I just came across Elyse Graham ’07’s nifty article on the mathematicians’ high teas in Old Fine Hall. “A catalog of weirdness,” she described it. Little did she know. Add in magic, the occult, alchemy ...
I went to Princeton in 1949 to study physics with Albert Einstein. We didn’t know that the Institute for Advanced Study was in Princeton, N.J., but not at Princeton University. I did see Einstein, though, riding his bike on Nassau Street.
So there I was, a freshman physics major with little — as it turned out — aptitude for physics. I studied hard, painstakingly deciphering the classic texts evenings in Fine Hall Library. But I didn’t do better. I did worse. And I resented and envied those scientists and physicists-in-the-making, boisterous and cheery at their high tea, confidently exchanging six-dimensional bon mots and preparing to bring the world nuclear medicine, computation, and time travel.
One evening I approached the Fine Hall entry as three grad students — instructors in my precepts — were exiting, laughing, and gesticulating geometric figures in the air. I wasn’t about to give ground; I clenched for contact, like running full speed under a kickoff, awaiting and welcoming imminent collision! They passed through me. No, that’s exactly what happened. They’d mastered matter, the transubstantiation of flesh.
My roommates were skeptical when I told them, but this happened — to me. In the doorway of gloomy old academic-gothic Fine Hall. I was there.
I realized I could never achieve what they had, switched to an architecture major, and eventually had a life in the movie business.