"The Golden Man"
Philip K. Dick
When I see these stories of mine, written over three decades, I think of the Lucky Dog Pet Store. There's a good reason for that. It has to do with an aspect of not just my life but with the lives of most free-lance writers. It's called poverty.
I laugh about it now, and even feel a little nostalgia, because in mans ways those were the happiest goddamn days of my life, especially back in the early fifties, when my writing career began. But we were poor; in fact, we —my wife, Kleo, and I—were poor poor. We didn't enjoy it a bit. Poverty does not build character. That is a myth. But it does make you into a good bookkeeper; you count accurately and you count money, little money, again and again. Before you leave the house to grocery shop you know exactly what you can spend, and you know exactly what you are going to buy, because if you screw up you will not eat the next day and maybe not the day after that.
So anyhow there I am at the Lucky Dog Pet Store on San Pablo Avenue, in Berkeley, California, in the fifties, buying a pound of ground horsemeat. The reasons why I'm a free-lance writer and living in poverty is (and I'm admitting this for the first time) that I am terrified of Authority Figures like bosses and cops and teachers; I want to be a free-lance writer so I can be my own boss. It makes sense. I had quit my job managing a record department at a music store; all night every night I was writing short stories, both SF and mainstream . . . and selling the SF. I don't really enjoy the taste or texture of horsemeat; it's too sweet . . . but I also do enjoy not having to be behind a counter at exactly 9:00 A.M., wearing a suit and tie and saying, "Yes, ma'am, can I help you? and so forth.... I enjoyed being thrown out of the University of California at Berkeley because I wouldn't take ROTC . . . boy, an Authority Figure in a uniform is the Authority Figure! —and all of a sudden as I hand over the thirty-five cents to the Lucky Dog Pet Store mall, I find myself once more facing my personal nemesis. Out of the blue I am once again confrollted by an Authority Figure. There is no escape from your nemesis; I had forgotten that.
The man says "You re buying this horsemeat and you are eating it yourselves."
He now stands nine feet tall and weighs three hundred pounds. He is glaring down at me I am, in my mind, five years old again and I have spilled glue on the floor in kindergarten.
"Yes, sir," I admit. I want to tell him, Look: I stay up all night writing SF stories and I'm real poor but I know things will get better, and I have a wife I love, and a cat named Magnificat, and a little old house I'm buying at the rate of $25-a-month payments, which is all I can afford. But this man is interested in only one aspect of my desperate (but hopeful) life. I know what he is going to tell me. I have always known. The horsemeat they sell at the Lucky Dog Pet Store is only for animal consumption. But Kleo and I are eating it ourselves, and now we are before the judge; the Great Assize has come; I am caught in another Wrong Act.
I half expect the man to say, "You have a bad attitude."
That was my problem then and it's my problem now; I have a bad attitude. In a nutshell, I fear authority but at the same time I resent it —the authority and my own fear— so I rebel. And writing SF is a way to rebel. I rebelled against ROTC at U.C. Berkeley- and got expelled; in fact, told never to come back. I walked off my job at the record store one day and never came back. Later on I was to oppose the Vietnam War and get my files blown open and my papers gone through and stolen, as was written about in Rolling Stone. Everithing I do is generated by my bad attitude, from riding the bus to fighting for my country. I even have a bad attitude toward publishers; I am always behind in meeting deadlines (I'm behind in this one, for instance).
Yet —SF is a rebellious art form and it needs writers and readers and bad attitudes— an attitude of"Why?" or "How come?" or "Who savs?" This gets sublimated into such themes as appear in my writillg as "Is the universe real?'' "Are we all really human, or are some of us just reflex machines?" I have a lot of anger in me. I always have had. Last week my doctor told me that my blood pressure is elevated again and there now seems to be a cardiac complication. I got mad. Death makes me mad.
Human and animal suffering make me mad; whenever one of my cats dies I curse God and I mean it; I feel fur; at him. I'd like to get him here where I could interrogate him, tell him that I think the world is screwed up, that man didn't sin and fall hut was pushed— which is bad enough— but was then sold the lie that he is basically sinful, which I know he is not.
I have known all kinds of people (I turned fifty a while ago and I'm angry about that; I've lived a long time), and those were by and large good people. I model the characters in my novels and stories on them. Now and again one of these people dies, and that makes me mad—really mad, as mad as I can get. "You took my cat," I want to say to God, "and then you took my girlfriend. What are you doing? Listen to me; listen! It's wrong w hat you're doing."
