The long read: A sought for the mysterious writer of a counterculture classic led to someone else alone. Or did it?

Toward the end of the 1960 s, Luke Rhinehart worked as a psychoanalyst in New York and was accepted potent. He lives in a quite apartment with a neat thought. He performed yoga, read books on Zen, dreamed vaguely of joining a commune but did not dare. As a healer, he was resolutely nondirective. If a patient who still had not lost his virginity was beset by sadistic inclinations and said on Rhinehart’s couch that he would like to rape and kill a little girl, his professional ethics pressured him to repeat with a allay singer:” You’d like to abuse and kill a little girl ?” No judgment. But what he wanted to tell you was:” Well, is moving forward, then! If what actually turns you on is abusing and killing a little girl, then stop boring me with this fantasy. Do it !”

He checked himself before coming out with such monstrosities, but they preoccupied him more and more. His own imaginations were nothing extreme- not enough to get him sent to prison- but like everybody else, he stopped himself going through with them. What Luke would have liked, for example, was to sleep with Arlene, the partner of his colleague Jake Ecstein, who lived across the landing. But as a faithful husband, he gave the idea simmer away in the back of his mind.

So life ploddings on, calm and grim, until one nighttime after a dinner party, when he has had a little too much to booze. Rhinehart finds a dice lying on the carpet, a banal playing dice, and gets the idea of throwing it and playing on its rules. He supposed to say to himself:” If it property on a number from two to six, I’ll do what I would have done regardles: bring the dirty glasses back to the kitchen, brush my teeth, take a double aspirin, go to bed beside my sleeping bride, and maybe masturbate discreetly thinking of Arlene. But if I roll a one, I’ll do what I certainly want to do: I know Arlene’s at home alone tonight, so I’ll go across the hall, knock on her door and sleep with her .”

The dice grounds on one. Rhinehart hesitates, feeling vaguely that he is standing on a threshold: if he crosses it, his life could change. But it is not his decision, it is the dice’s, so he obeys. Arlene opens the door in a negligee; she is stunned but not put out. When Rhinehart comes back home two exceedingly pleasant hours later, he realises that he has changed. He “ve done something” he wouldn’t commonly do.

From now on, he ever consults the dice. Since it has six sides, he imparts it six options. The first is to do what he has always done. The five others depart more or less decidedly from this number. Once it has been subjected to the dice, even the most anodyne choice- that of a cinema, a eatery- opens a immense display of possibilities for putting your procedure behind you.

His selects soon become more impudent. Going somewhere he would never get, getting to know people he would otherwise never gratify. He pushes his patients to leave their families and jobs, to change their political and sex orientations. His reputation suffers, but Rhinehart does not care. What he likes , now, is doing the exact opposite of what he would normally do: putting salt in his coffee, jogging in a tuxedo, going to work in shorts, pissing in the flowerpots, treading backward, sleeping under his bunked. His wife finds him strange, but he says it is a mental venture, and she makes herself be lulled into believing it. Until the working day he gets the idea of initiate his children.

One weekend when their mom is not there, Rhinehart goes his little boy and girl to play this apparently innocent game: you write six things he wishes to do on a piece of paper, and the dice prefers one of them. It all goes well at the start: they chew ice cream, go to the zoo. Then his son becomes bolder and says that one thing he would like to do is get beat up a boy who imperfections him at institution.” OK, write it down ,” Rhinehart says, and “thats what” the dice buns. The son anticipates “his fathers” won’t oblige him go through with it, but his papa says:” Go onward .” The boy goes to his friend’s place, punches him several times, and comes back to the house with his eyes glowing and questions:” Where are the dice, Dad ?”

That realise Rhinehart stop and think: if his son so naturally borrows this course of being, it is because he is not yet wholly warped by the absurd notion that it is good for children to develop a coherent reputation. What if they were brought up differently, returning pride of place to contradiction, multiplicity and relentless change? Luke seriously belief of free-spoken his son from the dreadful oppression of the ego and becoming him the first man solely subject to chance. Then his wife returns and discovers what has been going on. Not knowing it funny in the least, she leaves Rhinehart and takes the children with her.

