The man wasn’t sure what to expect as the transom machine began to hum. Inside the portal, the man could see a kind of shimmering and lots of delicate hardware moving nimbly around a glowing ellipsoid at the center. He heard a change in the machine’s sound, a drop in pitch, and the shimmer began to fade. In the shimmer’s place, sat a slender young man dressed in a purple velour jumpsuit, oversized sneakers with the laces undone, an unkempt afro, with a black stratocaster slung over his arm.
The partition evaporated and the man, now nervous as company was rare in his quarters, managed to say, “Hey.”
The guitarist in the machine responded, “Hey.” And he moved his head in a way that the man recognized instantly from watching hours of concert footage.
Suddenly the man smelled the guitarist: intense and earthy, it stung the man’s nose, and yet he found it pleasant — familiar.
The guitarist rose from his stool and entered the man’s quarters. “So this is your crib? Far out, man.”
The man responded, nervously, as if he were being interrogated by a patrolman at a checkpoint. “Yes. I’m sorry for the mess. I don’t have many people over.”
The guitarist spotted the man’s gear, a stack of amplifiers set against the wall. Now he was excited. “Hey man, let’s jam!” And with that the guitarist headed towards the amps, extending a long cord in his hand, ready to plug in.
“It’s too late to play…neighbors.” The man said gesturing vaguely at the walls and ceiling of his cramped room.
“Why’d you bring me over if we can’t jam?”
“I never even thought about it. I guess I just wanted to see if you were, you know,” the man paused, “real.”
“Listen, cat, you know I ain’t real, what you wanted to know was, how real am I. And you’re only gonna find that out if we jam.”
“But I want to know what it feels like, to play like that. Can’t you tell me?”
“Man, you can already hear how it feels, that’s the blues. Problem is you don’t got nothing to be blue about, sitting around in this a-part-ment.” The guitarist mockingly overstressed the syllables in the last word. After a moment the guitarist said, “You don’t have a lady, do you?”
“You ever had one?”
“It’s not the same now; there’s a registration process. I’d really rather not.”
This seemed to interest the guitarist. His eyebrows rose, again, in a way the man recognized from a thousand black-and-white photos. “What’s it like now?” the guitarist asked. “How do you reg-is-ter?” Again he overstressed the syllables, this time putting air quotes around the last word.
“Well, you have to have a good computer,” the man said, “and I don’t make enough money to buy one. Slower computers are limited to certain tracts of the net, mostly burnouts, enfeebled, or destitute. No one you’d want to meet.”
“Don’t be so sure,” the guitarist said slyly.
The transom machine emitted a pleasant tone, indicating the visit had two remaining minutes unless the man had more money to deposit, but he needed to eat.
“So where do you go next?” the man asked, at a loss.
“No idea, but I hope they’re ready to jam,” the guitarist said pointedly.
“Yeah, right.” The man looked down.
“Listen to the records, you can hear how it feels, and look inside yasef right now, you can feel it, can’t ya?”
The man sort of checked his insides, his guts, his heart. Nothing.
With that realization, the guitarist dematerialized in a dazzling shimmer, leaving only a funky smell.
DAVID GILL teaches writing and literature at San Francisco State University where he specializes in the life and work of Philip K. Dick. He blogs all things Dickian at totaldickhead.blogspot.com and spent last summer helping annotate Dick’s religious notes published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick by Houghton Mifflin. David lives in Oakland with kids, cats, and guitars.