Thanks to Frank Bertrand and Patrick Clark for contibuting this article to Read some of his own essays at Frank Views.

Bumbejimas: PKD And Me
by Ed Meskys

[source: NIEKAS, No. 34, 1986, pp. 3-4]

I recently finished the book PHILIP K. DICK, IN HIS OWN WORDS by Gregg Rickman (see review in NIEKAS #33), which brought back many memories of the time I knew him and visited him almost weekly.

I was in the Bay Area and part of local fandom from June 1962 to Dec. 1965, and I published the first issue of NIEKAS for an amateur press group my first month there. By issue #4 it had become a general fanzine, like today, but smaller. As I said a few issues back, one of my friends at that time was Alva Rogers who was publishing his fanzine BIXEL for FAPA. Alva was unable to use an article by Poul Anderson comparing Phil Dick's then new book MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE with another alternate world book called SWASTIKA NIGHT. The following NIEKAS had extensive comments on the article. Someone gave me Phil's address in Berkeley and I dropped off the two issues while picking up Grania Davidson, who was then living with him, to go somewhere with her. Phil was quite impressed with the article and comments and wrote a long reply which I published in the next ish.

I had known Grania Davidson (now Davis) for some time and she came to a number of NIEKAS collating parties (and even hosted one) and other events. Through her I came into regular contact with Phil (She wrote one of the many eulogies of Phil that LOCUS published, and discussed her life with him in it.)

About this time they moved into an old wood-frame house in East Oakland, only about a mile from an exit on the freeway. I used to go home to Livermore after Little Men's meetings in Berkeley. I drove into Berkeley for a Little Men's meeting, a Golden Gate Futurian Society meeting, or some other event almost every weekend and stopped off to visit on my way home. Phil and Grania were night people and it would be quite all right for me to stop off at 2 AM.

What do I remember of this period? The only picture of Phil that I had seen was that published on the back of the hardcover edition of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, where he was beardless, and looked remarkably like a prominent fan of the period, Andy Main. But when I met him he had a full beard which he kept during the entire period I knew him. He was writing novels for Ace Books at the time and told me that they paid an advance of about $1200 per book, which was low for the field. He said that Don Wollheim kept writing him complaining now that he had a major success with CASTLE he would be abandoning Don and Ace. Phil also complained of strange quirks in the royalty reports from Ace. Back then Ace was publishing its "Ace Doubles", two books back to back. Usually one book was longer than the other and they were by different authors and unrelated in any way. Occasionally both sides were by the same author. One such pair was by Phil, and the royalty statement in question gave totally different sales figures for the two halves of the same book. Obviously this made Phil very suspicious of the veracity of other royalty statements from Ace.

He had an electric typewriter, a standard office model with typebars, for the Selectric and its imitators had not yet become ubiquitous. He said it had been a gift from Robert Heinlein, and the generosity and spontaneity of the gift had greatly impressed him, for he didn't really know Heinlein and the two were so different in philosophy and style. I don't remember Phil's explanation of why he had been given the machine, only that it came to help him in his writing. He had tried using it but he typed very rapidly and in such a way that on the electric the keys often became tangled. He found this happening so often that he regrettably had to give up using it and go back to his manual.

Phil was troubled by crowds. He appreciated classic films but the only way he could see them was to go to an all-night theater late at night when it was almost empty, and sit in the balcony where there was no one else. He was very knowledgeable about old films and classical music. He won a pair of tickets to a theatrical presentation in San Francisco but could not go himself, so he sent Grania and me to it. I was VERY surprised when he came to the World SF Convention which was in Oakland that year, 1964. But perhaps it was a matter of being among friends and comrades rather than among strangers, as in a theater.

I also had the impression, from general reputation and his behavior, that he suffered from paranoia. The only concrete example I remember was his brandishing a tiny woman's pistol and saying something about agents being outside his house. Thinking back on it, he might have been putting me on. He did have a very strange sense of humor. However, I was not at all disturbed by the incident, but I believe Grania was.

