Jeff Lint: The Burst Sofa of Pulp
by Steve Aylett
Originally published in Arthur No. 2 (December, 2002)
Pulp sci-fi author Jeff Lint has loomed large as an influence on my own work since I found a scarred copy of I Blame Ferns in a Charing Cross basement, an apparently baffled chef staring from the cover. After that I hunted down all the Lint stuff I could find and became a connoisseur of the subtly varying blank stares of booksellers throughout the world.
Born in Chicago in 1929, Jeff (or Jack) Lint submitted his first story to the pulps during a childhood spent in Santa Fe. His first published effort appeared in a wartime edition of Amazing Stories because Lint submitted it under the name “Isaac Asimov.” “And Your Point Is?” tells the story of an unpopularly calm tramp who is pelted every day with rocks, from which he slowly builds a fine house. The story already reflected the notion of ‘effortless incitement’ which Lint would practice as an adult. “Jack was fantastic,” says friend Tony Fleece. “Went around blessing people – knew it was the most annoying thing he could do. A dozen times, strangers just beat the hell out of him.” Lint perfected the technique when he stumbled upon the notion of praying for people.
Lint’s first novel was published by Dean Rodence’s Never company in New York. The relationship between Rodence and Lint was one of complete mistrust, rage and bloody violence. When submitting work in person, Lint insisted on appearing dressed as some kind of majorette. “He was a large man and clearly wasn’t happy at having to do this,” explains Fleece. “He blamed Rodence, was resentful. I still don’t know where he got the idea he had to dress that way when handing his stuff in.”
The first novel with Never was One Less Person Lying, in which Billy Stem must tell the truth or be transformed into the average man. Rodence persuaded Lint to change the title word ‘Person’ to ‘Bastard.’ On a night of pre-press jitters, Rodence then partially re-wrote the final sections of the book so that Stem puts on a spacesuit and goes berserk, killing an innocent stranger with a large rock. The book was published as simply One Less Bastard. In the 25 years of their association Lint never forgave Rodence for the incident, and often alluded to it by repeated use of the word “bastard” when speaking to him.
Around the time of his second published novel Cheerful When Blamed, Lint met his first wife Madeline, who was attracted to him by a knife scar which led from below his left eye to his mouth. This was in fact a sleep crease and Lint managed to maintain the mistake by napping through most of the marriage. But after five months a bout of insomnia put paid to the relationship and left Lint with nothing to occupy his time but his writing–luckily for the world of literature, as he produced some of his best work at this time, including Jelly Result, Nose Furnace, Slogan Love and I Eat Fog, all of which appeared on Rodence’s new Furtive Labors imprint. Turn Me Into a Parrot took issue with the fundamentalist notion that the world was only a few thousand years old and that dinosaur bones had been planted by god to test man¹s faith. Lint asserted that the world was only sixty years old and that the mischievous god had buried sewers, unexploded bombs and billions of people. In my own book Shamanspace I make it clear that humanity arrived eons ago but, like a man standing in front of an open fridge, has forgotten why.
By the sixties Lint’s reputation was established firmly enough for several feuds to develop with other equally unknown authors, the main one being Cameo Herzog, creator of the Empty Trumpet books, who once conspired with Rodence to kill Lint with a truck. (The story is unclear, but it seems they killed or injured the wrong man and had to make reparation to the mob.) The levels to which this feud imploded were difficult for outsiders to understand. Lint and Herzog were once seen glaring silently at each other for seven hours in a freezing lot, each holding a differently colored swatch of velvet. In an interview with Bloody Fantastic Idea, Lint spun the notion that since crustaceans were skeletons containing meat and mammals were meat containing skeletons, then since the bones of human beings enclosed organs and marrow, humans were in fact crustaceans. In a subsequent issue Herzog countered that calcium traces in organs and marrow technically constituted a central bone system and that we were mammals after all. Impressed, Lint agreed. Herzog was unable to accept this turn of events and ran amok with some kind of rubber hose until police cornered him in a slaughterhouse. Lint had to help the cops by insisting through a megaphone that Herzog was wrong – within calcium were atomic particulates of carbon molecules and so on. Herzog gave himself up, his hose was confiscated and he was led away swearing revenge. While on parole he wrote several letters to the Boston Globe declaring that Lint was a ‘rogue maniac,’ published only through criminal indulgence. “Shoot me if I ever write like that.”
When Herzog¹s body was found a year later, his forehead containing a 9mm Parabellum slug, Lint was hauled in as the key suspect. But his surprised laughter upon hearing of the incident was so clearly honest, the police felt foolish (and reportedly ‘soiled‘) in holding him.
At this time Lint published a series of essays under the ominous collective title Prepare to Learn. This included ‘Running Bent Double – The Poor Man’s Protest,’ ‘Debate This, You Mother’ and ‘My Beauty Will Blind You,’ in which he stated: “Some animals have a life span of only a few days. I suspect they eat food only through habit. Why has nature never bred a creature which eats nothing for its few days of life? Such hordes would have a distinct advantage over other species.” He then suggests that humanity was meant to be such a species but wrecked everything by stuffing its face the moment it entered the world.
Several of Lint’s early books were also being re-published by Doubleday and New English Library, and the startled Lint rushed to exploit his raised profile, pulling on a skirt and bursting into the offices of Random House with a proposal he dreamed up on the spot. Banish Colleagues would tell the story of a bull elephant on its way to the elephant’s graveyard, only to find it full of ambulances. The ivory-white confusion of the landscape is a classic Lint image, as is that of Lint being ejected from Random House by twelve security guards. In 1973 Lint instead batted out the trash novel Sadly Disappointed about a child who is not possessed by the devil. Published under his Asimov pen name, it is a minor work redeemed only by the parents’ laughable attempts at activism. These seem mainly to involve the placing of ignorable gonks on people’s driveways – the baffled press is then alerted when the toy is backed over by a car. Lint was at a low, beaten down by a stint in Hollywood which saw his screenplays repeatedly diluted by studio hacks. He felt justly proud of his scripts for Kiss Me, Mister Patton (eventually filmed as Patton), Dire Murder at Hampton Place (eventually filmed as Shaft) and Despair and the Human Condition (eventually filmed as Funny Girl).
The mid-seventies also saw Lint’s incredible foray into the world of action comics with his creation of The Caterer. This unfathomable title lasted nine issues, during which the hero was never seen to cook or prepare food in any way. The Caterer¹s wordless shooting spree in Disneyland in the final issue was as ill-judged as it was relentless, and its blithe use of certain copyrighted characters sank the publishers in legal defense costs.
Lint was by now a Hemingwayesque figure and had developed the ability to speak out of a different part of his beard each time. “Keep ‘em guessing,” he rumbled.
After a second marriage and short stints in London, Paris and Tangiers, Lint returned to the New Mexico of his childhood and produced the first book of his Easy Prophecy series, Die Miami, which many say was a decoy for more interesting work as yet unearthed. He lived there until his death in 1994, since when Lint scholars have hunted for the gold-dust of lost stories, endlessly analyzing the last novel Clowns and Locusts, his thankfully incomplete attempt at autobiography, The Man Who Gave Birth to His Arse, and his whispered final words, which seem to have been “There’s no marrying a cat.”
Jeff Lint is buried in a Taos graveyard, his headstone bearing the epitaph: “Don’t think of it as a problem, but as a challenge which has defeated you.”
Steve Aylett is the author of Atom, The Crime Studio and Shamanspace. www.steveaylett.com