a mattress on the floor. The old rectangular wooden table by the tiny kitchen hadn't been varnished in years. One Saturday morning, my jaw dropped when I observed her strap on a purple helmet, straddle a mountain bike and peddle to her temp work in Venice.  “I save a ton of money on gas and parking and also get good exercise,” she laughed. I bit my lip. Still I found her set up back then cool in an offbeat bohemian sort of way.

 As for me, good ole go-with-the-flow Jerry, I was there to fill in during a lonely spell.  I suppose my job was to offer companionship and a little affection.  She didn't know much about me except the basics and if I volunteered anything, she never probed or asked any questions. She could tell you my name, I worked in Culver City as a workers comp attorney, drove a black Volvo and that I liked the Lakers. (The latter she could surmise from having once sat next to me at the nose-bleed section of Staples Center while I was on my feet cheering.) And that about was it. One of us took it way too seriously and it wasn't her.

She is now back east where it's a lot tougher to bike to work in winter.  When I heard about the move, I gave her a call.  

"So where is your new place?"  I asked.

"Why do you need to know that?"  She replied 

I had to question her like a reporter until she revealed that she is living in the basement of her mother's house in Queens. “It's not ideal, but it's only for the time being,” she said with some hesitation.  When she went outside in freezing cold last week to get the mail, she received an invite to her 30 year high school reunion. 

It's been said the scoreboard doesn't lie.  By that measure, she didn't have much to boast about.  No job.  No money.  No husband.  No kid.  Just a bachelor's degree from BU and big tits.  She could spin it any way she liked.  Her life was not looking good.

So here I am looking at the computer screen two thousand miles away from her and a bit uneasy. How to deal with her not-unreasonable request?   Also, not sure how to handle the temptation to have a candid—albeit electronic--tête-à-tête.

I would love to reach my arms through the circuits of cyberspace, grab her by the shoulders and say, “Melissa, what is it with you? What is your problem?  Why can't you get your shit together?”

But if I did that, I'd obviously be askin' for it. If I had my head handed to me for casually pointing out that some exercise is better than none, God almighty can you imagine the demonic fury, the hell storm of insults and screaming that would be unleashed if I dared confront her on her train wreck of a professional life?  Still the temptation was there.

 Let's say she seriously wanted my advice.  What would I tell her? That's a toughie. What are her options? She could keep doing what she's been doing for the last twenty years and hope it finally pays off.  Blowing up the internet with posts, videos, and chutzpah-redefining articles like What to do at a job interview when you are smarter and better looking than the interviewer?  And her efforts were not limited to the web.  

My eyes opened wide when she mentioned one morning she was about to go out for her monthly Manhattan walka-joba-thon. 

“What is that Melissa?”  I asked, unable to resist.

“The first of every month, weather permitting, I put on my black business suit and strap my black leather briefcase to my shoulder. I  pick a New York city skyscraper and go to just about every floor and every suite and if someone opens, I hand them my resume and cover letter asking for an interview.  If they don't open, I slide it under the door.  Sometimes, the security guards kick me out before I can get to every floor. I'm usually able to stop by quite a few suites before that happens. Hasn't led to anything yet, but what have I got to lose, right?”

Didn't Einstein have something to say about doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results?  What was it?  I picture myself standing at the foot of Einstein's laboratory. The white and wild-haired haired genius is surrounded by test tubes and flasks, vapors and gases rising from the table in front of him. My throat starts to burn from the intense scent of rubbing alcohol and hydrochloric acid.  Behind him is a giant black chalkboard completely filled with equations in green chalk. I see fractions, “x's, equal signs and some weird symbols that look like crossed out letters in a foreign language I don't recognize.

“Professor Einstein,” I say.  “Sorry to intrude.  I want to ask you about someone I know. For many years now, she has been looking for a job.  She has flooded the internet with videos, posts, articles, blogs.  Has even gone door to door handing out resumes.  It hasn't worked.  Yet she keeps at it with the same approach. Is there a word for that kind of behavior?

He looks up, shakes his head and utters in a thick German accent, “I believe you are asking a question to which you already know the answer.  Now if you vill excuse me…..”  At that, he turns his back to me and glues his eyes to the formula-filled blackboard.  

Point taken.  But what else could she do?   I suppose she could go back to school and get a teaching degree or some vocational certificate that would lead to a steady job.  Yeah, but that would require effort and discipline and having to read boring books and attend uninspiring classes.  Screw that.  Or she could go to a reputable career counselor that has helped others in a similar situation and get down and kneel before the Great One as if he (or she) were the Messiah.   And whatever the Lord of the Job Seeker commands, at this point, for the love of God--just fucking do it!  No questions asked.  On the other hand, that might take her out of her comfort zone and land her in a career for which she is ill-suited.

Hmmm.  Could there be an argument for option one?   Could a case be made in favor of insanity?   Granted, the guy who figured out that E equals MC squared was no dummy. But even Einstein didn't have all the answers.  Wasn't his expertise limited to physics?  I mean really!  What the hell did Albert Einstein know about going out and trying to get a fucking job?

 I look up at the computer screen, scroll down to the comment section of her post. I type “Melissa,   That's what I call the American way.  Great story. Your perseverance and resilience are truly inspiring.  Your unique approach would be an asset to any compnay.”   Then I click share.

 A few moments later, my computer emits an alert that sounds like a referee whistle.  New message from Melissa.

“Thanks!!!,” she writes, followed by a long row of smiley face emojis.

I'm thinking, Good one Jer. Well played.   Maybe this'll score some points with her.   She might even have some second thoughts about me.   It's not that I'd want to restart anything serious with a nut job like that.  But I wouldn't mind hearing her express a little regret.  And if she ever invited me--hell, I might consider flying out to New York some weekend and striking up the band with her for old times sakes.

Is it possible she could come around? Stop acting so crazy? Maybe even to the point where we could have a meaningful two-way conversation, where I could tell her about an interesting NPR piece on foreign policy and not have her cut me off with bimbo drivel about some realty TV show.

It's quiet and dark in my living room.  The only light is coming from my  thin silver computer monitor.   I sit up in my swivel chair and move away from the gray metal workstation and turn toward the open window and dark blue evening sky.   

 Am I dreaming?   Could it never happen?

It's not beyond the realm of possibility.  The universe is not static. Things change, people evolve. Life can be surprising. The unexpected occurs every day. You never know. You never know.