Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation

Harlan Ellison

Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation

Introduction

Author Biography

Harlan Ellison has been called “one of the great living American short story writers” by the Washington Post. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he has won more awards for the 74 books he has written or edited, the more than 1700 stories, essays, articles, and newspaper columns, the two dozen teleplays and a dozen motion pictures he has created, then any other living fantasist. He has won the Hugo award eight and a half times (shared once); the Nebula award three times; the Bram Stoker award, presented by the Horror Writers Association, five times (including The Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996); the Edgar Allan Poe award of the Mystery Writers of America twice; the Georges Melies fantasy film award twice; two Audie Awards (for the best in audio recordings); and was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by P.E.N., the international writer’s union. He was presented with the first Living Legend award by the International Horror Critics at the 1995 World Horror Convention. He is also the only author in Hollywood ever to win the Writers Guild of America award for Outstanding teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for “Paladin of the Lost Hour” his Twilight Zone episode that was Danny Kaye’s final role, in 1987. In March (1998), the National Women’s Committee of Brandeis University honored him with their 1998 “Words, Wit & Wisdom” award.

The Children of Nights

“Race of Abel, drink and be sleeping:

God shall smile on thee from the sky.

“Race of Cain, in thy filth be creeping

Where no seeds of the serpent die.

• • •

“Race of Abel, fear not pollution!

God begets the children of nights.

“Race of Cain, in thy heart’s solution

Extinguish thy cruel appetites.”

from Cain and Abel ;

Baudelaire: FLOWERS OF EVIL

WRITERS WITH THEIR books are like fickle daddies with their children. There are always favorites and less-than-favorites and even (though daddies would never cop to it) ones they hate. They love this one because it sums up the totality of their worldview, and that one because it has the best stretch of sustained good writing, and that one over there under the cabbage leaf because nobody else loves it … the runt of the litter.

I love this book shamelessly because it was the book that was most pivotal in changing my life. Not once, god bless it, but three times. And having it back in print after fourteen years fills me with such good feelings, I’d like to let them bubble over, to share them with you.

The first time this book turned me around, it wasn’t even a book; it was merely a random group of stories, uncollected, published here and there in a variety of magazines that ranged from the then-prestigious Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to the sexually cornball men’s magazines of the fifties, magazines like Knave and Caper . You see, I started writing for a living in 1955 when I got booted out of college for diverse reasons and went to New York. At that time, I wrote a lot, and I didn’t always write very well. Learning one’s craft, in any occupations save writing and doctoring, permits a margin of error. If you’re a plumber and you fuck up, the worst that can happen is that a pipe will break and you’ll flood someone’s bathroom. But writing and doctoring leave the evidence behind. And a bad story is liable to become as stinking a corpse as a surgeon’s slip of the knife. Both come back to haunt you years later.

So among the hundreds — quite literally hundreds — of stories I wrote to keep my hand in the game — detective yarns, science fiction, fantasies, westerns, true confessions, straight action-adventure stories — there are only a handful that I can bear to face today. Every once in a while I’d write a piece that meant something more to me than 10,000 words @ 1¢ a word = that month’s rent and groceries. (Yes, Gentle Reader, there was a time in this land, not so far dimmed by memory, during which a normal unmarried human being could live quite adequately on $100 a month.)

Of those random stories that still stand up well, I have included four in this book: “No Fourth Commandment,” which was later freely (very freely) adapted as a Route 66 segment and, while I can’t prove it, seemed to form the basis for a very fine but sadly overlooked Robert Mitchum motion picture; “The Silence of Infidelity,” which I wrote while married to my first wife, Charlotte … and while it never actually happened to me, I can see it was a kind of wish fulfillment at the time; “Free with This Box!” which did happen to me, and fictionalizes the first time I was ever inside a jail … a story that probably sums up the core of my bad feelings about cops even to this day, though I have more substantive reasons for my negativity in that area; and “RFD #2,” a collaboration I wrote with the talented, marvelous Henry Slesar. Henry, incidentally, will be better known to readers as the man who created and wrote the enormously successful daytime television dramas The Edge of Night and Somerset .

There are others, of course. One cannot write three hundred stories in three years and not come golden at least a few times. Some of them will be included in Pyramid’s edition of NO DOORS, NO WINDOWS, a collection of previously uncollected stories. But up till 1957, I was strictly a money writer who had not yet reached the pinnacle of egomania your humble author now dwells upon; a place that would have permitted me to think that what I was doing to stay alive was anything nobler or more fit for posterity than mere storytelling.

But I was drafted into the army in 1957, and time for writing was at a premium. So I wrote only stories that I wanted to write, not ones I had to write to support myself or a wife or a home. And from 1957 through 1959 I wrote “No Game for Children,” “Daniel White for the Greater Good,” “Lady Bug, Lady Bug” and eight others in this book, most of which I sold to Rogue Magazine, then based in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

Writing those stories was the first time this book altered my life, even before they were formally a book. They brought me an awareness of how concerned I was about social problems, the condition of life for different minorities in this country, the depth of injustice that could exist in a supposedly free society, the torment many different kinds of people suffered as a daily condition of life. It was to form the basis of my involvement with the civil rights movement and antiwar protests of the sixties.

Those stories showed me that if I had any kind of a talent greater than that of a commercial hack, I had damned well better get my ass in gear and start demonstrating it. So, when I was discharged from the army, and went to Evanston to become an editor for Rogue, I concentrated on writing the sort of stories best typified by “Final Shtick” in this book.

Things didn’t go well for me in Evanston. The man I worked for at Rogue was the sort of man who kills souls without even realizing the purely evil nature of what he’s doing. My marriage had long since become a shattered delusion and after the divorce I proceeded to flush myself down a toilet. That was when Frank Robinson rescued me the first time.

Since Frank did the Foreword for the original edition of this book, and since it is reprinted in this edition, I’ll digress for a moment to tell that story, as a demonstration to those of you who may not understand the real meaning of the word, what constitutes genuine friendship , the single most important rare-earth commodity in life.

Having been married to Charlotte for four years of hell as sustained as the whine of a generator, I was in rotten shape. I didn’t drink or do dope, but I started trying to wreck myself in as many other ways as I could find. Endless parties, unfulfilling sexual liaisons with as many women as I could physically handle every day, dumb friendships with leaners and moochers and phonies and emotional vampires, middle-class materialism that manifested itself in buying sprees that clogged my Dempster Street apartment with more accoutrements and sculpture and housewares than the goddam Furniture Mart could hold.

And I wasn’t writing.

One night, I threw another of my monster parties … almost a hundred people … most of whom I had never met till they waltzed in the door. A lot of beer, a lot of music, a lot of foxy coeds from Northwestern, lights, laughter, and myself wandering around trying to find something without a name or description in the flashy rubble of another pointless night.

Frank showed up. He was the only one who had thought to bring a contribution to the bash. A bottle of wine. We walked into the kitchen, to put it in the pantry, to be drunk lots later by whatever few human beings survived the animal rituals in the other rooms. We walked into the pantry and stood there talking about nothing in particular, just rapping beside the shelves groaning under the weight of Rosenthal china, service for a thousand.

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