The long read: A search for the strange author of a counterculture classic led to someone else only. Or did it?

Toward the end of the 1960 s, Luke Rhinehart worked as a psychoanalyst in New York and was suffered potent. He lived in a quite suite with a nice look. He practised yoga, read books on Zen, dreamed vaguely of joining a commune but did not dare. As a therapist, he was resolutely nondirective. If a patient who still had not lost his virginity was harassed by brutal impulses 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 calm expression:” You’d like to abuse and kill a little girl ?” No finding. But what he wanted to say was:” Well, is moving forward, then! If what really turns you on is crimes 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 haunted him more and more. His own fictions 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 wife of his colleague Jake Ecstein, who lived across the landing. But as a faithful spouse, he let the idea simmer away in the back of his mind.

So life ploddings on, allay and dull, until one night after a dinner party, when he has had a little too much to drink. Rhinehart accompanies a dice lying on the carpet, a banal playing dice, and gets the idea of throwing it and playing on its teaches. He supposed to say to himself:” If it property on a number from two to six, I’ll do what I would have done anyway: producing the dirty glasses back to the kitchen, brush my teeth, take a double aspirin, go to bed beside my sleep partner, and maybe masturbate discreetly thinking of Arlene. But if I wheel a one, I’ll do what I truly want to do: I know Arlene’s at home alone tonight, so I’ll go across the hall, knock on her opening and slept with her .”

The dice tracts on one. Rhinehart hesitates, feeling vaguely that he is standing on a doorstep: if he spans it, his life could change. But “its not” his decision, it is the dice’s, so he obeys. Arlene opens the door in a negligee; she is astonished but not put under. When Rhinehart comes back home two unusually pleasant hours later, he realises that he has changed. He did something he wouldn’t usually do.

From now on, he always consults the dice. Since it has six areas, he returns it six options. The first is to do what he has always done. The five others depart more or less plainly from this routine. Once it has been subjected to the dice, even the most anodyne choice- that of a film, a restaurant- opens a enormous display of possibilities for putting your number behind you.

His selections soon become more audacious. Going somewhere he would never go, getting to know beings he would otherwise never gratify. He pushes his patients to leave their families and jobs, to change their political and sex directions. His reputation suffers, but Rhinehart does not care. What he likes , now, is doing the exact opposite of what he is usually do: putting salt in his coffee, running in a tuxedo, going to work in shorts, pee-pee in the flowerpots, moving downward, sleeping under his bed. His wife locates him strange, but he says it is a psychological experiment, and she gives herself be lulled into believing it. Until the working day he gets the idea of initiating his children.

One weekend when their mother is not there, Rhinehart gets his little son and daughter to play this apparently innocent game: you write six things you would like to do on a piece of paper, and the dice choice one of them. It all goes well at the start: they snack ice cream, go to the zoo. Then his son becomes bolder and says that one thing he would like to do is exit beat up a boy who imperfections him at institution.” OK, write it down ,” Rhinehart says, and “thats what” the dice rollers. The son belief his father won’t do him go through with it, but his papa says:” Go onward .” The boy goes to his friend’s place, smacks him several times, and comes back to the house with his eyes glistening and expects:” Where are the dice, Dad ?”

That builds Rhinehart stop and think: if his son so naturally accepts this method of being, it is because he is not yet entirely warped by the absurd notion that it is good for children to develop a coherent reference. What if they were brought up differently, opening pride of place to contradiction, multiplicity and relentless alteration? Luke earnestly reputes of freeing his son from the frightful tyranny of the ego and realizing him the first man altogether subject to chance. Then his wife returns and discovers what has been going on. Not finding it funny in the least, she leaves Rhinehart and takes the children with her.

Next, it is his profession that Rhinehart vacates, after shame himself( on the dice’s instructions) at an night with the cream of New York psychoanalysts. With no category, 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, because they guided counter to his preferences, his passions, his whole personality. But that’s just it: the personality- the sorry, inessential temperament- 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 roster of options. When the dice tells him to do it, Rhinehart is forced to draw up a index of six potential preys, in which he courageously includes his two children. Luckily for him, he is saved that particular ordeal: the dice simply asks that he kill one of his former patients.

