Tag Archives: Robert Shea

Horseman, Pass By

Horseman, Pass By

by Robert Anton Wilson


from Green Egg, Vol. 27, No. 107
Winter 1994-5

 [Editor’s Note: This Winter marks the one year anniversary of Robert Shea’s Cross­ing. In fond memory of his entertaining and heretical writings, we bring you the following article:]

 In a procedure that had grown habitual in the last year, I made my coffee as soon as I woke up (grinding my own gourmet beans: a ritual in honor of Epicurus) and then carried it to the phone alcove. I dialed Bob Shea’s hospital num­ber and recited a bawdy limerick to make him laugh. But his voice sounded weaker than ever, and I had that terrible feeling again, the feeling that I just didn’t know how to do enough to really help.

We talked about NYPD Blue, a new TV show we both liked.

“I’m feeling better,” he finally said in a near-whisper. “A lot better, but I’m tired now.” In retrospect, I don’t know if he wanted to sell some optimism to his own suffering body – to rebuild its immuno­logical defenses with the potent neurochemistry of hope – or if he only said it to spare me further worry and pain, to relieve my anxiety.

The next time I called the Bob Shea Information Line on Voicemail, the message told me he had gone into coma and no more phone calls should be made to the hospital. Even then, I didn’t believe, didn’twant to believe, the truth. When the voicemail message finally changed, after about three more days, and said simply that Bob Shea had died, I went into shock. I should have expected the news, but I didn’t. I had tried to instill hope into Shea and, by contagion, had instilled so much into myself that I had come to expect a miracle.

I sat at the table like a cartoon cat who just got hit with a hammer but doesn’t know it yet and doesn’t know he should fall over. I slowly put down the phone, still unable to believe the truth, still in shock. Shea had seemingly beaten the Big Casino (no new tumors in six months); how could he go and die of the side effects? I looked out the widow. The sun had barely ap­peared – I rise early, with only cinnamon and tangerine streaks coloring the east – but already the breakfast crowd, as I call them, had arrived in my patio. House finches, blackbirds and sparrows hopped and flapped about, pecking at my bird feeder. A mourning dove made its usual grieving sound in a tree, as if it didn’t believe things would ever become less depressing, and a car drove past, invisible behind the patio wall. I still could not make the concepts “Bob Shea” and “death” fit together in my head.

I thought of a grave in Sligo, the wild west of Ireland:


Cast a cold eye

 On life, on death.

 Horseman, pass by.


Another car rumbled in my street, and the mourning dove complained about life’s injustice again. I became abnormally con­scious of Nature outside my glass patio door. Then another damned noisy car went by, racing: some guy late for work maybe.

Bob Shea and I had never seen birds and flowers and trees in the first years when we knew each other, but we had heard a hell of a lot of noisy cars. Our friendship grew in Chicago, amid the rattle and scuttle of industry, the blood-and-shit smell of the stockyards: I remember it as Dali’s (or Daly’s) asphalt purgatory. The friendship became closer when Bob and I inhaled the haze of tear-gas and Mace dur­ing the 1968 Democratic Convention, the one they held behind barbed wire because Mayor Richard P. Daly (emphatically not Dali, although the idea sounds surrealist) decided to prevent Americans from med­dling in their own government.

The protesters chanted, “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, We don’t want your fucking war! Five, six, seven, EIGHT: Organize to smash the State!” Another canister of tear gas exploded nearby and, eyes streaming, Shea and I ran down Michi­gan, cut into a side street, and evaded the clubbing administered to those who couldn’t run as fast as we did. If you want to know what happened to those less fleet of foot than us, you don’t need to call some archive to dig out the 1968 footage; just look at the Rodney King tape again. Cops have simple ideas of fun, which do not change much over the generations.

I counted back, sipping my coffee, and decided Shea and I had known each other for just a few months less than thirty years. A human can grow up in thirty years, from diaper to the first tricycle, to the first orgasm and even to a Ph.D. A human can learn to work at a regular job or learn how to beg on the streets, or court and marry and become a parent, or join the army and get a leg blown off. Most humans in his­tory, before 1900, did not live longer than 30 years. A friendship that long becomes more than friendship. Shea meant as much as any member of my family.

