The Chaotic Afternoon and Unruly Evening Hanging with Harlan Ellison: Part 2 of 2

---Correction: The photo used in ConNotations Vol.17, Issue 3 should have been credited to Rick Wyatt ©2007---

The clock read 6:15 p.m. and Harlan decided it was time to leave Pink’s Hot Dogs and head to the Writer’s Guild of America Theater for the premier of Erik Nelson’s documentary, Dreams with Sharp Teeth: a film about Harlan Ellison. The crowd dispersed to various vehicles and Rick Wyatt (HarlanEllison.Com) rode with me.

The very organized Steve Barber had handed out maps and even so, Rick and I found our way to the parking garage of the theater. Soon, David Loftus and the Richmonds arrived, little knowing that they would be helping Rick and me to schlep the many boxes of books into the theater for the autograph session after the event. I lead the parade of pack mules across the lobby, located Susan Ellison,

and asked her where she was setting up. Susan indicated a spot and we all laid our burdens down. After I came out of the event in the theater, I noticed that everything had been moved, presumably to allow more room for the attendees to belly up to the bar. I located some of the people from Pink’s, schmoozed a bit, and then headed into the theater to grab a seat.

I spotted the Richmonds, and accepted Andrea’s kind invitation to join them in the “Friend’s of Harlan Ellison” row. Sitting down, I glanced to my left, noticing a woman five seats away, her eyes narrowing, counting the seats. After deciding I was not sitting on one of her imaginary friends, the woman turned her attention elsewhere. However, her attention returned each time someone stopped to talk to Tim,

or Andrea, or Alexia and when the inevitable time came when someone stopped and raised a finger indicating the empty seats between myself and the woman, she called out, “They’re saved!” I shrugged and, dejected, the seat inquirer shambled off. This event seems to repeat itself endlessly. It was just as the lights were going down that the woman’s imaginary friends popped into reality and took their places. I wonder if they ever knew of the valiant battle waged by their friend to safeguard their seats.

I watched the documentary and a series of emotions washed over me. I felt the chagrin I’d felt when I’d been with Harlan and he’d pointed out to someone that they’d just littered, it was a bad thing, and they shouldn’t do it again. I felt the heart-in-my-throat feeling about my father as I viewed a much older Harlan watching a film-to-tape transfer of a much younger Harlan as his father put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. I felt a smirk break into a grin as Susan Ellison told the tale of Harlan locking her out of their home, while she was sans clothes. I felt myself smiling as Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Dan Simmons, the irrepressible Robin Williams, and other friends shared their thoughts and feelings on what Ron Moore had called, “…the small parade that is Harlan Ellison.”

After watching the documentary I whole-heartedly agree with screenwriter, Josh Olson (A History of Violence), when he said to Harlan, “It’s as close to the experience of hanging out with you as I can imagine on film.”

Following the film, Olson attempted to interview Ellison, but it was mostly a lost cause as Ellison spotted old friends in the audience he wanted to talk to, he was bribed into singing Shel Silverstein’s You Treat Me Like A D-O-G, he had stories he wanted to tell which were only tangentially related to the questions posed by Olson, most of which seemed to cause only a slight consternation on the part of Olson and all of which delighted the audience.

The crowd moved to a reception area in the lobby that included a dessert buffet, a no-host bar, and Harlan’s autograph table. I mingled, setting up a late breakfast with the Webderland Irregulars, speaking with Josh Olson, singing a bit of the Mickey Mouse Club theme with Len Wein (Swamp Thing), and chatting with Steven Barnes (Great Sky Woman). Eventually the crowd dispersed and at 1:00 A.M., the W.G.T. closed its doors and the only ones remaining on the sidewalk were the Ellisons, the Richmonds, Len Wein, Christine Valada, Rick Wyatt, and myself.

When the crew and passengers of the S.S. Grey Ghost went down with the ship (see part 1 of this article), six people needed transportation. Wein and Valada were transporting the Ellisons, so I loaded Wyatt and the Richmonds into my Saturn Vue, leaving Beverly Hills behind and headed to Sherman Oaks.

The trip was definitely a group effort, as I’d never been to Ellison Wonderland at night, nor from the South. We made it to the motel where they were staying, but it was only to drop off Wyatt.

The Richmonds’ rented car was parked in front of the Ellisons’ home. We pressed on. Stately Ellison Manor is near the top of a hill, bordering watershed land, with tortuous and winding roads. After nearly twenty minutes of driving back and forth up hairpin turns, we were just around the corner from the house when we spotted it: a deer in a hedge. We looked at the deer, the deer looked at us and then bounded into a lawn, over some shrubbery, and it was gone. I recovered, drove to the Ellisons’, said my goodbyes, and followed the Richmonds’ car back down the hill, past their motel, on to Laurel Canyon, and eventually back to my hotel and bed.

Four hours of sleep and a half hour of tossing-and-turning later, I gave up and got ready for the day. We’d had a great day with perfect weather, but that was yesterday and today it was raining. I called the Original Pantry Café (where I had arranged to meet the Webderlanders) and got a vague idea of its location from the very busy person who answered the phone. As I was checking out of the Best Western Beverly Pavilion, I asked the reception clerk if she knew where the Pantry Café was located. She looked it up and printed out a map. I was on my way.

I had given myself plenty of time which was fortunate as I had passed the Pantry without knowing it, went down a one-way street that forced you back onto the freeway, ended up parking in a mall a couple of blocks from the Pantry, and getting lost in the rain while on foot. I made it to the Original Pantry Café at 9:55 A.M.,

bypassed the line of people snaking out the door and down the sidewalk, and checked inside: no Webderlanders. I went back outside, got in line, and waited. The previous night Keith Cramer had asked for my cell number, but I’d forgotten the charger and didn’t turn on the phone unless I was making a call. Of course, if I’d gotten his number I could have called and found out that weather and traffic had conspired to delay the group, but I didn’t so I left the Original Pantry Café, alone and hungry on a solo journey.

The ride from L.A. to Phoenix was mostly uneventful, with one exception: gasoline. I hadn’t been too concerned about fueling up the Vue, so I passed Banning, Palm Springs, Indio, thinking I could make it to Blythe. Nope. So when I saw the “Desert Center: Gas Ahead” sign, I exited I-10, went north on Desert Center Rice Road, spotted the station, and pulled in. The attendant exited the office, unlocked the old gas pump, flipped the crank, and stood by while I pumped gas. I was almost hypnotized as I watched the numbers blur by, the sound coming from the pump reminding me of a one-armed bandit. I released the pump trigger, looked at the cost, and my jaw dropped: $10.57. I looked at the price-per-gallon and it read $4.39. Remember, this was on April 20th when the average gas price was $2.97. I did some rough calculations, pulled the trigger until I was at $12.23, paid the attendant and headed for Blythe and the relatively cheaper gas of $3.38 per gallon.

Despite some minor issues, I had a great time, met some new people, reestablished some friendships, and saw a great film. What more could I ask for?

Creative Differences Web Site
(Warning: Music starts immediately)
IMDB - Dreams With Sharp Teeth: A Film About Harlan Ellison
Webderlanders at Pinks by Steve Barber
The Rod Searcey Gallery
Original Pantry Café
more about the Original Pantry Café
ABC's info about Masters of Science Fiction and "The Discarded"by Harlan Ellison with Josh Olson