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Michael Paterniti:
Driving Mr. Albert
Michael Paterniti
  Driving Mr. Albert  
Michael Paterniti    
reading

an excerpt

 
"To us believing physicists the distinction between past, present, and future has only the significance of a stubborn illusion."

--Albert Einstein


Perhaps the strangest aspect of Michael Paterniti's travelogue Driving Mr. Albert is its truth. The author actually tracked down the brain of the famous physicist and cultural icon, Albert Einstein, to the home of Dr. Thomas Harvey, a considerably less famous and iconic (retired) pathologist in Lawrence, Kansas, who had acquired the brain without permission, or immediate opposition, during his autopsy of Einstein in 1955. Having located Dr. Harvey and the brain, Paterniti finds himself in position to volunteer as Harvey's chauffer and road companion on a drive from New Jersey to California, with Einstein's brain in the trunk of his car. Harvey's mission, as he explains it vaguely to his new accomplice, is to discuss the brain with some neuroanatomists to whom he'd sent pieces of the brain years before, and further, to meet with Albert Einstein's granddaughter, Evelyn Einstein, a cult-deprogrammer living in Berkeley.

Along their journey, Paterniti and Harvey stop for several surreal encounters: a conversation with William Burroughs, a former neighbor of Harvey's made convivial by his periodic dose of methadone and several cocktails; a tour of a concrete "Garden of Eden" commissioned by a now-deceased eccentric from Lucas, Kansas, the centerpiece of which is his own unpreserved corpse; and a night on the town in Las Vegas that ends with Paterniti getting bounced out of a casino by a humorless cocktail waitress who doesn't buy his story. And yet, for all of its absurd episodes, Driving Mr. Albert has a unifying theme in love. Harvey and Mr. A were miserable failures in marriage and Paterniti is, in part, on the road to get out of the house he shares with his girlfriend, whose career is thriving in the midst of his own self-esteem-gouging rut, before she dumps him. With every long, occasionally grumpy, silence on the open road, he reflects on the troubled private histories of his two traveling companions (one in the passenger seat, another in the trunk) until his agitations over the mysteries of love become entwined with his powerful desire to see, to touch, to feel the weight, to hold in his hands, aloft from the Tupperware jar, the ridges, fens and furrows of Einstein's inscrutable brain.

In this issue of Bold Type, Michael Paterniti shares a reading from Driving Mr. Albert, as well as a passage which recounts his and Dr. Harvey's conversation with William S. Burroughs. --Anson Lang

To read William S. Burroughs' obituary by Matthew Sharpe, published previously in Bold Type, click here.
 
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  Photo of Michael Paterniti copyright © Keller & Keller

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