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Strange wine, p.1
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       Strange Wine, p.1

           Harlan Ellison
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Strange Wine

  STRANGE WINE by Harlan Ellison

  Copyright © 1978 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  ISBN-10: 0-7592-9184-5

  ISBN-13: 978-0-7592-9184-3


  is an Edgeworks Abbey® Offering in association with

  Published by arrangement with the Author and The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  Harlan Ellison and Edgeworks Abbey are registered trademarks of The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  This edition is copyright © 2008 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. All rights reserved.

  Front Cover Illustration by Leo & Diane Dillon

  Copyright © 1966 by Leo & Diane Dillon.

  Renewed, © 1994 by Leo & Diane Dillon.

  First E-Reads publication: 2009

  Harlan Ellison website:

  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopy, recording, Internet posting, electronic bulletin board or any other information storage and retrieval system, or by any other method, means or process of embodying and/or transmitting information, text or the spoken word now known or hereafter devised without permission in writing from The Kilimanjaro Corporation, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television or in a recognized on-line journal. For information address Author’s agent: Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., 171 East 74th Street, New York, New York 10021, USA.

  All persons, places and organizations in this book-except those clearly in the public domain-are fictitious and any resemblance that may seem to exist to actual persons, places or organizations living, dead or defunct is purely coincidental. These are works of fiction.

  Introduction: “Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look So Terrific Yourself,” copyright CO 1978 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Croatoan,” copyright © 1975 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2003 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Working with the Little People,” copyright © 1977 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2005 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Killing Bernstein,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Mom,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “In Fear of K,” copyright © 1975 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2003 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Hitler Painted Roses,” copyright © 1977 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2005 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Lonely Women Are the Vessels of Time,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Emissary from Hamelin,” copyright © 1977 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2005 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “The New York Review of Bird,” copyright © 1975 by Harlan Ellison. Copyright © 1978 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation. Renewed, 2003 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Seeing,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” copyright © 1975 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2003 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “Strange Wine,” copyright © 1976 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2004 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  “The Diagnosis of Dr. D’arqueAngel,” copyright © 1977 by Harlan Ellison. Renewed, 2005 by The Kilimanjaro Corporation.

  Excerpts from “The Cart” by W.S. Merwin, which originally appeared in The New Yorker, are reprinted by permission of Atheneum Publishers, from the book HOUSE AND TRAVELERS by W.S. Merwin. Copyright © 1977 by W.S. Merwin.


  The author wishes to note the following persons whose kindnesses and support enabled him to write these stories better and more easily than would have been the case without their good offices: Jane Rotrosen; Ray Bradbury; the staff of Words & Music in Charing Cross Road, London; Martin Miller, Director, Marketing Research, Mattell Toys; Vonda N. McIntyre; David Wise; the late, much-missed William Rotsler; Robert Silverberg; Barbara Silverberg; Arthur Byron Cover; both Mike Hodel and Richard Delap, now both gone; Don Pfiel; Edward L. and Audrey Ferman; Eric Protter; Arline Inge; Gerard Van der Leun; Terry Carr, my friend, also gone away; Sherry Gottlieb, Lydia Marano, and staff of the long-defunct A Change of Hobbit in Los Angeles; Stephanie Bernstein, who was senselessly murdered by an ex-con on parole, in Santa Monica; Edward Bryant; Norman Goldfind; Larry Todd; Byron Preiss; Neal Adams; Michael Moorcock; Jill Riches; Jane Gould and the staff of The Portobello Hotel in London; Joe Oles and his family; Haskell, Carol and Tracy Barkin (some of whom are née Klotz); Maggie Pierce and Linda Steele; Karah and Blaire Preiss; Prince Charles Curtis, his father Richard; and Howard Zimmerman and my exquisite honey, my wife, Susan, the Electric Baby.


  This one, with love,

  for my friends,





  All men dream…but not equally. They who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it is vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.


  Only fantasy has eternal youth. What happened nowhere and never can never age.



  “…the expression in a moment, by a series of symbols thrown together in bold and fearless connection, of truth…”



  “I write of things which I have neither seen nor suffered nor learned from another, things which are not and never could have been, and therefore my readers should by no means believe them.”


  “I sing of places I’ve never seen, of people I’ve never been. But savor my songs, because they’re free.”


  “Better the illusions that exalt us than ten thousand truths.”


  INTRODUCTION: Revealed at Last! What Killed the Dinosaurs! And You Don’t Look so Terrific Yourself

  It’s all about drinking strange wine.

  It seems disjointed and jumps around like water on a griddle, but it all comes together, so be patient.

  At 9:38 A.M. on July 15th, 1974, about eight minutes into Suncoast Digest, a variety show on WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida, anchorwoman Chris Chubbuck, 30, looked straight at the camera and said, “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts in living color, you’re going to see another first–an attempt at suicide.”

  Whereupon she pulled a gun out of a shopping bag and blew her brains out, on camera.

  Paragraph 3, preceding, was taken verbatim from an article written by Daniel Schorr for Rolling Stone. I’d heard about the Chubbuck incident, of course, and I admit to filching Mr. Schorr’s sixty concise words because they are concise, and why should I try to improve on precision? As the artist Mark Rothko once put it: “Silence is so accurate.”