Way back in ’65, when Shea and I both started working for The Playboy Fo­rum/Foundation, we drifted into the habit of lunching together. Soon, we developed the tradition of going to a nearby bar every second Friday (read: payday), and drink­ing a half-dozen Bloody Marys after work while discussing books, movies and every major issue in civil and criminal law, logic, philosophy, politics, religion, and fringescience – insofar as one can distinguish between those two topics or any of the others, which explains why each of us found the other’s ideas so stimulating, and why, in our years, the Playboy Forum dis­cussed more far-out notions than it has before or since.

I remember our WHO OWNS ERIK WHITETHORN? series, in which we pub­licized a woman, Mrs. Whitethorn, who had sued the government for trying to draft her son, Erik, 18. She claimed she owned Erik until he reached 21, and that the gov­ernment could not take him from her. Shea and I gave that case all the coverage we could, since we wanted people to really think about whether an 18-year-old be­longs to himself, to his mother, or to the President (Richard Nixon, in that case.)

Alas, Erik, like many young people, didn’t want to become a tool of his mother’s idealism, and finally ended the debate by willingly enlisting in the Army. (Madalyn Murrary’s son also rebelled against be­coming a battering ram in her assault on Organized Religion.) We had to drop the debate after Erik donned his uniform and went off to napalm little brown people. I like to hope that some Playboy readers of those years still occasionally wonder whether humans belong to themselves, to their parents, or to the State.

Mostly, in the Playboy Forum, we fol­lowed the ACLU’s positions, which Shea and I passionately share (as does Hefner, or he wouldn’t have started the Forum and the Foundation) but often, as in the Whitethorn case, we pushed a bit further and sneaked in some anarcho-pacifist pro­paganda-never in Playboy’s voice, of course, but as the voice of a reader. Some of those “readers” later became more re­nowned as characters in three novels we wrote…

Among my sins, I turned Shea on to Weed. I turned a lot of people on to Weed in those days. I had a Missionary Zeal about it, but now that I think back, so did a lot of others at Playboy in those days. Maybe I should say that I helped turn Bob on to the Herb.

On one gloriously idiotic occasion we got our hands on some super pot from Thailand and had the dumbest conversa­tion of our lives.

“What did you say?” Shea would ask.   I’d grapple with that, but amid mil­lions of new sensations and a rush of Cosmic Insights, I’d lose it before I could find an answer. “What did you say?” I would ask slowly, trying to deal with the problem reasonably.

“I asked… uh… what did you just ask?”

And so on, for what seemed like Hindu yugas or maybe even kalpas. That night inspired the “Islands of Micro-Amnesia” in Illuminatus. Maybe a similar night in­spired the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey?

One payday Friday, when Bob and I sat in our favorite bar consuming our usual Bloody Marys and gobbling our usual pea­nuts, a priest at a near-by table struck up a conversation. Soon he had joined us and I quickly became convinced that I under­stood why the conversation persistently veered toward the Platonic ideal of true love between (male) philosophers. I then pulled one of my nastier pranks. I said I had to get home early, and left Bob to navigate for himself. A half-hour after I arrived home and got out of my shoes, the phone rang. Shea had called and asked me, with awe-as if some­body had killed a goat in the sacristy – “Do you think that priest was a homosexual?”

I admitted the sus­picion had crossed my mind.

“My God,” Shea said. “You really think it’s possible?”

He became much less naive in only a few months after that, since a lot of our Forum/ Foundation work in­volved consultations with the Kinsey Insti­tute. I regard this incident as atypical, and hope it doesn’t make Shea seem ob­tuse, even for a time almost thirty years ago (when the Church brazenly denied all priestly shenanigans and bullied the media into not even printing the cases that got to court). But this adventure had something strangely typical of Bob Shea also, in show­ing a kind of innocence that, in some respects, he never lost.

Shea probably, at that time – still young, remember – would not have be­lieved that Roy Cohn, who made a career of driving Gay men out of government, himself led an active Gay life. Shea took a long time to learn how much deception exists in this world, because he himself always acted honestly. He accordingly thought clergymen who preach celibacy will practice celibacy, and even that politi­cians who call themselves liberals will act and think liberally.

