Docstoc

CRAZY FRIEND

Document Sample
CRAZY FRIEND Powered By Docstoc
					                                         CRAZY FRIEND
                                              by Jonathan Lethem

                 1.

T
         here’s a street corner in
         Brooklyn, Seventh Avenue
         and Flatbush, a place I
associate with – well, I associate it
with plenty of things. In my mind
this corner hinges Park Slope and
the neighborhoods on Flatbush’s
far side: Prospect Heights and Fort
Greene, which were for various
complicated reasons over which
I’ve wrung my hands elsewhere,
racially intimidating to me. As
a white kid, I’d charted the safe
hours and itineraries nearer to
home, and forged a few vital
truces, but in these Flatbush-north
territories I’d have been without
either passport or compass. Park
Slope intimidated me too, but in
a different sense. It felt more like
Carroll Gardens, that other far
border of my personal Brooklyn:
the white Irish or Italian precincts
had their own way of making me
feel mocked, socially disjointed, or                                                                  photo by Anne Dick
even in physical danger. Yet there
was a hippie-Jewish-other trail          I went to public school, and the way     and high-level flirtation, play, and
to follow there in Park Slope, the       in was through cliques joined at         art-making. They might be curious
sons and daughters of book editors       the various private academies, or at     about me, but they didn’t need me
and psychotherapists who’d settled       Catholic school.                         the way I needed them. These girls,
there, to forge a less qualified, less       And then, almost as suddenly as      Deena and Laurene, were dancers,
bohemian, more posh and tree-lined       I knew I wanted it, I did find a way     musicians, painters, writers – it
version of the gentrification that       in. But this was loaded too: a pair of   wasn’t obvious which, yet, but they
made my own home turf so varied,         girls a bit older than I was (and all    might have their choice. They were
enthralling, and treacherous. If I       girls are older than all boys at the     crazily verbal, crazily charismatic,
could crack this group of teenagers      ages we were at, and I was especially    crazy with talent. They sang songs
– and they were a group, the Slopies     young), and brilliant, and attractive    that were parodic and brilliant,
– I’d find untold friendships and        to me, and well-integrated into          which they’d written themselves and
alliances. My disadvantage was that      the Slopies’ network of influence        which were like a private language:


                                                            1
I memorized them, as I would a           place I’d have to walk to get to their   the friend unnamed, whether out
record by The Residents or Frank         zone, if only because the crow-flies     of shame or awkwardness or some
Zappa.                                   direction took me through too            combination of the two. Deena,
     These weren’t like my earlier       many bad patches. Most crucially,        the verbally wilder and more freely
friendships, found falling outdoors      past Sarah J. Hale High School,          hostile of the two said, sneering in
onto the sidewalks, nor did they         which might as well have been a          bogus accusation, “Who – Eldridge
clarify the way my friendships with      city block of pure quicksand. So         Palmer?” Deena didn’t mean
male schoolmates did. I couldn’t         I drew a triangle, up Flatbush to        anything important by it, was just
seem to get these girls on the phone.    that corner, then over, as if walking    amusing herself, I think, by acting
Months would pass. I’d change, or        into their neighborhood meant            as if I was hiding something. Maybe
feel I’d changed, sexually, socially,    opening up Brooklyn like a door          it would provoke something funny
artistically, somehow, and want          and slipping through. The subway         along the lines of defensiveness
desperately for them to notice, to       stopped on Seventh and Flatbush          from me, it certainly couldn’t hurt
get word of it. But I wasn’t on their    too, so if the girls were going to       to try.
radar, it seemed, except when we         sweep me up to Manhattan, as                 The name Deena had plucked
were directly hanging out. And           they sometimes did, the portal was       up from thin air seemed – if one
then, if I caught up with Deena          there. And the corner featured a         was reasonable – to be a riff on
and Laurene, they were changed           movie theater, a first-run palace        Eldridge Cleaver, and therefore on
too. I had to learn about the new        called The Plaza, one safe enough to     the fact of my parents’ radicalism,
black or Puerto Rican boyfriend,         attend at night with friends, unlike     and the fact that a lot of the friends
the new favorite band or other           those in Downtown Brooklyn. The          from my other world were black.
infatuation, and everything I’d          theater marked the corner as a site      But I didn’t hear it that way. The
studied in them previously had           of some first experiences to come.       new sensation in my life, the
become old currency, not even            It throbbed with potential for ‘a        revolution in my cultural appetite
fit to trade for the new. I had to       date’. In fact, in my mind, the corner   and world-view, one I’d have
remember not to mention what             was the Brooklyn equivalent of the       probably been unable to coherently
they’d left behind for fear I’d be       Rolling Stones’ lyric, from “Dance,      share with these two under even
next. These girls blew hot, and were     Pt. 1”: Mick Jagger’s sleazy, cursory    the best of circumstances, was for
often mockingly affectionate or even     intonation, “Here I am standing,         science fiction generally and for
briefly lusty in my direction, but in    on the corner of West Eighth Street      Philip K. Dick specifically. I’d just
their willingness to show disdain, to    and Sixth Avenue, Keith, and I’m         weeks before read, in order, and
crush unworthiness like a bug, they      asking you, I’m asking you…” The         with tumultuous, revolutionary
were fundamentally cool, cool, cool.     corner knew something about what         excitement, A Maze of Death, Ubik,
I had a lot to learn, and I put my       I wanted to get over as, but couldn’t    and The Three Stigmata of Palmer
own enthusiasms and provenances          yet.                                     Eldritch. Each of these concerns,
on the table very carefully, or so           So it was that standing there one    in different ways, the infiltration
it felt to me. They had a name for       day, under wider circumstances           of reality by a single sinister and
what they despised – it was “green”,     I could no better reconstruct            intoxicatingly malignant force. In
a word which seemed to encapsulate       than the tatters of some former          Three Stigmata, that force is Palmer
being lame, unenlightened, feeble,       civilization, that one of these girls    Eldritch himself, a sort of human-
corny, overreaching or even              made a random taunt that struck          turned-monster-turned-God, a
imperfectly effortless, and so much      me as a meaningful bolt from             kind of living drug or cancer. By
else. I lived in fear of being cast in   the blue, and which I’ve never           the end of the book, everyone
that shade.                              forgotten, but never completely          and everything is showing Palmer
     The corner of Seventh and           understood either. I’d said I had to     Eldritch’s face, like evil DNA. Now
Flatbush was a meeting point, a          go meet a friend, I think, but left      my friend had seemed to name him


                                                           2
by accident. Only it couldn’t be          Jake along for the ride. Jake got to      with the 1970’s Marvel Comics we
an accident. Palmer Eldritch was          see all the Pink Panther movies, for      both revered. And in fact, though
everywhere, the novel was merely          instance, and Kentucky Fried Movie        I was alive to something in the
testament to cosmic conditions!           and Groove Tube, too. Harry took          presentation, I didn’t plunge into
I began trying to tell her about it.      Jake out to Junior’s Restaurant, the      reading Dick, not immediately.
Gibbering, I’m sure it seemed from        legendary Brooklyn cheesecake             Rather, I circled the books, soaking
the perspective of the girls.             palace, for dinners consisting of         in random vibrations they gave
    “Of all the possible names, how       little more than shrimp cocktail          off. My actual reading of Dick
did you pick that one?” I demanded.       and an egg cream. And, seeing             began a year or so later, though it
    “It can’t be a coincidence!”          Jake’s enthusiasm for comics, Harry       felt like a lifetime’s distance from
She immediately scorned my                started bringing around his own           Jake’s comics-lair bedroom, when
excitement. “Who cares?” she said.        just-read copies of mass-market           I found in a used-book store my
“What did I even say? Eldridge            paperback science fiction. This           own paperback copies of Ubik and
Hoover? Elron Seaver? Whatever!”          wasn’t the old ‘classic’ 1940’s-vintage   A Maze of Death and The Three
    I’m guessing here, but I must         stuff I’d discovered on my mother’s       Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – in
have gone on trying to explain,           shelves, Ray Bradbury and                 matching black Bantam paperbacks,
ever more pedantically, grinding          Isaac Asimov, but the latest hip,         less zany-looking, more enticingly
my axles into a morass of                 psychedelically-packaged material:        ominous, than the books that Jake’s
embarrassment. Science fiction, it        Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, and        dad had delivered to our attention.
turned out, was green.                    fatefully for me, Philip K. Dick. The     Reading these three novels, I made
    You never forget the site of a        first of Dick’s books I laid eyes on      Dick definitively my own, forging
schooling in shame.                       was A Scanner Darkly, from 1977;          a relationship into which I’d invest
                                          the second might have been The            a tremendous amount of personal
                  2.

