Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ellison Wonderland, and other stories

Okay. I'm more or less sane and awake again. Jetlag is horrendous, but it was all worth it. We had the most incredible holiday ever, thanks to the warmth and generosity of our gracious hosts. You've probably heard all sorts of crazy stories about Harlan Ellison. And some of them are true (the funniest ones, usually). This is not one of those stories (except for the fast driving part). I know this will embarrass him, but he's thousands of miles away, so he can't get me: Harlan Ellison is one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met. I mean, he's still a force of nature, and God help you if you try to make trouble for him, because he will take your punk ass down - but you couldn't ask for a more loyal friend.

At first, I was a bit starstruck, terrified, and taken aback by the magic of it all. Half the time, I'd chat away normally, the other half, I'd completely clam up and turn into a gibbering idiot. I so wanted to make a good impression, to have nothing but perfectly formed gems of wisdom fall from my lips, that I kept second guessing every thought. It probably looked like I was some sort of mentally deficient chimp for the first part of the week. Once I relaxed, I wasn't too bad. Also, I was half convinced that it was all some bizarre dream.

All I expected from this trip originally was to share a coffee with the man - I'd have been more than happy with that. And that's how it started. But then, after we got in contact, it became a lunch, and then dinner, and then the full on Ellisonian experience. When he found out we didn't drive, he arranged for a friend of his to take us from place to place, in exchange for gas money and so on. He told us the best areas and places to stay, the good and bad dates to arrive, the best places to eat. He didn't have to do any of this - he just wanted to make sure we had a great holiday. Which we did. These are the highlights of the week, among many others:

-- Santa Monica beach. I could stare at it all day. This was the view from our hotel balcony.

-- Our grand tour of the entire area, courtesy of our new best mate Steve Barber, who tirelessly drove us everywhere we needed to go. We saw many of the cool sights (Graumann's, the walk of fame, Hollywood sign, Bradbury Building, etc), but also the out of the way places that we wouldn't know to ask for, including a great place up in the hills that gave us a spectacular view of the whole area.

-- Walking up and down the beach for ages, stuffing our faces with seafood in a restaurant on Santa Monica pier, getting drunk, and falling back to the hotel for a snooze. This was my first time ever eating lobster - I know, I know, I am a hermit in a cave, blah blah blah - and it was glorious. I was so stuffed and drunk, I forgot to take my bib off when I was finished. The waiter came over to take it off me, and I just leaned forward to let him, just went limp like a child or a kitten. Weeks later, Jodie is still in hysterics at the pathetic sight she beheld.

-- Many, many fine eating establishments, including the one where they have no printed menus, but the waiters tell you what is on offer, in a hilarious piece of performance art - "not hot - spiiiiiiiicy". And the Mongolian barbecue place. And the lobster place where I foolishly ordered the Rockzilla. The "-zilla" suffix should have clued me in that this lobster was a big, big motherfucker, and it beat the shit out of me.

-- When we were late for one dinner (thanks to the L.A. traffic, which obeys no natural laws), Harlan gave us a fascinating demonstration of his fast driving skills, a demonstration that we'd have enjoyed more if we hadn't been shrieking in terror and soiling ourselves. Later, when things had calmed down, Harlan explained that we were never in any danger, because he used to race cars. "Oh, you still do," I replied.

-- Meeting so many lovely people - Harlan and Susan, Sharon, Steve and Cris, Jason, Len Wein (blimey!) and Christine, and Josh Olson (double blimey!)

-- Lunch with the Ellisons at their amazing house, the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars. Like the L.A. traffic, the house defies all laws of physics, it's an M.C. Escher painting in 15 dimensions, some sections contain stable wormholes, some sections just swallow people up forever. One room, as I was walking through the door, I met myself coming out, and the other me was 5 years younger. AND MADE OF CHEESE.

-- Getting a lift back from one dinner in Josh Olson's convertible. With the top down. At night. Through the Hollywood hills. Talking about movies. We have never felt so cool.

