Message # 3
Joined: Mar 2003
Tue May 17, 2005 8:27 PM, Msg # 3
So, yes, there we were, my young daughter and myself meeting Keith Lawmer a few years before he died. We had been corresponding for 20 years or so and calling (mostly me) on the phone, for even longer. There were many nights we talked a couple of hours about everything; god, aging, US Meat, death, cops, government, other writers, and how too many had called him a Nigger Hater, because of some of his derogatory alien descriptions. Strange. Keith Laumer was not a bigot. He was simply too bright for his body, including his brain. I mean that as it sounds. Somehow it's true.
We loved to rant and rave, explore the edge, make fun of things we both hated, despised. More than anything it seems at least, when we talked, Keith loved to hear how much I loved his work, respected his writing, his talent. He would always say, “well, that’s great, that’s good." He couldn’t get enough, it seems. I'd be the same if I was that talented and others recognized the fact. With all his rage, Keith calmed when his intelligence or writing ability was recognized. I'm no shrink but it seems clear Keith Laumer needed to be appreciated, loved, respected for his work. It was his life. And I'm afraid he never got close to being anywhere near appreciated, as he should, at least, after he could not find the same clarity after the stroke.
If there were a god, I'd love to punch him out! Or was it her?
Keith would have laughed at that. When Keith was pissed about something or other, he'd generally growl a few expletives. Yes, growl. Venomously.
In the 1980's I was pretty busy after I founded Event Horizons BBS, which later became extremely successful. A BBS was an abbreviation for Bulletin Board System and was a precursor to the internet. I'd talk to Keith about computers but he always indicated he had no knowledge and therefore not much interest.
I remember one day back in the late sixties, when I had no money and no way to pay for a phone, let alone a bill, I was able to tap into the phone and get a long distance carrier without permission (don't ask). It was the line to the empty apartment next door. For some reason there was a dial tone. So, most of my calls then were free, talking long hours to Keith. There was the three-hour difference in time from Oregon to Florida of course and during one of those long conversations, an operator cut in and told us both that this was an unauthorized call, that the phone was being used without permission. The operator asked Keith his name and without any hesitation, he answered in that high-pitched, incredibly sarcastic voice that totally belonged to Laumer, "Frank Nerd, what's your name honey?
I first called Keith sometime around 1966 or 1967, I think it was, give a year or too. The back of one of his books indicated he lived in Brooksville, Florida. So, I called information and sure enough, there as a Keith Laumer listed. I called and a man with a rather high-pitched voice answered. Now, Keith’s voice was not high pitched as in feminine, or gay. It was just a tone, different than I had expected. It was pleasant enough, not sarcastic then. But I guess I was a bit surprised to actually have the master himself answer the telephone for this poor mortal.
I hung up without saying a word.
Boy. That went well. What a dork. Me. It was another week or so before I worked up enough courage to call him again. I told him I was a fan, read his books, loved them, etc, etc. He loved it, ate it all up. I’m sure I wasn't at all impressive. But I made up for it with enthusiasm. I called him many times over the years and he was always happy to take the call, even if he had been sleeping. Yes, he'd growl a bit but most of that must have been an over the top impression of Walter Matthau.
He hated the idea of marijuana and hippies. I had long hair and smoked grass then. He thought that was a waste of effort. But we were both atheists, rebels, natural jerks, unrealized perfectionists, at least I was unrealized, and we both liked naked woman, sarcasm, standing up for what was right, hated injustice and powerful clerks with an attitude or no brain, or no sense of humor. He taught me. I didn’t have much to offer him then but praise and support.
Keith loved to be on the late side of expected, on the wrong side of right. He was out to save the world and by god, he knew his next move. When discussing the political scene, or the incompetence of the US Government, he'd refer to them as a bunch of God Damn "cocksuckers". "Somebody needed to put a gun to their heads and blow their fucking brains all over the wall". He meant it too. It didn't take much to enrage Keith. He loved it. I guess it was an outlet.
Keith Laumer was my hero. His writing heros were Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Chandler. I know because he told me so often enough.
Christ, I'm finding myself reacting the same way to many people these days. Those petty clerks, the customer service assholes, the people at Comcast, the ... well, you know, the standard cocksuckers.
Anyway, so here we are, at Keith's place, the man I respected, still do, more than anyone else, except possibly Norman Thayer from Golden Pond. When we first met at his home, Keith remarked that I was the sort of guy no one would mess with. I guess he was saying I had that look. But I'm not too big. Keith towered over me, even in his condition. But that's what he had said, so it was even more of a shock that only a few hours later he would pull a gun from near his sofa and point it at me.