If you believe his autobiography, he went through with it, although certain commentators incredulity it. What seems so certain is that having ruined his vocation, his family life and his reputation, Rhinehart was ready to become a prophet, and that is what he did. In these times when “the worlds largest” paradoxical cares flourished from one line-up of the US to the other, a guru with a dice had every chance of alluring followers. So he demonstrates the Middle for Experimentations in Totally Random Environments, where you enrol of your own free will but accept not to leave until the experimentation is over. In time, students are expected to commit to roleplays of running spans: you roster six personality types and for 10 times, an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year, adopt the one that the dice decides.

Some of the partisans of dice therapy travelled insane. Others died or ended up in prison. Some, it seems, reached a state of nirvana. During their short reality, Rhinehart’s centres became as appalling as Timothy Leary’s parishes: local schools of chaos posing as serious a threat to civilisation as socialism or the satanism of Charles Manson, as the conservative newspapers had it. The purpose of the undertaking is shrouded in obscurity. It is said that Rhinehart was arrested by the FBI, that he spent 20 years in a mental hospital. Or that he died. Or that he never existed at all.


Everything I have just told comes from a notebook, 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 terribly hesitant teenage with long fuzz, an afghan jacket and little round glasses. For a while, I went around with a dice in my pocket, counting on it to give me the self-confidence I absence with girlfriends.( Not that it worked too well .) The Dice Man is the kind of volume that is not simply satisfies readers but likewise leaves them a determine of rules for life: a manual for subversion.

It was not clear whether the book was myth or autobiography, but its author, Luke Rhinehart, had the same name as his hero and, like him, he was a psychiatrist. According to the back cover, he lived in Majorca- apparently the ideal refuge for a oracle at the end of his tether, who has just managed to escape from his shipwrecked community of maniacs. The times legislated, The Dice Man remained the is the subject of a minor but persistent cult, and each time I met a person who had read it( almost always a pothead, and often a adherent of the I Ching ), these questions was put forward: what was true in the book? Who was Luke Rhinehart? What had become of him?

After The Dice Man was put forward in conference a little 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, generator 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 volumes, but none as successful as The Dice Man, which virtually 50 years after it came out is still a cult classic. Dozens of sites are dedicated to it, and just as numerous mythologies flow about it. Ten meters it was almost adapted for the cinema, but mysteriously the project never came about. Parishes of adherents of the dice still exist across the world. As for the imaginary writer, he lives as a recluse on a remote farm in upstate New York. One particular photo of him induces the rounds: it pictures 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, translates into an invisible serviceman. I decide that I must meet him.


One detail should have warned me that my initial impressions were not quite right: my invisible male has his own website, through which I was able to contact him. He refuted my word in less than an hour, with surprising good grace for a hermit. I wanted to come from France to interview him? What a good sentiment! When I crowded him in on the reason for site visits, he told me that 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 paroles, was an old fart. I took this warning as incorrect modesty.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been in contact with some adherents of the dice on the internet, and on my practice through New York I invite one to dinner. Ron is 30, establishes himself as a conceptual master and metropolitan pirate, and premiers their home communities of dice people who meet every month for what, under all the new-age jargon, seems to be good old-fashioned group copulation, 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 bitternes, but the city plagiarist shows impressed by my boldness: knocking on Luke Rhinehart’s door! Pulling on the tiger’s whiskers! That’s really venturing into the dark side of the Force. I answer questions to judge by the author’s messages, he seems like a neat old-time guy. Ron looks at me pensively, with a touch of kindnes:” A nice age-old person … Sure, why not? Maybe the dice told him to play that capacity for you. But don’t be remembered that a dice has six backs. He’s depicting 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 has the same jagged facets, the same faded off-color sees and the same slightly sarcastic 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 buttocks 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 old-fashioned beach wagon, and as we drive past the orchards and through the woods, I realise that this landscape reminds me of one of my favourite romances: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. My hosts are enchanted: “its one of” their favourites as well, and George has often taught it to his students.

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

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

Really? But on the report of his work …

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

From Hudson we drive for about an hour; he treats the rotate with an abruptness that differentiates with his good humour and attains his wife laugh. It is moving to see how the two adore one another, and when Ann tells me in passing that they have been married for 50 times, I am not surprised.

They live in an age-old farmhouse with a yard that slopes down to a duck pond. They have three grown sons, two of whom live nearby. One is a carpenter and the other is a housepainter; the third largest 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 few months, it wouldn’t be a problem .)