-- Nakatomi Plaza! Shoot ze glass! Blow de roof! Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

-- Mulholland Drive. Terrifying. "Hey, I have an idea - you know that fucking huge mountain that we need to drive to the top of? Let's build an incredibly twisty-turny road right on the edge of it, instead of a sensible, straight, safe road. And instead of crash barriers, we'll erect tiny, balsa-wood fences that wouldn't stop a flea, so that it's really dangerous. Yeah, let's do that, surely nothing bad can happen." Heh, I said "erect".

-- The Hollywood Walk of Fame, where we worshipped at the shrines to the stars: Steven Seagal! Shatner! Er, the Bee Gees!

-- Laughing for *hours* over the name of this shop:

-- The look on people's faces when they found out neither of us drive. We thought "oh, that's just L.A. people, we can get cabs and buses it'll be fine" - but it really isn't. London is like a dinner plate, and getting a minicab from one end to the other can be 30, 40, 50 quid at the most, during the day. That would have been fine, but Los Angeles isn't like a dinner plate. It's like a 57-piece dinner service, spread out over a football field, with long bamboo poles connecting some of the pieces. The poles are the freeways, which you have to use, and if you step on the football field grass, you explode. Or something. Anyway, it's staggeringly big and complicated.

-- The gorgeous weather - because we were right by the beach, it never got too hot, stayed really dry and fresh.

-- And finally, the actual "pint with Harlan", as hoped for in my DWM interview (I had beer, he had water). Just the two of us, in his actual art deco dining pavilion, chatting about everything and anything. If I had my way, I'd still be there now, talking nonsense and laughing. Sometimes, when you get to do things you've always wanted to, they don't live up to expectation. This surpassed it, and then some.

We had such an amazing week, we were gutted when it came time to leave. Normally, when you go on holiday, after a week you start getting a bit antsy, want to sleep in your own bed, get things back to normal, and so on. Not this time, we could have happily stayed another week. We can't wait to go back, and there hasn't been a day since when we haven't talked about how much fun it was. Thank you to everyone who made it so wonderful, we are eternally grateful and in your debt.

As for you, mighty Rockzilla - I shall return for you. We have unfinished business, sir. You shall not defeat me next time...


Tiffany said...

Oh, TV's James Moran, you are so very funny. Allowing the waiter to remove your bib kills me.

It sounds as if the visit was amazing. What a dream.

Chuck said...

Glad to hear you had a good holiday. I try to get to the beach once or twice a year, just wonderful. I could use the same sorta thing right now. I get to the LA area 4 or 5 times a year, and grew-up there not easy to deal with if you don't drive.

Surprised you don't have an "In and Out Burger" picture to go with the "EZ Lube".

Salina said...

Rock on! I'm so glad you had a fantastic time. LA is a little crazy- I've heard New York is way more terrifying. But then, of course I'm not scarred of LA when I live right by it.

Hurrah for dreams coming true!!!

R.A. Porter said...

Sooo jealous! You lucky, lucky bastard! :)

Good Dog said...

Was the restaurant just along on the right hand side as you walked down the ramp onto the Santa Monica Pier?

Can't remember the name but had a marvellous lunch there, early afternoon on Old Year's Night. Never had much time for all the rides and hoop-de-doo there. Just liked taking a coffee, walking to the end and standing looking at the pacific.

Then off to Barry Levin's wonderful bookstore where I'd make my credit cards bleed.

And you must have gone to Pink's, right? Drooling just thinking about those bacon chilli cheese dogs and chilli fries....

R.A. Porter said...

Pink's would have to be on HE's list. Prince Myshkin!

If you haven't seen his rapid fire reading before, take a look here.

Jason said...

Maybe I can get HE to give me a driving lesson before you return.
Then we could one day recoup the time lost in traffic on that Friday... the Ellisonian stares still haunt my dreams!!!

James Moran said...

Tiffany: Honestly, you should have seen it, it was pathetic. My face went slack, too.

Chuck: Saw a few of them, didn't think to take a pic...

Salina: We found New York quite un-terrifying and lovely. Except for Times Square, which we lasted 2 minutes in...

Good Dog: On the left, as you walk on to the pier from the road - called "The Lobster", so I thought, if I'm going to try lobster for the first time, may as well be here... Didn't get to Pink's, but we drove past it and observed a moment of silence - next time, definitely. I don't think we could have eaten any more food, we were so stuffed.

