The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike was written by Philip K. Dick in the winter and spring of 1960, in Point Reyes Station, California. In the sequence of Dick's work, it was written immediately after Confessions of a Crap Artist and just before The Man in the High Castle, the Hugo Award–winning science fiction novel that ushered in the next stage of Dick's career.
This novel, Dick said, is about Leo Runcible, "a brilliant, civic minded liberal Jew living in a rural WASP town in Marin County, California." Runcible, a real estate agent involved in a local battle with a neighbor, finds what look like Neanderthal bones in Marin and dreams of rising real estate prices because of the publicity.
But it turns out that the remains are more recent, the result of an environmental problem polluting the local water supply.
|Publisher:||Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC|
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About the Author
PHILIP K. DICK has had many movies based on his stories, including the classic, Blade Runner.
Read an Excerpt
The Man Whose Teeth were All Exactly Alike
By Philip K. Dick
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1984 The Estate of Philip K. Dick
All rights reserved.
The West Marin Water Company repairman kicked among the rocks and leaves, finding the pipe and the break in it. A county truck had backed over the pipe and broken it by its weight. The truck had come to trim the trees along the road; a crew had been up in the cypresses for the last week, clipping branches. It was the crew who called the water company, phoning from the fire station down to Carquinez where the water company kept its offices.
Although this break had caused him to make a twenty-mile trip, he did not feel sore at the truck. The water pipes were old and brittle. A break appeared at least once a week; sometimes a cow put her foot into a pipe, or sometimes a root forced a pipe open.
The repairman had said many times to customers along the line that the pipes should be replaced. He made no secret about his feelings. He said, too, that the man who owned the water company should put on a booster pump in summer when the water pressure got low. And he had told the owner that. The water company did not give a profit to its owner; the man lost money each year, and would have liked to sell it. He put as little as possible into the upkeep.
Now the repairman climbed a ridge. He had found the break; a dark stain of water had spread out over the ground between two cypresses. But he took his time.
Voices carried to him through the trees, the sound of children. He saw a man leading a group of youngsters, pointing and talking; the repairman recognized him as Mr. Wharton, the fourth-grade teacher. An excursion by the fourth grade. On the shoulder of the road a station wagon had been parked, not far from the water company truck. Mr. Wharton and his children came along the same path that the repairman had followed, and presently the two men stood face to face.
"Another break," the repairman said.
"Yes, I'm not surprised," Mr. Wharton said.
"You on your way to the lime pits?" The pits were a quarter mile in from the road, along the path. Each year, as the repairman knew, Mr. Wharton took his fourth grade to view them.
"It's that time again," Mr. Wharton said, smiling. His round red young face was flushed from walking, and his forehead shone.
The repairman said, "Don't let them kids tramp on the pipe."
They both laughed at that, the idea that the rotten old cast-iron pipe would break under the feet of schoolchildren. But perhaps it was not so funny. They both became serious, while the children roamed around among the trees pelting each other with pine cones, yelling and chattering.
"What do you think of Bob Morse saying that the water is contaminated?" Mr. Wharton said.
"No doubt," the repairman said. "No doubt it is."
Seeing that the repairman had not become angry, Mr. Wharton continued, "It's sometimes so muddy you can't see to the bottom of the bowl. It stains the toilets."
"That's mostly rust from the pipes," the repairman said. "I don't doubt there's nothing to worry about that." He scratched at the dirt with his toe. Both men gazed down at the ground. "What bothers me more," the repairman said, "is seepage into the pipes from people's septic tanks. There isn't an uncontaminated well around here, and don't let nobody tell you different."
Mr. Wharton nodded.
"Don't never sink a well in this area," the repairman said. "I know a lot of people, displeased with the company water being all sludgy with rust, put down wells, and got nice clean pure-looking water. But that water's ten times contaminated. The only contamination you could get in company water—I don't care how bad it looks; looks ain't what counts—what contaminates it is seepage, and that takes a lot of time even through these god damn rotten old pipes." He had begun getting worked up about it, and his voice rose.