Next, it is his profession that Rhinehart abandons, after disgrace himself( on the dice’s educations) at an night with the ointment of New York psychoanalysts. With no clas, act or personal ties, he is free to move from transgression to transgression. Eventually, the day comes when the dice pushes him to do things that he had not only never dared to do, but didn’t want to do, since they were flowed counter to his smells, his passions, his whole personality. But that’s just it: the personality- the dismal, inessential personality- is the enemy to be done away with, the conditioning that you have to free yourself from.

Sooner or later, he could not forestalled writing “murder” on his listing of options. When the dice tells him to do it, Rhinehart is forced to draw up a listing of six potential martyrs, in which he courageously includes his two children. Luckily for him, he is spared that particular ordeal: the dice simply necessitates that he kill one of his former patients.

If you believe his autobiography, he went through with it, although particular commentators incredulity it. What seems so particular is that having broke his vocation, his family life and his honour, Rhinehart was ready to become a prophet, and that is what he did. In these years when “the worlds largest” paradoxical cares prospered from one slope of the US to the other, a leader with a dice had every chance of attracting partisans. So he launches the Core for Experimentations in Totally Random Environments, where you enrol of your own free will but initiate not to leave until the venture is over. In time, students are expected to commit to roleplays of going durations: you list six personality types and for 10 times, an hour, a era, a week, a few months, or a year, adopting such one that the dice decides.

Some of the admirers of dice regiman went crazed. Others died or ended up in prison. Some, it seems, reached a state of nirvana. During their short life, Rhinehart’s centres became as unseemly as Timothy Leary’s parishes: a school of chaos posing as serious a threat to civilisation as socialism or the satanism of Charles Manson, as the republican newspapers had it. The end of the adventure is shrouded in obscurity. It is said that Rhinehart was arrested by the FBI, that “hes spent” 20 times in a psychiatric hospital. Or that he died. Or that he never existed at all.


Everything I have just told comes from a book, The Dice Man, published in the US in 1971 and translated into French the following year. I was 16 when I discovered it, as a atrociously timid adolescent with long fuzz, an afghan coat and little round glass. For a while, I went around with a dice in my pocket, counting on it to give me the self-confidence I scarcity with girls.( Not that it worked too well .) The Dice Man is the various kinds of notebook that not only delights readers but also commits them a prepare of rules for life: a manual for subversion.

It was not clear whether the book was story or autobiography, but its author, Luke Rhinehart, had the same name as his hero and, like him, he was a psychiatrist. Harmonizing to the back cover, he lived in Majorca- seemingly the ideal refuge for a oracle at the end of his tether, who has just managed to escape from his shipwrecked parish of madmen. The times transferred, The Dice Man is still is the subject of a minor but persistent cult, and each time I converged someone who had read it( almost always a pothead, and often a admirer of the I Ching ), the same questions came up: what was true in the book? Who was Luke Rhinehart? What had become of him?

After The Dice Man came up in communication a bit while back, I started to wonder once again what had become of Luke Rhinehart. In an hour online, of course, I learned more about Rhinehart than I had in 30 years of idle conjecture.

Luke
Luke Rhinehart, author of The Dice Man Photograph: Sarah Lee/ The Guardian

His real name is George Cockcroft, and though no longer young, he is alive. He has written other notebooks, but nothing as successful as The Dice Man, which almost 50 years after it came out is still a cult classic. Dozens of locates are dedicated to it, and just as many mythologies run about it. Ten periods it was almost adapted for the cinema, but mysteriously the project never came about. Parishes of partisans of the dice still exist across the world. As for the mythological columnist, he lives as a hermit on a remote farm in upstate New York. One particular photo of him constructs the rounds: it indicates a sarcastic, scrawny face under a stetson. I imagine Luke Rhinehart as something like Carlos Castaneda, William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon reeled into one: an icon of the most radical subversion, transformed into an invisible being. I decides that I are required to comply with him.


