Melancholy ain’t just Lassie guarding some cantaloupes.
Nor is it the word that properly describes how I feel today. There are forty-eight synonyms in the Thesaurus for ‘sad’ and not one of them adequately convey how I feel. Just one of the many things I already miss about Harlan Ellison – I’m sure he would look at me and throw out ‘lugubrious’ or ‘woebegone’ or just a simple, ‘low.’
I’d started writing half a dozen times, different things the passed couple of days, and all the words always seemed to just mock my feelings. Maybe it’s not time yet. So, I sat eating (Hydrox) cookies and re-re-re-reading Ellison short stories – feeling sorry for our loss and mad that death slipped in like a thief in the night and took Harlan in his sleep. Normally, that’s the way we all want to go, but there’s something lily-livered about not having the guts/spine/pluck (take your pick) to risk encountering Harlan’s wrath. Eventually, I ran out of cookies – right in the middle of “Jeffty” – and I thought WWHED? (Well, certainly not bother explaining an obvious acronym, or even use one at all, for that matter.) He would write, regardless of perceived ill-timing, regardless of what others thought. Fingers would roll a personalized piece of card stock through the platen of the ol’
Olympia quicker than most
of us could level the paper table; and then those fingers. . .why those two
fingers would just fly with abandoned conviction at 100-plus words per minute, pummeling
the keys with a pugilistic vehemence that. . .sorry, I got carried away, I
digress. He would do what he always did,
write what he was feeling –
* * *
In the hills and canyons that loom high above the Stupido City/Peabody Oaks neighborhood in that Land of Milk and Honey, the roads climb like Kilimanjaro – exactly like Kilimanjaro – at a comfortable 82 degrees, and confound with twists and turns that have lead many a novice explorer to believe they’ve somehow made a left into a Billy Wilder film. In the past, one could follow the faint strains of Django Reinhardt or the echo of typewriter keys stamping ink onto 20# bond and they would find themselves at the entrance to an ancient
. Naysayers had claimed the place didn’t exist,
that it was as much a myth as the man they sought – that people had been lost
in the hills, searching, never to be heard from again. But, if one was true of heart, pure in intent,
and fearless – and clever enough to park off the ever-narrowing road – you
might be granted entrée (an offering of Mandelbrot, or other such nostalgic
fare never hurt one’s chances to cement an invitation). Tread softly, for this
is where you refresh your soul. Aztec
It is here, in the magical place – surrounded by books, and art, and books – and odd, unidentified weights (perhaps ancient Panini presses) that hang bat-like from beneath the kitchen cabinets. It is here, in this house of myth & story, of hidden rooms, of tangled stair steps that fool your eye and should deposit you in the east wing of Winchester House, or worse (better) a broom closet in Area 51; where book have been known to take flight, when the ground shakes. You turn – as if you’re about to encounter Lamont Cranston or some forgotten Sax Rohmer character – instead you find the one you sought; the man, the myth, the bathrobe? – far more Jack Armstrong/Andy Hardy with a Jiminy Cricket gleam in his eye, than ever The Shadow – small in stature, yet grand in all other aspects – immensely talented, gregarious and engaging, encyclopedic, dynamic and notoriously generous with a heart four times – one might say, quadruple – the size of mere mortals. Naysayers – those damned naysayers, again – feared him, distracted from (or added to) his myth saying that he did not suffer fools (true), was argumentative and combative (at times), foul-mouthed and deadly armed with a razor sharp tongue, that would leave you filleted and bleeding out while his pack of rabid lawyers tossed lit matches at you, in a vain attempt to cauterize your wounds. Nay, I suppose you deserve the myth that you search for.
Today the canyons are silent and if you go looking for this place, you won’t find it, as it exists no more – maybe it never did – but it sure felt like it. Myths fade from the hills like a smog-tinged sunset leaving those who saw it all the richer.
* * *
Harlan Ellison – which you may have ascertained by now – died this week at age 84. Harlan Ellison – for those of you who don’t know – was a writer – and not JUST a writer, beyond all the awards and accolades, short stories, anthologies, essays and teleplays – he was my friend, and that’s all that matters to me today. Harlan was not only my friend, but my teacher (our teacher) and our cultural tour guide – what was it The New York Times called him – a cultural warehouse of the mind? – something like that. I strive to write with honest words and avoid the obvious cliché. To continue the fight for, not only human rights, but the struggle of rights of the writer – I once wrote seven page deal memo and got notes back saying “Who do you think you are, Harlan Ellison.” (Grin)
As someone who has lived by my own conscience and never compromised my principles (for good or bad), I respected the way Harlan lived his life and loved him all the more for it. He was, in the end ‘Gaspar,’ his character from “Paladin of the Last Hour.” He taught us everything we need to carry on in his stead – but I’m not ready. I’m still learning. Each time I re-read one of his stories, I learn something new. So I will keep on rearranging the 26 letters in the alphabet and maybe one day, I’ll get it right.
There are many stories – all for another time, another place. This an apology of sorts – not for that embarrassing day, standing in the kitchen telling some story, my arms flailing about with all the grace of Robot from Lost In Space, when my hand slapped one of the “mystery weights” hanging under the cabinet, knocking it onto the custom teak counter-top. I was immediately ushered from the kitchen before I could more damage- “sit elsewhere, before you break something” – apologized for and forgotten. I was mortified, and apparently I still am..
No. I had promised him one last grand escapade – in tribute to Errol Flynn’s legendary stunt of “borrowing” John Barrymore’s body from the morgue, for one final drink – one last Ellison story to live forever in annals of SF fandom. When the end came, I promised to “borrow” Harlan and visit the home of (insert name here) a legendary enemy for one last “visit.” Sadly, the humorless world we find ourselves living in would not look kindly upon that today and I would, no doubt, face numerous criminal charges. Although, it would still be really cool. I’m sorry I’m not in
Southern California anymore, I
might try. And that is what I am truly
sorry for, I let distance and time get between us and I will have to live with
that for the rest of my days.
If the closing narration from his Twilight Zone adaptation of “Paladin of the Last Hour” – “And all that we are, and all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.” – holds any truth, Harlan Ellison remains, and will for a long, long time. At dinner last night, I was telling Harlan stories and reminiscing when my daughter asked, “In Harlan’s will, who gets custody of his lawyers?” See?Remaining.