A Very PhilDickian Existence

Minority Report author Philip K. Dick found Orange Countys truth stranger than science fiction

Says Powers, "He seemed—mainly—desperate."

That particular housing situation lasted for a month or two—a scary month or two. Dick ended up sleeping on the living room couch, too burned-out to write a word, too paranoid to catch his breath. Fresh from the spot-the-narc drug culture up north, Dick saw a potential police presence in any neighbor with a CB radio. And his roommates weren't helping him calm down ("Anyone who stayed in the bathroom more than a couple of minutes was running the risk of having the door broken down because everyone would assume you were attempting suicide," Powers says. "I mean, I never was, but everybody else seemed to be.").

But a new apartment and a new roommate later, Dick was starting to relax. He'd incongruously managed to blend into the college social scene to the point of being named an "honorary student." You never would have noticed his big gray beard, Powers says. Between his dazzling record collection, his encyclopedic conversational abilities (Dick had always been a compulsive and iconoclastic learner, dropping out of UC Berkeley philosophy courses because they bored him), and his lack of pocket change to spend on burgers, he fit in just fine.

"What he found was a place where he could live," says Paul Williams, a longtime friend and later executor of Dick's literary estate (as well as editor of the Philip K. Dick Society newsletter). "And I think he was surprised. He was aware of that Nixon-paranoia side of Orange County, but in some ways, he found himself more comfortable here than in hip—or overly hip—Berkeley and the Bay Area. Since I knew him throughout this time, I saw him become more and more comfortable in this environment. And of course he found what he was looking for when he met Tessa."

That would be Tessa Busby, a girl he met at a Fourth of July beach party (relocated to a Tustin home when all the barbecue pits at the beach were taken). He was supposed to start dating her mom—instead, he would go on to marry her. She was a "little black-haired chick," Dick wrote, "exactly like I'm not supposed to get involved with." Most of his adult life had been characterized by tumultuous relationships with other dark-haired girls.

"He thought I was a cop," Tessa recalls of the first time they met. "That maybe I was underage and trying to get him busted for that, or else a narc who thought he was into drugs. He was really paranoid—but it was a paranoid time. And he just seemed so lost and helpless."

By the end of that not-quite beach party, they'd "had their heads together, mumbling to each other," Powers says. "And it never stopped."

So she was just 18, and he was 43—with four ex-wives.

"It just didn't seem to matter," she says.

Powers remembers when Dick proposed to Tessa—one of the times it didn't quite take. They were at Disneyland, finishing their sandwiches at a table at the Carnation Restaurant on Main Street and waiting for their friends. Abruptly, Dick turned and said, "Tessa, will you marry me?"

"I thought, 'Oh, man, what am I doing here?'" Powers says. "So I reached across the table, took the pickle off his plate and then kind of turned to look away down the street. And just as Tessa was about to answer, he says, 'Just a sec. Powers! What are you doing with my pickle?'"

"You were done," Powers said warily.

"I was saving the pickle for last," Dick said.

"Well, here, you can have it back."

"I don't want it after you've been gumming it."

"Well, I'll get the lady to bring you another pickle."

"I don't wanna bother the lady," Dick grumbled. "I just want to make the point that you shouldn't be snatching food off other people's plates."

All that time, says Powers, Tessa had been waiting to answer. And then everyone else showed up, chattering away, and she never got her chance. "The moment," says Powers, "was lost."

Tessa has moved up to Crestline, a mountain town in the San Bernardino range. Looking back, she says she didn't mind the first few times God—or whatever it was—talked to her husband.

"At first it was exciting," she says. "But after a while, it was like, 'I don't want to hear about your visions!'"

The visions started in Dick's apartment on Cameo Lane in Fullerton during that Watergate spring of 1974, a few months after he had written A Scanner Darkly, the masterful coda to his doper years set in a futuristic Orange County ("Life in Anaheim, California, was a commercial for itself," he'd lament).

He married Tessa in the spring of 1973—presumably after a pickle-free proposal—and gone into a sort of seclusion with her and their new son, Christopher (the third and last of Dick's children). Between Dick's burgeoning agoraphobia, his worries about friction with the IRS over unpaid taxes, and his blood pressure clawing its way into the danger zone, they weren't getting out much. So whatever it was came to them.

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