Anyway, that cruising priest caused enough Deep Thought, for Shea and then for me, that he finally became transformed and immortalized as Padre Pederastia in Illuminatus.

Around the time we met the priest, Shea told me that he had remained Catho­lic until the age of 28 (if I remember correctly after all these years. Maybe he said 27 or 29?) Aside from his shock at the thought of gay clerics, he did not seem like somebody newly escaped from Papist thought-control and I never did understand how he had stayed in that church so long.

(Having quit Rome at 14, like James Joyce, I had assumed all intelligent people go out at around that age…) Shea never did ex­plain why he stayed in so long, but he once told me, in bitter detail, why he finally bailed out.

His first wife, it appears, went totally mad shortly after the wedding. After a lot of agony and psychiatric consultation, Bob finally accepted the verdict that he had married an incurable schizophrenic. He found it more than he could handle, and sought an annulment, which led to a meet­ing with a monsignor.

To Shea’s horror, neither psychiatric evidence nor any other evidence nor church law itself had anything to do with the monsignor’s conversation. The monsignor only wanted to know how much cash money Bob could pay for an annulment. Shea offered as much as he could afford, as a young man beginning at the bottom of the magazine industry, in a cheesy imita­tion of Playboy. The monsignor told him to go home and think hard about how to raise more money. End of interview.

Shea got a civil divorce and never went into a Catholic church again. Still, when I first knew him (only five or six years after he quit the Church) he consid­ered abortion a criminal act – and didn’t know that gay priests existed. He learned a lot, in those wild last years of the ’60s, and he learned it fast. His Kennedy liberalism got gassed to death by Daly’s storm troop­ers and he became another fucking wild anarchist, like me.

I remember one night when we got stoned together (Bob and his wife, Yvonne, and Arlen and me) and looked at Franken­stein Meets the Wolf Man on TV. They still had cigarette commercials in those days and one of them, that night, showed a guy and a gal walking in a woodland and passing a lovely waterfall etc. As they lit up their ciggies, the slogan said, “You can take Salem out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of Salem.” I guess they wanted us to get the association “Smoking Salems = breathing good fresh country air.” As soon as the commercial ended, Lon Chaney Jr. came back on screen and started suffering acutely (remember his expressive eyes?) as he turned into a wolf. “You can take the man out of the jungle,” I said with stoned solemnity, “but you can’t take the jungle out of the man.” Like most of my marijuana whimsies, that went down my Memory Hole and I forgot it immediately.

Imagine my astonishment when the complex Darwin/Wolf Man, Salems and all, showed up in Illuminatus. Shea hadn’t forgotten.

In 1971, after we finished Illuminatus, I quit Playboy in the midst of some mid­life hormone re-adjustment. I didn’t understand it that way at the time; I just decided that I could not live out the second half of my life as an editor (read wage slave) who only wrote occasionally; I had to become a full-time-free-lance writer, or bust.

Instead, I became a full-time writer and busted. It took 5 years to get the Shea-Wilson opus into print and meanwhile Arlen and I and our children damned near starved: but that’s another story. While we wandered about, looking for the least hor­rible place to live in poverty, Shea and I started writing to each other almost every week. Later, as we both became more “commercial” and hence busier, the letters dropped to two a month or fewer, some­times; but for 23 years we wrote about every important idea in the world and filled enough paper for several volumes. I hope some of that will get published some day.

When Playboy fired him, Shea en­dured terrible anxiety about keeping his house, and dashed off a few novel outlines while looking for another job. He sold his first novel before finding a job and never stopped writing again. I still treasure his comment on why the Bunny Warren cast him out. “I worked hard and was loyal to the company for ten years.” he wrote. “I guess that deserves some punishment.”

Whenever I had a lecture gig in or near Chicago, Shea invited me to stay at his house. Yvonne always went to bed early and Shea and I talked and talked and talked for hours, just the way we did in the early days of our friendship. I always felt that Yvonne didn’t like Shea’s literary friends, but I never took it personally.