One detail should have warned me that my initial feelings were not quite right: my invisible boy has his own website, through which I was able to contact him. He reacted my theme in less than an hour, with surprising good goodnes for a hermit. I wanted to come from France to interview him? What a good idea! When I crowded him in on the reason for site visits, he said he hoped he was not going to disappoint me: on my sought for Luke Rhinehart I was going to meet George Cockcroft, and George Cockcroft, in his own terms, was an old fart. I took this warning as false modesty.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in contact with some adherents of the dice on the internet, and on my behavior through New York I invite one to dinner. Ron is 30, innovates himself as a conceptual master and metropolitan plagiarist, and leaders their home communities of dice people who meet every month for what, under all the new-age jargon, seems to be good old radical sex, where the dice above all decides who will be on top, who on the bottom and so on. No such thing is planned for the days when I will be there, I learn a little to my regret, but the metropolitan raider shows impressed by my boldness: knocking on Luke Rhinehart’s opening! Pulling on the tiger’s “hairs-breadths”! That’s really venturing into the dark side of the Force. I answer that to judge by the author’s messages, he seems like a neat age-old guy.

Ron looks at me pensively, with a touch of pity:” A neat old person … Sure, why not? Maybe the dice ordered him to play that character for you. But don’t be remembered that a dice has six surfaces. He’s proving you one, you don’t know what’s behind the other five, or when he’ll decide to reveal them …”


The man waiting for me when I arrive in Hudson in upstate New York is wearing the same Stetson as he is in that photograph. He got the same jagged boasts, the same faded blue-blooded seeings and the same slightly sardonic smile. He is towering and has a bit of a slouch; you could even find him ominous, but when I hold out my hands, he gives me a big hug, kisses me on both cheeks as if I were his son and interposes me to his wife, Ann, who is just as warm and welcoming as he is.

We all pile into their age-old beach wagon, and as we drive past the orchards and through the timbers, I realise that this landscape reminds me of one of my favourite romances: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. My hosts are enchanted: it is one of their favourites as well, and George has often learnt it to his students.

To his students? He is not a psychiatrist, or a psychoanalyst?

” Psychiatrist? Psychoanalyst ?” George reproduces, as stunned as if I said here today cosmonaut. No, “hes never” a psychiatrist, he has been a college English teacher all his life.

Really? But on the cover-up of his journal …

George shrugs as if to say, editors, columnists, you are aware, there is almost nothing they won’t write.

From Hudson we drive for about an hour; he manages the wheel with an abruptness that opposes with his good humour and induces his wife laugh. It is moving to see how the two love each other, and when Ann tells me in passing that they have been married for 50 times, I am not surprised.

They live in an old-time farmhouse with a yard that ascent down to a duck pond. They have three grown boys, two of whom live nearby. One is a carpenter and the other is a housepainter; the third still lives at home. He is schizophrenic, Ann tells me matter-of-factly; he is doing fine at the moment, but I shouldn’t worry if I hear him speaking a little aloud in his room, which is right beside the guest room where I will be staying.( I invited myself for the weekend, but I get the feeling that if I wanted to settle in for a few weeks or a month, it wouldn’t be a problem .)

Ann serves us tea, and George and I take our jugs out on to the terrace for the interrogation. He has swapped his Stetson for a baseball cap, and I ask him to tell me about his life. He starts from the beginning.

He was born in 1932 in Albany, precisely a few miles from where he now lives and where, in all likelihood, he will die. Semi-rural middle-class, hit hard by the Depression, in spite of which he ogles back on a more or less happy childhood and youth. Good at maths, a little of an egghead and not intrepid in the least, he reached 20 without having felt the slightest imaginative advocate. At college he began studying psychology, but encountered it tedious and instead decided it was better to read novels.

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While working night shifts as an intern in a infirmary on Long Island, he relished Mark Twain, Herman Melville and the great 19 th-century Russian columnists. He started working on a tale that took place in a mental hospital. The hero is a young man who has been interned because he thinks he is Jesus, and among the hospital staff is a doctor reputation Luke Rhinehart, who practises dice regiman. The dice was a quirk the young George picked up in college. He and his friends exploited it on Saturdays to decide what they were going to do that night. Sometimes, they dared each other to do nonsense: hop around the block on one leg, echoing a neighbour’s doorbell , good-for-nothing more spiteful. When I ask, hopefully, whether he pushed these experiences further as an adult, he shrugs his shoulders and smiles apologetically because he can tell that I would like something a little spicier.

