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       Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation, p.1

           Harlan Ellison
 
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Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation


  Gentleman Junkie And Other Stories Of The Hung-Up Generation

  Harlan Ellison

  GENTLEMAN JUNKIE AND OTHER STORIES OF THE HUNG-UP GENERATION

  Aside from naming a child after someone, dedicating a book is the purest way of saying thank you and you’ve been important in my life. I never do it lightly. The first edition of this book was dedicated:

  For FRANK M. ROBINSON, who

  has helped, rescued, and even cried

  sad, dark tears; in friendship.

  But years pass, and while the debt a dedication pays does not diminish in value, time separates friends; and the time machine that is a book permits the correction of oversights and omissions. So this new edition refurbishes the thank you to Frank and adds:

  For RACHEL, with love.

  “There is no use writing anything that has been written before unless you can beat it. What a writer in our time has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done.”

  ERNEST HEMINGWAY, 1936

  “Society and man are mutually dependent enemies and the writer’s job [is] to go on forever defining and defending the paradox—lest, God forbid, it be resolved.”

  ARTHUR MILLER, 1974

  “The purpose of fiction is the creation of a small furry object that will break your heart.”

  DONALD BARTHELME

  Table of Contents

  Foreword:

  by Frank M. Robinson

  Introduction:

  The Children of Nights

  Final Shtick

  Gentleman Junkie

  May We Also Speak?

  Four Statements from the Hung-Up Generation

  Daniel White for the Greater Good

  Lady Bug, Lady Bug

  Free with this Box!

  There’s One on Every Campus

  At the Mountains of Blindness

  This is Jackie Spinning

  No Game for Children

  The Late, Great Arnie Draper

  High Dice

  Enter the Fanatic, Stage Center

  Someone is Hungrier

  Memory of a Muted Trumpet

  Turnpike

  Sally in Our Alley

  The Silence of Infidelity

  Have Coolth

  RFD #2

  No Fourth Commandment

  The Night of Delicate Terrors

  Foreword

  by Frank M. Robinson

  Harlan Ellison is a talent. He could, if he desired, be a fairly hilarious stand-up comedian, a more-than-decent balladeer, a respectable jazz musician, or what-have-you.

  He makes his living at none of these.

  He’s a Writer.

  This is an easy thing to say, and a very difficult thing to be. You have to have a certain talent to begin with, and then you have to develop it.

  You develop it by first giving up your regular job because, as you quickly find out, serious writing is a full-time proposition and steady employment saps your strength and enthusiasm—so you take part-time jobs in bookstores, libraries, and beaneries, and you write in the early morning hours when the rest of the city is sound asleep (few people in the rest of the city have talents they want to develop).

  You develop your talent by living on crackers and beans, by washing your own clothes and stringing them up on a wire in the john, by wearing the same shirt for a week and sleeping on your pants to give them a crease, and by living in a roach-ridden third-floor walk-up where there’s only one water tap and the water’s the same temperature come summer or winter—cold.

  You develop that talent by writing like mad every free moment you have; by stealing away a few of those moments to read what’s been written by other people; by submitting material to every magazine you know of, even if they only pay in packets of birdseed, and by being thrown bodily out of publishers’ offices as well as agents’.

  A lot of writers go through exactly this.

  Ellison did.

  A few writers have the guts and stamina to claw their way up from the bottom and finally Make It.

  Ellison did.

  All writers worth their salt (and despite what they go through) develop an empathy and a compassion for people and realize what so few outsiders do: that the characters you read about in fiction are not much different from the people you meet in Real Life, the acquaintances you make and the friends you love. It’s not so much the material you work with, it’s the view you take.

  Ellison realizes this.

  Read the following stories and you’ll know what I mean. Harlan Ellison writes about the golden people, the tarnished people—Spoof and Marty Field and Tiger and Frenchie and Irish and the kids who hang out in the college sandwich shop—the little people with big problems who are no different from the people you know if only you could see the forest for the trees.

  To take issue with an old saying, the rewards of virtue are a good deal more than virtue itself—of all the things in this world that do pay off, hard work heads the list. Exactly where the Big Time begins is hard to say—where does Wealth start and Poverty end, the interminable chain of scrounged meals and tiny, stuffy rooms get replaced by a decent diet and a Room with a View? In one sense, the Big Time for Ellison is only a page away. “Daniel White for the Greater Good” has been sold to the movies (what sort of job they’ll do, I don’t know, but if they’re half as honest as the author, it will make Hollywood’s pap look like…pap), a number—literally, plural—of novels are scheduled for early publication, and others have been inked on contract. Hard work pays. So does Talent.

  And so does Truth. Ellison does not hide the fact that the hurtful youth and background of Marty Field in “Final Shtick” are his own, that Ivor Balmi of “Lady Bug, Lady Bug,” is another dimly-realized facet of his own personality. In fact, like with any good author, most of his characters are partial reincarnations of himself. Literature is not found like raisins in the bland oatmeal of the Middle Classes. Authors with something to say are not Typical American Boys who have been raised in the soft and tender wombs of Suburbia. More often than not they’ve been kicked in the groin by life, and the scar tissue will always show.