W
                                          Zap Gun, or Clans of the Alphane          capital over the years, even decades
              here Philip K. Dick         Moon. From Jake’s shelves I also          that followed. But if I’m honest with
              had come from, for          recall The Golden Man, though this        myself about points-of-origin, Jake’s
              me, was my best             would have been a bit later, since        too-fun dad hovered oddly in the
friend’s Jake’s dad, Harry. Harry         that book wasn’t published until          background of the affair.
was younger than Jake’s mom, and          1980. A collection of Dick’s stories
when they divorced, as everyone’s         selected by a young editor named                           3.

                                                                                    I
parents seemingly did, Jake’s mom         Mark Hurst, The Golden Man was                 had a girlfriend by the last
retained the family home, the             prefaced by Dick with a famous – at            year of high school, Lorna.
upstanding parental postures –            least to me – personal reminiscence            Timewise, we’re talking about
in fact, she was one of the most          called “The Lucky Dog Pet Shop”.          a scattering of months, perhaps
reliable parents around if, in those      There, Dick defines his sense of his      at most two years from the scene
prodigious slippery days in our           own status, the artist-as-depraved-       of the kid who stood at Seventh
unreliable neck of the woods, you         outsider, knocking helplessly on          and Flatbush trying so earnestly
were looking for someone to chide         the windows of “serious” literature,      to explain to the Slopie girls who
or encourage you or make you              reduced to batting out pulp tales         Palmer Eldritch was, but of course
a sandwich, as if you were still a        while eating horsemeat intended for       in the accelerated nature-footage
younger child. We counted on her          dogs – acquired at the Pet Shop of        of childhood memory, this is yet
for that. Harry, though, became           the essay’s title – because he couldn’t   another lifetime’s distance. For
like Jake’s erratic and brilliant older   afford human food.                        one thing, I’d somehow, absurdly,
brother, or his crazy grownup                  Jake cared more for Zelazny,         consumed another twenty or
friend. He slipped back toward            whose fantasies of superpower             twenty-five Philip K. Dick novels in
adolescent enthusiasms, and took          and martyrdom better dovetailed


                                                            3
that interval, taken the author into   Encounters of the Third Kind, this       through my past and future. I threw
my body like wine and wafer. If,       film wasn’t about to find any sort       a sweaty little tantrum because we’d
previously, I was alerted to Palmer    of comfortable place in the culture.     arrived late, ponderously explaining
Eldritch’s presence all around me,     Worse, I probably was crossed            how important this viewing was to
now I was Palmer Eldritch, and         up in the opposite direction, too:       me, and how much I hated being
I liked it. Also I had a girlfriend.   like a fan who resents seeing his        late to movies. Of course by the
That poor kid a year-and-a-half ago    favorite underground band sign           time I’d settled myself down and
didn’t.                                with a major label, maybe Dick           we purchased our tickets and went
    I’ve written about Lorna           was being stolen from my exclusive       inside, the trailers for other films
elsewhere. She’s the girl I            purview. I’d been planning to make       had obviously only just finished. We
pathetically stalked home from the     a pilgrimage to California to meet       were probably exactly as late as the
subway station in an essay called      Dick, and then learned he’d died, in     duration of my tantrum.
“Speak, Hoyt Schermerhorn”.                                                               I watched the film with a
Teenagers, you’d think,                                                                  grudge in several directions.
should enjoy themselves,                                                                 Lorna’s only real reaction
but in fact Lorna and I had                                                              was to find the violence
a neurotic and tempestuous                                                               disproportionate and
on-and-off again romance,                                                                upsetting, and as we left
full of tricky betrayals and                                                             the theater in a worse funk
pleading arguments. The                                                                  than that in which we’d been
summer of 1982, the summer                                                               as we entered, I couldn’t
between high school and                                                                  defend the film against
college, the year Philip K.                                                              her distaste, nor adopt her
Dick died, Lorna and I broke                                                             rejection of it as an adequate
up three or four times, and                                                              response for myself. I’d sat
we were in an extended                                                                   there tabulating the film’s
fight that sweltering June                                                               failings against the book,
afternoon when I took her                                                                and mostly failed to gather
with me to see Blade Runner,                                                             in what was sensationally
which had been released a                                                                vivid and original in the
day or two before. Of course                                                             experience. In particular,
we walked up Flatbush                                                                    I thought the hard-boiled
Avenue to Seventh, to see the                                                            voice-over embarrassing and
film at The Plaza.                                                                       derivative, totally green. I
I was in a funk, angry at her,                                                           suppose if I want to forgive
angry at myself for reasons I                                                            myself for that day I can still
couldn’t admit or articulate.                                                            think it. Though I revere the
My expectations for the film                                                             film now, and have seen it
were a tormented muddle                                                                  in various versions probably
– I’d already heard it committed       February that year. Absurd as it was     a dozen times, I still can’t brook
injustices to the book, and that       to take his death personally, I did.     any suggestion that the voiceover is
it wasn’t going over well with             So, victim to all of this and our    desirable.
those who didn’t care for Dick in      own toxic passion, Lorna and I               Two months later I was in
particular but rooted for science      fought outside the theater, right        college in Vermont, self-exiled
fiction movies to take over the        there at my thorny intersection, in      from my unresolved dilemmas
culture. After Star Wars and Close     sight of all the avenues crisscrossing   at Flatbush and Seventh. Lorna,


                                                         4
and the Slopie girls, were still with      contemporary France. It strikes me       dependents – his three children,
me in ways I could and couldn’t            now that the urge to bring one of        that is – so I was being a little silly
acknowledge. And I’d become an             Dick’s mainstream novels to light as     with the request. Paul treated it
early member of the Philip K. Dick         a major film – I envisioned several      kindly, as I’d later learn he’d tend to
Society, the grassroots posterity-         Oscars – was an early glimmer of         do with the tender postures of any
boosting coalition lead by the rock        my yearning to rehabilitate him          young artist. He’d do the same for
critic Paul Williams. One of their         for traditional literary taste, rather   me later, when I began showing him
early newsletters was among the first      than leave him in his funky SF           my fledgling fiction. The exchange
mail I ever received at my campus          cult-ure where I’d found him. The        of letters between us, anyway, put
mailbox, and I stared at the return        wish to advertise his brilliance as a    an even more definite image in my
address dreamily, already plotting         writer per se, to institute him in a     mind, a shape for my defection to
some more extraordinary escape or          shameless canon, was inextricable        California.
exile, a leap to get me onto
                                                                                                         5.

                                                                                          I
Philip K. Dick’s map, and
off my own. Dick might be                                                                        t took me two years to
dead, but I could still make                                                                     carry out that defection,
a pilgrimage to the Lucky                                                                        though I was falling
Dog Pet Shop.                                                                               through the safety net of a
                                                                                            college education from the
             4.