“No,” he acknowledges.” All I expected the dice was, for example, if I’d had enough of working: do I stay at my table for another hour? Or two hours? Or do I go for a walk right away ?”

” What are you talking about ?” says Ann, who has come on to the terrace to offer us some blueberry crumble.” Don’t you remember at least one important decision that the dice drew you take ?”

He laughs, so does she, and he tells me that he had noticed an attractive wet-nurse at research hospitals, but was shy and didn’t dare talking about here her. The dice manufactured him do it: he drove her dwelling, took her to faith, but the church was closed, so he invited her to play tennis. Of direction, the attractive wet-nurse was Ann.

Ten years later they had three little boys, and George, who had become an English teacher, shall be used for a profession at the American school in Mallorca. This expatriation is the big-hearted escapade of their own lives. Although Mallorca in the 1960 s was associated with psychedelia and wild living, George didn’t take narcotics, was faithful to his wife, and chiefly just hung around with other educators like himself. Still, he didn’t entirely flee the zeitgeist. He started to read books on psychoanalysis, antipsychiatry, oriental mysticism, Zen- each element of 1960 s counterculture, whose grand theory was that we are provisioned, and that it is necessary free ourselves from this conditioning. Influenced by this learning, he suddenly became aware of the revolutionary potential of something he had thought of as no more than a simple game, and had more or less given up since his adolescence. Although he had also long ago given up on the idea of writing books, he got fired up about what would become The Dice Man. He spent four years writing it, supported faithfully by his wife.

George
George Cockcroft with sons Influences( left) and Chris in Mallorca in 1972. Photograph: Courtesy of George Cockcroft

Much to their surprise, an writer paid good coin for the book, and the rights were sold to Paramount. Then The Dice Man started to live its erratic, unpredictable life: success in Europe but not in the US, regular new copies and, eventually, religion status. There were chagrins: for one obscure reasonablenes or another the movie was never obliged, and none of his other notebooks had the same success. But the rights from The Dice Man allowed them to buy this beautiful home, and to age with dignity- George writing, Ann painting, both of them caring for their son with schizophrenia.

The day I called was Mother’s Day, and the two other boys came over to celebrate it with their parents. They are good American boys: Budweiser drunks, trout fishers, wearers of checkered shirts. Later, their friend came out of his room for a short while. All three told Ann she was ” a fabulous mama “. After dinner, we finished the night at the house of one of their sons, also in the middle of the countryside. He has an outdoor jacuzzi, in which George and I continues to suck while appearing up at the stars, with research results that I don’t fairly remember how I moved it back to my room.

It is strange how much you can project on to a photograph. The one of Luke Rhinehart constructed me imagine a whole novel: a hazardous, sulphurous life fitted with excesses, infractions and ruptures. Bordellos in Mexico, communities of loonies in the Nevada desert, delirious, mind-expanding suffers. And this face, the same face with strong bones and sees of steel, is in fact that of an adorable old man who is approaching the end of a sweet, cozy life with his adorable wife, a person whose merely departure from the norm was to have written this alarming book, and who in his old age must softly, gently explain to people who come to see him that you must not confuse it with him, and that he is simply a novelist.

Really? But what did I know about the reality? I recollected the warning of Ron, the urban raider. What you find, the adorable old man, is just one side of the dice. It is the side that the dice ordered him to show you, but at least five others are in reserve.


At breakfast I could see that George was worried he had disheartened me. So he took me kayaking on a lagoon, and as our kayaks skipped slowly over the allay liquid, he told me the stories of some of his devotees. What he was content merely to imagine, others did for real. Take the tycoon Richard Branson. He used to say that all of his alternatives in business and in life had been taken thanks to the dice, influenced by Luke Rhinehart.

