Harlan Ellison is one of my oldest and closest friends. He is a brother to me in everything but blood. He is creative, crotchety, compassionate, cantankerous, compulsive, compelling, and pretty much every other adjective one might find in the dictionary, except one. The one thing Harlan Ellison is not, not now, not ever, is boring.
We have been friends since that day, thirty-some-very odd years ago, when Harlan confronted me in the corridors of DC Comics, introduced himself, and told me he was there to punch me in the nose. It's an interesting story, one I'd be happy to relate here sometime, if enough of you are interested in hearing it. But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now.
The major reason I didn't blog more yesterday, despite my recent promise, was that my lovely wife Christine and I spent the entire day and evening wrangling Harlan as he became the first speaker in the Creative Voices series of lectures at local Pierce College, where Christine teaches photography. The speakers for the second Creative Voices lecture, to be held this fall, are our friends Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who have some minor, rickyticky movie about pirates or something opening this weekend, which all of you will probably go see. But I digress.
Harlan spoke twice during the day. First, in the afternoon at the Campus Center, to a group of students, then in the evening, at the Pierce Performing Arts Center, to an audience of students, adults, and anyone else wearing Kevlar underwear, who was brave enough to attend. Watching Harlan speak is not unlike what I imagine those old EST seminars of the '70s were like, except that you're allowed to go to the bathroom during the Ellison talk.
Harlan takes the stage, refuses to give it back, and then enthusiastically starts challenging the audience as he launches into a series of fascinating stories that keep getting interrupted by some new story the previous one has just reminded him of. Eventually, albeit with occasional prodding from the audience, Harlan will indeed finish every one of the stories he's begun, but the process is not unlike eating an artichoke, peeling away at the outer layers piece by piece until you reach the soft and tasty heart inside. It's something that is far better experienced than described.
The highlight of the day's two performances, however, came during the afternoon session, when Harlan called for any questions from the audience. One of the students, reading from Harlan's abbreviated biography from the program, asked, in unwitting reference to an honor bestowed upon Harlan last year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, "How did you become one of only 29 Grand Masters?" Harlan replied, "Do you know what a Grand Master is?" Without missing a beat, the kid answered, "Not really, but I think it has something to do with the Ku Klux Klan."
It took us twenty minutes to scrape Harlan up off the floor.