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Michael Paterniti
Michael Paterniti
Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
ISBN: 0385333005
Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
Albert Einstein's brain floats in formaldehyde in a Tupperware┬« bowl in a gray duffel bag in the trunk of a Buick Skylark barreling across America. Driving the car is Michael Paterniti, a young journalist from Maine. Sitting next to him is an eighty-four-year-old pathologist named Thomas Harvey who performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955—and simply removed the brain and took it home. And kept it for over forty years.

On a cold February day, the two men and the brain leave New Jersey and light out on I-70 for sunny California, where Einstein's perplexed granddaughter, Evelyn, awaits. And riding along as the imaginary fourth passenger is Einstein himself, an id-driven genius, the original galactic slacker with his head in the stars.

Part travelogue, part memoir, part history, part biography, and part meditation, Driving Mr. Albert is one of the most unique road trips in modern literature. With the brain as both cargo and talisman, Paterniti perceives every motel, truck-stop diner, and roadside attraction as a weigh station for the American dream in the wake of the scientist's mind-blowing legacy. Finally, inspired by the man who gave a skeptical world a glimpse of its cosmic origins, this extraordinary writer weaves his own unified field theory of time, love, and the power to believe, once again, in eternity.
—from the publisher's website

Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain
Program Air Date: September 24, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Michael Paterniti, where did you get the title of your book "Driving Mr. Albert"?
Mr. MICHAEL PATERNITI (Author, "Driving Mr. Albert"): The title came from the original Harper's article. And we were sitting in a New York cafe, myself, the deputy editor at Harper's Colin Harrison, and Lewis Lapham, the editor at Harper's, and he said, `We'll call this thing "Driving Mr. Albert,"' and everybody said, `Great.' So...
LAMB: What was the original article and when?
Mr. PATERNITI: The original article ran in October of 1997. The trip was made at the end of February '97. And the article ran as a folio in Harper's, so it ran at about--almost 19,000 words, which is about four times the normal size of a magazine article.
LAMB: Who is Mr. Albert?
Mr. PATERNITI: Mr. Albert Einstein is the hero of the story, at least his brain is. And I was the chauffeur on this cross-country trip that took place with Dr. Thomas Harvey, the man who did the autopsy on Albert Einstein in April of 1955 and took Einstein's brain.
LAMB: Where did you get the idea for the article?
Mr. PATERNITI: I heard the urban myth, you know, maybe 10 years ago now, during the Gulf War. A friend mentioned that Einstein's brain had been stolen from his head during the autopsy. It'd been sliced up into about 240, 50 pieces and disseminated around the world, but the mother lode of Einstein's brain was in a garage in Saskatchewan. And I just couldn't believe it. I thought it sounded completely insane. But I kept telling the story over and over to people that I knew. I just kept passing the myth on and adding on to it.