When I met Phil I had ony read his THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, plus a few shorts in magazines that I didn't remember as being by him. I had read P. Schuyler Miller's reviews in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION of THE SOLAR LOTTERY and EYE IN THE SKY which made me want to read both of those books, but I simply had not gotten around to them. I did finally read EYE while I was visiting Phil and discussed the book with him. It was an UNKNOWN WORLDS type of fantasy. A group of people are touring the cyclotron at U Cal Berkeley when there is an accident. As a group they go through a series of fantasy worlds, one in the mind of each of the participants. I remember one was the world of an extremely prudish spinster and they find themselves all totally sexless like children's dolls. Another is the world of a paranoid, and a house that they're in tries to eat and digest them. The foyer carpet becomes a tongue which tries to cram them further inside and swallow them. Phil talked about how it was important to maintain the pace of the book by making each adventure shorter than the one before it.

The paranoid adventure was extremely effective and frightening. When I read it I thought of his reputation and thought about how he must have been writing from his own feelings. On the other hand, in IN HIS OWN WORDS, Phil is quoted several times as saying, "you don't have to be an X to write about an X", and his point is well taken. I should not have judged him on his reputation and one scene in one novel.

I did finally read SOLAR LOTTERY, only a few months ago when it was specially taped for me by Phyllis Randall. His last SF novel was recorded by the Library of Congress and I have requested it from my library, but it has not come yet. I have read none of his other novels. After reading IN HIS OWN WORDS I am more anxious than ever to read a number of his other books, and will probably arrange to have them custom recorded for me.

Getting back to CASTLE for a minute: that book was of an alternate future in which the attempt on FDR's life in the early '30's was successful and he was replaced by a wimp not ready to take a strong stand when WWII loomed. As a result we lost and were divided, the way Germany is in our world, but with the added touch of a Rocky Mountain buffer state. It is in the early '60's, the time the book was written, and there's a cold war between Germany and Japan. There were a number of very nice touches in the book, with technology both more advanced and less than in our world. One of the nicest touches is another alternate world novel written by a mostly off-stage character who motivates much of the action. In this one the Allies did win, but in a totally different way than in our world. One character has a brief mystical experience and is briefly in our San Francisco, another nice touch. Several characters have taken up the I CHING, and it plays a major part in their motivations. This was long before it had become a part of our culture and most readers of the book had never heard of it before. It was in several Herman Hesse novels, but this was before he had become popular in the US and most of his books were still only available in England.

The book was Phil's first major breakthrough to recognition, and was the only one to receive a Hugo. However, the book did sort of fall apart at the end. An explanation of this is the fact that Phil had himself become an avid user of the I CHING, and consulted it whenever he came to a crucial decision point in the plot. I think this was a great benefit to the story as a whole, giving the details many spontaneous and unexpected twists. However, it did not help resolve the conclusion.

While I was very friendly with Phil, we were not really intimate and I was not a confidant of his. Thus I cannot be sure, but I believe he never himself got into major drugs like LSD. In fact, he seemed scared of the effects (at least of LSD.). Once he told me he was riding in a car with someone who had taken LSD the previous day, or perhaps earlier, and presumably had long recovered from its effects. However, as they were riding along on a blacktop stretch of freeway he was scared out of his wits when the driver remarked that he had never noticed before that the pavement was brown.

During this period he acquired two black-and-white kittens he named Horace L. Gold and John W. Campbell Jr.. I remember them as liking to scamper up pants legs at unexpected moments. One afternoon I remember them being on the dining room table and chewing on some donuts in a platter.

I attended my first opera, an outdoor performance of Verdi's FALSTAFF, about a year before I met Phil and got interested in the genre. I attended additional performances, especially in the San Francisco Spring Opera which was mostly in English, and listened to opera on record. Phil introduced me to the magnificent London recording of Wagner's DAS RHEINGOLD. He had an excellent but inelegant mono hi-fi. I remember naked speakers scattered over the living room rug connected to the amplifier.