T
                                                                                            very start. I kicked against
          he first time I wrote                                                             the aura of privilege and
          to Paul Williams                                                                  connection and tradition,
          to introduce                                                                      of arts-insiderishness, that
myself, my pretext was an                                                                   hung over the Bennington
interest in adapting Dick’s                                                                 scene, instead of accessing
Confessions Of A Crap                                                                       those things as I was meant
Artist into a screenplay.                                                                   to. Between my resistance
I don’t know how I’d                                                                        to being the same kind of
leapt to this particular                                                                    high-brow artist my dad was,
ambition, except that my                                Paul Williams                       my love of pop culture, my
friend Philip, at Bennington, was                                                     legacy of radical politics, and
writing screenplays, and he shared         all along with the wish to join my       my outer-borough, public-school
my enthusiasm for Dick’s work. I           own weird enthusiasms to my              identity, I seemed to need to work
thought Confessions, one of Dick’s         highest aspirations as an artist, but    from what would appear to others,
“mainstream” novels, was one of his        also to repair the shame I’d learned     and myself, as a margin, a position
best, and a truly fine novel, despite      to feel on Seventh and Flatbush, or      of disenfranchised minority. Dick’s
its marginal place even within his         any subsequent instant when I was        margin, science fiction, was a
then-marginal career – I still do. I       reminded – and I was constantly          working proposition I could use.
also really thought it might make a        reminded – that science fiction was      I’d found other writers I relished
terrific film in the vein of a absurdist   a ‘subliterary’ interest.                who operated from inside that
domestic tragedy set in ‘50’s                  But I wasn’t really a filmmaker,     exile-zone, that quarantine: Disch,
California, something an Altman or         or even a screenwriter, or any kind      Delany, Ballard, a few others.
Hal Ashby might shoot – and I still        of writer yet. I also didn’t have any    Science fiction was a literary
do, despite its having already been        way of securing the adaptation           Brooklyn for me.
adapted into a good French film            rights Paul was obligated to protect          I introduced myself to Paul
which transposes the material to           for the interests of Dick’s living       Williams in person at the Claremont


                                                             5
Hotel in Oakland, at an SF               from Paul tales of spending time in        solipsism and paranoia. Yet searching
convention called SerCon One – I’ve      Dick’s company, and about halfway          the works of these authors for a reading
described this meeting once before,      through when we’d gotten well              experience that is essentially Dickian
in an essay called “You Don’t Know       organized – there was a tremendous         is frustrating. Similarly, many of the
Dick”, but conveniently omitted          complication involving “mass mail”         newer writers in SF – I’m thinking
the milieu. Everyone I’d spent my        having to be ordered by Zip Code           of K.W. Jeter, Rudy Rucker, and Tim
teenage years reading seemed to be       in order to get a favorable rate           Powers, among others – profess an
there at the Claremont in person,        from the post office – we’d smoke          admiration for Dick’s work, and often
from Delany to Terry Carr and Ian        a big joint and everything would           employ Dickian elements in their
Watson, an intoxicating leap for me      get wonderfully confusing. This            own. But the ‘Dickian’ effect is rarely,
into the possibility of mentorship       was a fair distance from Bernard           if ever, central; these writers are, quite
within a field of working writers.       Malamud. I’d located my margin, oh         appropriately, busy with their own
(I’d met Bernard Malamud and             yeah.                                      themes and motifs.
John Ashbery at Bennington,                                                              There are, however, instances of
                                                           6.

                                         M
but hadn’t declared myself as an                                                    fiction that is more fundamentally
apprentice, just skulked around                        y first five or six          Dickian; works that, rather than
sniffing at them like a hound.) I                      ‘published’ critic piece     evoking Dick’s milieu, reproduce –
did feel some reservations: the                        appeared in the pages        in many cases unknowingly – the
science fiction world looked like a      of the Society Newsletter. They’re         distinctly disruptive effects of a novel by
solipsistic hot-house, a cultural cul-   agony for me to reread, at once            Dick.
de-sac, detached from everything         as stiff as a freshman term paper              Let me describe a novel I’ve just
I was otherwise immersed in, in          and as arch as an anonymous                read. The book’s main character is,
my life with my friends. Then Paul       notice in the Times Literary               without his knowledge, murdered in
appeared wearing a Meat Puppets          Supplement, circa 1954; call this          the first chapter. He proceeds to enter
t-shirt – they were at that moment       style Overcompensating Autodidact.         a bizarre and shadowy of the world he
my favorite band – and I decided         The last of them, published in             previously inhabited, and experiences
everything was going to be alright.      PKDS Newsletter #24, dated 1990,           there a bewildering array of ‘impossible’
    Though he must have had              is both the least awkward and the          events. He spends most of the novel in
dozens of old friends to commune         most revealing. Here it is in its          pursuit of an elusive policeman, who
with at that conference, Paul            entirety (though I can’t swear I’ll        is supposed to possess the ability to
wandered away from the hotel             be able to resist massaging some of        free the protagonist from his dismay
with me, down Ashby Avenue, and          the clenched syntax as I retype the        and confusion. Mysterious signs of this
we got a soda and talked for half        thing):                                    policeman are everywhere. At the end
an hour or so. I announced my                                                       of the novel the protagonist learns he
various schemes and intentions and              Two Dickian Novels                  is dead – only to have this awareness
by the end of the day I was nearly                                                  immediately stripped from him. The
crowned the third-in-command at              What do we mean when we call a         novel ends with our character right
the Philip K. Dick Society. As I also    work ‘Dickian’?                            back where we first found him: newly
mentioned in “You Don’t Know                 The novels of Philip K. Dick           murdered, and about to undergo the
Dick”, this really just meant I could    show the influence of science fiction      events of the novel we’ve just finished
join in and sometimes even host the      published in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. From     reading.
“mailing parties” for the newsletter.    Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth,             The novel I’ve described is called
Paul and I would gather in my            Dick borrowed a satirical, dystopian       The Third Policeman, and it was written
living room in Berkeley with two         near-future setting. From A.E. Van Vogt    in 1940 by an Irish journalist who
or three others and listen to music      a predilection for reality disjunctions.   published fiction under the name
and seal envelopes and talk, eliciting   From Robert Heinlein a measure of          Flann O’Brien. The novel, though I


                                                            6
can’t do it justice in this short space,    extent explored that possibility for        searching the indexes of various critical
is uproariously funny, linguistically       him; indeed, the proposed diagnosis of      works on Dick, I failed to find a single
brilliant, and to my mind, highly           Temporal Lobe Epilepsy is a fascinating     reference to Lewis Carroll.
Dickian. Specifically, it’s a sibling to    lens through which to consider his life         Two questions, then: might
Ubik and A Maze of Death. It also           and work.) Shainberg, previously the        Lewis Carroll be an important and
conveys a strong flavor of Lewis Carroll,   author of Brain Surgeon: An Intimate        unrecognized common denominator
which is a thread I’ll pick up again in a   View of His World, has in Memories of       for some of the themes and techniques
moment.                                     Amnesia relentlessly explored Dickian       manifested in Dick’s novels? And might
    Now, the chances of Dick having         themes in the fascinating and rich          an inquiry into what we experience as
read Policeman (and not mentioning          language of neurology.                      ‘Dickian’ begin not with a survey of
it anywhere) are very slim. It’s almost         The novel is the first-person           American science fiction of the ‘40’s
certainly an instance of parallel           account of a neurosurgeon who               and ‘50’s, but rather with an exploration
development. What’s remarkable              begins to experience symptoms               of the history of ‘strangeness’ (or,
is how perfectly distilled the Dick-        of brain damage: in the middle of           ‘cognitive estrangement’) in fiction?




