Known for his mastery of depicting the surreal, yet believable police state, Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said details the harrowing experience of Jason Taverner, a world-famous TV show host and singer who finds himself completely unrecognized and unknown in an instant. Among other themes, the novel is particularly salient with regard to illuminating the insignificance one feels when he is not famous. In a conversation about the “civilians” who watch his show, he notes, “’They’re ordinaries,’” Jason said, “’and they’re morons. Because’”—he nipped the lobe of her ear—“’because that’s what it means to be ordinary, right?’”(5).
The Loss of Fame
Determined to find the cause of his sudden anonymity, Jason endures the threat of arrest by the National Guard and the police force (known under the current dictatorship as nats and pols). After a taping of his TV show, aptly titled The Jason Taverner Show, Jason leaves the studio with his agent, Al Bliss, and girlfriend, Heather Hart (a famous singer in her own right). In the flyship alone with Heather, Jason suggests they go to their home in Zurich (it doesn’t take that long to get places when you have a flying car). As Heather debates this, Jason receives a phone call from Marilyn Mason, an aspiring actress that Jason had taken a shine to and helped get a few auditions months earlier. Desperate and hysterical, Marilyn threatens, “’I have to see you. Otherwise I’ll kill myself and the guilt will be on you. For the rest of your life. And I’ll tell that Heather Hart woman about us sleeping together all the time.’”
Fearful of her irrational behavior, Jason talks Heather into taking a small detour to her apartment. Upon arriving, Marilyn attacks him with a “gelatinlike Callisto cuddle sponge with its fifty feeding tubes” digging into him. He eventually struggles free as the life-form falls to the floor, dead. However, a number of the tubes are still stuck within his body.
Jason is taken to the hospital by Heather, but later wakes up alone in a sketchy hotel room. With no identification to get him past the scrutiny of the nats and the pols (anyone without ID is automatically sent to a forced labor camp), Jason asks the hotel clerk to take him somewhere that can offer him a set of forged IDs—for a handsome sum of money, of course. The hotel clerk then drives him to a remote part of town to meet with Kathy Nelson, an expert in the field of forging. Jason also offers Kathy a vast amount to quickly forge his new ID. She assures him she can complete the task in a few hours, taking an immediate liking to his good looks and charismatic personality.
After talking to him for a bit, she starts to think he’s either delusional for thinking he’s famous or that he’s genuinely telling the truth. This leads her to confess that both she and the hotel clerk are actually police informants and that the hotel clerk has planted a tracking device on him. Seeing Jason’s panic, Kathy promises to let him go after he spends the night with her (in spite of the fact that she is married—though her husband is in a forced labor camp). With little in the way of options, Jason agrees and ends up going out to dinner with Kathy, only to realize she is truly crazy, confessing to having spent an extended period of time in a mental facility. As Jason starts to express his desire to leave and figure out what’s happened to him on his own, Kathy begins screaming viscerally, attracting the attention of everyone in the restaurant. In order to evade having the manager call the police, Jason pays him off, dipping yet again into his reserve of money that he somehow still has regardless of no longer being famous.
Breaking Out on His Own
Once they are outside, Jason flees from Kathy in order to find a pay phone to call Heather. Instantly deeming Jason a “dweeb fan,” Heather hangs up the phone on him. He calls her again to relay all of the personal information he can think of about her that proves he really does know her. Heather still refuses to believe or listen to him, and merely hangs up the phone again.
After giving up on trying to get Heather to remember him, Jason is stopped at a security checkpoint and asked to hand over his identification. Miraculously, the forged documents pass the test, leaving Jason with an immense sense of relief—that is, until Kathy emerges from the shadows to claim the accolades she feels she deserves for getting him out of being tossed into a labor camp. Jason, once again with no other real plan, accompanies Kathy back to her apartment where a police official named Inspector McNultry awaits. McNulty tells Kathy and Jason that he was tipped off by the tracking device that the hotel clerk put on Jason, and then proceeds to inform Jason that Kathy’s husband died years ago, she just hasn’t chosen to accept it. With that, McNulty takes Jason to the nearest precinct, listing his name as Jason Tavern, a name that links to a mechanic in Wyoming. Questioning Jason as to why he does not resemble the man they have on file, he creates an elaborate story about having received plastic surgery.
