A Visit with Harlan

Okay. I had a really strange dream about Harlan Ellison.

First I dreamt I received a phone call from him. "I'm dead," he said. "I want you to have my books … or some of them anyway."

In my dream, I drive up to his house which is not, in fact on Coy Drive but somewhere different, somewhere on the side of a long empty country road, surrounded by forest. My mother and father are with me. When I enter the house, several fans are already there, picking off books, like vultures. Oddly enough I am on an upper level, without having climbed up any stairs.

I wander through the rooms (my parents are resting in a room with a big bay window) and I enter a side room where there are some white wooden shelves. The shelves have been cherry picked and I find a huge nude male calendar leaning against the wall. I think, Wait, this is not like Harlan. I furtively take the book and put another fat tome on top of it, thinking that I should somehow "protect" Harlan's reputation.

Then I see other encyclopedia-sized volumes and I take a few. I go back where my parents are, the books weighing very heavily on me. We all talk about how these fans are just picking the house clean. I say to parents, I didn't know him that well, but he was from Painesville. I tell my parents my relationship with Harlan is a bit strange at times. I tell them, "We will go down later to a room these fans don't know about, a room with 30,000 more books stashed away."

Then I walk into a darker room which is on the opposite side to the white room. It has no windows and there are people sitting on the floor including a really fat woman with blonde hair, eating noisily — food from McDonalds. To my right, there is a huge untouched complete collection of the Loeb Classical Library — Greek texts — hundreds of little green volumes. I decide to gather up some of these and I put the books I am carrying down on a part of the shelves already picked clean. As I step towards the classical library, however, I slip on a huge criss-crossed streak of ketchup. The smell is hideous. The color of the ketchup is pale orange and it is watery, more like tabasco, but it my dream it is called ketchup.

"You bitch!" I scream at the fat lady. (She is wearing a green cardigan!) "I have ketchup all over me and my books are stained and my ass is completely covered and I'm ALLERGIC to ketchup!"

She starts to apologize and then she begins to wipe the seat of my pants frantically with her long blonde hair — making me think of the woman in the New Testament wiping Jesus' feet … and this is the image that starts to fade.…

As I start to wake up, I'm remembering a REAL phone call I received from Harlan Ellison once. This is before I ever met him. He was saying with passionate enthusiasm, "You're brilliant! I must have you in the Last Dangerous Visions even though the book closed years ago!" So I sent him this story, "The Fallen Country", which I had just written. He called back and screamed that it was the worst piece of shit he had ever read, and went on and on about its bad writing, it's clichés, compared it to Pete's Dragon … indeed, made me feel like shit. His invective was so over the top I wondered if I had somehow struck a nerve. Okay maybe it wasn't such a fine story yet somehow, it managed to get reprinted a few times, adapted into a novel, and even made into an opera. This whole incident was running through my head when I woke up.

It is a really peculiar dream.… I felt Harlan's death keenly, but it was some time ago and it's like I only really felt it last night.…