  So now the party’s over and it’s time to meet all those people behind the masks.

  Frank M. Robinson, coauthor,

  The Glass Inferno

  Introduction

  The Children of Nights

  “Race of Abel, drink and be sleeping:

  God shall smile on thee from the sky.

  “Race of Cain, in thy filth be creeping

  Where no seeds of the serpent die.

  “Race of Abel, fear not pollution!

  God begets the children of nights.

  “Race of Cain, in thy heart’s solution

  Extinguish thy cruel appetites.”

  from Cain and Abel;

  Baudelaire: FLOWERS OF EVIL

  Writers with their books are like fickle daddies with their children. There are always favorites and less-than-favorites and even (though daddies would never cop to it) ones they hate. They love this one because it sums up the totality of their worldview, and that one because it has the best stretch of sustained good writing, and that one over there under the cabbage leaf because nobody else loves it…the runt of the litter.

  I love this book shamelessly because it was the book that was most pivotal in changing my life. Not once, god bless it, but three times. And having it back in print again after it’s been out of print for a while fills me with such good feelings, I’d like to let them bubble over, to share them with you.

  The first time this book turned m
e around, it wasn’t even a book; it was merely a random group of stories, uncollected, published here and there in a variety of magazines that ranged from the then-prestigious Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to the sexually cornball men’s magazines of the fifties, magazines like Knave and Caper. You see, I started writing for a living in 1955 when I got booted out of college for diverse reasons and went to New York. At that time, I wrote a lot, and I didn’t always write very well. Learning one’s craft, in any occupations save writing and doctoring, permits a margin of error. If you’re a plumber and you fuck up, the worst that can happen is that a pipe will break and you’ll flood someone’s bathroom. But writing and doctoring leave the evidence behind. And a bad story is liable to become as stinking a corpse as a surgeon’s slip of the knife. Both come back to haunt you years later. (At least doctors get to bury their mistakes.)

  So among the hundreds—quite literally hundreds—of stories I wrote to keep my hand in the game—detective yarns, science fiction, fantasies, westerns, true confessions, straight action-adventure stories—there are only a handful that I can bear to face today. Every once in a while I’d write a piece that meant something more to me than 10,000 words @ 1¢ a word=that month’s rent and groceries. (Yes, Gentle Reader, there was a time in this land, not so far dimmed by memory, during which a normal unmarried human being could live quite adequately on $100 a month.)

  Of those random stories that still stand up well, I have included four in this book: “No Fourth Commandment,” which was later freely (very freely) adapted as a Route 66 segment and, while I can’t legally prove it, seemed to form the basis for a very fine but sadly overlooked Robert Mitchum motion picture; “The Silence of Infidelity,” which I wrote while married to my first wife, Charlotte…and while it never actually happened to me, I can see it was a kind of wish fulfillment at the time; “Free with This Box!” which did happen to me, and fictionalizes the first time I was ever inside a jail…a story that probably sums up the core of my bad feelings about cops even to this day, though I have more substantive reasons for my negativity in that area; and “RFD #2,” a collaboration I wrote with the talented, marvelous Henry Slesar. Henry, incidentally, will be better known to readers as the man who created and wrote the enormously successful daytime television drama The Edge of Night.

  There are others, of course. One cannot write three hundred stories in three years and not come golden at least a few times. But up till 1957, I was strictly a money writer who had not yet reached the pinnacle of egomania your humble author now dwells upon; a place that would have permitted me to think that what I was doing to stay alive was anything nobler or more fit for posterity than mere storytelling.

  But I was drafted into the army in 1957, and time for writing was at a premium. So I wrote only stories that I wanted to write, not ones I had to write to support myself or a wife or a home. And from 1957 through 1959 I wrote “No Game for Children,” “Daniel White for the Greater Good,” “Lady Bug, Lady Bug” and eight others in this book, most of which I sold to Rogue Magazine, then based in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

  Writing those stories was the first time this book altered my life, even before they were formally a book. They brought me an awareness of how concerned I was about social problems, the condition of life for different minorities in this country, the depth of injustice that could exist in a supposedly free society, the torment many different kinds of people suffer as a daily condition of life. It was to form the basis of my involvement with the civil rights movement and antiwar protests of the sixties, my commitment to feminism.

  Those stories showed me that if I had any kind of a talent greater than that of a commercial hack, I had damned well better get my ass in gear and start demonstrating it. So, when I was discharged from the army, and went to Evanston to become an editor for Rogue, I concentrated on writing the sort of stories best typified by “Final Shtick” in this book.

  Things didn’t go well for me in Evanston. The man I worked for at Rogue was the sort of man who kills souls without even realizing the purely evil nature of what he’s doing. My marriage had long since become a shattered delusion and after the divorce I proceeded to flush myself down a toilet. That was when Frank Robinson rescued me the first time.