Seemingly content with the story, McNulty releases Jason with a seven-day temporary ID pass until they can confirm his identity and issue him a new set of ID cards. McNulty, of course, knows that Jason is lying about the plastic surgery and immediately alerts the Police General of Los Angeles, Felix Buckman, of the situation.
Instantly intrigued by Taverner’s case and total lack of a paper trail, Buckman insists on having Taverner delivered to him the second his tracking device generates a location. Taverner, meanwhile, foolishly believes he is safe from further interrogation from the pols.
Jason comes up with the plan to go to Las Vegas so that he can meet an older woman in one of the nightclubs who will take him in. Although Jason contemplates simply buying an apartment of his own, the process for getting one requires far too much red tape for his current standing. Once he takes a cab to Vegas, he encounters an older woman named Ruth Gomen who he used to be involved with, but who naturally has no memory of him. He decides to chat her up and ends up getting her to take him back to her apartment. After their tryst, the two get in an argument when Jason insults her by calling her old. All the while, the pols are in pursuit of Taverner’s location, ultimately tracking him to Ruth’s apartment and apprehending both of them.
Return to L.A.
Back in Los Angeles, Buckman questions Taverner exhaustively, only to realize he truly has no idea what happened to him or why no one can seem to identify him. Buckman even tries using the tactic of telling Taverner that he is a Seven (Jason is a Six, an elite breed of human genetically engineered by the government).
Although Taverner is impressed, he still has no way of explaining his—for all intents and purposes—lack of existence. With no further questions, Buckman tells Taverner that he must stay in the precinct overnight as part of procedure and will then be released in the morning. Buckman’s true intent, however, is to uncover a plot he feels Jason is a part of involving the other Sixes, thus he has his deputy put a number of deeply embedded tracking devices on Jason while he sleeps.
Meeting Alys Buckman
Upon re-entering the world, Jason is approached by Buckman’s sexually deviant sister, Alys, who has a son with Buckman named Barney (who lives in Florida in order to mask the fact that he is a product of incest). Alys makes no apologies for her lifestyle, as well as her openness to experimentation with the same sex. She pulls Jason aside and takes him into her car so that she can extract all of the tracking devices from his body. Both intrigued and suspicious of her generosity, Jason asks why she is so willing to help him. Alys then shows him several of his records that she has stored in the backseat. Flummoxed, Jason demands to know how she got a hold of his recordings. Alys promises to explain herself if Jason accompanies her to Buckman’s house. Jason easily agrees, relieved to find that perhaps he didn’t imagine his entire life as a famous person.
Once Jason gets to Alys and Felix’s home, Alys wastes no time in offering Jason some mescaline to calm his nerves. Instead of relaxing, Jason ends up panicking as he starts to have vivid hallucinations. Alys goes to the bathroom to get him something to counteract the mescaline—which may not even be mescaline—only to end up disintegrating into nothing but a skeleton before Jason teeters in to find her. Alarmed and uncertain of the implications of her death, Jason flees the scene, briefly pursued by the Buckmans’ security guard.
With his records in tow—the only proof of his true identity—Jason seeks help from a woman driving by named Mary Anne Dominic. At first, Jason persuades her to give him a ride by claiming he needs to go to the hospital, but then quickly sends Mary Anne into a state of nervousness when he passes the hospital after commandeering the vehicle. Trying to assuage her proves useless as she insists she just wants to be left alone. Ultimately, he takes Mary Anne to a restaurant where they find one of his songs on the jukebox. Utterly perplexed as to why he’s suddenly famous again, Jason uncovers a dark truth about a government-manufactured drug called KR-3, an experimental concoction that allows its users to slip into an alternate universe.
Themes of Surreality
Like much of Dick’s literature, the concepts of parallel universes and questionable realities are prominent factors. No one can ever truly be certain of what’s real and what isn’t, not to mention the pervasive feeling that no one is to be trusted. And, in the end, it seems that our main characters never really gain insight as much as resigned acceptance. But, at least fame is able to console Jason, now no longer relegated to the role of identityless cipher. Because even if you don’t know who you really are, at least hordes of others seem to.