Harlan Ellison died yesterday. He was my friend.
Harlan has a reputation for cantankerousness. It was well deserved. In the documentary about him, Dreams With Sharp Teeth, Robin Williams says that essentially, most people determine which fights are worth fighting, but to Harlan, every fight was worth fighting. I think that’s accurate. Honestly, I think there were only three kinds of people in his life. His best friends, his hated enemies, and people he hadn’t met yet.
But he was also kind and funny and generous. He walked Love and Capes into IDW... twice. The first time was a kindness. The second time, that’s just straight up crazy. But he could be crazy like that.
i feel like Harlan deserves to live on in stories. So here’s one of mine.
Roger Price, Bob Ingersoll and I were in LA and going to head over his house. After Comic-Con there were regular pilgrimages of comics people to see him. We were the afternoon shift, but he hadn’t eaten, so we started discussing lunch. Well Bob was, on the phone with him. Harlan asked what kind of food we’d like.
Trying to be helpful, I said “not seafood or Chinese.” I’m allergic to seafood, and the one time I’d had Chinese it didn’t sit well with me.
‘Then Bob and Harlan talk a little bit. “Zahler says not seafood or Chinese. He’s allergic to seafood. Uh huh. Yeah. I don’t know.” Then Bob turned around and handed me the phone. “Harlan wants to talk to you.”
Okay, I loved Harlan. But I’m not going to say the man didn’t intimidate me, too. I was afraid he might talk me into swallowing my own tongue, like Miggs in Silence of the Lambs.
Then it was a blur. I remember telling him about the last time I had Chinese food and that it just wasn’t great and I had it near Cleveland, not far from where he lived and...
...I handed the phone back to Bob “Were having Chinese.”
Then over at his house, we had great conversations, I sat in the most strangely comfortable wooden block chair. He read from one of his stories. And then the food came and we gathered in his kitchen. And then, Harlan Ellison, legend of the industry, man who wrote one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek (okay, you know what I mean), my favorite Twilight Zone and more, sat next to me through the whole meal, and guided me through the meal. He told me what everything was, made sure I was staying away from any seafood, and just played Virgil through the whole thing.
And yes, it was Goddamned delicious.
So much so that, when there was one piece of fried tofu left, I asked to have it in my polite midwestern way. But the late afternoon shift of visitors came in and he told the story of me and the Chinese food, except now I was more aggressive. When he told it again, I was virtually breaking my chopsticks into shivs, holding them to his throat lest I not have the last wonton.
His story was better.
Then a couple years later we were at his home and we decided to get dinner Harlan said “what about Thai?”
”I’ve never had it,” I said. “But let’s go.”
My condolences go to his friends, fans, and his wife Susan. The world was a much better and more interesting place with Harlan it and I’m going to miss him