And some years later, I was living in New Mexico and I mentioned it to my landlord at the time and he said, `Yeah. The guy with Einstein's brain lives next to William in Lawrence, Kansas.' And `William' turned out to be William Burroughs, the Beat writer, and his neighbor turned out to be Dr. Thomas Harvey, the man with Einstein's brain.
LAMB: How did the guy in New Mexico know that?
Mr. PATERNITI: He was good friends with William Burroughs. He'd actually lived with William for four years cooking for him. It was just a completely random occurrence.
LAMB: So what were you doing in your own life during this period?
Mr. PATERNITI: In New Mexico, I was working as an editor at Outside magazine. After leaving grad school for a time as an editor, I worked at Story magazine, a fiction journal, and then I went to Outside.
LAMB: Where was your home originally?
Mr. PATERNITI: Darien, Connecticut.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
Mr. PATERNITI: I went to college at Middlebury College in Vermont, and went to grad school at the University of Michigan for my MFA in fiction writing.
LAMB: What's `MFA'?
Mr. PATERNITI: Master of Fine Arts. So it was two years of writing fiction and sort of teaching poetry and fiction to undergrads.
LAMB: So you're in New Mexico--what year?
Mr. PATERNITI: That would have been '95 or '6 when he first mentioned it to me.
LAMB: And then what'd you do?
Mr. PATERNITI: I said, `You've got to be kidding me. I mean, you're putting me on, right?' And he said, `No. I'll get you his number.' So I said, `Yeah, OK, get me his number. Whatever.' I mean, I really didn't believe it. He did get me his number and I jotted it down on a little shred of paper and I pinned it to the wall in my office next to my phone and I just started dialing the number.
LAMB: This is Thomas Harvey you're trying to reach.
Mr. PATERNITI: Dr. Thomas Harvey. And I dialed and dialed and dialed and I literally called that number for probably three months; no answer. And I called at different hours of the day. I don't know why. It was just--the number was there and whenever there was a down moment, I would just dial it. And when I finally was about to give up, I dialed it promising myself that this would be one of the last times and he picked up the phone.
LAMB: What'd he say?
Mr. PATERNITI: He said, `Hello.' And I said, `Hello. Is this Dr. Thomas Harvey?' He said, `Yeah.' And I said, `Is this Dr. Thomas Harvey who has Einstein's brain?' And he said, `Yes, it is.' And I was flabbergasted, really.
LAMB: Where did you reach him?
Mr. PATERNITI: I would find out that I reached him at his apartment that at the time he was sharing with a grad student in Lawrence.
LAMB: Kansas.
LAMB: Next door to William Burroughs.
Mr. PATERNITI: Nearby, yeah.
LAMB: And then what? I mean, did you rush right in and say, `Let's go driving?'
Mr. PATERNITI: I said, `Would it be all right if I might come visit you sometime?' And he said it'd be fine and that--you know, I was very surprised that he was so open. And then I asked him when might be a good time and I think this was--I was talking to him in the winter--maybe it was the winter or maybe it was '95, and he said, `July would be good.' July was about seven months away, and I said, `All right. July's good. I'll come see you in July.'
LAMB: Did you tell him why you wanted to see him?
Mr. PATERNITI: I told him that I was interested in Einstein's brain.
LAMB: Were you?
Mr. PATERNITI: I was interested in him. I was interested in this man who, for over four decades, had kept Einstein's brain and had virtually disappeared with it. He was fired or left his job--depending on who's story you believe--in 1960 from the Princeton Medical Center. And in the intervening years, he took different jobs. He kept moving until he ended up in Lawrence. And I just had these huge questions about this man and his booty, his relic, his raison d'etre. You know, it was--it was the organizing principle of his life. It was the thing he most believed in.
LAMB: Now this is '55 when Einstein died.
LAMB: In '60, he was relieved--was he relieved? Did you ever find out whether he was fired from Princeton?
Mr. PATERNITI: The version that I think is the real version was that the employees of the hospital stood up for Dr. Harvey. The board of directors ended up firing him.
LAMB: For what reason?
Mr. PATERNITI: It's a little cloudy. Partly because of his handling of Einstein's brain and partly because of an alleged affair that he had with a nurse at the hospital.
LAMB: So...
Mr. PATERNITI: And he had some differences with the director of the hospital.
LAMB: So 1960 he left there, and you caught up with him in 1995. Did you go to his apartment in Lawrence?
Mr. PATERNITI: I called him just prior to our supposed meeting time in July, and the line was disconnected. He had disappeared again. So I didn't see him at his apartment in Lawrence. I was lost again. I spent the next four or five months looking for him, and I finally tracked him down. He'd moved back to--just outside of Princeton in Jersey.
LAMB: But what's going on in your head along the way? I mean, what do you want to do now that you know where he is or you know that he even exists?
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, when he disappeared in July, it was the game. You know, it was, `I have to find this man.' I mean, obviously, there's a reason why he disappeared again and why has he vanished and what's it going to take to find him? I mean, I was just very caught up in--at that point--in following through and meeting him. So...
LAMB: When did you meet him?
Mr. PATERNITI: I met him probably around November of '96. Maybe October. Right--right in there. It was autumn.
LAMB: Where?
Mr. PATERNITI: In Princeton. We met in Princeton the first time. Or he lived just outside of Princeton, and I went to the house and he greeted me wearing a plaid shirt and a sport coat and suspenders and his tie had a little price tag from long ago that said $10 on it and he brought me into the house, his girlfriend's house.
LAMB: What's her name?
Mr. PATERNITI: Her name is Cleora. And we went down into the basement where he had set up a little makeshift office. And we sat by a fire that he'd built and we had drank tea, and he just started telling the story of the brain.
LAMB: Was it there?
Mr. PATERNITI: I didn't know if it was there, and I didn't ask him right away. In one of our subsequent meetings, I asked to see the brain and I later found out that it wasn't there, that he kept it in a safe house that was some miles away from that house because all sorts of people, perhaps even like me, had inquired over the years about the brain. And I think he felt that, you know, it was a dangerous object and he needed to keep it hidden.
LAMB: So we're talking about the end of '96 now.
LAMB: You say you took your drive in April of '97.
Mr. PATERNITI: End of February of '97.
LAMB: End of February '97, excuse me.
LAMB: So how did you move from your initial meetings to your drive?
Mr. PATERNITI: We met a few times. I would always go down to Princeton, and we sort of--our patterns were similar from meetings we...
LAMB: Where were you living then?
Mr. PATERNITI: I was now living in Maine. I had left my editing job in New Mexico, moved back to New England to be closer to family and friends, moved with my girlfriend, Sarah, and we moved to the middle of nowhere really up in Maine.
LAMB: What town?
Mr. PATERNITI: Just outside of Bridgton, Maine.
LAMB: And you were how old in '96?
Mr. PATERNITI: I was 32 at the time of the road trip.
LAMB: And how old was Dr. Harvey?
Mr. PATERNITI: Eighty-four.
LAMB: So how did you get from those meetings to the road?
Mr. PATERNITI: We would go for meals. We drove by 112 Mercer Street, where Einstein used to live. We talked a lot. We spent a lot of time together. Dr. Harvey mentioned that he had to go back to Lawrence, Kansas, because he had been in a little fender bender before he left and he needed to go back to straighten out some insurance matters. But he also wanted to go out and meet some doctors who he'd sent pieces of the brain to. And he kept talking about wanting to get out into America to see some people. And I was listening to him and I just finally said, `You know, I could drive you.' But it--but I said, `I could drive you' only because I was at this place in my life where I wasn't working and I was sort of in between myself. You know, I was trying to figure out what came next for me. So we were sort of two somewhat lost souls. And when he said, you know, `Yes,' we arranged the trip.
LAMB: What was the house like he was living in?
Mr. PATERNITI: It was a ranch house. Nothing about it would suggest anything but, you know, really middle-class respectability.
LAMB: What was Cleora like?
Mr. PATERNITI: Wonderful. A very sweet woman who had been a nurse at Princeton Medical Center at one point, and which is where they first met.
LAMB: How many times had Dr. Harvey been married?
Mr. PATERNITI: Three. And he had 12--I think he has 12 children and stepchildren from those marriages.
LAMB: And at this point, what do you really want to do with all this? Do you just want to take a drive or do you have in mind an article?
Mr. PATERNITI: At this point--initially my interest was very personal. And at this point, I began to think, `I better take notes. I better keep a record because I may--you know, it may be something worth writing about.' And at that point, too, I had mentioned it to Harper's and they were interested. So I thought, `Well, let's see how it goes?'
LAMB: Do you have any money at this time?
Mr. PATERNITI: I don't really have much money, no.
LAMB: Did Dr. Harvey?
Mr. PATERNITI: I don't think he had much, no. I think he--I've heard that he spent a lot of his money on his children. So he was 84 years old living with his girlfriend in her house with an office in the basement. So no, I don't think he...
LAMB: And the brain down the street.
Mr. PATERNITI: And the brain down the street, yeah.
LAMB: So you head off on what day? Do you remember?
Mr. PATERNITI: I got food poisoning right before we were supposed to leave. So we had to delay it a couple days. I think we left on a--I can't remember, a Monday or a Tuesday.
LAMB: In February, 19...
LAMB: ...97.
LAMB: What kind of a car did you drive?
Mr. PATERNITI: Buick Skylark, teal green, velour seats. I rented it.
LAMB: You rented it?
LAMB: Because you dropped it at the other end.
LAMB: And Dr. Harvey came dressed how, with how much baggage? Where did you get the brain?
Mr. PATERNITI: He had two bags. He had a plaid bag in which he had clothes and he had a duffel bag, in which I would later find out was parts of the brain put in Tupperware and doused with formaldehyde. So the brain was soaking in this duffel bag in Tupperware, and he put bags in the trunk. He was dressed in a pair of irregular jeans, Calvin Klein jeans that had an X on the label because they were irregular. And he wore a turtleneck and a beret. He had a green beret.
LAMB: So what are you thinking about then? What's the status of Sarah at that point?
Mr. PATERNITI: Sarah was in the middle of working on a book, and she had been traveling extensively. She'd written a--she was writing about the US women's Olympic basketball team. So she'd been basically traveling the world for that year leading up to the Olympics, and then sat down and started to write it very quickly. So she was trying to finish her book and working very intensely.