Then there was the British gonzo journalist Ben Marshall who, in the 1990 s, took on an job in which he would follow Rhinehart’s example for 3 month: give all of your decisions be taken by the dice and write about what happens. The journalist took the allocation severely enough, it seems, to trash his love life and his professional life, and to disappear without a tracing for several months.” A funny guy, that Ben ,” George tells me.” You can see him in Diceworld, a documentary made by an English TV channel in 1999.”

I had never heard of this documentary and ask if George has a copy we can watch. All of a sudden he ogles flustered. He says it is not great, and he is not sure he even has it. But I insist, and in no time we are sitting on the living room couch in front of the big-hearted Tv and the film starts. It is true, “its not” enormous. But it does show Marshall, who volunteered to gamble their own lives on the dice and who interprets convincingly how he stopped before he went mad, because the dice can drive you mad.

And lo and saw, whom do we check next? His inspiration, our friend George- or rather, our friend Luke, as he was 15 year ago: the Stetson, the scrawny face, the steely sees, handsome, but not at all like the doting grandfather I know. In a low-pitched, insinuating, hypnotic voice, he says into the camera:” You produce a dull life, a life of slavery, a life that doesn’t satisfy you, but there’s a way to get out of it. This way is the dice. Let yourself become, defer yourself to it, and you’ll meet, your life will change, you’ll become someone you can’t even imagine .”

Saying this, he looks a lot like a televangelist, heads of state of a religion filmed just before his admirers devote mass suicide. He is startling. I turn to look at the person beside me on the couch, the nice pensioner in slippers propping his jug of herbal tea. He gives me an flustered, apologetic smile and says that the Luke in this film is not him. He, George, wasn’t so keen on it, but the head insisted.

Ann, who can hear us from the kitchen, titters gaily.” You’re watching the movie where you play the frighten ?”

He laughs, very, beside me on the couch. Nevertheless, when I learn him on the screen, I find him excessively convincing.


I met other partisans of the dice over the internet: one in Salt Lake City, one in Munich, one in Madrid. All males. In Madrid, Oscar Cuadrado, who came to meet me at the airport, is young, a bit pudgy, and nice. On the best way to his neighbourhood in his 4×4, he made what was by now a familiar joke:” I may look nice, but you never know what the dice’s got in store for tonight: maybe I’m a serial murderer and you’ll find yourself chained to my cellar wall .”

He lives in a stylish house in the suburbs, together with his wife and daughter, and without further ado we sat at a lawn counter and consulted the dice: do we have a drink right away, or do we wait until we have done the interrogation? Three line-ups for a boozing, three against: we could just as well have tossed a silver. The reaction: right away. Now, do we drink brew, table wine or the bottle that Cuadrado’s saving for his daughter’s 18 th birthday? Two surfaces for the beer, three for the table wine, and just one for the special bottle, because though he would open it happily – you don’t refuse the dice- still … Ultimately, it is over a glass of table wine that he clarifies to me how he uses the dice.

Like everyone, Cuadrado has heard of people who have spoilt their lives by setting extreme ailments such as extending halfway around the world and never coming back, having fornication with swine or jabbing person at random in a crowded develop station in India. Floor like that circulate on all sites dedicated to the dice- including the one he has been administering for the past 10 times- but they don’t interest him. He recommended to it in a way that constitutes life more enjoyable and surprising.

‘Photo
‘ Photo of me and my bride taken in 1956 a few minutes after I had proposed to her ‘: George and Ann. Photograph: Courtesy of George Cockcroft

He has three rules. The first is to always obey. But obeying the dice is ultimately obeying yourself, since you defined your options. Hence the second rule, concerning the decisive moment when you roster the six alternatives. You have to examine yourself and try to find out what you want. It is a spiritual employ, purported both at getting to know yourself and getting a better comprehend of the infinite possibilities that actuality offers. The options you select have to be pleasant, but at least one- the third- has to be something you would not usually do. It “re going to have to” construct you overcome resistance and break with habit. When you throw the dice, your desire has to be tinged with fear.

