Einstein's Brain

Saturday, October 18, 1997
Albany, NY

 After dropping Sarah off at Hackett Jr. High at 5:45am yesterday morning I shopped around for the New York Times, but because of the recent newspaper drought, I couldn't find one anywhere. What caught my eye was the tag-line on the cover of this month's Harper's, "A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain", which turned out to be a road-journal by Michael Paterniti, a writer from Portland, Maine, recounting his drive from Princeton, New Jersey to Berkeley, California with Dr. Thomas Harvey, former pathologist in Princeton who autopsied Einstein in 1955 and kept the brain and had decided to give a part of it to Einstein's grand-daughter, Evelyn Einstein, in Berkeley. 

On the road-trip, last February, cruising through the midwest, Paterniti learns that Harvey, having been kicked out ot the medical profession after his abduction and stubborn refusal to turn-over-the-goods-to-the- proper-authorities, spent some years living in Lawrence, Kansas, working as an extruder in a plastics factory. His next-door-neighbor at the time was William Burroughs and they decide to drop in for a visit. Paterniti doesn't give much detail about the visit, recounting the wine drunk by Harvey and Cokes and vodka by Burroughs along with his 'daily dose of methadone'. A little small-talk, then... 

"Later, when the two soused men face each other for a good-bye on the front porch--for no apparent reason, Burroughs now calls [Harvey] Dr. Senegal--the writer lowers his voice and delivers a farewell chestnut, one that Harvey receives with a nod though it isn't clear he actually hears it. 'What keeps the old alive, Dr. Senegal,' advises Burroughs, 'is that we learn to be evil.'"
Could Harvey have been the model for the infamous Dr. Benway?

 Many motels, fast-food parlors and gas-stations later, Paterniti develops the obsession to tell others about the contraband they are carrying from New Jersey to Einstein's grand-daughter. In a casino in Las Vegas,

"...at an empty black-jack table, I ask the dealer, a Korean guy with a mustache, about Einstein. 'I don't know anything about him', he says, 'but that guy over there should be able to help you.' He points to the manager, a white guy with a mustache...'Haven't seen him in here tonight. Sorry pal.' I try again, with the friendliest-looking man I can find. He's middle-age and round-bellied, like his group of friends, all wearing Buckey Badger sweatshirts... Mr. Badger furrows his brow. 'Why do you want to know?' he demands. 'Has anyone ever told you about E=MC2? Has anyone in this casino bothered to tell you that?'...I explain that I am travelling with Einstein's brain...'Let's bury the damn brain an be done with it,' he says, as if he's been in on the debate since day one."
Much later, in West Hollywood, at a gas station ... 
"I approach a stocky, balding guy in short sleeves and a tie. He works for Kodak as a field engineer... 'No fuck, you got Einstein's brain right over there?' he says. 'No fucking way. Right in that trunk? The car with the little old man? Are you making a fucking movie of this? Holy fuck.' He pulls out a business card with a picture of himself on it, sporting a full head of half- synthetic hair. 'That was me in my Hair Club days,' he says, without hesitation. 'You gotta put me in this fucking article. I'm the guy who gave you directions to the ocean. Einstein's fucking brain! What the fuck next? Aliens, right?'"

Copyright 1998

Jan Galligan
All Rights Reserved
Last modified Aug. 8, 1998