R.A.: I have had the pleasure, yes - only he has the voice to do his work justice, I reckon.

Jason: It was the folded arms that told me we were in big trouble...

Dozeymagz said...

Are you sure it wasn't all just a fabulous dream brought on by too much cheese before bedtime?

You do realise that Lobstra - Mighty King of All The Lobsters will now hunt you mercilessly down for digesting one of his subjects?

Flee Mr Moran - while you still can!

Steve Barber said...

On behalf of Unca Harlan Ellison, who has tried not once, but twice to post a note in this hallowed hall:


Sorry, kiddo, but I reconstructed the post from memory, typed it into the appropriate block, entered the random letter code, and hit the "send" or "publish" or whatever. And it rejected my post, said I had left a URL field empty, and offered me a congeries of options none of which worked. I do not wish to open a Google or WordCrush or AOL account, I just wanted to send along a dozen lines of ha-ha. Either you guys have set up rules that would thwart Tantalus, or I'm (as Susan puts it in her Brit Fashion) as thick as two short planks. Once again, ah me.

Yr. Pal, Harlan"

Steve Barber said...


Harlan isn't really my uncle. We, the great unwashed who are known to him, sometimes call him that in jest.

James, great pics and wonderful narrative. Glad you had such a lovely time, and it was a pleasure escorting you both 'round town. Any time.

Steve B

DavidM said...

Yeah, well, that's nothing. Let me tell you about my weekend in Bridlington: it all started when I had a dodgy Ginster's, and mother said...

Er, okay, I'll leave that story for another time.
Oddly enough I've been re-watching the movie adaptation of Harlan's 'A Boy and His Dog', for the first time in, like, forever.
SO good. So, so good.
A++ good work, Harlan.

james henry said...

Dammit, I had suck a sucky time when I was in LA. I can now put it firmly down to Not Knowing Harlan Ellison.

Glad you had a good time.

Beppie said...

Hehehe. Ez!Lube. Hehehehe.

I rented Severance today, even though I almost never willingly watch horror movies, and I have to say that I loved it. I am also happy to report that my boyfriend was more scared than I was. He was glad that we watched it at midday. :)

Anonymous said...

We also have JIFFY LUBE. It's not as easy but it's over and done with in true over-bloated LA ego fashion.

Glad you had a great time in our city! Let us know when you're here again and we'll come dressed up as giant lobsters and harass you.


Anonymous said...

"Harlan Ellison is one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever met"? You've been reprogrammed by Manchurian Global, my friend.

James Moran said...

Beppie: Why thank you, glad you liked it, and that it gave you both a few scares.

Funnyerik9: Ah, Jiffy Lube, I need to see that. Sounds like a drive-through, get your lube done in a jiffy.

Anonymous: Care to explain why, rather than just jumping in and leaving a vague remark? And maybe put your name to it, if you feel that strongly. I can only go by my own experience, which is reproduced above, and doesn't even cover all the kind things he did for us.

Steve Barber said...

James - Sadly, you've just met an anti-Harlan troll. They have never met or in most cases even interacted with the man, but have formed an opinion based upon what someone ELSE has said about him.

As for my own part, I'd echo your comments word for word. Keep your fingers crossed for today.

FRANK said...

Hi, James

De-lurking for a moment. Glad you had a fine time in LA. I'm off out to LA for the Gallifrey con next February so any recommendations for eating out are very welcome. Mind you, I think the hotel is about ten miles from the centre of the city so I think we're all trapped in there and will probably go mad.

And you met Mr. Ellison. Jealous! The nearest I've got is having a signed copy of his book on THAT Star Trek episode.

If you ever get the chance you should try and visit San Francisco. Once the con is over I'll be making my way up the coast (it is up the coast, isn't it?) to that fair city. And I highly recommend New York too if you haven't had the pleasure. Fantastic city.

You can also (plug, plug) visit me at Cathode Ray Tube if you fancy reading some ol' fellas ramblings.

I will now go back to lurking. Thanks.