  Further, Mr. Schorr perceived in the bizarre death of Chris Chubbuck exactly what I got out of it when I heard the news broadcast the day it happened. She was making a statement about television…on television!

  The art-imitating-li
fe resemblance to Paddy Chayefsky’s film Network should not escape us. I’m sure it wouldn’t have escaped Chris Chubbuck’s attention. Obvious cliché; onward.

  I used to know Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza. He was a wise and a kind man, and there are tens of dozens of people I would much rather see dead than Dan. One time, around lunch-break at Paramount, when I was goofing off on writing a treatment for a Joe Levine film that never got made, and Dan was resting his ass from some dumb horsey number he’d been reshooting all morning, we sat on the steps of the weathered saloon that probably in no way resembled any saloon that had ever existed in Virginia City, Nevada, and we talked about reality versus fantasy. The reality of getting up at five in the morning to get to the studio in time for makeup call and the reality of how bloody much FICA tax they took out of our paychecks and the reality of one of his kids being down with something or other…and the fantasy of not being Dan Blocker, but of being Hoss Cartwright.

  And he told me a scary story. He laughed about it, but it was the laugh of butchers in a slaughterhouse who have to swing the mauls that brain the beeves; who then go home to wash the stink out of their hair from the spattering.

  He told me–and he said this happened all the time, not just in isolated cases–that he had been approached by a little old woman during one of his personal appearances at a rodeo, and the woman had said to him, dead seriously, “Now listen to me, Hoss: when you go home tonight, I want you to tell your daddy, Ben, to get rid of that Chinee fella who cooks for you all. What you need is to get yourself a good woman in there can cook up some decent food for you and your family.”

  So Dan said to her, very politely (because he was one of the most courteous people I’ve ever met), “Excuse me, ma’am, but my name is Dan Blocker. Hoss is just the character I play. When I go home I’ll be going to my house in Los Angeles and my wife and children will be waiting.”

  And she went right on, just a bit affronted because she knew all that, what was the matter with him, did he think she was simple or something, “Yes, I know…but when you go back to the Ponderosa, you just tell your daddy Ben that I said…”

  For her, fantasy and reality were one and the same.

  There was a woman who had the part of a home-wrecker on a daytime soap opera. One day as she was coming out of Lord & Taylor in New York, a viewer began bashing her with an umbrella, calling her filthy names and insisting she should leave that nice man and his wife alone!

  One time during a college lecture, I idly mentioned that I had actually thought up all the words Leonard Nimoy had spoken as Mr. Spock on the sole Star Trek segment I had written; and a young man leaped up in the audience, in tears, and began screaming that I was a liar. He actually thought the actors were living those roles as they came across the tube.

  Why do I tell you all this; and what does it have to do with drinking strange wine?

  Chris Chubbuck perceived at a gut level that for too many Americans the only reality is what’s on the box. That Johnny Carson and Don Rickles and Mary Tyler Moore are more real, more substantial, more immediately important than the members of their own family, or the people in their community. She knew that her death wouldn’t be real unless it happened on television, unless it took place where life is lived, there in phosphor-dot Never-Never Land. If she did it decently, in the privacy of her home, or in some late night bar, or in a deserted parking lot…it would never have happened. She would have been flensed from memory as casually as a popped pimple. Her suicide on camera was the supreme act of loathing and ridicule for the monkeymass that watched her.

  When I was writing my television criticism for the Los Angeles Free Press, circa 1968–72, I used The Glass Teat columns to repeat my belief that those of us who cared, who had some ethics and some talent, dared not abandon to the Visigoths what was potentially the most powerful medium the world had ever known for the dissemination of education and knowledge. I truly believed that. And I said it again and again.

  But it’s been five years since I last wrote those words, and I’ve done so many college speaking engagements that Grand Forks, North Dakota, has blurred with Minneapolis, Minnesota, has blurred with Bethel, Maine, has blurred with Shreveport, Louisiana, and what I’ve come away with is a growing horror at what television has done to us.

  I now believe that television itself, the medium of sitting in front of a magic box that pulses images at us endlessly, the act of watching TV, per se, is mind crushing. It is soul deadening, dehumanizing, soporific in a poisonous way, ultimately brutalizing. It is, simply put so you cannot mistake my meaning, a bad thing.

  We need never fear Orwell’s 1984, because it’s here, with us now, nearly a decade ahead of schedule, and has been with us for quite a while already. Witness the power of television and the impact it has had on you.

  Don’t write me letters telling me how you’ve escaped the terror, how you’re not a slave to the box, how you still read and listen to Brahms and carry on meaningful discussions with your equally liberated friends. Stop and really take stock of how many hours last week you sat stunned before the tube, relaxing, just unwinding, just passing a little time between the demanding and excoriating life-interests that really command your energies. You will be stunned again, if you are honest. Because I did it, and it scared me, genuinely put a fright into me. It was far more time than I’d have considered feasible, knowing how much I despise television and how little there is I care to watch.