Ann acts us tea, and George and I take our jugs out on to the terrace for the interview. 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, exactly a few cases 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 gazes back on a more or less happy childhood and youth. Good at maths, a bit of an egghead and not adventurous in the least, he contacted 20 without having felt the slightest inventive advocate. At college he began studying psychology, but detected it tedious and instead decided it was better to read novels.

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While working night shift as an apprentice 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 fiction that took place in a mental institution. 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 performs dice regiman. The dice was a quirk the young George picked up in college. He and his friends employed it on Saturdays to decide what they were going to do that night. Sometimes, they dared one another to do stuff: hop-skip around the block on one leg, ring a neighbour’s doorbell , good-for-nothing too mischievous. When I request, hopefully, whether he pushed these experiences further as young adults, he shrugs his shoulders and smiles apologetically because he can tell that I would like something a bit spicier.

“No,” he admits.” All I expected the dice was, for example, if I’d had enough of toiling: do I stay at my table for another hour? Or two hours? Or do I go for a move 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 recollect at least one important decision that the dice reached you take ?”

He giggles, so does she, and he tells me that he had noticed an attractive nanny at the hospital, but was shy and didn’t dare talk to her. The dice shaped him do it: he drove her dwelling, took her to religion, but the church was closed, so he invited her to play tennis. Of track, the attractive harbour was Ann.

Ten years later they had three little boys, and George, who had become an English teacher, shall be used for a activity at the American school in Mallorca. This expatriation is the big adventure 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 largely only hung around with other schoolteachers like himself. Still, he didn’t wholly flee the zeitgeist. He started to read books on psychoanalysis, antipsychiatry, oriental mysticism, Zen- all aspects of 1960 s counterculture, whose grand feeling was that we are situation, and that we must free ourselves from this conditioning. Influenced by this say, he abruptly 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 volumes, he got fired up about what would become The Dice Man. He expended four years writing it, subsidized faithfully by his wife.

George
George Cockcroft with sons Superpowers( 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, erratic life: success in Europe but not in the US, regular new publications and, eventually, sect status. There were disappointments: for one overshadow intellect or another the cinema was never manufactured, and none of his other volumes had the same success. But the rights from The Dice Man allowed them to buy this beautiful mansion, 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 sons came over to celebrate it with their parents. They are good American teenagers: Budweiser drunks, trout fishers, wearers of checkered shirts. Later, their brother came out of his room for a little while. All three told Ann she was ” a fabulous mom “. After dinner, we finished the evening 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 continued to booze while appearing up at the stars, with the result that I don’t fairly remember how I reached it back to my room.

It is strange how much you can project on to a photograph. The one of Luke Rhinehart stimulated me imagine a whole novel: a hazardous, sulphurous life fitted with extravagances, crimes and severs. Bordellos in Mexico, communities of psychopaths in the Nevada desert, hysterical, mind-expanding knows. And this face, the same face with strong bones and attentions of steel, is in fact that of an adorable old man who is approaching the end of a sweetened, comfy life with his adorable wife, a person whose exclusively 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 remembered the warning of Ron, the metropolitan raider. What you attend, the adorable old person, 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 saddened me. So “hes taking” me kayaking on a reservoir, and as our kayaks glided gradually over the pacify ocean, he told me the stories of some of his adherents. What he was content simply to imagine, others did for real. Take the tycoon Richard Branson. He used to say that all of his choices in the enterprises 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 work in which he would follow Rhinehart’s example for three months: make all of your decisions be taken by the dice and write about what happens. The columnist took the naming gravely enough, it seems, to junk his love life and his professional life, and to disappear without a retrace for several months.” A funny person, 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 humiliated. He says “its 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 his life on the dice and who excuses convincingly how he stopped before he went mad, because the dice can drive you mad.

And lo and behold, whom do we find next? His inspiration, our friend George- or rather, our friend Luke, as he was 15 years ago: the Stetson, the gaunt face, the steely sees, handsome, but not at all like the doting grandfather I know. In a low, insinuating, hypnotic spokesperson, he says into the camera:” You precede 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 room is the dice. Let yourself start, submit yourself to it, and you’ll assure, your life will change, you’ll become someone you can’t even imagine .”

Saying this, he looks just like a televangelist, the head of a religion filmed just before his followers perpetrate mass suicide. He is fearing. I turn to look at the person beside me on the couch, the nice pensioner in slippers accommodating his cup 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 chairman insisted.