Basically, I am not serene. I grew up in Berkeley and inherited from it the social consciousness that spread out over this country in the sixties and got rid of Nixon and ended the Vietnam War, plus a lot of other good things, the whole civil rights movement. Everyone in Berkeley gets mad at the drop of a hat. I used to get mad at the FBI agents who dropped by to visit with me week after week (Mr. George Smith and Mr. George Scruggs of the Red Squad), and I got mad at friends of mine who were members of the Communist Party; I got thrown out of the only meeting of the CP-USA I ever attended because I leaped to my feet and vigorously (i.e., angrily) argued against what they were saying.
That was in the early fifties, and now here we are in the very late seventies and I am still mad. Right now I am furious because of my best friend, a girl named Doris, twenty four years old. She has cancer. I am in love with someone who could die anytime, and it makes fury against God and the world race through me, elevating my blood pressure and stepping up my heartbeat. And so I write. I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have because the world we actually have does not meet my standards. Okay, so I should revise my standards; I'm out of step. I should yield to reality . I have never yielded to reality. That's what SF is all about. If you wish to yield to reality, go read Philip Roth; read the New York literary establishment mainstream best-selling writers. But you are reading SF and I am writing it for you. I want to show you, in my writing, what I love (my friends) and what I savagely hate (what happens to them).
I have watched Doris suffer unspeakably, undergo torment in her
fight against cancer to a degree that I cannot believe. One time I ran out of the apartment and up to a friend's place, literally ran. My doctor had told me that Doris wouldn't live much longer and I should say good-bye to her and tell her it was because she was dying. I tried to and couldn't and then I panicked and ran. At my friend's house we sat around and listened to weird records (I'm into weird music in general, both in classical and in rock; it's a comfort). He is a writer, too, a young SF writer named K. W. Jeter—a good one. We just sat there and then I said aloud, really just pondering aloud, "The worst part of it is I'm beginning to lose my sense of humor about cancer." Then I realized what I'd said, and he realized, and we both collapsed into laughter.
So I do get to laugh. Our situation, the human situation, is, in the final analysis, neither grim nor meaningful but funny. What else can you call it? The wisest people are the clowns, like Harpo Marx, who would not speak. If I could have anything I want I would like God to listen to what Harpo was not saying, and understand why Harpo would not talk. Remember, Harpo could talk. He just wouldn't. Maybe there was nothing to say; everything has been said. Or maybe, had he spoken, he would have pointed out something too terrible, something we should not be aware of. I don't know. Maybe you can tell me.
Writing is a lonely way of life. You shut yourself up in your study and work and work. For instance, I have had the same agent for twenty-seven years and I've never met him because he is in New York and I'm in California. (I saw him once on TV, on the Tom Snyder Tomorrow Show, and my agent is one mean dude. He really plays hardball, which is what an agent is supposed to do.) I've met many other SF writers and become close friends with a number of them. For instance, I've known Harlan Ellison since 1954. Harlan hates my guts. When we were at the Metz Second Annual SF Festival last year, in France, see, Harlan tore into me; we were in the bar at the hotel, and all kinds of people, mostly French, were standing around. Harlan shredded me. It was fine; I loved it. It was sort of like a bad acid trip; you just have to kick back and enjoy; there is no alternative .
But I love that little bastard. He is a person who really exists. Likewise Van Vogt and Ted Sturgeon and Roger Zelazny and, most of all, Norman Spinrad and Tom Disch, my two main men in all the world. The loneliness of the writing per se is offset by the fraternity of writers. Last year a dream of mine of almost forty years was realized: I met Robert Heinlein. It was his writing, and A. E. Van Vogt's, that got me interested in SF, and I consider Heinlein my spiritual father, even though our political ideologies are totally at variance. Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him —one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don't agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn't raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very militarism stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I'm a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.