  Since Frank did the Foreword for the original edition of this book, and since it is reprinted in this edition, I’ll digress for a moment to tell that story, as a demonstration to those of you who may not understand the real meaning of the word, what constitutes genuine friendship, the single most important rare-earth commodity in life.

  Having been married to Charlotte for four years of hell as sustained as the whine of a generator, I was in rotten shape. I didn’t drink or do dope, but I started trying to wreck myself in as many other ways as I could find. Endless parties, unfulfilling sexual liaisons with as many women as I could physically handle every day, dumb friendships with leaners and moochers and phonies and emotional vampires, middle-class materialism that manifested itself in buying sprees that clogged my Dempster Street apartment with more accoutrements and sculpture and housewares than the goddam Furniture Mart could hold.

  And I wasn’t writing.

  One night, I threw another of my monster parties…almost a hundred people…most of whom I had never met till they waltzed in the door. A lot of beer, a lot of music, a lot of foxy coeds from Northwestern, lights, laughter, and myself wandering around trying to find something without a name or description in the flashy rubble of another pointless night.

  Frank showed up. He was the only one who had thought to bring a contribution to the bash. A bottle of wine. We walked into the kitchen, to put it in the pantry, to be drunk lots later by whatever few human beings survived the animal rituals in the other rooms. We walked into the pantry and stood there talking about nothing in particular, just rapping beside the shelves groaning under the weight of Rosenthal china, service for a thousand.

  At that moment, I heard a crash from the living room, and left Frank in midsentence. I dashed in, and some drunken pithecanthropoid I’d met at a snack shop called The Hut was standing silently and slope-browedly midst the ruins of a five-hundred-dollar piece of sculpture. He’d boogied into its pedestal and knocked it into a million amber pieces. Not a sound could be heard in the room. Everyone waited to see if I’d commit mayhem in response to this barbarian assault on my property rights.

  “Chee,” he mumbled, “I’m sorry. I dint see it, I’ll pay ya for it.”

  The lunacy of the remark from an impecunious college student scrounging off his parents just to keep him out of the army and in a school he didn’t like, was infuriating. I flipped, as expected. “You asshole!” I yowled. “Pay me for it? If you could pay for it—and you’ll never be able to save that much money even if you get your pinhead out into the workpool—where the hell do you suppose you’d find another one, schmuck? They don’t sell that statue in Woolworth’s, for chrissakes! Some artist labored a year to cut it out of stone, you brain-damaged clown!”

  And then I turned around and stomped back to the kitchen and Frank in the pantry, still waiting to finish his sentence. I was burning. Frank took one look at me and started talking. Softly.

  “Look at you,” he said. “Just take a look at what you’re turning into. You’re killing yourself. You’re all hung up on owning things, crying over a broken statue, screaming at people you don’t even know. You’re going to die if you don’t pack all this in, start writing a new book, and get the hell out of Chicago!”

  He talked for a long time. And I suppose it was time to listen. After a while, I flashed on the simple truth that you can change your life, if you make a sudden, violent commitment without stopping to rationalize why you shouldn’t. And I reached past Frank, and took down a stack of Rosenthal plates, perhaps twenty of them, one hundred dollars each, these days. And I stepped out of the pantry and stood in the kitchen doorway facing into the dining room, looking through into the living room, and without thinking about it I let out one o
f the most lovely, full-throated, 180-decibel primal shrieks ever heard on this planet…

  And began skimming those lovely, expensive plates at the walls. The first one hit with a crash that brought the whole party to a standstill. Everybody turned to stare at the nut. I kept flinging plates. Into the dining room, into the living room, into the crowd, through the front windows with a smash and shattering joy that could be heard all through the neighborhood. And when I ran out of plates I went and got more. People were dodging the china, ducking and trying to decide whether they should bolt from the house or try and restrain me. Frank was behind me as someone moved on me, and I heard him yell, “Leave him alone!” They backed off, warily.

  Each piece of crockery I kamikaze’d was like a link of a chain breaking. And when I’d had my fill of throwing plates and anything else in that pantry that I could pull loose, I rampaged among the partygoers, screaming wordless and senseless imprecations, ordering them out of the house. Now! Get out! Get your fucking deadbeat asses out of here! Split! And Frank stood in the kitchen doorway, smiling.

  I didn’t go to bed that night.

  I began my first novel in years, SPIDER KISS. I wrote damn near five thousand words that night.

  Next day I started selling my furniture.

  That week I tendered my notice at Rogue, sold off everything I couldn’t carry in a U-Haul trailer attached to the back of my Austin-Healey, packed up my manuscripts and my clothes, kissed all the girls goodbye, hugged Frank and showed him the letter from Knox Burger at Fawcett Gold Medal paperbacks saying he wanted a look at the novel, and motored out of Chicago for New York and a return to saying yes to life.

 
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