                                                                                        L
effect is in O’Brien’s novel. Freed of      delicate surgery he bursts out singing
Dickian trappings (the so-called ‘junk’     “Oh, Susannah”. What’s more, he                     et me be the first to point out
elements that Stanislaw Lem identified),    experiences his symptoms as an                      that “Two Dickian Novels”
The Third Policeman is nonetheless          exhilarating taste of freedom from the              is a fledgling effort in my
unmistakably Dickian. This not to say       constraints of rationality. The narrator    gentrification-campaign on Dick’s
anything against, for example, talking      is simultaneously doctor and patient        behalf – the effort that culminates,
robot taxicabs. I’m personally fond of      – much like A Scanner Darkly’s Bob          nearly twenty years later, with my
talking robot taxicabs. The crucial point   Arctor, who is both drug abuser and         editorial stewardship of Dick into
(a point which Dick himself proves in       narc – and the distinctions between         the Library of America. With a
The Transmigration of Timothy Archer)       illness and health, sanity and madness,     nakedness that’s almost endearing,
is that talking robot taxicabs aren’t       illusion and reality, quickly blur.         the young critic scurries to
strictly necessary.                         The result is a deliriously unsettling      recontextualize his hero in quality-
     Then there’s Memories of Amnesia,      excursion. The introspective, insistently   lit signifiers: Carroll, Borges, etc.
by Lawrence Shainberg, published in         questioning, and highly self-absorbed       (I recall planning a follow-up to
1988 yet displaying no direct influence     texture of this narrative bears an          “Two Dickian Novels”, in which I’d
of, or knowledge of, Dick’s own work.       extraordinary resemblance to Valis          claim further examples from outside
Again, the futuristic settings and          and Radio Free Albemuth in particular.      the precincts of science fiction
artifacts familiar to Dick’s readers        Perhaps needless to say, the novel          – I know I meant to include Iris
are absent. In the case of Memories of      ends on a note of almost unbearably         Murdoch’s The Black Prince, but I’ve
Amnesia even the Dickian plotline,          unresolved tension.                         forgotten the rest.) If you’re feeling
still available in The Third Policeman,          Shainberg, like O’Brien, has been      generous, note how I’m trying to
is missing. Nonetheless, the Dickian        compared to Lewis Carroll. (Shainberg       carve out a zone in which my own
essence survives. Dick perceived            makes the connection explicit by            fiction might hope to operate, a
reality as a paradoxical, distorted,        quoting Alice in Wonderland as an           field of useful precedents, much
and even dysfunctional thing, and           epigraph.) Further, both Borges             as Borges describes in “Kafka and
he sought, through his writings, a          and Pirandello, two of the great            His Precursors”. If you’re feeling
variety of possible explanations;           international writers commonly              less generous, diagnose it as a case
political, religious, philosophical,        cited as relevant to a consideration        of contamination anxiety working
psychological, even pharmacological.        of Dick, are frequently compared to         itself out in (barely) public view. In
One of the very few he didn’t pursue        Carroll. Certainly, baseline adjectives     other words: I wanted to woodshed
was a neurological explanation. (Since      like dreamlike, menacing and surreal        with Dick and some other writers
his death biographers have to some          apply equally to Dick and Carroll. Yet,     condemned to an SF ghetto, but I


                                                                7
didn’t want to live there. If I could                        8.                    That also put me two or three



                                          I
drag Dick out in advance, he’d be              was so proud I’d written about a    blocks from the Lucky Dog Pet
my stalking horse, maybe. There’s              contemporary writer that I took     Shop and a number of other Dick
a line running straight from this              the trouble of photocopying the     ‘landmarks’ mentioned in his novels
effort through my anxious, rather         piece and sending it to Lawrence         of that period. It was with Paul that
discombobulated Village Voice             Shainberg, care of his publisher.        I first walked over to gaze at the
essay, “The Squandered Promise            Years later, Larry and I became          Francisco Street house, a stroll that
of Science Fiction” (title not mine,      good friends. He admitted he was         soon became a regular ritual of my
but my editor’s – I only didn’t fight     baffled by the piece, had never heard    daylight writing hours. Though the
back hard enough), from 1998; the         of Philip K. Dick, and that when         house refused to yield any secrets,
question is whether incompletely-         he tried reading Valis, found it         there was something eerie in the
acknowledged personal necessities,        impossibly bad.                          mere action of walking from one
projected onto writers other than                                                  negligible address to another in a
myself, render these ‘critical’                                                           neighborhood where no one
efforts disingenuous. The                                                                 ever walked, where barely
same judgment could                                                                       anyone drove – the streets
probably extend to describe                                                               were uncannily empty. I also
the piece you’re reading                                                                  once veered past the address at
now. Am I green? No?                                                                      three or four in the morning,
Maybe? What about now?                                                                    tripping on Ecstasy, but at that
                                                                                          moment I was for once more
             7.

B
                                                                                          enthralled by the live human
          y mentioning Jeter                                                              being at my side than with my
          and Powers, two                                                                 dead crazy friend Phil, and I
          writers who’d as                                                                gave the house barely a nod.
young men had the luck of                                                                     I did visit Lucky Dog, too,
showing up on Philip K.                                                                   and try to get the clerk to
Dick’s doorstep and gaining                                                               admit that the shop knew
his friendship, I might also                                                              its place in Philip K. Dick’s
have been negotiating my                  Philip K Dick’s house in Berkeley, CA           personal mythos. Did they
disappointment that I hadn’t                                                       know a great man once bought
managed to duplicate their                                   9.                    horsemeat here? Yes, they agreed,



                                          T
trick. I’d run out of time, so my                 hat same Chestnut Street         someone had mentioned an article
own Western jaunt could only                      one-bedroom apartment            like that to them once, and had
be to posthumous-Dickland. I’d                    in the west Berkeley flats       promised to bring it in and show
have to make do with Paul and             where the Society gathered to fold       it to them. But that person never
other residual traces. In suggesting      newsletters into envelopes, and          returned. I promised I’d bring it
that Jeter and Powers weren’t             where I wrote most of my first           in and show it to them, and I too
particularly ‘Dickian’ in their work,     thirty-odd short stories and three       never returned. I made another
I left a possibility open, that another   novels, happened to be three blocks      unsatisfying, incomplete pilgrimage
literary heir might be coming along       from the small Francisco Street two-     to Tupper & Reed, one of the two
soon who’d more persuasively step         bedroom house where Dick lived           music shops Dick had worked at
into the great man’s bootprints –         from 1950 to 1958 – and where            in the period just before making
never mind if he never got to sit at      he wrote most of his first fifty-odd     the perilous leap into life as a full-
the great man’s knees.                    short stories and six or seven novels.   time freelance short story writer.
                                                                                   Art Music, the other of the two


                                                              8
shops, had gone out of business.          Dr. Seuss book of the same name,
But Tupper & Reed revealed no             a tattoo which has become famous                         10.