And I think she didn't totally believe that all of it was going to happen. I'm not sure that--anytime I mention this to anybody, they often said, `Yeah, that sounds interesting.' Like, `You're completely insane,' and they didn't--you know, they didn't believe. They really didn't believe it until I was in the car with the brain and Harvey, and then I called her from the road and said, `Yeah, it's happening and we've got the brain.'
LAMB: Now are you known, prior to this, as somebody that likes to go off and do these kind of things? Had you done anything like it before?
Mr. PATERNITI: I have never transported famous body parts cross country, no. But--no--I really--I had done some work, some foreign work for--I did a piece for The New York Times Magazine in Vietnam and I did a piece about Burma for Outside magazine. So I was really doing more foreign corresponding than this kind of stuff. But these kinds of stories, these kinds of people, really interest me and they do to this date. So the stories that have come after that story, in particular, have been more like that story in some ways. At least those stories thematically carry the same concerns for me.
LAMB: So you had a Skylark, a Buick Skylark. What year?
Mr. PATERNITI: I think it was a '97.
LAMB: '97?
LAMB: And how long was the trip? How many days?
Mr. PATERNITI: Eleven days, 4,000 total miles. I left Portland, Maine. So it was from Portland, Maine, until we got to Berkeley, California, it was a 4,000-mile trip, though I picked Dr. Harvey up in Princeton.
LAMB: And what was the goal at the end of the trip?
Mr. PATERNITI: I thought the goal was to give the brain back to Evelyn Einstein, Albert Einstein's granddaughter--though there's some controversy about that and we can maybe talk about that a little later. But I thought Dr. Harvey was facing down some late-in-life guilt about having taken Einstein's brain at the autopsy. Apparently, when it was reported the day after the autopsy, in April of 1955, that Dr. Harvey had Einstein's brain, Hans Albert, Einstein's son, was quite upset. He had no idea that his father's brain was going to be taken, and the Einstein family was quite upset. And in the years to follow, their anger grew. So I thought Dr. Harvey felt that, at 84, it was time to give the brain back to the Einstein family and we were going to see Evelyn, who was one of the lone survivors.
LAMB: Why the dispute over whether she's the granddaughter or his actual daughter by somebody that--did you ever find out who the somebody might be?
Mr. PATERNITI: She was adopted by Hans Albert. And there were family rumors--and Evelyn herself isn't totally certain whether or not they're true--that she was the product of a relationship that Albert Einstein had with a--I think a dancer from New York City. And what happened--I think it was four years ago, maybe five years ago now, was a Dr. Charles Boyd got a piece of the brain and tried to match it with Evelyn's skin. He tried to match the DNA. And he was unable to do it because the brain was too denatured. So there is this huge question mark in Evelyn's mind about whether or not she is, in fact, the daughter. And if you see her physically, she looks like an Einstein. She looks like Albert Einstein, especially in the eyes. It's just an uncanny resemblance.
LAMB: Now when you took off on this trip, did you have a contract with Harper's?
Mr. PATERNITI: I don't think--I'm not sure that we ever signed a contract.
LAMB: But did you have an agreement?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Did Dr. Harvey know this?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What was the first moment--and by the way, what road did you take? What interstate?
Mr. PATERNITI: We went out through Philly and drove straight out through St. Louis, straight on to Kansas City, and then dipped off the interstate...
LAMB: I-70, part of the way?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What was the first thing that you noticed about Dr. Harvey that was unusual? Or was there anything?
Mr. PATERNITI: To me, he was just a complete enigma. When he--I think the beret was really the first thing that struck me, not as unusual, but as a sign that this man, at the age of 84, was ready for adventure. Like, this guy was ready to ride. And his enthusiasm, though not completely on the surface, was contagious because I, myself, was ready to ride, too. And yet as we rode--I mean, he remained the enigma that he was from that first phone call to me. I mean, he even now, to me, is this hologram. Depending on how the light falls, he looks different. Some people think he's a hero. Some people think he's a thief.
LAMB: Did he have permission from anybody to take the brain?
Mr. PATERNITI: He claims he had permission from the executor of the Einstein estate, Otto Nathan. Otto Nathan, before his death in the '90s, said that he never gave that permission. And though he was present at the autopsy, said he'd had no idea that Dr. Harvey was actually taking the brain out at the time.
LAMB: You talk in your book about other people in history who have had lots of various parts of their body saved by people.
LAMB: Give us some examples.
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, the foreskin of Christ is supposedly--was supposedly kept in a church in Italy, but that was stolen. Walt Whitman's brain was dropped in a laboratory at the turn of the century and was thrown out. JFK's brain has gone missing. Thomas Hardy's heart was taken from his body and sent to his wife and was eaten by their dog. So there's a long, strange history of body parts...
LAMB: How do you deal with...
Mr. PATERNITI: ...turned into relics.
LAMB: ...on a television show like this, the Napoleon story?
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, you could say that Napoleon's penis, I think, was supposedly kept and was offered for auction in the '70s, I think.
LAMB: Anybody buy it?
Mr. PATERNITI: There was so much controversy that the owner took it back. So it's out there somewhere, we just don't know where.
LAMB: Why do people do this?
Mr. PATERNITI: I mean, it's a great question. It is as old as the saints. There's something mythological about, especially, the body parts of mythic human beings, I think. They become relics. And in the case of, you know, Buddha, if you travel through Southeast Asia, I mean, every temple you go to there's a--the fingernail of Buddha is encased in tons of gold, and that somehow gives a holiness to these places.