Ann, who can hear us from the kitchen, shrieks gaily.” You’re watching the film where you play the unnerve ?”

He chuckles, extremely, beside me on the couch. Nevertheless, when I meet him on the screen, I find him extremely convincing.


I met other partisans of the dice over the internet: one in Salt Lake City, one in Munich, one in Madrid. All humanities. In Madrid, Oscar Cuadrado, who came to meet me at international airports, is young, a bit pudgy, and neat. On the best ways to his residence 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 assassin and you’ll find yourself chained to my cellar wall .”

He lives in a stylish house in the suburbiums, 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 surfaces for a liquor, three against: we could just as well have tossed a copper. The answer: right away. Now, do we drink brew, table wine or the bottle that Cuadrado’s saving for his daughter’s 18 th birthday? Two backs for the brew, three for the table wine, and merely one for the special bottle, because though he would open it willing – you don’t refuse the dice- still … Ultimately, it is over a glass of table wine that he shows to me how he uses the dice.

Like everyone, Cuadrado has heard of people who have broke their lives by setting extreme states such as proceeding halfway various regions of the world and never coming back, having sex with swine or jabbing someone at random in a crowded improve terminal in India. Fib like that circulate on all sites dedicated to the dice- including the one he has been succeeding for the past 10 years- but they don’t interest him. He recommends using it in a way that makes life more enjoyable and surprising.

‘Photo
‘ Photo of me and my wife take place within 1956 a few minutes after I had proposed to her ‘: George and Ann. Photograph: Courtesy of George Cockcroft

He has three conventions. The first is to always obey. But obeying the dice is ultimately obeying yourself, since you placed your options. Hence the second rule, concerning the decisive moment when you list the six possibilities. You have to examine yourself and try to find out what you want. It is a spiritual rehearsal, proposed both at getting to know yourself and going a better clasp of the infinite potentials that reality offers. The options you select have to be pleasant, but at least one- the third- has to be something you would not ordinarily do. It “re going to have to” form you overcome resist and break with habit. When you hurl the dice, your desire has to be tinged with fear.

Ever since he detected 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-colored 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 descended on Europe, then, constricting the choices, on Iceland. Fine. Now, how should he inspect it: on foot, by vehicle, hitchhiking, by boat, by bike or on a skateboard? It territory on motorcycle. 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 errand the dice got him to acquire relevant proposals, which was accepted.

For their honeymoon, the young couple travelled to Mauritius- a present from his parents-in-law , not the dice. But formerly there, Cuadrado made up for it. He searched around for something to read, an writer with something to do with Mauritius. The dice chose the poet Malcolm de Chazal. Bingo: he descended totally 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 companionship to change that. He knew nothing about publishing , no more than he had known about bike razzing. But when he drags 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 discovered Malcolm, and now it’s thanks to him that I’ve met you. Funny, isn’t it ?”

Dear Friend , It is our amusement to inform you that Luke Rhinehart is dead . Luke didn’t fear fatality, though he professed to being a bit apprehensive. Death to him was just another one of life’s unknowns, like wander to a new district, starting a brand-new journal, relying a brand-new friend. Luke liked to laugh at death, but then again he liked to laugh at everything. He felt self-confident that demise wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. He promised to report back as soon as he could and make us know what he had obtained. He was confident we would all get a good chuckle out of it. Nonetheless, at this extent we still haven’t heard statement . Some of you have asked about Luke’s last days. They were no different from dates from any week over the last several decades. Parties who come here for him on the basis of his books were sometimes prevented to discover how affixed he was to his dress. Even when he shed the dice, it was always to do more or less the same things . ” It’s not wheel along in the same old-fashioned decorations that is bad in itself ,” he said,” but rather if you’re savour the wheel. If you’re comfy in the egoes you’re rolling together with, then roll on. Most people 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 partner, Ann, was with him to the end .

When I received this email, I was surprised, then sad, then moved. Since I had their numbers, I called Ann to express my condolences. When she picked up the phone, she was as genial as ever, but she sounded a little hastened and said 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 route … But don’t worry: it’s not George who died, it’s Luke .”

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

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

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

Second question: how did his correspondents take the bulletin?

He sacrificed his spiteful little laugh.” Well, a few thought it was in bad taste. Aside from them, some belief:’ 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 new collection 97,196 Statements by Emmanuel Carrere, published by Bodley Head on 14 November and available at guardianbookshop.com

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