                                                                                 A
important traces – it was Art Music       because my sister wears sleeveless               lso short stories, in many
that had been the really important        shirts. I accidentally echoed my                 instances more nakedly
site for Phil, Art Music whose owner      sister’s choice by selecting a gooey             derivative of Dick’s work
had been the model for so many            fictional substance that gives title   even than the novels, though
loveable, tyrannical father-boss          to the book in which it appears        my own material of course kept
figures in Dick’s fiction, including      – I dare you to think of another       leaking through. Most of these
Leo Bulero from The Three Stigmata        example.* I never wear sleeveless      went unpublished; a few slipped
of Palmer Eldritch. (I bought my          shirts, but word of my tattoo has      into print in science fiction
then-wife an electric guitar at           circulated, slightly, a viral rider    magazines or poetry journals; all
Tupper & Reed. Imported into our          on my own moderate fame, and           precede “The Happy Man”, the
house the guitar exuded no Dickian        I’m occasionally called on by sly      story which I chose to open my first
essence, but we each learned three        interlocutors to sheepishly exhibit    story collection, and so have been
or four chords; I could play Bob          it while signing at a bookstore.       essentially excluded as juvenilia
Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue”, while       In two decades I’ve watched my         from my ‘collected works’ (except
she could play Elvis Costello’s           spray can swell, shrink and grow       for four which were absorbed as
“Two Little Hitlers”. Eventually, a       slack with the changing contours       raw material in Amnesia Moon).
photograph of myself beside this          of my arm, gain hairs, survive         I’ll include two here, both circa
guitar would appear on the jacket         mosquito bites. The simple colors      1990, not for their lasting quality
of my arguably-least-Dickian novel,       haven’t faded badly, but the blue      but for light shed, however galling.
You Don’t Love Me Yet.) Phil Dick’s       outline has blurred, victim of the     Here’s “Ad Man”, a pat little fable
Berkeley, everywhere I tried to pin it    entropy the spray-product Ubik was     in which I labor to update Dick’s
down, evaporated like the locations       supposed to combat. Dick ensured       ‘aggressive-advertising’ theme
in Time Out of Joint, to be replaced      Ubik’s immortality; I’ve ensured its   with the then-fashionable motif of
with thin strips of paper labeled         mortality.                             nanotechnology.
with the names of the missing items:          Perhaps the tattoo helped, but
Pet Shop, Music Store, Two-Story          in any case I quit wandering over                     Ad Man
House.                                    to Francisco Street. The action
    In that same period, I                I required, the essence I sought,          “Look here, man. Closer.”
impetuously went into a tattoo            wasn’t located on the exterior of          The two men bent in together over
parlor and had the spray-can logo         that building, but in the interior     the magnifying glass, their shoulders
from the first American edition of        of my own – and, just as anyone        hunched, their breath held. The detail
Ubik tattooed on my left upper arm.       wandering past the Francisco           of the painting blurred at the edges of
Well, medium-impetuously: the day         Street house in 1956 would have        the lens. What they examined now was
before, my then-wife and my sister        no notion what was being hatched       nothing more than a single brushstroke,
had together gotten tattoos at that       inside that drab façade, no one        magnified tremendously.
same parlor, so it was familial peer-     passing Chestnut Street could have         As they watched, both trembling,
pressure that made this decision          known what I was up to, typing up      the painted line slowly began to move,
for me. I wasn’t certain I wanted a       on a Selectric typewriter in quiet,    to thicken, and change direction. Then
tattoo, actually, but if I was going to   ignominious joy draft after draft of   the artist’s breath misted over the lens.
have one I was certain what tattoo I      novels with working titles like Apes       “Crap.” They both stood up,
wanted. My then-wife was tattooed         in the Plan, White Lines, Fractal      abruptly. The artist put his hand to his
with an ampersand (still her              Days, and Satisfying Lack.             forehead, and looked at the other man
trademark), my sister with a plate        * Tono-Bungay, by H.G. Wells.
                                                                                 for reaction.
of green eggs and ham from the                                                       The other man pocketed the glass


                                                                 9
and said: “Advertising. I’m sorry, man.       “You’re saying my painting is being          Bosch thing, hundreds of characters on
The painting’s definitely infected.”          transformed into an advertisement? For       a gigantic landscape, and both products
    “Infected,” said the artist flatly.       some American product that doesn’t           had gotten to it. They were competing,
“What the fuck does that mean?”               even fucking exist anymore?”                 trying to wrest away control of this
    The other man smiled sadly and                The man nodded.                          sort of battlefield in the painting, and
gestured towards the table in the                 “Well, that’s ridiculous!” blustered     the characters were all divided up into
corner of the artist’s ramshackle house.      the artist. “Advertising—for what?”          two armies, the Walnuts versus the
The artist nodded, and they went                  “We’ll have to see how it comes out,     Fazzians—”
together and sat there. But when the          won’t we?”                                       “Jesus! How did you become the big
man reached out for the Mason jar of              “Shit!”                                  expert?”
water on the table the artist said: “No.          “It takes days to finish,” said the          “I was a technician in a hospital.
That’s for cleaning with. It’s no good for    man. “But we’ll be able to tell before       I worked with the bloodstream ones.
drinking.”                                    that. There’s two main companies             I recognized this other type when it
It was a lie. The water in the mason jar      involved in the outbreak here. Fazz          turned up, that’s all.”
was fine. The artist just wasn’t in the       and White Walnut, two drinks. White              “It’s such a fucking joke,” said the
mood to share it with the stranger.           Walnut has the classier campaign, a          artist. “Their whole culture was fucking
      The man smiled and said: “Never         couple of white-suited pimp-like guys        leveled.”
mind. I’ve stopped making the                 reclining on a tropical beach. Fazz has          “Yes,” said the man cheerily. “I
distinction.” He tipped the jar back and      this manic clown-donkey thing, with          may never have the pleasure of tasting
took a long drink, then lifted the jar as     big pinwheel eyes...”                        a Fazz.” He pointed over the artist’s
if for a toast.                                    The artist groaned.                     shoulder. “Look.”
      The artist made a sour face. “What’s    “ Anyway, they’re easy to tell apart.            The artist turned and looked at his
happening to my painting?” he said.           I’ll know in half an hour.”                  painting.
      “Microprocessors,” said the man,             “How did this happen?” asked the            His radiation sunset had grown
wiping his lips. He put the jar down.         artist incredulously.                        donkey ears. And out of the swirling
“Little invisible robots, with tiny little         “Imported records, I think. The first   orange underneath, features were
hands, and tiny little tools in their         outbreak was a radio station playing         beginning to resolve. Cartoon eyes, and
tiny little hands. They run around            American hits. All the songs started to      a gigantic grin.
rearranging things at a level we can’t        evolve towards the Fazz theme:                   “The Fazz donkey,” said the man.
see.”                                                             Fazz!                    “Oh god.” The artist’s head fell into his
      “What? Like the medical things?”                     Nothing as good as              hands. “It’s horrible.”
      “Exactly. Only this is another type,                        Fazz!                        “I wonder how it got all the way out
not medical. Commercial. Something                 or else the White Walnut music,         here,” said the man, getting up from the
the Americans were fooling around             this thing with coconuts dropping onto       table. “Have you shown this painting?”
with just before the war. We didn’t think     drums, and Hawaiian guitar. Whoever              “No,” said the artist. “It isn’t even
it had crossed over here, at first. Now       was singing on the record, they’d            finished. I took some others to Sydney
it’s turning up everywhere.”                  suddenly be pushing this product. We         last week, though—”
      “Commercial.” The artist narrowed       burnt the station’s whole collection. But    The artist saw the man glance quickly
his eyes. “What does that mean?”              the things had already escaped, I guess.”    over at the racks against the wall.
      “Corporations manufactured them.        The man smiled to himself. “They                 “You aren’t saying—” The artist
They’re programmed to redesign                got to some films. We had Jay Gatsby         jumped up, but not before the man had
existing artworks into advertising. The       drowning his sorrows in Fazz, then so        walked over and pulled a painting from
companies got tired of waiting for talent     cheered by the stuff that he got up and      the rack. It showed the Fazz donkey,
to sell out, I guess. And the costs are       did a little song and dance.”                in full splendor across the landscape, a
lower.”                                            “Is mine the first painting?”           bubbling, frosty glass in hand, his eyes
      The artist couldn’t believe his ears.        “Oh no. I saw this big Hieronymus       dazzling op-art pinwheels, and over the


                                                                 10
artist’s sky a word balloon:                      “I’m game,” said the artist grimly.         The artist didn’t say anything. The
     SEX AND FAZZ                             “I’ve got nothing to lose. My work is all   two men sat together in the twilight,
     AND ROCK AND ROLL!                       I have.”                                    savoring the beer, waiting. After an
     The artist flipped frantically through       “Who knows,” said the man. “We          hour had passed the visitor said: “Try
the rack. Each image was different, but       may invent a new art form. You may          touching your hand to the painting. If
each featured the leering donkey and          get to put your brushes into storage. If    they’re ready they’ll crawl out through
plastic bottles of the green drink.           your micros get strong enough they can      your pores and go to work.”
     “Everything’s ruined!” wailed the        go transforming all the old moldering           The artist shuddered, then did as
artist.                                       advertising into your imagery. Hah!         he was told. No immediate effect was
     The man knelt and squinted closely       Then we’ll have you to deal with.”          visible.
at the canvases, but didn’t say anything.     “A good deal more sightly than this             “Don’t worry,” said the man.
     “I can’t ever paint in here again, can   crap,” muttered the artist. “When can       “They’ll have jumped. I just hope they
I? It’ll all come out Fazz.”                  we start?”                                  understand the assignment.”
     “Until we eliminate the                      “I’ve got the stuff in my car,”             They went back to the table, though
microprocessors, yes,” said the man           admitted the man. “I packed it up when      the beer was now long gone. The artist
musingly.                                     your friend called and told me about        got out a checkerboard and the men
    “Is there a way?”                         your painting. I’d been hoping for this     played. It was hard, though, to keep
    “It wouldn’t be easy, with so little      chance.”                                    from looking over constantly at the
technology at our disposal anymore.               “You haven’t tried it before?”          painting, and neither man resisted
They’re programmed to defend                      “No.”                                   much. In the dim light it was too easy
themselves. But I’ve had an idea... If            “But there’s no danger?”                to imagine change that hadn’t actually
it worked, we might even be able to               “None except failure. The medical       occurred. After a while the visitor went
reclaim your artwork.”                        micros might not adapt. But they’re         over and took out his magnifying glass.
    “Tell me.”                                used quite routinely by now.”                    “I don’t know,” he said. “The lines of
    “The surgeon micros. They work by             They stepped out onto the porch         the donkey are still thickening.”
assuming the expertise of the doctor,         together. By coincidence it was                  “What do you mean? Are you saying
by recording a version of his brain into      sunset, and the colors in the sky were      it didn’t work?”
their own programming. In essence             incredible. They stopped and stared              “Let’s hope your little soldiers are
they become miniaturized copies of the        together. The visitor hadn’t much taste     still marshalling their forces, surveying
human surgeon. If we could have them          for painting, but he could see how this     the enemies positions. They certainly
instead record your impulse, towards          recent development in sunsets would         haven’t attacked yet. The advertisement
protecting these paintings...”                make a fit subject.                         is still taking shape.”
    “What does that involve?”                     When it was over he went to the car          The artist paced the room angrily,
    “It’s simple if you’re not squeamish.     and unpacked the medical equipment.         while the man continued to pore over
I inject a vial of blank medical micros           Once the vial was injected the artist   the canvas with the glass.
into your bloodstream. They’ll work           went downstairs and brought up more              “When—”
their way to your brain, and document,        of the good water, for celebration. On           “Be patient,” said the man. “This is a
in place of further medical skills, your      sudden impulse he brought up two of         new process. It’s probably still too soon.
painting expertise. If I’m guessing right     his last remaining beers as well. “Here,”   In the meantime, I’m exhausted. Is there
they’ll also pick up your care for these      he said, tossing one to the man. “This      a place I can lie down?”
works, and your dislike for the Fazz          won’t interfere, will it?”                       The artist scowled. He went over to
micros swarming over them. Then,                  “What, the alcohol? No.” The man        the painting and lifted it from the top.
once they’ve reproduced sufficiently,         laughed. “The medical micros can fend       “Sure, sure,” he said. “I’ll unfold the
you touch them to the painting. With          for themselves; that’s the whole point.”    cot—Ow!” He dropped the painting and
luck they’ll become your little avenging      He pried open the bottle and took a sip.    held up his hand, wincing.
angels...”                                    “God, that’s nice. It’s been months.”            “What’s the matter?”


                                                                 11
    “It stung me! Look at this!”                man stopped, his jaw hanging open,            stride on the treadmill never falters.
    The man hurried over. The artist’s          and stared at the artist’s forehead.          She runs the cord back to a modified
palm was dotted with tiny incisions, all            “What?” said the artist.                  four-track recorder sitting in the dust
beading with blood.                                 “Your flesh,” said the man,               of the garage floor, then picks up the
    “What did it do? What’s going to            dumfounded. “Your head.” The artist           recorder’s microphone and switches it
happen?”                                        reached up and felt his head. At first        on.
    The man sighed. “It’s failure, worse        he thought he’d put on a hat. But no.         “Good morning, Mission Commander,”
than I expected. The Fazz micros must           Whatever the knobby protrusions were,         she says.
have defeated the medical ones, and,            they were sprouting right out of the              “Yes,” grunts The Man Who, his
what’s more, appropriated their skills.         skin.                                         slack jaw moving beneath the massive




                                                W
All we’ve done is add to their arsenal,                                                       headset. It startles the journalist to hear
I’m afraid. They’ve got the talents of a                       hat’s interesting and          the voice of The Man Who boom out
million tiny surgeons at their disposal                        uninteresting here             into the tiny garage.
now. The nip you took was just a                               is mostly plain, but               “Interview time, Eddie.”
warning. Hands off. They’re protecting          I’ll mention that the aggression                  “Who?”
their territory.”                               of pop culture on the fine arts                   “Mr. Kaffey. Systems Magazine,
     “You mean I can’t even touch               – on a painter of oils-on-canvas              remember?”
my own paintings?” said the artist,             specifically – looks to me now like                “O.K.,” says Eddie, The Man Who.
incredulous.                                    a rehearsal of matters of my own              His weakened, pallid body trudges
     “They’re not your paintings                creative paternity – after all, I am          forward. He is clothed only in jockey
anymore,” the man pointed out.                  a painter’s kid. On the one hand,             undershorts and orthopedic sandals,
“They’re the work of Fazz.”                     I’ve given my dad’s artistic medium           and the journalist can see his heart beat
     “Fuck the work of Fazz,” said the          the unmistakable high moral                   beneath the skin of his chest.
artist. “I want to destroy them. I don’t        ground; on the other, I’ve fated it           The Mother Of smiles artificially and
even want to see this ugly face again. I        to drown in banality or be thrown             hands the journalist the microphone.
don’t care, I’ll give up painting if I have     on a pyre. More generally, the story          “I’ll leave you boys alone,” she says. “If
to.”                                            looks ahead to my exploration of              you need anything, just yodel.”
     “It’s probably better,” agreed the         notions of influence in the arts,                  She steps past the journalist, over
man sadly. “We shouldn’t let these new          the propagation of cultural stuff by          the cord, and out into the sunlight,
surgical ones spread. That’s nasty what         automatic and viral processes. The            pulling the door shut behind her.
they did to your hand.”                         story’s not completely unrelated to                The journalist turns to the man on
The two men spent the better part of            my essay “The Ecstasy of Influence”,          the treadmill.
the night loading the paintings into a          it just isn’t good. But here’s another.            “Uh, Eddie?”
pile on the lawn, then lighting the pile                                                           “Yeah.”
into a bonfire. At the end they staggered               Walking The Moons                          “Uh, I’m Ron Kaffey. Is this O.K.?
back into the house, exhausted, faces                                                         Can you talk?”
streaked with sweat and ash.                        “Look,” says the mother of The Man             “Mr. Kaffey, I’ve got nothing but
     “I’ll get out the cot,” said the artist.   Who Is Walking Around The Moons Of            time.” The Man Who smacks his lips
“You shouldn’t have to drive back like          Jupiter, “he’s going so fast.” She snickers   and tightens his grip on the railing
this, before you’ve slept.”                     to herself and scuttles around the            before him. The tread rolls away steadily
     “That’s good of you, man. It’s been        journalist to a table littered with wiring    beneath his feet, taking him nowhere.
quite a night.” The man paused. “You            tools and fragmented mechanisms. She               The journalist covers the mike with
know, you ought to come back to the             loops a long, tangled cord over her son’s     the palm of his hand and clears his
city with me in the morning, get your           intravenous tube and plugs one end into       throat, then begins again. “So you’re out
mind off this thing for a few days. Your        his headset, jostling him momentarily         there now. On Io. Walking.”
friend was asking about you—” The               as she works it into the socket. His               “Mr. Kaffey, I’m currently


                                                                    12
broadcasting my replies to your              alone under the stars. There isn’t any            “I don’t have any,” says the
questions from a valley on the               point in my describing that to you.”          journalist.
northwestern quadrant of Io, yes. You’re         The Man Who scratches again,                  “Ah well.”
coming in loud and clear. No need to         this time at the patch where the                  The Man Who walks on, undaunted.
raise your voice. We’re fortunate in         intravenous tube intersects his arm, and      Only now something is wrong. There’s
having a pretty good connection, a           the journalist is afraid he’ll tear it off.   a hiss of escaping liquid, and the
good Earth-to-Io hookup, so to speak.”       “Bored?” asks the journalist.                 journal is certain that The Man Who’s
The journalist watches as The Man                “Yeah. Next time I think I’ll walk        nutrient serum is leaking from his arm.
Who moistens his lips, then dangles his      across a gassy planet. What do you            Then he smells the urine, and sees the
tongue in the open air. “Please feel free    think of that? Or across the Pacific          undershorts of The Man Who staining
to shoot with the questions, Mr. Kaffey.     Ocean. On the bottom, I mean. ‘Cause          dark, and adhering to the cave-white
This is pretty uneventful landscape even     they’re mapping it with ultrasound.           flesh of his thigh.
by Io standards and I’m just hanging on      Feed it into the simulator. Take me a             “What’s the matter, Kaffey? No more
your every word.”                            couple of weeks. Nothing like this shit.      questions?”
    “Explain to me,” says the journalist,        “I’m thinking more in terms of                “You’ve wet yourself,” says the
“what you’re doing.”                         smaller scale walks from here on in,          journalist.
“ Ah. Well, I designed the rig myself.       actually. Get back down to earth, find            “Oh, damn. Uh, you better call my
Took pixel satellite photographs and fed     ways to make it count for more. You           mom.”
them into my simulator, which gives          know what I mean? Maybe even the                  But The Mother Of has already
me a steadily unfolding virtual-space        ocean isn’t such a good idea, actually.       sensed that something amiss. She steps
landscape.” He reaches up and taps           Maybe my fans can’t really identify           now back into the garage, smoking
at his headset. “I log the equivalent        with my off-world walks, maybe                cigarette and squinting into the
mileage at the appropriate gravity on        they’re feeling, who knows, a little, uh,     darkness at her son. She frowns as she
my treadmill and pretty soon I’ve had        alienated by this Io thing. I know I am.      discerns the stain, and takes a long drag
the same experience an astronaut would       I feel out of touch, Mr. Kaffey. Maybe        her cigarette, closing her eyes.
have. If we could afford to send them up     I ought to walk across the cornbelt or
anymore. Heh.” He scratches violently        the sunbelt something. A few people
at his ribs, until they flush pink. “Ask     in cars whizzing past, waving at me,              “I guess you’re thinking that there
me questions,” he says. “I’m ready at        and farmer’s wives making me picnic           might not be a story here,” says The
this end. You want me to describe what       lunches, because they’ve heard I’m            Man Who. “Least not the story you had
I’m seeing?”                                 passing through. I could program that. I      mind.”
     “Describe what you’re seeing.”          could have every goddamn Mayor from               “Oh no, I wouldn’t say that,” says
     “The desert, Mr. Kaffey. God, I’m       Pinole to Akron give me the key to their      the journalist quickly. He’s not sure if
so goddamned bored of the desert.            goddamn city.”                                he hasn’t detected a note of sarcasm in
That’s all there is, you know. There isn’t         “Sounds O.K., Eddie.”                   the voice of The Man Who by now. “I’m
any atmosphere. We’d hope for some                 “Sounds O.K.,” echoes The Man           sure we can we something up.”
atmosphere, we had some hopes, but it        Who. “But maybe even that’s a little              “Work something up,” parrots The
didn’t turn out that way. Nope. The dust     much. Maybe I ought to walk across            Man Who. The Mother Of has his
all lays flat here, because of that. I try   the street to the drugstore for a pack        shorts down now, and she’s swabbing
kicking it up, but there isn’t any wind.”    of gum. You don’t happen have a stick         his damp flank with a paper towel.
The Man Who scuffs in his Dr. Scholl’s       of gum in your pocket, Mr. Journalist?        The Man Who sets his mouth in a
sandals at the surface of the treadmill,     I’ll just open my mouth and you stick it      grim smile and trudges forward. He’s
booting imaginary pebbles, stirring up       in. I trust you. We don’t have to tell my     not here really. He’s out on Io, making
nonexistent dust. “You probably know         mother. If you bear her coming you just       tracks. He’s going to be in the Guinness
I can’t see Jupiter right now. I’m on the    let know, and I’ll swallow it. You won’t      Book of World Records.
other side, so I’m pretty much out here      get in any trouble.”                          T he journalist sets the microphone


                                                                 13
back down in the dust and packs           the two forecasts the betrayal        magazine out of Austin, Texas,
his bag. As he walks the scrubby          enacted between object-friend and     called New Pathways – Junker’s
driveway back to the street he hears      subject-friend in The Fortress of     edits intact – it was picked up for
The Man Who Is Walking Around I           Solitude. This short story hangs in   The Year’s Best Science Fiction.
Moons Of Jupiter, inside the garage,      there for me finally because in it    Whether this was vindication
coughing on cigarette fumes.              I see myself knocking on my own       or an epitaph for my literary




O
                                          door (Chestnut Street), not just      aspirations, I couldn’t say.
           kay, that’s a little better.   Dick’s (Francisco Street).            Self-marginalization was well
           I liked the mood and                                                   underway; self-gentrification
           voice of this piece                                                    would wait.
when I wrote it, and still do,
despite the blatant failings:                                                                   12.

                                                                                  T
the slipshod, second-hand                                                                  en years and several
misogyny – not a welcome                                                                   personal revolutions
influence from Dick – and the                                                              later I sat in a Sushi
hint of body-horror, as though                                                    restaurant in Brooklyn
a trickle of urine disqualifies                                                   with Hampton Fancher, the
anyone’s dignity (this writer                                                     screenwriter of Blade Runner,
obviously hadn’t yet changed a                                                    who wanted to persuade me
loved-one’s diaper). The Man                                                      to let him adapt and direct a
Who strikes me a recursion                                                        version of my Dick-meets-
of Dick’s shambling-sacrificial                                                   Chandler first novel, Gun
anti-heroes, like Mercer in Do                                                    With Occasional Music. In his
Androids Dream of Electric                                                        attempts to persuade me of
Sheep, or Molinari in Now Wait                                                    how deeply he’d responded
For Last Year, but he’s enough                                                    to the book, describing the
my own, enough a product                                                          details that had electrified
of observation and even self-                                                     him, Hampton inadvertently
inspection, that I can simply                      Hampton Francher               made me laugh – much of what
take pleasure in him, especially                                                he was recognizing was Blade
when he requests the chewing                                                    Runner’s direct influence on
gum.                                                                            my novel, of course. Hampton
What interests me most, though,                          11.