When it comes to the kind of brain craze that seems to occupy doctors and medical researchers in the 19th and 20th century, I think people were really searching for the keys to genius. And so famous brains were collected and studied. Mussolini's brain was studied in America at Walter Reed by a man named Webb Haymaker, who later tried to get Einstein's brain from Dr. Harvey. There are, in these body parts, and especially in Einstein's brain, there is this power, whether real or assumed, that has led to, you know, all kinds of people trying to get the brain and kind of this deep desire to be connected to that kind of genius.
LAMB: Quick biographical sketch on Albert Einstein.
Mr. PATERNITI: Born in 1879 in Germany, grew up, was a decent student, not a floundering student the way some people have said, but didn't speak, really, until he was three. And then when he started speaking, spoke in fully formed sentences. As a baby, he had a big oversized sort of lopsided head that terrified his mother and grandmother. His grandmother, when she first saw him as a baby, yelled, `Too big. Much too big.'

And he grew into kind of a dreamy kid. He was really obsessed with his father and his uncle's factory. They made turbines, and he was really into electricity. So while all the other kids were playing, Einstein wouldn't--he would really never go out and play. And only when he was forced to would he go out and be, like, act as umpire. He wouldn't really engage in competition. He was much more comfortable sort of devouring these science textbooks that they had around the house.