And then, suddenly, Yvonne left him for a much younger man, and I don’t know (or really want to know) about the details. I worried for a while that Bob would die of depression, and I shared in empathy the vast waste-land he must have felt around him, 60 years old, alone in a big house, and dumped by a wife who ran off with a young stud who might call him “Gramps.” Maybe I project too much here. At 62 myself, I perhaps see in Bob’s desolation the deepest anxieties of all aging males.

Oh, well, Yvonne just split the scene. She didn’t Bobbitize the poor bastard on her way out.

Then, at a Pagan festival where we both had lecture gigs, Shea met Patricia Monaghan. I saw what happened: a kind of magic, real love at first sight. Pat gave Shea’s last two years a transfinite boost of TLC and almost youthful joy. The day before he lapsed into coma, he arranged to marry her. I think of the wedding cer­emony as the last thing he could do for Pat, and the last thing she could do for him.

For years and years, in many places – in Ireland, in Germany, in Cornwall, in Switzerland, on the central coast of Cali­fornia – I often found myself wishing Shea could visit me and see the panoramic views that I found so wonderful. I still feel that at times, and find it hard to understand that he will never visit me now. Never.

Shakespeare made the most powerful iambic pentameter line in English out of that one word, repeated five times: “Never, never, never, never, never.” I first realized how much pain that line contains when my daughter died. Now I realize it again.

The birds have all flown away and the patio stands empty. Empty? Could an old­time acid-head like me believe that? I looked again and realized anew that every plant and vine pulsed with passionate life in it, millions of cells joyously copulating. I started to remember a line from Dylan Thomas but couldn’t quite get it: “The force that through the green shoot drives the flower, drives my something some­thing.” I grinned, remembering Shea’s wit. Once I had written, in one of our disputes, “I find your position amusingly rigid.”

“I’m glad you find me amusingly rigid,” he wrote back. “Many women have paid me the same compliment.”


“Come back, Lyndon!”
by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert J. Shea

from The Organ
Issue IX, July 1971



The confession comes with weeping violins, thunder off-screen and shadows gathering in the corners. There is the gnashing of teeth and the commotions at the other end of the alimentary tract causing a noticeable tightening of the ass-hole, while the liver dies a little, and the damage to key glands and trunk-line nerves will not be discovered by conventional medicine. Still, the confession, at last, must come. We were there; we marched with the others and chanted, “Hey, hey, L.B J., how many kids didja kill today?”; yes, we signed the petitions and wrote to the Congressmen, we even gave some credence to Garrison and Mark Lane and MacBird; we longed for the day and dreamed of the day when that Texas Turd was sent home to gather flies on the banks of the Pedernales and was replaced at the Helm by somebody, anybody, who didn’t have the soul of a cattle-rustler and a face like a study in the mesmerization of the anal sphinctre. Back in Texas was where we wanted him. We most definitely wanted him back in Texas.

Well, we didn’t get somebody. We didn’t even get anybody. By the malice of a left-handed and sardonic God, we got “Richard Milhouse Nixon.”

We repent all of our sins and heresies; we recant in public. We want L.B J. back. The next time our troops withdraw from Vietnam into another Asian country, we want old Lyndon there to explain it, with those crafty lines of ham Summer Stock piety crinkling around his eyes — not “Nixon” with that no-echo sound in his voice that makes it seem as if his throat is lined with styrofoam, and that Insect Trust remoteness from all human emotion. Confronted with the alien, the perhaps mechanical, the possibly Outer Space quality of seemingly motiveless malignity in “Nixon,” we are beginning to appreciate how American, how human, how down-home Lyndon Baines Johnson really was.

And the L.B.J. jokes — remember them? They were so folksy and real and earthy — remember? Remember, “Terrible accident at the L.B.J. ranch today — somebody left the gate open and the cattle all went home”? Remember the legends about his enormous schlong, and Paul Krassner’s great line, “When he calls a joint meeting, everybody cringes”? Remember, “The White House reporters can now tell when L.B.J. is lying. When he scratches his ear, he’s telling the truth. When he rubs his nose, he’s telling the truth. But when he opens his mouth — he’s lying!” Who tells jokes about “Nixon”? Perhaps the computers at the Rand think-tank do, exchanging ghastly electronic jests as they calculate scenarios for the next Asiatic incursion. But do you know any people who relate to “Nixon” enough to joke about him? Behind the name “Richard Nixon” is there anything substantial enough to jest about?