"I see," Mr. Wharton said in agreement.
They walked along a distance, the children following.
"Nice day, with no wind," Mr. Wharton said.
"Cooler here," the repairman said. "Nearer the coast. I come out from San Rafael. It's really hot there."
"Wow, I can't stand that dry valley heat," Mr. Wharton said.
Both men were used to saying such things again and again, with almost everyone they met during the course of the day. Sometimes they discussed what medicines Dr. Terance, the M.D. of the area, prescribed, and also what medicines the pharmacist at Carquinez gave people who couldn't afford Dr. Terance. The doctor was a young man, very busy, who drove a new Chrysler and was never in the area on weekends. If there was an auto accident on the weekends, the injured were out of luck. They had to be taken across Mount Tamalpais, all the way to Mill Valley.
"Well," Mr. Wharton said, "we're off to the graveyard."
"Pardon?" the repairman said.
"Next stop is the graveyard. Didn't you know there was a little old graveyard near here? I always take my class to visit it. There are stones dating back a hundred and fifty years."
To Wharton, the history of this area justified living here. All the ranchers had collections of arrowheads, awls, hand axes, made by the Indians. He himself had a great collection of obsidian arrow and spearheads, shiny black and very hard. Labeled and mounted, his collection, under glass, was kept at the grammar school, in the outer lobby, for visiting parents to see.
In many respects Wharton was the authority in the area on Indian artifacts. He subscribed to Scientific American, kept snakes at his house—in his work room, along with his rock and fossil collections, his moon snail shells and worm castings, shark eggs. Of all his possessions, his trilobite fossil ranked in his mind as the finest. But for demonstration, either in his classroom or to visitors in his home, his radioactive rocks took the prize: in ultraviolet light (he owned a lamp with such a bulb) the rocks glowed various colors. When anyone found an odd rock or plant or bird egg or what seemed to be a fossil or Indian artifact, they brought it to him. Almost always he could tell if the find was important.
The little old graveyard, mostly abandoned, known only to a few adults in the community, certainly was historic; members of the original families to settle in the area were buried there. The old Swiss and Italian names. Some of the stones had fallen over. Gophers had made the ground uneven and had killed every plant except the wild rosebushes that overgrew the higher part of land. The oldest graves were marked with wooden crosses, carved amateurishly by hand; some of these had disappeared down into the grass and oats.
Now and then people—from outside the area, evidently—came and left flowers on the graves. Each year when he took his class here he found mayonnaise jars and glasses scattered about with dried stalks and blossoms sticking up from them or hanging over the sides.
As Wharton and his class made their way along the path in the direction of the graveyard, one of the little girls came up beside the teacher and began talking. After rambling on several topics she came at last to ask, in a halting manner, if he believed in ghosts. Each year, on this trip, at least one member of the class became apprehensive; he was accustomed to it, and had his answers.
Speaking to all of them, Wharton recalled to them that in Sunday school—every child in the area went to Sunday school—they were taught about heaven. If the souls of the dead went up to heaven, how could there be ghosts haunting the earth? He pointed out that the soul had come from God—at least, so the children had been taught—and naturally went back. It was as silly to worry about the souls of the dead as the souls of the not yet born, of the generations to come.
And, stopping, he pointed out something more, a fact more along his own vocational lines.
Look, he told them, indicating the trees and brush around them, the soil itself. Don't consider merely the departed humans; consider all life, millions of years of living forms that had come and gone. Where had they gone? Back into the ground. In fact, that was what the ground was—a dense, rich layer from which new life came, lived out its span, and then sank back. All of it was natural and regular. The dead had merged. From bacteria to plants to small animals to man: all lay beneath their feet. The past. And how good it was; what a fine system. Halting, he showed them a compost pile, the moldering leaves piled at the base of a madrone tree. And the white chalky fungus. Sliding his fingers into the mixture, half soil, half rotting plant fibers, he showed the class what fertile, moist stuff it was; he had them smell it, touch it. Man was no different. This process involved our own ancestors, too. His insight, as in past years, calmed the children. Their apprehension, the rapid, jerky talking and giggling, ceased. This was why he had brought them here: to acquaint them with this satisfying situation, the cycle of growing things that included them, too. Don't be afraid of nature, he told them. And remember—everything that happens is natural. There's nothing outside of nature. And so, in his own way, without denying anything that the children had been taught in catechism and Sunday school, he diminished their superstitions.