And at the age of 10, he went through this sort of deep religious period where he embraced Judaism, would walk through the streets of the village singing songs to God. But at the age of, I think, 11 or 12, rejected religion as being impossible and full of fake stories because his science training had taught him that the Bible and what existed in the universe didn't corroborate each other.
LAMB: When did he move to the United States?
Mr. PATERNITI: He moved--well, he moved at the age of 60, much later in this life. And he worked and floundered, actually, as a student. And he tried to get a teaching job, worked in the patent office in Switzerland where he penned, in 1905, five ground-breaking papers, the last being this special theory of relativity, really.
LAMB: What year? E=mc2.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. That was--the first paper was 1905. In 1907, he formulated the equation E=mc2.
LAMB: And you say-- what year was it? It was his big year, and he didn't do much after that.
Mr. PATERNITI: Between 1905 and 1925, Einstein revolutionized science. He tore apart the temple that Newton had built. But after 1925, he really didn't have any more ground-breaking papers. And, really, if he'd left it at 1925, he would have left probably the same scientific legend that he did--or legacy that he did. But in the years after '25, he became a voice of moral authority. He became a known pacifist. And so he was--and during this time, too, he continued to work. He was in pursuit of a unified theory.
LAMB: When did he move to Princeton?
Mr. PATERNITI: He moved to Princeton in--I think it would have been 1960--no, no, I mean--I'm sorry, 1950.
LAMB: So he's only there five years.
Mr. PATERNITI: No, 1940. I'm sorry.
LAMB: Fifteen years at Princeton.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah. He was actually there a couple years before that. He was naturalized in 1940.
LAMB: And that's why he's an American citizen.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: How many times was he married?
LAMB: How many children did he have?
Mr. PATERNITI: He had three, but the first daughter --supposedly had a first daughter who may have died. Nobody really knows. It was out of wedlock with his first wife that he had this little girl, and nobody is certain what became of her.
LAMB: Let me jump just for a moment to the other end of your trip, where you found a man that was responsible for holding on to the rights associated with Albert Einstein's name. Who is that?
Mr. PATERNITI: Roger Richman in Los Angeles, and he works with Hebrew University, the trustees of the Einstein estate, and he basically monitors the world for any infringements that--anybody using the image of Einstein in an ad without permission, anybody using anything having to do with Einstein really without permission. And then he goes after them and chases them down with letters or pursues them in court.
LAMB: How much money a year is generated for the Hebrew University and Mr. Richmond?
Mr. PATERNITI: He will not reveal the exact number, but it is somewhere in the millions. And if--I don't know if you've seen the--I think there's a recent Pepsi ad in which Albert Einstein appears. I mean, Albert Einstein appears in ads all the time with Roger Richman's blessing. And that money goes to Hebrew University. Some portion of it goes to Roger Richman so that he can run his business.
LAMB: What does he think of Dr. Harvey and the brain?
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, when I first called him, he thought that the brain was in the Smithsonian and he thought that Dr. Harvey was a crackpot who was just looking for attention by claiming that he had Einstein's brain. But as it turns out, Dr. Harvey was for real. The brain is for real. And I think Roger Richman feels that this is an incredible violation of Einstein the man and Einstein the legend.
LAMB: Did he meet with Dr. Harvey when you were out there?
Mr. PATERNITI: He did not want to meet with Dr. Harvey. We met. I met with him, but he had no interest in seeing Dr. Harvey. And, in fact, I think what he did for me was begin to rehearse what might be a lawsuit against Harvey in order to get the brain back, one that he hasn't followed through on.
LAMB: Now you, in the book, were clamoring to see this brain.
Mr. PATERNITI: I was interested, yeah. I was.
LAMB: From day one, I mean...
LAMB: ... you tell us that that brain--you knew that brain was in the trunk and you wanted to take a peek at it.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. It was a torment, because I figured once we got in the car with the brain, that I would--there would be a lot of one-on-one brain time where I would actually--Dr. Harvey would reveal the entire story to me and reveal the secrets of Einstein's genius to me, and that didn't happen. Dr. Harvey was not that interested in talking about the brain and not that interested in even acknowledging that it was in the trunk. So with each passing mile, my desire to the see the brain, because I couldn't see it, grew greater and greater, you know, until I was just, you know, crazy to see it.
LAMB: You also seemed to enjoy--I'm not sure the word's enjoy--but telling people along the way, just strangers, people in gas stations, `I've got Einstein's brain in my trunk.'
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. There was a point in the road trip after New Mexico where I, out of sheer exhaustion and lack of you know, sleep and contact with other human beings, began to say that we had the brain in the trunk, and the reactions to that were some of what kept me going.
LAMB: What were some of your favorites?
Mr. PATERNITI: Some of them I can't repeat, but some...
LAMB: Because of the language.
Mr. PATERNITI: Because of the language, but...
LAMB: I mean, one guy, for instance, used the F-word...
LAMB: ...every other word.
LAMB: He could not believe that you had it.
Mr. PATERNITI: He kept saying, `You know, next, you're going to tell me aliens are landing. There's no way that brain is in your trunk. There's no way.' Other people were really frightened. They thought that I was probably putting them on and tried to get away from me as fast as they could. Other people, you know, jumped right in and said, `You know, let's just bury this brain and be done with the whole debate,' like as if they'd been in on the debate from day one. So it was a really kind of wild range of reactions, and it was interesting, because in a way, it's reflected America back at me. The whole trip did, reflected America, and there was this very easy assumption, I think, that some people made about Einstein, about who he was, about what he discovered without really knowing who he was and what he discovered. It seemed very American to me. You know, we're very kind of quick to--to know it all, but without really knowing it sometimes.
LAMB: Where would you stay at night?
Mr. PATERNITI: Motels.
LAMB: What kind of motels?
Mr. PATERNITI: Whatever motel came up on the road when I couldn't drive anymore. I drove the whole way, and Dr. Harvey sat 12 inches to my right the whole way. And I drove as long as I could every day, but some days, you know, we broke off a little earlier, and other days we drove late into the night. But when we left the interstate in Kansas, we drove down on rural highways, and we just stayed in little roadside motels. One place in Dodge City, the Astro Motel, had a big `American owned' sign out front, and it just--I'd never stayed in a place with one of those signs, and I just was wondering, like, what does that sign mean? And we should stay there and just spend the night in a place like this, and we did, and it was--became the subject of a story that I did later about race in America. It was a motel surrounded by two other motels owned by a family from Laos. I mean, they were in a hotel-motel war, and they had put out the `American owned' sign to make sure that everybody knew that they weren't, as they said, "Asiatic." So, you know, we stayed everywhere and we met all kinds of people because of it.
LAMB: What did the Laotians say about that?
Mr. PATERNITI: They said that...
LAMB: And were they American?
Mr. PATERNITI: They were American. They had done a great job building their motels up from what they had been, and they've--they basically said, `We're out-Americanizing the American here, and so they have to put up signs like that.' You know, `We're doing a better business than they are. We're putting them out of business.' So they saw it as a desperate move, but there was real animosity there, and it was a real war.
LAMB: What'd you find in Lucas, Kansas?
Mr. PATERNITI: Lucas, Kansas, is a place that would register on nobody's radar, but is this amazing little town. The town has a tourist attraction called the Garden of Eden, and there was a man by the name of Dinsmore who built a cement garden and a cement log cabin and cement statues in this town. He was a true eccentric. At the age of 80-something, he took a 20-year-old bride and started having more kids. He tapped into the water main and had this big pool. And the town folk really hated this guy, really thought he was a complete oddball, but he was like this kind of populist hero, Civil War veteran.