Remember the quick adrenalin flashes and the screams of rage in the old anti-Johnson demonstrations, the most exhilarating hate-trip many of us have ever been on? Do you know anyone who hates “Nixon” that way? Turn anywhere, look at the hardest-working and most dedicated peace crusader you know, and is there any personal feeling toward “Richard Nixon”? Never. At the most there is distaste and an attenuated metaphysical dread, a hunch that behind the seeming void of the public persona might be a secret so dreadful that the human mind would crumble on confronting it. Worse: that there is no horror behind the void, nothing but another void, which conceals a still deeper void, in a mad series of 0-dimensional Chinese boxes regressing infinitely always to another void, another mask, and still another void masking yet another void, forever?

History is a game for any number of players, but that’s the key — you need real players to enjoy it. The one thing that, sooner or later, any hyperactive participant (as we sometimes think we are) has to learn is that a good game requires a spirited opposition. We of the Left need a Right. Realizing that, you come to see that your enemy is not really your enemy in any total sense — he is as necessary to you as your friend. At that point you come to value the fact that your enemy is a human being; who can work up a good political enthusiasm against a moving van, the tobacco mosaic virus or the weather in Chicago? But we have reached this point of understanding only to have the universe swat us upside the head once more: Sitting across the table from us is “Richard M. Nixon” and we have the stale, disappointed feeling of being up against a chess-playing robot. If he wins, does it matter — if we win, does it matter?

People have humanized hurricanes and other disasters, they have even anthropomorphized the plague bacteria and projected malice into its invasions, but it is simply impossible to humanize or anthropomorphize “Richard Nixon”. The best public relations brains in the country have worked on the job for years, and all they produce when the TV cameras turn on is the same dead-level computer read-out of some very unconvincing used-car salesman’s pitch of fading memory. How different it was when L.B.J. said, “With a heavy heart, I once again resume bombing,” and the delivery was so Riverboat Gambler that you could feel an almost tactile relationship with the conniving but human sonofabitch who rehearsed the words over and over until they almost captured the ring of sincerity.

L.B J. was a bad father, a father you could hate, an old Huck Finn’s Pap of a reprobate who lied his head off and stole everything not nailed down but probably cackled with obscene glee over every swindle and laughed like hell when he told his cronies about it. You might want to ride him out of town on a rail, but you knew he’d make out all right in the next town and swindle the folks there, too, and you had a sneaking admiration for that incorrigibility. But nobody can think of “Nixon” as a father, good or bad, or any kind of brother, or even a very remote cousin. Being conquered by the Martians would be existentially believable compared to being governed by “Nixon” — at least the Martians, if inhuman, must be protoplasm. Who is that sure about Nixon? If he abruptly answered a press conference question with “That — does — not — compute,” who would really be surprised or feel aught else but that a buried suspicion had been confirmed?

Even “Nixon’s” admirers don’t admire “him” and this clearly communicated early to “his” circle who thoughtfully built up Spiro as a human and believable spokesman whom people could love and hate.

Consider what could have been “Nixon’s” finest moment, the day he announced that he was against abortion because of his belief in “the sanctity of human life.” Imagine how Lyndon-Baby would have handled that line, every crease on his face emphasizing the depths of emotion an spiritual revelation, the quiver in his voice on the key words “sanctity and “life,” the whole effect mounting to a crescendo of righteousness on a level with Fields himself saying, “What? Five aces in the deck? What scoundrel could have done that?” Do you member any of “Nixon’s” performances? Nobody does; Nobody remembers any of “his” speeches. They just remember that “he” was on TV again and said something, and no one can quite recollect whether “he” was selling “his” latest invasion or Ajax, the Foaming Cleanser.

