Lullaby for a Paingod on the River Styx

01/20/96 (Guest Ranter: James C. Hess)

I've got a million of them. Really. I do. Okay, okay. Maybe not a million. Possibly a million and one. More like a million and two. Roy Romer, governor of Colorado, has one. Bill Clinton, one too. Hmm? What's that? What am I going on about? Oh, for Chrissakes! Pay attention already! I'm talking theories here. Roy-boy has a theory that says anyone who thinks guns are okay is an anti-patriot. Clinton has a theory that says anyone who disagrees with him is an extremist. I have a theory on both of these alleged leaders. It says as small children they were repeatedly dropped on their heads from heights of at least twenty feet. But don't mind me. I'm mostly harmless. And I've got a million of 'em. Really. I do. Theories, that is. Really. Some of my theories are pretty sound. Like the one about entropy and repeating multi-directional shock waves. Or the one about how there was more than one gunman in Dallas the day JFK died. (I say three.) Some of my theories, of course, are just silly. Douglas Adamsesque in nature. Like the misbehaving ballcock-in-the-back-of-the- toilet-and-the-impending-important-dinner-guest-theory. Or the black-hole- behind-the-laundry-drier-theory. (Don't ask. Just count your socks and tell me later--do YOU have an even number?) And some of my theories are, well, interesting. Like The Harlan Ellison Theory. I have this theory about Harlan Ellison (HE). A two-parter, so stay close by. Part one says that everyone who knows HE has at least one story about him. Part two of the theory says that everyone who knows of HE has at least one story about him. I don't know HE. Never met him formally. (Probably never will.--sigh--) But a check of my records show I have three stories about him. Gather around, one and all. Hunker down in The Big Chair. It's story time. Story one begins when I was about three years old. My father, ever wise, decided that I could either spend my formative years in front of the television, my brain turning to soft gray dust as a result, or I could put my childhood to use and learn to read before the time for such a thing came along. Of course, I was reading Dick and Jane and Spot and other like stuff at four. By age five I was into the heady stuff. Jekyll and Hyde. Treasure Island. And then, the following year, the kicker that forever changed that particular direction of my life. Ellison. Well, actually it would have been Ellison--that Ellison--had my second grade teacher made clear what she wanted me to read. She didn't. So I did. It goes like this: She decided, since I was slightly advanced--intellectually speaking--it would be to our mutual advantage if I read everything I could lay my pudgy little hands on. So she sent me to the school library to find a book. A book by a man named Ellison. Now I am a fairly obedient sort. Tell me to do something and odds are good I will do it. My teacher told me to go to the school library and check out a book by a man named Ellison. I went to the school library. I found a book by a man named Ellison. I checked it out. But didn't find out until after I had read the book cover to cover that my teacher for me to read Ellison. The other Ellison, that is. Ralph Ellison. I had read Harlan Ellison. Now understand: I have no problem whatsoever with Harlan Ellison's writings. Granted, he has been known to cause the New York sparrowfart Literary Types endless problems because he regularly peppers his literary ruminations with colorful metaphors which often involve anatomical impossibilities, but, hey: Language is language is language, right? Not according to this particular custodian of the public education system. Had I been caught in The Boy's Room in a moment of self-gratification, pants twisted around my ankles, I doubt her facial horror upon learning what it was I had been reading would have been any less. I will never forget that look. She stammered. She spluttered. She gagged. 'Harlan...Ellison...?' But I was hooked. I cannot begin to put into words what it is about HE that so appeals to me, but he does. And through the many years since that day I have gone to what may considered great lengths to find his writings. Story two: About six years ago I went to H*O*L*L*Y*W*O*O*D* to meet with a well-known producer regarding the rights to a certain screenplay I had written. (Long story short on this: He did not buy my script, but did something that changed the director of my life forever from that point on. Remind me some time and I will tell you about it.) Now because this producer was then SOMEBODY and I was NOBODY I was slightly more than nervous. I was told our meeting would last about a half hour. I was told, if I wanted to, I could fly out to Los Angeles in the morning, do lunch (read: meeting), and fly home in the afternoon. Like I said, I was nervous. And when I am extremely nervous I tend to overcompensate. My meeting was Wednesday afternoon. I flew into San Diego the Friday before the meeting, drove to Burbank, and waited for Wednesday to come. It did. And the meeting...well, it happened. Now, as a result of what happened in that meeting my thinking got a bit screwed up. (Read: I wasn't thinking rationally.) After I left the meeting I was charged. I was wild. I was temporarily insane. So much so I decided that since I was in southern California and since I had HE's home address I would drive to his house, introduce myself, and go home from there. But...somewhere between Burbank and HE's house sanity and reality kicked back in. What the HELL was I thinking? I was nobody! And HE...well..he'd probably rip my liver out and eat it. Raw. I decided I should turn around and go home. I decided I should keep going. I decided I should turn around and go home. I decided I should keep going. I decided I couldn't decide what to do. Then I saw it. HE's house. It is, simply, a house. A nice house. Nothing unusual about it. Just a house. Sans severed heads and body parts scattered about. I drove past. I drove back the other way. I drove past. I drove back the other way. What to do? What to do? After about the sixth (seventh?) pass, I formulated a plan: I'd park the rental car a safe distance away, walk by HE's house, look at the house, ring the bell. Run like hell. I parked a safe distance away from the house. I walked toward the house. And as I approached I saw something. It was a mirage. A hallucination. No... It was... Harlan. Ellison. In the flesh. I slowed my pace, coming up on him. He watched. He waited. I watched him. He watched me. We watched each other. I stopped. He waited. He watched me. I think I said something like, "Hello." He said something along the same lines. (I don't remember, really. And I couldn't hear. My heart was pounding in my throat.) We watched each other. Just me and HE. Then he turned away and went inside. Story three: As I already noted I have spent years going to almost extreme lengths looking for HE's writings. And, with an occasional bit of of help, have managed to find almost everything he has ever written. Almost. About a year ago, by way of The Harlan Ellison Recording Collection, I learned that there were available copies of a book I could not previously find. So I ordered a copy of it from HERC. A slight digression: As you may know, if you know anything about HERC, HE will sign any item you order. As long as you request this. I ordered the aforementioned book. But I didn't ask that it be signed. The book came. I opened it. It was signed. And the kicker was the way he signed it.

Dear Jim,
Best Wishes.
Harlan Ellison
I know you were the prick driving back and forth in front of my house.
So it's not a big deal. Right? So it's just an autograph. Right?
To you, maybe.
To me it means a lot.
To me it says a lot.
It says to me that when a person the stature of HE takes the time to sign a book he wrote for a nobody like me there may just be hope for the future of humanity after all.
Of course that's just a theory.
And I've got a million of 'em.
Really. I do.

James C. Hess
January, 1996

James C. Hess is the creator of The Cinematic Voyeur. He is also the creator and co-producer of Anhedonia: The User's Guide To The Cinematic Voyeur. Additionally he has written eleven screenplays, four teleplays, and a novel (tentatively scheduled for publication in 1997). Most recently he was accused of and pled guilty to leaving the toilet seat in the upright position at his best friend's house. She has since forgiven him, suspending his sentence.

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