And we went to the Garden of Eden. We took the tour and the climax of the tour is when you get let into the sarcophagus in which Dinsmore is kept, and he's kept under glass in a cement sarcophagus, and I think he thought the seal was going to be tighter than it was, because he died in the '30s, and he's dressed in his finest haberdashery, and you walk into this room and there's this skeleton. It's terrifying. And it's Dinsmore, who believed that every time somebody came in, if they left a dollar for him, he would flash them a smile in death. But this guy was not smiling.

And Dr. Harvey, who had been around a lot of dead bodies, took particular delight in Dinsmore's story, because he was such an eccentric and an iconoclast, and I don't know, perhaps it gave him like this sense of relief that when you compare the life of Dr. Harvey to someone like Dinsmore, Harvey looked quite sane. And he was just very tickled by the guy and the fact that in his 80s, he had taken this young bride and had lived ferociously right up until the end.
LAMB: Dr. Harvey and you and William Burroughs in Lawrence, Kansas.
LAMB: What was that meeting like? And who is William Burroughs, for those who don't read him?
Mr. PATERNITI: William Burroughs is thought of as one of the fathers of the beat movement. Ginsberg, Kerouac, all those writers sort of were of Burroughs' group and time. And that was just one of the best nights of the trip. It was one of the most incredibly surreal nights of the trip. We went to visit William. It was a couple months before he died, and he was--he'd just taken his Methadone. That was the first thing he told us, `I just had my Methadone shot.' Methadone--he was famous, for those who know his work, for celebrating drug culture and for being an addict himself. He had just taken his Methadone. He was drinking Coke and vodkas. He drank five of them. He just downed them.

And he sat in a chair, like a wheelchair, and he just started talking in that sort of famous Burroughs patter. Harvey felt that this was an important meeting. He'd met Burroughs for lunch once before. They lived in proximity to each other, but they didn't really know each other. They only knew about each other. So Harvey felt this was an important meeting, that they were going to--I think he saw it as sort of friends who weren't intimate getting back together, that there was this intimacy.
LAMB: How long had Dr. Harvey lived in Lawrence?
Mr. PATERNITI: He'd been there, I think, six years.
LAMB: What was his job there?
Mr. PATERNITI: He ended up working as an extruder in a plastics factory, so he had the misfortune of failing a medical exam--a state medical exam that he took in his 70s and then had to take work in a plastics factory, which he claimed to love. He said he loved the work at the factory. But when we went to see William, what happened was Harvey got caught up in William's energy, and there were--in the book, I described how, at one point, William is given a present by somebody, an archaeologist who finds a dinosaur bone, so he opens up this present and it's a dinosaur bone. And Dr. Harvey is just, you know, screaming. He's just--he yelled--as if it were a bomb, he yelled, `It's infiltrated with calcium.' And Burroughs, not responding at all, immediately started telling stories about Afghanistan and about a woman who had been condemned to death and had a rock thrown on her head, and that is how the whole meeting went. They were just talking past each other.