Being a grammar school teacher in a small rural town had made him tactful. He dealt with parents who were farm people, fundamentalists in religion as well as in politics and all social ideas. In his class he had great lumpy twelve-year-old boys from the ranches, near morons who could barely be taught to read. They would eventually go back to the ranch and become milkers; their lives were mapped out. And also, in his class, he had bright children from families who had moved out from the city. And ambitious children whose fathers were small retailers, dentists, or nearby professional men. There were even a few children from very wealthy families that owned houses with beach frontage.
Ahead, the granite tops of monuments could be seen, the largest of the markers. The most ornate.
But Mr. Wharton and his fourth graders were not interested in the lofty crypt and statues at the center of the graveyard; they had come to poke around for the oldest graves. Those at the edges, some of them even beyond the wooden fence that surrounded the graveyard. Had those tiny ancient markers slid down the slope, from the graveyard proper to the cow pasture of the McRae ranch? Or, when the fence was put up a dozen or so years ago, had the builders failed to see such meager graves and had ignored them?
A few cows watched the class as Mr. Wharton opened the gate. The cows could not come in the graveyard.
Already some of the boys had scampered to the first grave and were shouting out the date on the headstone. "1884!" they yelled, pointing. "Look, Mr. Wharton!"
In his car, the area Realtor, Leo Runcible, drove an elderly couple along the mesa road. Both old people murmured complainingly about the wind and the damp; they did not think that it would be so healthy, here, as inland. Too many ferns, the old man had said as they walked up to inspect a house. From his senility he had emerged for a moment to make that acute observation; where there were ferns there was always constant dampness.
"Well," Runcibile said, "there's no problem, and I'll tell you why. For the simple reason that I can find you several homes in excellent shape, in your price range, in dry open farm country." And now they were going to see those homes.
But of course those were farm homes, not at all fashionable, as had been the ones on the east side of the Bolinas Ridge, which he had just shown them. And they were not in good shape; Runcible knew that, and he knew that to this old couple, the farm houses would appear no more than shacks, ill-kept and dirty. The houses had been built by mill workers and county road workers. Very low-class. On mud sills. He did not like showing them; he avoided taking the listings. For god's sake, he thought. Are you going to stand out in the yard at sunset, getting in the fog and wind? Or are you going to be indoors, in your living room, where you can heat it up? He phrased that notion in his mind as he drove, knowing that these old people would not buy one of the farm shacks. If he sold them anything, it would be back at the Ridge, on the hillside, a stucco or shingle house. Not a white clapboard shack.
The old man said, "Will these places you're going to show us have a lot of land?" "No," Runcible said. "And if you're wise, you won't want a lot of land." Both old people listened obediently, held by the strength of his tone. "When a man gets to his mellow years he wants to start enjoying himself. Not slave to ten acres of weeds that the county requires him to keep cleared every year because of fire hazard. I'll tell you something; there's a list of over forty weeds that the county forbids you to allow to grow on your land. You have to know what each weed looks like, and by golly, they better not catch you with those weeds, or it's quite a fine."
The old woman said, "Why does the county care?"
"Danger to cattle," Runcible said. "You'll see the list posted in the post office. Noxious weeds. They spread."
The houses he would soon be showing them were jumbled along several county roads, each house visible to the next. In the yards of several, rusting car bodies had been piled; he noticed that with anger each time he drove by here. But now there was a state law ... he reflected that perhaps he should write to the highway patrol or to somebody in San Rafael, giving the names of the offenders in the area. Ruins property value, he thought. What do such zwepps care about their neighbors?
