By John Hertz: The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, my local club, has been meeting every Thursday over eighty years. Most of us rhyme “LASFS” with joss fuss although Len Moffatt always rhymed it with sass mass.
People often come for the business meeting and leave before the program. That’s because our business is monkey business. We have strange motions – I mean, in the parliamentary sense; File 770 is a public forum – and auctions. Maybe your club does also.
Last night the program was Harlan Ellison. Of course the room was crammed.
We didn’t call it “An Evening with Harlan Ellison”. We didn’t call it anything. He told us he’d like to come by, didn’t mind if we let people know, and would gladly take questions and give autographs if we didn’t make a performing elephant of him. I paraphrase.
Of course he’s a LASFS member. While he’s become a tremendous celebrity as a pro he’s also a fan. Among many other things he brought about the faithful contributions of Nalrah Nosille to Science Fiction Five-Yearly – published on time for sixty years – until the very last issue.
Of course he’s good at telling stories – he says Whoopi Goldberg, a friend of his, is too – and so many of us wanted to hear him we ended up seating him at a table on a platform with most everyone just listening. It was all right.
Our current clubhouse (our third; we outgrew two others) also has a social hall, a computer-game room, and our library. We even have a Null Space; one very able member was Bob Null. Fans also hung around these spaces from time to time, including John DeChancie, me, and Harlan’s wife Susan who is herself a wonder. He couldn’t; he was busy. But it was all right. In fact it was a gas.
I don’t know if Harlan was born in a cross-fire hurricane. He was however reading by two – maybe you were also – and like many of the quick and the young he perceived and might answer more than he yet grasped. Once someone told him “Don’t hock me a chainik” (a Yiddishism, literally don’t bang me a teapot = make such a fuss) and he said “Okay, I’ll pawn you in Poughkeepsie.”
Dennis the Menace, he said, to him was Goldilocks.
Later he served in the Army. Just conceiving of this roused our imagination. He was court-martialed fifteen times. Acquitting him, which always happened, didn’t seem to make things much better. At the end of his active duty he found nothing in his folder about where he was to go for reserve duty. Everyone else had an assignment. He asked. They said “Just go away.”
Some of the legends about him never happened. He is not always the calmest man in the world and he has found their recurrence troubling. He told of a fellow who during another question time asked “Why did you drop that chandelier on those people?” To that man, and to us, he explained what he’d have had to do to get at a chandelier, to detach it, and to drop it. And what would those people have been doing in the meantime? And what place would he have had to stand on to wield that lever and move that world? I paraphrase.
Finally Susan, in her role as Mary Poppins, said it was time to go home. Of course there were new books and we wanted to buy them. Of course he preferred to sell some but was almost apologetic. Finally Jerry Pournelle managed it by asking “Harlan, if they buy your books will you tell us why you dropped that chandelier?” We all cracked up and it was all right.