I got this at Classic Books on St Catherine Street in 1961. I read it during breaks at my job at Chevalier Associates, about which I will have more to say in a later episode. Soon after reading the book I attended a lecture by Otto Nathan, Einstein’s closest friend and his literary executor, on the subject of Einstein, the atom bomb, and pacifism. It was there I first met anarcho/pacifist Dimitrios Roussopoulos and where I spent a dollar on a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament button, usually referred to nowadays as a “peace button”.
I know there are some among you who picture those who demonstrated against nuclear testing and the arms race as a knee-jerk cabal of commies and peaceniks, or worse, but at least in my case, and probably everyone’s case, it was reading books like Russell’s and attending lectures and meetings and a lot of thought and consideration that led to the inescapable conviction that we had to do this, we had no choice. We were scared out of our wits – some of us still are. And wearing that button took some nerve, too. This was not long after the McCarthy era, don’t forget. I wore that button knowing I’d be defending it, and myself, constantly. The point was to engage friends and strangers in conversation and persuade them to help stop the atomic madness. Despite my best efforts, however, the hydrogen jukebox rocks on, doom still dangles over our thin skulls suspended by a fragile thread, and lunatics still rule the world.
I participated in marches and demonstrations for nuclear disarmament. After my first march a large group of us convened at Dick Clements’ apartment on MacKay Street. That’s when I first met Dick, who was a prime instigator of pacifist and anti-nuclear activities. Within weeks he cracked up and was incarcerated at the Allen Memorial Hospital in Verdun where mad scientist Dr. Ewan Cameron conducted CIA-funded experiments on Dick and others, involving shock treatments, LSD, sleep deprivation, and general psychic torture that permanently fucked up the lives and brains of his “patients”.
A year or two later I ran into Clements, on a day pass from the Allen, at Peace House. We went to a tavern on Sherbrooke Street where we drank beer and Dick described the horrors of his confinement. “I gotta get outta there.” I said he could move into my place and a week later he arrived with many cartons of books and an AM radio.
When we weren’t drinking or getting high, Dick lay on his mat in the room lined with his books listening to the latest AM pop music (which I eventually developed a taste for myself, at least for the time I knew him) and reading nonstop – science, philosophy, mysticism, economics, politics, phenomenology, shamanism, magic, alchemy, mysteries, etc. He once said his IQ was about 180 and it might have been more than that. He was the most brilliant fuckup I’ve ever known. For seven or eight years he was the best friend I had and I felt we communicated on many levels in ways that were mysterious to all others, including Catherine, the woman he eventually married.
Our alliance continued through various moves east and west . . . we wound up in Vancouver and at the end of the decade there was a betrayal that pretty much ended our friendship. I won’t say what this betrayal consisted of till all relevant parties, including myself, are dead.
Dick created for himself a persona named P. X. Belinsky. A book of P. X. Belinsky’s poems was published by bill bissett’s blewointment press but mainly he wrote long letters to the editor and I suspect there were essays, treatises, and diatribes unpublished and unseen by anyone. But he was most famous for showing up drunk and disrupting political meetings and literary gatherings. He made some enemies this way. He had so many friends that he probably needed a few enemies. I don’t think there was anyone he ever met upon who he didn’t make an everlasting impression. He was utterly brilliant and completely mad and, when drunk, a consummate asshole. He was hospitalized a few times and drank remorselessly, exploding in fits of rage now and then. He wound up with three or four kids by at least two women. The first of these was a boy with whom I was very close in his first years but now seems to want nothing to do with me. I’m not sure why. From 1970 onwards Dick and I had little to do with each other. I was never able to forgive or forget the betrayal I referred to and as we’d been impossibly close friends before that I sometimes wonder if I had gotten past these events if it would not have saved him somehow. Saved him from what, or for what, I don’t know.
The little I remember of the little I knew goes like this . . . recuperating from a hernia operation, an infection flares up and, living alone, no phone, he dies. Summer of 2003.
There are some photos of his memorial gathering here.
Little known piece of Vancouver cultural history. Having inherited about 4500 dollars, around 1966, Dick decides to open a bookshop. A store on Tenth Avenue, south side of the street just a few doors west of the corner of Alma goes out of business. The Advance Mattress Company. A group of leftist UBC students leases the space for a radical coffee house, changes “mpany” on the window to “ffee House” to create the short-lived but notorious Advance Mattress Coffee House. Dick, or PX, rents half the space for his bookshop, “Belinky’s Postcard”, and he and I take the bus up there every day for a couple of weeks to paint, build shelves, etc. Before a single book enters the store we run out of steam, or money, or sanity, and that was the end of that. So there was no bookshop but this may be an interesting little anecdote nonetheless.