Keith got pissed over something I had innocently said about the use of a video camera. He took my remark to mean I was insulting his intelligence. I should have known. He would always go ballistic whenever that happened. He later said he goes into rage when he cannot communicate correctly. And a man who is basically paralyzed on one side, and cannot write well enough as in his former glory, has lots to endure. Keith was a big man, size wise and intellectually. He’d be the first to tell you that he needed more.
So, anyway, here I am standing in the middle of Keith Laumer's living room. Keith is sitting on a sofa and my daughter is standing at the other end of the sofa. He had just blown up at my attempt to explain something about second-generation video, if I remember correctly, which was my answer to his question about it. His rage was sudden and totally uncalled for, shouting something like, "For Christ Sakes, I know that! If I wanted a lesson I'd have paid for it, God Damn it!” Actually, it was more venomous but I don't remember the words. It was out of line. It pissed me off.
I told him so, that if he was going to blow up then I'd just leave. His answer was to insist I leave at that very instant. And that wasn't very friendly. Frank Nerd would have been more cordial. But my video camera was connected to his television. I had been showing Keith some video of our visit to Disney World, believe it or not. Video was rather new back then. I had a decent video camera, at least, good at that time. I told him I'd leave just as soon as I disconnected my camera and got my cables together.
When I turned around from the TV, Keith Laumer was pointing a German Luger at my chest, demanding that I leave now, minus my video recorder, the gun not wavering in his hand from his sitting position. I remember wondering very briefly if he just wanted my camera but I must have dismissed it very quickly. This just have been a strange sight, the man whose characters had sustained and entertained me for so long, so many years, the very man I had communicated with, had talked to on the phone for so long, the man I respected on many levels, more than anyone. Why was this happening. But I know I did not react in shock, not outwardly. I believe I was calm and deliberate. I'd be fucking damned if I was to break down in front of the man, even if the man had suddenly turned strangely mean and super threatening.
I couldn’t tell if the gun was cocked; I was about ten feet away. I admit, it scared me. If you’ve ever had a gun pointed at you, you know exactly what I mean. It had happened before, a man’s ex-wife and I were naked together and he caught us. You get the picture.
But the very idea that Keith would pull a gun, on some personal level really pissed me off. I thought for a very brief second of rushing him, wondering if I could dodge a bullet, if he had one, and if he could pull the trigger quickly enough. But it was only for an instant.
Instead I said this exactly, "Put away the gun, Keith. You're not going to shoot anyone". I must have sounded braver than I felt because he put it away as though he suddenly realized what he had done.
That was it. We said nothing more I can remember, just made it through an awkward few moments in silence. I took a few more seconds gathering my equipment, whatever I had brought, and got my daughter and myself out of his home.
That's the way it happened as best I can remember. I didn't piss myself at least. But for some reason, being angry, I couldn't believe that Keith would have shot me and I could not let Keith get away with such a jerk thing to do, not without a straight comment. But why take the chance?
Honestly, I wish I had been wise or perceptive enough to have told him something like, "Keith, listen man. It's okay. No one respects you more than me. I'm not some dickhead without a life, some dumbshit without a brain. I'm successful and I'd like to believe what I think counts. And as I've said before, you're one of the great ones, one of the best writers and you've helped make me what I am today, through your stories, your sense of humor, your intelligence. You don't want to shoot me because we've shared too much, and I'm not the threat. It's the fucking body man. You got cheated and it sucks. But we're both men and I have a little girl here who wants to know you more. So, let's pretend this never happen and start over.
That's what I would have liked to have said. But I didn't. Hell, he could have shot me for real if I had. Or he could have cried.
Naw. Not Keith Laumer. Right?
I went back home to Portland and never saw Keith again. But I did call him a few months later. I had imagined that after my hero had pulled a gun on me, and in front of my little girl, I couldn't possibly enjoy his stories again.
But I was wrong. His stories, the very good ones, were as good as ever.
When I did call him a few months later we talked a bit about the rage he felt and couldn't control and his voice broke a bit when he apologized. If you knew Keith Laumer you know that took a bit for him to apologize.
And Keith had finally published his last Brian Bayard story, which I had been trying to get him to do for years. I believe it was called "Zone Yellow". But I didn't much care for the story and told him so when he asked what I thought of it. I was honest, told the truth. I could tell he was disappointed.
I wish to hell I had lied.