  I rise, usually, between five and seven in the morning, depending how late I’ve worked the night before. I work like a lunatic all day…I’m a workaholic…pity me…and by five or six in the evening I have to unwind. So I lie down and turn on the set. Where before I might have picked up a book of light fiction, or dozed, or just sighed and stared at the ceiling, now I turn on the carnivorous coaxial creature.

  And I watch.

  Here in Los Angeles between five and eight, when “Prime Time” begins (oh, how I love that semantically twisted phrase) we have the same drivel you have in your city. Time that was taken from the networks to program material of local interest and edification. Like reruns of Adam-12, The Price Is Right, The Joker’s Wild, Name That Tune, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Concentration, and Match Game P.M.. I lie there like the quadruple amputee viewpoint character of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, never speaking, breathing shallowly, seeing only what flashes before my eyes, reduced to a ganglial image receptor, a raw nerve-end taking in whatever banalities and incredible stupidities they care to throw at me in the name of “giving the audience what they want.”

  If functional illiterates failing such mind-challenging questions as “What was the name of the character Robert Stack played on The Untouchables?” is an accurate representation of “what the audience wants,” then my point has been solidly made…

  …and it goes directly to the answer to the question of what killed the dinosaurs and you don’t look so terrific yourself!

  But I wander. So. I lie there, until my low bullshit threshold is reached, either through the zombie mannerisms of the Adam-12 cops–dehumanized paragons of a virtue never known by L.A.’s former lunatic chief of police, Weirdo Ed Davis–or because of some yotz on The Price Is Right having an orgasm at winning a thirty-year supply of rectal suppositories. And then I curse, snap off the set, and realize I’ve been lying there for ninety minutes.

  And when I take stock of how much time I’m spending in front of that set, either at the five-to-eight break or around eleven o’clock when I fall into bed for another break and turn on The CBS Late Movie, I become aware of five hours spent in mindless sucking at the glass teat.

  If you’re honest, you’ll own up to that much time televiewing, too. Maybe more. Maybe a little less. But you spend from three to eight hours a day at it. And you’re not alone. Nor am I. The college gigs I do have clearly demonstrated that to me. Clearly. I take show-of-hands polls in the audience; and after badgering them to cop to the truth, the vast bulk of the audience adm
its it, and I see the stunned looks of concern and dawning awareness.

  They never realized it was that much; nor did I.

  And the effect it has had on them, on you, young people and old alike; black and white and Hispanic and Oriental and Amerind; male and female; wealthy and impoverished; WASPs and Jews and Shintoists and Buddhists and Catholics and even Scientologists. All of us, all of you, swamped day after day by stereotypes and jingoism and “accepted” life-styles. So that after a while you come to believe doctors are all wise and noble and one with Marcus Welby and they could cure you of anything if only you’d stop being so cranky and irrational; that cops never abuse their power and are somehow Solomonic in their judgments; that, in the final extreme, violence–as represented by that eloquent vocabulary of a punch in the mouth–solves problems; that women are either cute and cuddly and need a strong hand to keep them in line or defeminize themselves if they have successful careers; and that eating McDonald’s prefab food is actually better for you than foie de veau sauté aux fines herbes…and tastier, too.

  I see this zombiatic response in college audiences. It manifests itself most prominently in the kinds of questions that are asked. Here I stand before them, perhaps neither Melville nor Twain, but nonetheless a man with a substantial body of work behind him, books that express the artist’s view of the world (and after all, isn’t that why they paid me two grand or better a night to come and speak? Surely it can’t be my winsome manner!), and they persist in asking me what it was like to work on Star Trek or what Jimmy Caan is really like and why did Tom Snyder keep cutting me off on the Tomorrow show. I get angry with them. I make myself lots less antic and entertaining. I tell them what I’m telling you here. And they don’t like me for it. As long as I’m running down the military-industrial complex or the fat money cats who play sneaky panther games with our lives, they give me many “Right on, brother!” ovations. But when I tell them how shallow and programmed television is making them, there is a clear lynch tenor in the mob. (It isn’t just college kids, gentle reader. I was recently rewarded with sullen animosity when I spoke to a dinner gathering of Southern California Book Publicists, and instead of blowing smoke up their asses about what a wonderful thing book publicity through the Johnny Carson show is–because there isn’t one of them who wouldn’t sacrifice several quarts of blood to get a client on that detestable viewing ground for banal conversationalists–I quoted them the recent illiteracy figures released by HEW. I pointed out that only 8% of the 220,000,000 population of this country buy books, and of that 8% only 2% buy more than a single book a year. I pointed out that 6% of that measly 8% were no doubt buying, as their single enriching literary experience each year, Jaws or Oliver’s Story or the latest Harold Robbins ghastliness, rather than, say, Remembrance of Things Past or the Durants’ The Lessons of History or even the latest Nabokov or Lessing novel. So that meant they were hustling books to only 2% of the population of this country; while the other 98% sank deeper and deeper into illiteracy and functional illiteracy, their heads being shoved under by the pressure of television, to which they were slavishly making obeisance. They were, in effect, sharpening the blade for their executioner, assisting in their own extinction. They really didn’t want to hear that. Nor do college audiences.)

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