My friend Doris who has cancer used to be Norman Spinrad's girlfriend. Norman and I have been close for years; we've done a lot of insane things together. Norman and I both get hysterical and start raving. Norman has the worst temper of any living mortal. He knows it. Beethoven was the same way. I now have no temper at all, which is probably why my blood pressure is so high; I can't get any of my anger out of my system. I don't really know—in the final analysis—who I'm mad at. I really envy Norman his ability to get it out of his system. He is an excellent writer and an excellent friend. This is what I get from being an SF writer: not fame and fortune, but good friends. That's what makes it worth it to me. Wives come and go; girlfriends come and go; we SF writers stay together until we literally die . . . which I may do at any time (probably to my own secret relief). Meanwhile I am writing this "Introduction" to The Golden Man rereading stories that span a thirty-year period of writing, thinking back. remembering the Lucky Dog Pet Store, my days in Berkeley, my political involvement and how The Man got on my ass because of it.... I still have a residual fear in me, but I do believe that the reign of police intrigue and terror is over in this country (for a time, anyhow). I now sleep okay. But there was a time when I sat up all night in fear, waiting for the knock on the door. I was finally asked to "come downtown," as they call it, and for hours the police interrogated me. I was even called in by OSI (Air Force Intelligence) and questioned by them; it had to do with terrorist activities in Marin County—not terrorist activities by the authorities this time, but by black ex-cons from San Quentin. It turned out that the house behind mine was owned by a group of them. The police thought we were in league; they kept showing me photos of black guys and asking did I know them. At that point I wouldn't have been able to answer. That was a really scary day for little Phil.
So if you thought writers live a bookish, cloistered life you are wrong at least in my case. I was even in the street for a couple of vears the dope scene. Parts of that scene where funny and wonderful and other parts were hideous. I wrote about it in A Scanner Darkly, so I won't write about it here. The one good thing about my being in the street was that the people didn't know I was awell-known SF writer, or if they did, they didn't care. They just wanted to know what I had that they could rip off and sell. At the end of the two years everything I owned was gone—literally, including my house. I flew to Canada as guest of honor at the Vancouver SF Convention, lectured at the University of B.C., and decided to stay there. The hell with the dope scene. I had temporarily stopped writing, it was a bad time for me. I had fallen in love with several unscrupulous street girls. . . . I drove an old Pontiac convertible modified with a four-barrel carb and wide tires, and no brakes, and we were always in trouble, always facing problems we couldn't handle. It wasn't until I left Canada and flew down here to Orange County that I got my head together and back to writing. I met a very straight girl and married her, and we had a little baby we call Christopher. He is now five. They left me a couple of years ago. Well, as Vonnegut says, so it goes. What else can you say? It's like the whole of reality: You either laugh or—I guess fold and die.
One thing I've found that I can do that I really enjoy is rereading my own writing, earlier stories and novels especially. It induces mental time travel, the same way certain songs you hear on the radio do (for instance when I hear Don McLean sing "Vincent" I at once see a girl named Linda wearing a miniskirt and driving her yellovv Camaro; we're on our way to an expensive restaurant and I am worrying if I'll be able to pay the bill and Linda is talking about how she is in love with an older SF writer and I imagine—oh, vain folly!—that she means me, but it turns out she means Norman Spinrad, whom I introduced her to); the whole thing returns, an eerie feeling that I'm sure you've experienced. People have told me that everything about me, every facet of my life, psyche, experiences, dreams, and fears, are laid out explicitly in my writing, that from the corpus of my work I can be absolutely and precisely inferred. This is true. So when I read my writing, like these stories in this collection, I take a trip through my own head and life, only it is my earlier head and my earlier life. I abreact, as the psychiatrists say. There's the dope theme. There's the philosophical theme, especially the vast epistemological doubts that began when I was briefly attending U.C. Berkeley. Friends who are dead are in my stories and novels. Names of streets! I even put my agent's address in one, as a character's address. (Harlan once put his own phone number in a story, which he was to regret later.) And of course, in my writing, there is the constant theme of music, love of, preoccupation with, music. Music is the single thread making my life into a coherency.
You see, had I not become a writer I'd be somewhere in the music industry now, almost certainly the record industry. I remember back in the midsixties when I first heard Linda Ronstadt; she was a guest on Glen Campbell's TV show, and no one had ever heard of her. I went nuts listening to her and looking at her. I had been a buyer in retail records and it had been my job to spot new talent that was hot property, and, seeing and hearing Ronstadt, I knew I was hearing one of the great people in the business; I could see down the pipe of time into the future. Later, when she'd recorded a few records, none of them hits, all of which I faithfully bought, I calculated to the exact month when she'd make it big. I even wrote Capitol Records and told them; I said, the next record Ronstadt cuts will be the beginning of a career unparalleled in the record industry. Her next record was "Heart Like a Wheel." Capitol didn't answer my letter, but what the hell; I was right, and happy to be right. But, see, that's what I'd be into now, had I not gone into writing SF. My fantasy number that I run in my head is, I discover Linda Ronstadt, and am remembered as the scout for Capitol who signed her. I would have wanted that on my gravestone: