What Do You Care?
Great scientists are geniuses, and geniuses have a tendency to lead eccentric lives. We have seen ample evidence for this in earlier chapters. Our subject for this chapter, Richard Feynman, was one of the greatest scientific geniuses, and at the same time one of the most eccentric in this company of eccentrics.
He spent most of his career in the academic community, briefly at Cornell University, and then for the rest of his life at Caltech. But he went well out of his way to find antidotes for too much of the academic life. One escape was to Las Vegas, where he sought out gamblers, con artists, and beautiful women. He did not gamble or drink by the time he reached Caltech, but he was addicted to attractive women, and they were often willing. He was tall, handsome, a skilled dancer and drummer, and equipped with a never-ending fund of entertaining stories featuring himself as a picaresque hero. Feynman dictated some of these monologues to his drumming partner, Ralph Leighton, and they were published in two volumes subtitled Adventures of a Curious Character; both became bestsellers.
One of Feynman's haunts in Pasadena was Giannoni's topless bar. The bar was, as his remarkably understanding wife Gweneth said, Feynman's “club.” He always ordered 7-Up; then, after watching the dancers for a while, he would turn to physics or prepare a lecture. Gweneth also had no lasting objections when Feynman took up drawing from nude female models (one of them formerly the subject of a centerfold feature) in his home studio. More on the wise and tolerant Gweneth, and her role in a happy marriage, later.
Feynman's first wife, Arline, was at least partly responsible for his fascination with the unconventional. They were married when both of them knew that she was slowly dying of tuberculosis of the lymphatic system. Friends, parents, and doctors opposed the marriage, but it was, as Feynman said, “a love like no other I know of.” While Feynman was a graduate student at Princeton University, Arline stayed in a nearby hospital, and later, when Feynman joined the war effort