Bumbejimas: PKD And Me

by Ed Meskys

Thanks to Frank Bertrand and Patrick Clark for contibuting this article to philipdick.com.

[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

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

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

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

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.)

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