                                          B
                                                                                and I were trapped in a circular
is how the relationship between                    elieving I’d written a       influential mirror, admiring our
the callow journalist and The                      breakthrough piece and,      own distorted reflections. And
Man Who now looks like an                          knowing knew what kind       each of us shadowed by another, a
early, guilty allegory of my own          of breakthrough would mean            face like Palmer Eldritch’s seeping
attempts to enlist Philip K. Dick         the most to me, I sent “Walking       through.
or any other ‘crazy friend’ for           The Moons” to Gordon Lish at              Hampton, like Paul Williams,
my lucid artistic purposes – an           The Quarterly. He rejected it         like Jeter and Powers, had enjoyed
unconscious warm-up to what               flamboyantly. I sent it to Howard     the opportunity denied me: to
I’d later consciously pursue in           Junker at Zyzzyva; he subjected       know Philip K. Dick personally.
stories like “Planet Big Zero”,           the story to two tantalizing rounds   But unlike those others, who
“Interview With The Crab” and             of edits, cutting several pages,      claimed friendship with my
“Phil In The Marketplace”. For that       before rejecting it. When the         paranoid, prickly hero, Hampton
matter, the relationship between          story was published in a tiny SF      Fancher – who’d appeared out of


                                                          14
nowhere as a new crazy friend for       name was awarded to him by his            personal episode into legend. And I
me, a patchouli-reeking flamenco-       family or by other friends, I don’t       thought it obvious how adoring my
dancing Hollywood hipster,              know. Aardvark had long hair,             use of weird had been. For what it’s
boyfriend of starlets, sulky child-     longer even than mine; a foolish,         worth, I’ve never completely shed
star in exile, and who’d endear         loping gait; an open reverence for        my sense that weird or crazy were
himself to me again and again with      Jim Henson’s Muppets and a stated         typical hallmarks of quality, of the
his shambolic frankness – stated        aspiration to become a puppeteer;         characters and artifacts I’d spend my
flatly, “Dick didn’t like me.” The      and a strange, shy confidence. I fell     life relishing and collecting and, if I
remark, so simple and indisputable,     in love. I brought Aardvark home          was lucky, originating, crazy books,
entered my body as a kind of            after school one day, to present to       crazy movies, crazy thoughts. To
decades-delayed electric shock: why     my mother, and in front of her I          have a crazy friend was to have
should I ever have assumed Dick         called him, with open admiration,         waded into the crazy world and
would have liked me? Our kinship,       ‘really weird’. I don’t remember how      given it a soul kiss. For wasn’t ours a
presumed since I was fourteen           Aardvark and I spent that afternoon,      crazy world?
years old, was a one-way street, an     and I doubt there were many like
imposition of my desire.                it. Before long Aardvark had grown
                                                                                                   14.

                                                                                  I
    By this time I’d become an          out of his nickname, and loped on
ambassador for Dick’s work,             to interests beyond Muppets and                ’ve been given a lot of
defending it to serious readers in      me. As it happens, under another               opportunities to talk to Philip
serial essays, introductions, panel     assumed name Aardvark became                   K. Dick without him talking
discussions and so forth. More          one of New York City’s celebrated         back: time works that way. I’ve
than once I’d joked that Dick’s         white graffiti writers – for a time, he   built a few of my palaces on his
rehabilitation – his gentrification –   was King of the A-Train. He shifted       shambles, and no one can ever tell
was made possible only after death      into legend, so I went on knowing         me I shouldn’t have. There are days,
had cleared the awkwardness of          of him after our brief, weird             though, when I wonder whether
his personal presence, with all its     friendship.                               I’m like Gordon Lish to Dick’s
you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit defensive          What I remember best                  Raymond Carver – Lish, seemingly
vanity about his literary status,       about that day was my mother’s            so calculating and urbane, forcibly
his persecution complex at being        reprimand, after Aardvark had gone        enlisting ‘the natural man’ Carver
appropriated for theories or causes,    home. Barely a reprimand, really,         in his editorial schemes, dressing
from the landscape. If he’d stuck       just some food for thought: was I         him up like a pet bear. Or (speaking
around, Dick surely would have          so certain my friend liked being          of bears) maybe I’m like Werner
found a way to dishearten and derail    dubbed ‘weird’? Might it be better        Herzog, editing the dead bear-
his would-be enshriners. (Actually,     to restrain from making my friends        enthusiast Timothy Treadwell’s
I think this observation originated     self-conscious of their eccentricities,   footage into the documentary
with Paul.) Yet how rarely had I        from locking them into pre-               Grizzly Man, then puzzling over
bothered to consider that Dick          appointed roles? I was abashed,           the marionette I’ve got up on his
might have loathed me, renounced        but also confused by my mother’s          feet and dancing – his aspect so
my striving on his behalf?              censure. For one thing, I associated      remarkable, his private face still
                                        this kind of open celebration of          and forever hidden from view. But
                13.

W
                                        bizarre behaviors specifically with       Lish and Herzog, they’re crazy too,
          hen I was ten or eleven       my parents – in fact, my mother was       even if they’re better at getting
          I made a friend in            famous for awarding her friends           through days, better at talking on a
          school, a kid who’d           baroque nicknames (“Captain               telephone or balancing a checkbook,
somehow been saddled with the           Vague”, “Jerry Cheesecake”, etc.),        than Carver and Treadwell. They’re
nickname Aardvark. Whether that         monikers etching this or that             crazy with love, for one thing, even


                                                          15
if it is love of a kind of colonizing,   our parents. For myself and Jake,         our culture, the social sarcophagus
acquisitive variety.                     there were times when our parents         of daily life. Even trying can make
                                         were less like parents and more           you crazy, let alone succeeding
                                         like crazy friends. As a result, our      as well as Dick did. For me, I like
                 15.

S
                                         friendships involved a measure            helpless braggarts, obsessive fools,
      ometimes, also, I think I hate     of mutual parenting or, at least,         angry people. My ears perk up at the
      Philip K. Dick for not loving      since mutual parenting was really         word ‘pretentious’ – that’s usually
      Hampton Fancher. How could         impossible, the impulse to rescue         the movie I want to see, the book
you be so small?                         one another from our parents’             I want to read, the scene I want to
                                         squishy legacies (cf. The Fortress        make. Nearly anyone I’ve found
                 16.

D
                                         of Solitude). And truly, for all my       worth knowing was difficult enough,
           ick tended to give his main   reverence, I never really looked at       vivid enough, to qualify at some
           characters powerful but       Philip K. Dick as a literary father,      point as my crazy friend.
           unsteady father-figures,      more like a brilliant older brother
often resembling Dick’s boss Herb        whose brave and also sometimes




                                                                                   T
Hollis at Art Music – men both           half-assed forays charted wild paths
bullying and charismatic, generous       for me to follow.                                  he Slopie girls are women
and treacherous. Another version of                                                         now. I’m stone, dependable,
                                                          17.

                                         D
this archetype recurs in the films of                                                       lifelong friends with
Orson Welles, with the ‘big father’                 ick’s defenders – other        Laurene. I could write a hundred
often played by Welles himself, as                  than me, I mean –              pages about that friendship; this isn’t
Falstaff, or Kane, or Quinlan. I’ve                 frequently bristle at          it. Deena, on the other hand, is still
fooled with this motif myself – most     hearing him called ‘crazy’, or at the     out there raging, shaming me with
obviously, in Motherless Brooklyn’s      rehearsals of his human frailties,        flippant satires of my passionate
Frank Minna – but more often             his drugs and divorces, which tend        greenness, wrecking our friendship
have defaulted, in my writing, to        to accompany the laurels the larger       as often as not, forcing me (it seems
a primary relationship more like         culture keeps draping on his tomb.        to me) to wreck it in return. We’ve
siblings, or friends: pairs linked by    I’ve never understood the problem.        gone many months and, once, nearly
bonds of guilt, yearning, and mutual     Apart from the dopey emptiness of         a decade, in the dark, not knowing
betrayal. This may be typical of the     the question – was Melville crazy?        whether we’ll ever speak again. I’m
difference between the post-war,         Was Malcolm Lowry? Kafka? – I             furious at her now, but I’m writing
‘boomer’ generation of which Dick        suppose I’m residually inclined to        this as a kind of valentine, I’d like
was part – those whose parents           hear the term as a shred of beatnik       to think: Come back, crazy friend.
were toughened by the depression         exultation: “That’s crazy, man!” I’m      I’m big enough for you still. I’ve got
and World War Two – and my               still looking for the crazy wherever      what it costs to know you, and if I’m
generation, we who experienced the       I can find it. It’s hard enough to kick   sometimes hard-pressed to spend it,
questing, self-revising boomers as       against the plastic Victorianisms of      I’d hate to die with it in my pocket.




                                                           16

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Stats:
views:15
posted:5/8/2011
language:English
pages:16
hkksew3563rd hkksew3563rd http://
About