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History will surely agree that America's most destructive contribution to 20th century living has been that damaged product called plastic romance. It twists and savages us. After a lifetime of lies about what love is supposed to be, are you finally angry and depressed enough to be part of a "recall" on that shabby, mildewed merchandise? If so, join the remarkable Harlan Ellison as he dissects the soul and body of love ...
History will surely agree that America's most destructive contribution to 20th century living has been that damaged product called plastic romance. It twists and savages us. After a lifetime of lies about what love is supposed to be, are you finally angry and depressed enough to be part of a "recall" on that shabby, mildewed merchandise? If so, join the remarkable Harlan Ellison as he dissects the soul and body of love in Our Time. In 16 scalpel-sharp stories that range from the legalized whorehouses of Nevada to the steaming lynch towns of Georgia, from the abortion mills of Tijuana to the sound stages of Hollywood, the writer whom Oui magazine charmingly named "the perpetually angry young punk of the bizarre" rips the Saran-Wrap off love and hate and sin and twittering passion-to disclose the raw meat beneath. Here are sixteen poisoned arrows from fantasy's most improbable Cupid in which he presents a world of hearts & flowers guaranteed to revise your thinking about where love is found and how it looks.
One evening I met a young woman for whom I quickly developed carnal desires. We met at a party, I think. I don't remember now. It was a while ago. And I cut her out of the crowd and finally we got back to my house and it started to go wrong. Oh, not wrong in the way that once we were alone the sexual thing didn't seem to be working out: quite the contrary. She began getting misty-eyed. I could see that she was forming a fantasy view of the man who had swept her away to this strange and colorful eyrie. She was thinking ahead: can this one be THE one I've been looking for? And I didn't want that.
No point here in going into the reason I didn't want that; perhaps I was the wrong one for her on more than a casual basis, perhaps she was wrong for me permanently, perhaps it was a hundred different little things I sensed in the ambience of the evening. Whatever it was, I wanted to discourage the fantasy, but not the sexual liaison. I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that. But maybe there is. It depends where your concepts of morality lead you. For me, it was better to be upfront about it, to say there's tonight, and maybe other nights, but under no circumstances is this permanent.
And I tried to tell her, gently.
And that was wrong. Because it was hypocritical.
I wanted to have my picnic, but I didn't want to have to spend the time necessary to putting the picnic-grounds back in the same condition I'd found it.
(That isn't a casually conceived metaphor; and it's quite purposely not coarse in its comparisons. To love welland wisely, I now believe, we must attempt to leave a situation with a love-partner with the landscape and its inhabitants as well off, or better off, than they were when We arrived. Like this:
(Walter Huston and Tim Holt and Fred C. Dobbs [sometimes known as Humphrey Bogart] are about to leave the mountain from which they've clawed their gold. And Huston says to Holt and Bogart, "We've got to spend a week putting the mountain back the way we found it." And Bogart looks amazed, because they are running the risk of being set upon once again by Alfonso Bedoya and his bandidos. So Huston explains very carefully that the mountain is a lady, and it has been good to them, and they have to close its wounds.
(And finally, even flinty, paranoid Bogart understands, and he agrees, and they spend a week repairing the ecological damage they've done to the mountain that was good to them.)
So instead of trying to weasel and worm my way through an explanation that would have been no real explanation at all, I asked her if she would mind my sitting down and writing something for her. She said that would be nice, and I did it, trying to say as bluntly as possible with fantasy images what words from the "real world" would not adequately say. And this is what I wrote:
She looks at me with eyes blue as the snow on Fuji's summit in a woodblock print by Hiroshige. She says, "You're really different, really unique." Beneath the paleness of her cheeks the blood suddenly rushes and she only knows her nervousness has increased in the small room, though nothing has altered from the moment before. She does not understand that her skin and survival mechanisms have registered the presence of an alien creature. Her blood carries the certain knowledge. Like the sentient wind, she perceives only that she has crossed an invisible border and now roams naked and weaponless in a terra incognita where wolves assume the shapes of men and babies are born with golden glowing eyes and the sound from the stars is that of the very finest crystal.
Posted November 29, 2010
This is the first thing that I have read by Ellison. I loved it. Looking forward to reading more. I am surprised that I have never heard of him before, apparently he was absolutely huge with my parents generation about the time they were in college. That being said, Ellison is a forgotten treasure that it is definitely time we rediscover.
I was sitting in a coffee shop and a Air Force LTC, about 40 - 45 years old or so, walked in and saw what I was reading and said "Holy sh**, Harlan Ellison. I haven't thought of him in years. Not since college."