And at one point, headlights came into the room, and Burroughs reached down behind his back and pulled out a handgun that he had in a holster, and he thought that we were being invaded by aliens, and so he went to the window with the gun. And anybody who knows anything about William Burroughs knows that in Mexico City--I think back in the '60s, he put an apple on his wife's head and, pretending to be William Tell, by mistake shot her in the head. So the minute the gun came out, everybody just hit the deck, and...
LAMB: Were you at all worried about the vodka and the Methadone?
Mr. PATERNITI: I was worried about everything. And I was certain that someone was going to get shot.
LAMB: Did he kill his wife, by the way?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah. He did. And I was most worried for Dr. Harvey, because I knew that that particular murder would be on my head, you know, like I'd have a hard time explaining...
LAMB: And you hadn't seen the brain yet.
Mr. PATERNITI: No. So William--one of the people who lived with William and helped him calmed him down, got him back. But it was just this wild, crazy evening. And he started to call Dr. Harvey `Dr. Senegal.' And at the end of the visit, on the front porch, he said, `What keeps the old alive, Dr. Senegal, is that we learn to be evil.' And with that, we went out into the night.
LAMB: When did you see the brain first?
Mr. PATERNITI: The first time I saw the brain was--we went to San Jose, and he gave a talk--Dr. Harvey gave a little talk to a bunch of schoolkids, and he pulled out the Tupperware with the brain in it. But it's the first time I saw it from a distance. Again, I didn't get close to it. I wasn't able to--after the talk, all the kids rushed the podium.
LAMB: Why did he have it in that Tupperware and how big was it?
Mr. PATERNITI: The Tupperware was about that big. And he probably had taken a few fistfuls of pieces of the brain and put it in that Tupperware and sealed it.
LAMB: How much of the brain--total brain was in that Tupperware?
Mr. PATERNITI: That's a good question. I've actually thought about that. I'm not certain. I mean, I would say a number and it would probably be too high or low. I thought at the time it was like about a tenth of the brain, but that might be more than it was and it might be a little less. I'm not totally certain. But on that particular afternoon, the kids frenzied and I--you know, I just couldn't get near him or the brain or anything. And after the talk, he had it back in the Tupperware, and it went back in the duffel, so I didn't...
LAMB: So you still didn't see it.
Mr. PATERNITI: ...I didn't really see it. I didn't get to see it until the very end of the trip when we went to see Evelyn Einstein.
LAMB: Who lives where?
Mr. PATERNITI: Just outside of Berkeley, California.
LAMB: Still alive?
LAMB: Is Dr. Harvey still alive?
LAMB: So he'd be how old today?
Mr. PATERNITI: About 88.
LAMB: And if he's watching this, what do you think's going through his head? What does he think of all this? Have you talked to him recently?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah, I did. I talked to him--when the book came out, I talked to him. The book came out in July, the middle of July, and I talked to him a couple weeks after that. He's a--I consider him a friend after this trip, and I consider him somebody who--however one considers his pilgrimage with this brain, I consider him to be a true believer. I mean, he believed in one thing and he stuck to it, so in a way, as crazy as the story sounds, it's his life. And he's used to it. I think he's used to hearing about, you know, his life with the brain.
LAMB: So you're in Berkeley.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. And...
LAMB: And in the book, you call Evelyn Einstein in advance before you get there.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. I did. I called her--I called her a few times from the road. And she was a--I mean, understandably filled with some trepidation about meeting us, Dr. Harvey, the brain, me.
LAMB: So you'd been on the road then about--What?--10 days or so.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah. And...
LAMB: February 1997.
LAMB: Just you and Dr. Harvey.
LAMB: And all your friends along the way.
Mr. PATERNITI: And all our friends along the way. We'd, you know, been to casinos in Las Vegas and through McDonald's drive-thrus, and we'd put a lot of miles on the Skylark and...
LAMB: Favorite food of Dr. Harvey's?
Mr. PATERNITI: He likes the Wendy's baked potatoes, and he's got a little yen for the Frostie.
LAMB: So...
Mr. PATERNITI: So we get to Evelyn's apartment, which is quite a nice place, looking out over the bay. And she had agreed to meet us finally, because she felt that it was her responsibility to meet us and to accept the brain, if Dr. Harvey was going to give it to her. And when we arrived, it was afternoon. She was wearing a Star Trek pin. She had, in her life, worked as a cult deprogrammer. At one point, she worked as a police woman. She has lived a very full, interesting life...
LAMB: Was she married?
Mr. PATERNITI: ...not without tragedy. She--no, she's not married. She might have been married once before.
LAMB: And you said, I think, she had cancer?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. She had some-- she did and she was treated with steroids, and those created other complications. Now I think she's got some liver problems and some other serious medical problems.
LAMB: So how did those two get along?
Mr. PATERNITI: I'm not sure they were getting along. I mean, I think they were very civil with each other. They talked for a little while about Einstein's life. There was some conversation about food and the virtues of goose grease. And, you know, there was some random chitchat that I had on my tape recorder that, when I went back and transcribed it, didn't make a lot of sense. But then finally, after a time, Dr. Harvey pulled out the brain--pulled out pieces of the brain and gave a very kind of quick lesson on the brain, basically delivered sort of the same talk that he'd delivered in San Jose to the schoolkids. And Evelyn, who basically had all her letters from her grandfather stolen from her, a lot of her photographs she's lost, who has tried throughout the years to recover something of her grandfather, became quite interested in the brain and really was eager to talk about it.

But after--I don't know--maybe 10 minutes or so, Dr. Harvey decided that that was it. And we had planned to go to dinner with Evelyn, but Dr. Harvey announced that he was instead going to visit a cousin, an 85-year-old cousin of his in San Mateo. And he wanted me to drive him down. So after 11 days and 4,000 miles, I--you know, I put my foot down and I just said, `We're--we really--we're here to see Evelyn and she's, you know, planned this dinner, and so I really--I think we should stay for dinner and then I can drive you down after dinner or they could join us for dinner.' But he was insistent. He wanted to go visit his cousin, and so we ended up driving him to public transportation, to BART--a BART station, and he got out and we said our goodbyes, and Evelyn and I went to dinner. We had spent three hours eating, you know, had salmon and sirloin and had a great--great dinner and a really nice conversation.
LAMB: Where's the brain?
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, we come back out to the car, assuming that Dr. Harvey had taken the brain. We sit down in the front seat, and then a pool of street light that was flooding in through the back window, resting on the back velour seat was the Tupperware with the brain in it. And we saw it. And I said to Evelyn--`How could that be? Is that what we think it is?' She's like, `Does he do this--has he done this before?' And I was like, `He guards this thing with his life.' So I actually got quite nervous. I just had--like what if this had gotten stolen while we were in there and what if this gets stolen now? It's my responsibility.