I enjoy the sound of classical music, especially vocal like opera or oratario, tho I never got into lieder. I think I am either partially tone deaf or simply have an extremely weak auditory memory. I cannot recapture in my mind themes and so follow their development and variations. Phil did play some lieder for me and had me follow along in score books. While I could not read music to make any use of it, I could follow along looking at the notes, the German, and the English translation. It was a magical feeling for the first time really following a piece of music, but I never followed it up by buying records and scores and doing it on my own.

Another area I never got into was chamber music but I remember Phil playing for me what I think I remember was a sting quartet called "The Turkish" because of a touch of Mid-East sounding music in the middle of it. Again I followed it in a score and enjoyed it, but did not follow that up.

In late 1962 the late Ron Ellik got me interested in Gilbert & Sullivan, and I was fortunate in that San Francisco had a G&S repertory company that did nothing else. During the next three years I got to see all the operettas except SORCERER and GRAND DUKE, and through a plug in SATURDAY REVIEW I found a semi-professional company in DC that performed rare G&S and associated works and recorded them. Thus I had the only recording made to that time of UTOPIA LTD. Since Phil shared my love for G&S I brought the album down. He wanted to hear certain songs and had a beautiful knack for putting the needle down on the right spot on the LP to get it. He spoke enthusiastically of Sullivan's growth as a composer over the years since he had written GONDOLIERS, but was not interested in hearing the entire album even tho I had offered to leave it with him.

About this time Phil became friendly with Ray Nelson and Jack Newcomb, who also were frequent visitors. He was living alone at this time and he and the other two made a number of cynical remarks about the nature of women. They coauthored a half-page statement on this which I ran in NIEKAS. Later Phil wrote a wonderful half-page satire of a typical story in DANGEROUS VISIONS which I also ran. It was absolutely delightful.

Shortly before I moved east I began to see a lot of two quite young sisters at Phil's house. Eventually one of them, Nancy, moved in and he later married her.

I remember Phil saying that he was Episcopalian. He said that while he had been married before he had only one more chance at it in his church. If that marriage did not work out he would not be able to marry again in his church.

After I had moved East in January 1966 we drifted apart. I had hoped to keep up a correspondence with him, and that he might continue to occasionally contribute to NIEKAS, but that was not to be. It was probably both of our faults that the correspondence floundered.

Over the next 21 months Felice Rolfe published 4 more NIEKU, and then over the next 15 months I put out two more with Charlie & Marsha Brown and Elliot Shorter. After that NIEKAS went into hibernation for eight years.

When I was in Oakland for the 1968 Worldcon I spent several weeks in the Bay Area visiting friends. I talked to Phil on the phone several times but he was living up north near Sausalito and bus connections there were awful, so I never got around to visiting him there.

I took a summer course in San Diego the following year and spent two weekends in the Bay Area, one with my fiance Nan. I remember writing him that I wanted him and his Nancy to meet my Nancy, but nothing came of it.

About when I moved East Terry Carr made a visit to the Bay Area and became friendly with Phil. Phil wrote several pieces for Terry's fanzine at that time.

Most of the Sf magazines had died off and the paperback field had not yet come into its own. There had been a lot of talk about whither SF in fandom, and Earl Kemp published WHO KILLED SF? I lent Phil my contributor's copy which got buried in his clutter and he couldn't find it to return to me when I moved East. I always wondered what had happened to it, but it had probably gotten lost during one of his many moves.

I totally lost touch with Phil for many years and about a year after I revived NIEKAS I found an address for him in Santa Ana. I sent him a sample NIEKAS and got a rave LoC and a check for a three-year sub, and a short time later a two page story/article about the further adventures of Horselover Fats. Just about when we published that piece, and I had responded to the article and accompanying letter we heard of his death. I ran a short memorial piece in Bumbejimas at that time.

(It is time to explain again that NIEKAS is the Lithuanian word for NOTHING, and Bumbejimas means complaining and muttering under your breath.)