Or, look at the other side of the picture. Recall the great oration that terminated L.B J.’s three decades of opposition to racial equality, that Falstaffian performance in which he pledged all his loyalty to civil rights and concluded raptly, “And we shall overcome.” It was pure Rod Steiger, right out of the scene in The Harder They Fall where Steiger, the gangster, tells his gunsels to “show some respect” for the man they’ve just killed. You felt a deep human identifica for L.B.J. and Steiger in those scenes and wished that they could succeed in making someone believe them, wished almost that you could believe them for a moment. Can you imagine “Nixon” handling that bit? Can you hear him saying, “We shall overcome,” and getting any response any more sympathetic or antipathetic than a yawn?

Obviously, given that people aren’t completely stupid or tasteless, it is hard at times to understand how come the American electorate made the trade — the monstrous human being for the robot monster. The best explanation we’ve found is the Conspiracy Theory. In our novel, Illuminatus! (to be published by Dell later this year) we dramatize the notion that just about every catastrophe in history can be explained by the machinations of the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria, a conspiratorial organization which runs international finance, all major political parties everywhere in the world, all communications media, the Catholic Church, and the Chicago Transit Authority. While doing the research for Illuminatus! we came across the fact that on April 1, 1968, Johnson was opening his morning copy of the New York Times while spooning a heavily-sugared wedge of grapefruit into that lugubrious face (which, as he himself quite frankly stated after viewing Peter Hurd’s portrait, was “the ugliest thing I ever saw”), when a pink slip fell out. The message read, “It’s April First, and you’re It,” and it was signed, “The Fellas.” Under this there appeared a peculiar symbol, printed in red, an eye inside a glowing triangle. A somewhat similiar eye can be seen — if “Nixon’s” stewardship of the economy has left you any bread — on the U.S. dollar bill, back side on the left.

Shortly after receiving this message, Johnson opted out of the 1968 Presidential race. We learned these facts in a teen-ager’s magazine called Teenset for March 1969 in an article on the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria by a writer named Sandra Glass. The writer disappeared before the article was published, Teenset changed its name to Aum, and Aum itself subsequently ceased publication.

Assuming — as do most Illuminati experts such as ourselves, Howard Bickler and Robert Welch of the John Birch Society — that Johnson’s masters are the ones who continue to rule the country through “Nixon,” can anyone visualize them disposing of “Nixon” by sending him a pink slip? They would simply pull the plug.

We blamed the war on the Democrats. When the Ghostly Old Party gave us “Nixon” as its nominee, the proceedings were as genteel as a wake in Grosse Point, Michigan. When the Democrats met in Chicago, the boil burst in full color on television and all over the parks and streets. Richard J. Daley, rumored in some documents we’ve found to be the fifth Illuminatus Primus, destroyed Humphrey’s chances of winning by making the nominating process look as democratic as parliament run by Oliver Cromwell. Can this have been an accident? Then why did Daley shout, “Ewige blumencraft!” (an Illuminati slogan used by Beethoven and Goethe) at Abraham Ribicoff at a most heated moment,on the evening of August 26, 1968? The boil burst, but it was not allowed to drain. “Nixon” plastered it over, that it might suppurate more in the darkness.

So, you Illuminated Seers, if you be human and not a race of inter-planetary invaders who are all “Nixons,” you, too must be fed up with the banality of this particular brand of evil. You’ve outdone yourselves this time. Let us have a man back in the White House. A shrewd, stupid, crafty, clumsy, eating, breathing, spitting, belching, balls-scratching, nose-picking, guilt-ridden, boasting, overcompensating, naive, corrupt, evil and innocent human being — another L.B.J. or the original L.B.J. himself, brought back for a re-run. Do not, O Illuminati, leave us out here in the twilight with no more for host than a sincere Coca Cola machine.

Mssrs Wilson and Shea apparently underestimated our ability to become angry, even at inanimate objects, such as a “sincere Coca-Cola machine.” This was a curious failing of the well-documented prescience  they demonstrated in the Illuminatus! Trilogy. After the 1976 election, Bob Wilson told me they had  thought they were writing fiction,  but for the previous two years, every morning he opened the newspaper, he realized they had written the headlines. (The basic question of Illuminatus! was “What if ALL the conspiracy theories they’d been reading as editors of Playboy’s Forum were true?” and if that were the case, what sort of government would we have?))

Robert Shea died March 10, 1994. Robert Anton Wilson died January 11, 2007.