So we drove back to her apartment and parked in front, and we took the brain, opened the Tupperware, and a security guard passed and looked in and then kept moving past, and we stopped a minute and looked up and looked back down, and then I reached in and I took a piece that was sealed in paraffin and looked at it and held it up to the light, and Evelyn took one and held it up and there--you know, they weighed what a light beach stone weighs. It was a very strange moment. It didn't seem at all like this was Einstein's brain. It seemed like some disconnected little jewel of paraffin.
LAMB: As you know, there are no pictures in your book.
LAMB: And we asked you to bring...
LAMB: ...but you ended up sending us some pictures...
LAMB: that we could see what all these people looked like.
LAMB: Why no pictures, first of all?
Mr. PATERNITI: You know, that's a great question. There was no conversation about pictures. It would have been, I think, really great for readers to be able to see some of it, and that's part of the brain right there.
LAMB: Whose hands? That's the Tupperware.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. I don't know whose hands those are.
LAMB: That looks like a small little tiny Tupperware thing, though. That's the brain.
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. That's the Tupperware. It's about that big.
LAMB: Dr. Harvey. Where was this picture taken?
Mr. PATERNITI: This is in the basement of his house in New Jersey where he lives with his girlfriend, Cleora. So it's Cleora's house.
LAMB: How tall is he?
Mr. PATERNITI: He's about five-six. He's shrunk a little bit with age.
LAMB: What does he think of all this? Do you know? Have you talked to him about the book and the lesson...
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Yeah. He's been extremely generous. He's been very nice to me. I think we will never know the story until he writes it himself.
LAMB: This is Cleora in their back yard.
Mr. PATERNITI: That's Cleora and that's Dr. Harvey. Yeah, that's on their back porch.
LAMB: Who took this?
LAMB: Did you take many pictures along the way?
Mr. PATERNITI: I took some, and I realized after taking the trip that I should have taken a lot more.
LAMB: Who's in this picture?
Mr. PATERNITI: This would be Dr. Harvey. In the middle is a woman by the name of Sarah Gonzalez from San Jose, who arranged for Dr. Harvey to speak at Independence High School.
LAMB: Who's the fellow on the end there?
Mr. PATERNITI: That's me.
LAMB: With a beard, a goatee.
Mr. PATERNITI: Sort of wearing--yes, some sort of a Van Dyk-y scruffy thing.
LAMB: And with the portrait of Albert Einstein, who's this?
Mr. PATERNITI: That's Kenji Sugimoto from Japan. He is one of those Einstein disciples. He feels that Einstein was a true god, and he journeyed to America and found Dr. Harvey before I did and was able to get Dr. Harvey to give him a piece of brain. Dr. Harvey took the brain from one of the cookie jars in which he kept it and sliced it with a meat knife and gave Kenji Sugimoto a piece of the brain. And that's William Burroughs with me in the living room to his house in Lawrence.
LAMB: What part of you as a writer connected with Burroughs, the writer? I mean, did you follow--have you followed his work or...
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. I like his work. He made sense to me in the book--in my book more than he makes sense to me as a writer. I mean, I love his work, but nothing in my work, I don't think, resembles what he does, so...
LAMB: Here's Dr. Harvey again. Where is the brain now?
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, the brain has--Dr. Harvey has given up the brain finally.
LAMB: How'd it happen?
Mr. PATERNITI: It might have happened, in part, just after the Harper's article. I think he was getting some attention. I think he felt that he had done his job of taking--safeguarding the brain. He knew that perhaps maybe he was at the end of his run with the brain, nearing the end of his own life, and he wanted to make sure it was in the hands of somebody who could take it into the next century. Because one of the stated and unstated purposes of keeping the brain is that someday there might be technology that will help us understand why Einstein was a genius. It could be that they will clone the brain at some point. So Dr. Harvey, if nothing else, kept the brain and kept it intact. It didn't get dropped on a lab floor and thrown out. It hasn't disappeared. And he turned it over to the man who now sits in his old office at Princeton Medical Center. So the brain has come full circle.
LAMB: How'd your book sell?
Mr. PATERNITI: You know, I don't--I haven't been real focused on that. I hear it's doing all right. I think it's in its fourth printing and I know it's on some lists and things, so...
LAMB: Is there a movie in this book?
Mr. PATERNITI: I mean, I'm not sure there is, but there --we have talked to Paramount about it being a movie, and Scott Rudin, who's moving ahead to try to make it a movie.
LAMB: What happened to Sarah, your girlfriend?
Mr. PATERNITI: She's now my wife, and we have a baby.
LAMB: How old?
Mr. PATERNITI: He's eight months.
LAMB: What's his name?
LAMB: Do you have another book in you?
Mr. PATERNITI: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I've got a few books in me.
LAMB: What's next?
Mr. PATERNITI: Well, I feel like I wrote a non-fiction book that felt stranger than fiction, so I'm going to give up and write--I'm in the middle of writing a novel.
LAMB: This is not the car on the cover that you used.
Mr. PATERNITI: I wish it had been, yeah, but it's not.
LAMB: And where does the name `Paterniti' come from?
Mr. PATERNITI: That name comes from Italy. And I heard it means 'father of the roundtable,' though I don't know how you get roundtable out of `niti,' so...
LAMB: You live where now?
Mr. PATERNITI: Portland, Maine.
LAMB: Michael Paterniti, author of "Driving Mr. Albert," we thank you very much.
Mr. PATERNITI: Oh, thank you. It's a pleasure.

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