When I was a young teacher and still thought of myself as a billiards player, I had the pleasure of watching Albert Abraham Michelson play billiards nearly every noon. He was by then one of our national idols, having been the first American to win the Nobel Prize in science (for the measurement of the speed of light, among other things). To me, he took on added luster because he was the best amateur billiards player I had ever seen.

One noon, while he was still shaking his head at himself for missing an easy shot after he had had a run of thirty-five or thirty-six, I said to him, “You are a fine billiards player, Mr. Michelson.” He shook his head at himself and said, “No. I’m getting old. I can still make the long three-cushion shots, but I’m losing the soft touch on the short ones.” He chalked up, but instead of taking the next shot, he finished what he had to say. “Billiards, though, is a good game, but billiards is not as good a game as chess.” Still chalking his cue, he said, “Chess, though, is not as good a game as painting.” He made it final by saying, “But painting is not as good a game as physics.”

Then he hung up his cue and went home to spend the afternoon painting under the large tree on his front lawn.

Norman McLean, Young Men and Fire (via Steven K N Wilkinson)

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