Ever since he discovered the Spanish translation of The Dice Man when he was 17, this kind of tiny challenge has been second nature to Cuadrado. Like his father, he is a tax lawyer, but thanks to the dice he has also become a wine importer, a webmaster, a Go teacher, a fan of Iceland and the publisher of the Mauritian poet Malcolm de Chazal. How’s that? Well, first he thought it would be good to get to know a foreign country. Six continents, six options. The dice fell on Europe, then, constricting the choices, on Iceland. Fine. Now, how should he call it: on foot, by car, hitchhiking, by boat, by bicycle or on a skateboard? It property on bicycle. The only question: he had never ridden one before. So he learned, toured Iceland by bike, and even went back with the young woman who would become his wife. On this trip the dice get him to form the proposal, which was accepted.

For their honeymoon, the young couple travelled to Mauritius- a present from his parents-in-law , not the dice. But once there, Cuadrado made up for it. He seemed around for something to read, an author with something to do with Mauritius. The dice chose the poet Malcolm de Chazal. Bingo: he descended entirely in love with De Chazal, a creole surrealist whom the artist Andre Breton was crazy about. Seeing that De Chazal had not been translated into Spanish, when Cuadrado got back from his honeymoon he founded a publishing corporation to change that. He knew nothing about publishing , no more than he had known about bike going. But where reference is pullings the books from his shelf, I can understand why he is proud: they are magnificent. He summing-up up:” It’s through Luke that I detected Malcolm, and now it’s thanks to him that I’ve met you. Funny, isn’t it ?”

***

Dear Friend , It is our solace inform members that Luke Rhinehart is dead . Luke didn’t fear extinction, though he confessed to being a bit nervous. Death to him was just another one of life’s unknowns, like hurtle to a brand-new region, starting a new book, trusting a new friend. Luke liked to laugh at death, but then again he liked to laugh at everything. He felt self-confident that extinction wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He promised to report back as soon as he could and give us know what he had noted. He was confident we would all get a good chuckle out of it. However, at this part we still haven’t heard statement . Some of you have asked about Luke’s last days. They were no different from epoches from any week over the last various decades. Beings who came to see him on the basis of the results of his volumes were sometimes depressed to discover how fixed he was to his practices. Even when he hurled the dice, it was always to do more or less the same things . ” It’s not rolling along in the same old-fashioned decorations that is bad in itself ,” he said,” but preferably if you’re bask the rolling. If you’re comfortable in the souls you’re wheel together with, then roll on. Most beings aren’t. They don’t like who they are. It’s with them in mind that I wrote all those things about the dice. But I’m fine as I am .” Luke’s spouse, Ann, was with him to the end .

When I received this email, I was stunned, then heartbreaking, then propelled. Since I had their number, I announced Ann to express my condolences. When she picked up the phone, she was as cordial as ever, but she voiced a bit hurried and told me that she would elapse me on to George. I stuttered something about the email I had only been received, and she refuted like someone who was used to this sort of little misreading:” Oh, the email! Of track … But don’t worry: it’s not George who died, it’s Luke .”

When he got on the line, George showed:” Yeah, I was get a little tired of Luke. I’m getting older, you know. I still sexual love: receiving what the weather’s like when I look out the window in the morning, doing the gardening, making love, get kayaking, but I am less interested in my profession, and my occupation was basically Luke. I wrote that letter for Ann to send it to my reporters when I died. I kept it in a file for two years, and one day I decided to send it .”

I asked him two more questions. The first: before transport this email, did he heave the dice?

” Oh , no, that didn’t even occur to me ,” said George.” The dice can be used when you don’t know what you miss. But when you know, what use is it ?”

Second question: how did his correspondents take the report?

He threw his mischievous little laugh.” Well, a few thought it was in bad taste. Aside from them, some speculation:’ That’s George !’ And others:’ That’s Luke !’

” And you, what do you think ?”

This is an abridged form of” In Search of the Dice Man”, an essay from a brand-new collection 97,196 Terms by Emmanuel Carrere, published by Bodley Head on 14 November and available at guardianbookshop.com

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