"What line of work are you in, Mr. Diters?" he asked the old man.
"I'm retired now," the old man said. "I was in the banking business. With the American Trust Company for many years and before that with Crocker."
The old couple had specified that their house cost not more than nine thousand. But Runcible judged that they could be bumped up to ten or even ten-five. He felt cheerful, because he had several houses in that price range. And the weather was nice. It was easier to show, in summer; the ground was not muddy, the air not cold.
To their right, brown fields passed. A bridge over reeds and water.
"What about utilities in this area?" Mrs. Diters said. "There is no natural gas, is there?"
"No, this is a butane area," Runcible said. "There's electricity from the PG&E. Water comes from the West Marin Water Company, over at Carquinez."
"Garbage pick up?" the old man asked.
"Every week. And septic tank service."
"That's right," the old woman said. "No sewers out here."
"This is the country," Runcible said. "But remember: no city taxes to pay. And you've got a good fire department located at Carquinez, plus a deputy sheriff, a doctor, dentist, grocery stores, drug stores, post office—everything you'll need. Do you want to be able to walk into town, or drive?" They had showed up at Runcible Realty driving an old black Packard, very well kept up.
"We might drive in to San Rafael to shop once a week," Mr. Diters said. "I think it would be cheaper than shopping locally."
"Just a minute," Runcible said. "Would it be cheaper?" This was something he had never liked, this taking of business out of the area, away from the local merchants. These are your neighbors, he thought. Or will be. And there's the cost of gasoline. Plus the time taken in going over Mount Tamalpais. An all day trip. "You'll find the services you need here," he said. "And reasonable. And I'll tell you one thing; if you've never lived in a small community before, you're going to discover something wonderful. The merchants here stand back of what they sell. They have to. They know they'll be seeing you again; maybe your child goes to Bluebirds with their child. And even if you don't have children, you probably know everybody in the community, and if you're badly treated in a local store, it's going to get around. Bear that in mind. There's no impersonal service; it's like the good old days. All done on a man-to-man business."
Excerpted from The Man Whose Teeth were All Exactly Alike by Philip K. Dick. Copyright © 1984 The Estate of Philip K. Dick. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By far the least of all the PKD books I've read. There were a few good Dickian moments, but I can see why it remained unpublished for so long.
This is one of Dick's lesser sc-fi books, which is hard to imagine, but he did write them. This story starts out in a small town with small, prejudice views. It's tit-for-tat in this exciting and slightly misty battle between two neighbors that want to get the best of each other and lose a great deal themselves. The characters seem so real, it's almost like it is actually happening somewhere. Read it, it'll set you back in an old-fashioned, comfortable time and place.
In Carquinez, Marin County, Jewish realtor Leo Runcible knows he is out of place amidst the WASPS he sells local real estate to. Still he enjoys making money and he actually cares about the community. His neighbor Walter Dombrosio works in San Francisco as a product designer who loves pranks and dreams of a hoax to rival the infamous Cardiff Giant.
Leo and Walter had a spat when the latter brought a colored person to dinner, which the former insists cost him a potential megabucks deal; Leo blames Walter while he knows he was upset with his potential partner¿s denigration of Negroes. When Leo notices Walter driving erratic; he calls the cops. Walter loses his driving license which means his wife Sherry takes him to and from work. He gets into a fight with his boss who hired Sherry and loses his job. With time on his hands he creates a fake hominid skull ¿found¿ in his back yard where some recent artifacts had been uncovered. However, the joke spins out of control as archeologists descend on Western Marin County only to find something dangerous lurks in the water table.
This is a reprint of an intriguing character study that brings to life the mores of Northern California in the 1950s. The story line is totally character driven with little action beyond incidents that enable the audience to fully understand what motivates Leo and Walt. Readers who enjoy a slice of those Happy Days will appreciate Philip K. Dick¿s insightful realistic look at a somewhat isolated community with its local societal rules.