“The shelves, which I had constructed of metal wall brackets and varying lengths of darkly laminated wood, were the only things in the apartment I made a special effort to keep in order. They contained something more than five thousand copies of detective and adventure pulp magazines dating from the late twenties through the early fifties, when the pulp market collapsed and died.
I had them segregated by title, chronologically, with the quality items like Black Mask and Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly on the upper shelves, and the lesser ones-seventy-five different titles, twenty-two separate Volume One, Number 1-filling the remainder. I had turned some of them around at various points so that their covers faced into the room; they were pretty lurid, scarlet robes or slouch hats, clutching huge automatics or gleaming daggers; half-nude girls with too red lips screaming in agony or fear or perhaps ecstasy-but I liked the effect they gave that staid rose-papered high-ceilinged room. It made the whole setting seem impressionistic, somehow, like a pop-art display.
I had been collecting pulp magazines for twenty-five years, and it was the one consuming passion I had in life. I had grown up on the fringe of the Mission District during the Depression, in a neighbourhood not good but not bad, not poor but not well-to-do, and every spare nickel and dime I could cadge or even earn went for pulps from the time I was twelve years old. I had stacks of them in the basement storage room of our building, which my mother later gave to the Goodwill without my permission, and I would spend hours in my room or in the basement reading Black Mask and other detective magazines instead of studying”
“I remembered nothing, and I remembered everything.
Vividly brief scenes with no continuity, like film edited and spliced together by a madman. All in floating , surrealistic white and gray, except for the brilliant red colour of blood. And when the reel of film ended, abruptly only the richest and deepest of blackness.
I knew pain.
Even through the blackness, I knew pain.
It raged and seethed inside me. And then, sated on my flesh, it grew still and became
Little more than dull, half-realized throbbings in my stomach and my head. I lay with it, coming out of the velvet midnight, watching the dawn consume the darkness at the edges, and at first I was calm, waiting.
But then the film began again, without warning, and half comatose and half rational, I relived it all and saw the blood, and I was terrified. A voice cried out in rising decibels, and it was my voice, and my hands beat at the air with the frantic flutterings of a wounded bird.”
“She kept on with it. She said,”You want to know the real reason you quit the police to open up that agency of yours, the real deep-down reason? I’ll tell you: It was and is an obsession to be just like those pulp-magazine detectives and you never would have been satisfied until you tried it. Well, now you’ve tried it, for ten years you’ve tried it, and you just don’t want to let go, you can’t let go. You’re living a world that doesn’t exist and never did, in an era that’s twenty-five years dead. You’re a kid dreaming about being a hero, and yet you haven’t got the guts or the flair to got out and be one; you’re too honest and too sensitive and too ethical, too affected by real corruption and real human misery to be the kind of lone wolf private eye you’d like to be. You’re no damned hero, and it’s hurts you that you’re not, and that’s why you won’t let go of it. And the whole while you’re eating and sleeping and living yesteryear’s dream world, to salve your wounded pride you’re deluding yourself that you’re an anachronism in a real-life world that couldn’t care less one way Orr the other. You’re nothing but a little boy, and I’m damned if I’ll have a little boy in my bed every night of the year. That’s the reason I wouldn’t marry you; I can’t compete with an obsession, I won’t compete with it–“