(Or, Why I Don’t Sit in Front Rows)

I don’t sit in front rows, at least, I try not to make a habit of it. Not during sermons, readings, plays, or especially comedy clubs. Why? Because I go to these things wanting to be an observer, not a part of the performance. This list now includes appearances by Harlan Ellison.

For those of you who don’t know who this living legend is, Harlan Ellison is a 71 year old author. To list his credits in science-fiction, fantasy, and horror would fill out my blog for days. Not to mention his work in other media. And he’s a personality. While it’s no secret that I can’t wait to become a crotchety old man, Harlan Ellison puts the “crotch” in “crotchety old man.” He’s been one for, I don’t know, about 71 years. He’s at that age where he doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t have time for bullshit. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a matter of he’s so into his image, the legend of his antics, that he doesn’t in fact play into them now. Sometimes this makes it seem like he borders on being more caricature than character, but it also means that he’s never boring.

Did I mention that I hate being a part of the performance?

Well, long story short, he’s in mid-rant. He’s gone out of his way to insult every race, creed, sexual preference within sight. He’s going down his list of longest held grudges (apparently hate fuels longevity), when he suddenly starts talking about Christopher Priest. Not THE Christopher Priest whom I admire so much. The comic book scribe and minister. The first black writer in the comic book industry. No, Harlan’s ranting about some U.K. Christopher Priest. But to make sure that we understand the difference, he starts searching for the name that our Christopher J. Priest used to go by. Without thinking, my knowledge of geek trivia gets the better of me and I shout out “Jim Owsley.”

Suddenly, I have Harlan’s attention.

Before I go on, I should mention that I have a reputation of having an over-the-top wardrobe when it comes to conventions. My outfit du jour was a black ensemble with a collar of “glitter” and twin stripes of “glitter” down my shirt (an outfit inspired by the Elvis of horror, Weston Ochse). Needless to say, I was an easy target for Harlan to pick out. He stops, stares at me, then asks me “do you know who you look like?” Now, this is not an uncommon question that black men get. Only earlier that day, Wrath James White was mistaken for Michael Jordan. The problem is, Wrath looks nothing like Michael Jordan. Nothing. So I brace myself for the usual comparisons that I am prone to getting (Benson and Wesley Snipes being the most common. And you know how much THEY look alike). Harlan starts in: Aries Spears (from Mad TV). I don’t watch Mad TV, but I play along any way. Harlan tells me to play along and lie to him that I’m really Aries Spears. So I do.

I should also mention that anyone who gets up during Harlan speaking gets called out, caught in the sights of his razor wit. Well, Chesya pipes up because she’s hungry and wants to leave. I inform her that Harlan has already called on me and if two black people get up and leave, that will only send him on a new, probably offensive, rant. She doesn’t care. As a compromise, I get her to wait until the break when he was supposed to start doing his reading. He turns his back to start looking for what he’s going to read and we make a break for it. Apparently, we weren’t alone with this thought, as a dozen or so others also make a run for the stairs.

Anyway, now I truly feel like a writer: I finally have a Harlan Ellison story.

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