In the first half of our two-part interview with author, screenwriter, and Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers Of America Grandmaster Harlan Ellison, Ellison addressed his reactions to Erik Nelson's new documentary biopic Dreams With Sharp Teeth, and how it portrays him. In part two, Ellison moves on to talk about his potential legacy, how his personality has overshadowed his work, the contract between writers and readers, and his best and worst encounters with strangers. And also, Neil Gaiman's accent.
The A.V. Club: You spoke earlier about how often "Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman" has been reprinted, and in the film, you talk about how that story, and the film itself, may be the portrait of how you're remembered. Are you comfortable with those two pieces as a legacy?
Harlan Ellison: [Laughs, adopts Humphrey Bogart voice.] Schweetheart, lemme put it to ya thish way: I got no choice. [Laughs.]
AVC: If you did, though If you knew just one of your works would survive a thousand years from now, do you have any idea what you would want it to be?
HE: Ummm no. Bogart once called acting a mugg's game, M-U-G-G-apostrophe-S. Meaning that it ain't worth the time to talk about it. I don't know. I'm always amazed at—somebody will come up to me and they'll say, "Gee, I read such-and-such a story when I was in high school, and it just changed my life." And I think to myself, "Wow. What an odd choice to have changed your life." Let me digress, not very much, but slightly. There is a philosophical point that should be made here, because it goes to the hubris of writers. [Sighs.] There's no point in saying less than your predecessors have said. Hemingway said, "You know, I'm in the ring with Dostoyevsky every time I sit down." And Jules Renard, he said, "Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none." So one can be misled by the approbation I ramble, one thing leads me to another, and you're the one who's going to have to find your way through this rat's maze.
I think the problem with F. Scott Fitzgerald, as wonderful a writer as he was, was Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. He wrote this great book, one or two, and suddenly became the spokesperson for his generation, the lost generation. He was touted and praised and raised to iconic stature, so all of a sudden, he began to believe his own publicity, I believe. Everything that was said about him: "You are a spokesman, you are the voice of your times, you are the greatest writer who ever came down the American pike." And then came Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, in which you alter the reality by perceiving it yourself. You look at it through the microscope, and boom! Things change. He began looking at himself, and that innocence of childhood or nature that I mentioned earlier suddenly became something of which he was aware. And the moment he did that, he became too self-conscious to write, and he boxed himself in, and he wound up doing the Pat Hobby stories and The Crack-Up, about his own writer's block and his nervous breakdown. So if you begin to believe that posterity is going to look at you—and we have no way of knowing if it will. I mean, good God, does the name Clarence Budington Kelland mean anything to you?
AVC: Sorry, no.
HE: Nor to 10 out of every nine people that you'll meet. Clarence Budington Kelland was, during the '20s, '30s, '40s, and on into the '50s, the most popular writer in America. He had a serial—the height of success in America in those days for a freelance writer was to get a serial in Collier's or The Saturday Evening Post. Well, Clarence Budington Kelland just wrote—everything that was picked up by Collier's, The Post, they made into movies. He wrote Westerns, he wrote children's books. He wrote everything, and he made more money than the President of the United States. Today, you go to a library, you cannot find a Clarence Budington Kelland book! He was a pretty good writer. He was not William Faulkner, he was not Colette, but he certainly was a very good, decent writer. With the exception of one or two people whose names are common coin—Shakespeare, perhaps Faulkner—being well-known and being remembered is a mugg's game. There's no way of knowing whether you're going to wind up being Geoffrey Chaucer or Clarence Budington Kelland.
This epiphany came to me, thank heavens, very early on. One night, quite late, the phone rang, and it was a woman, and her voice was choked, and she told me her name—which of course I cannot now remember, I mean, we're talking 35, maybe even now 40 years ago. And she said her husband had left her, run off with another woman, her child had died of pneumonia or diphtheria or something. She had no money, she was going to have to move, they had turned the electricity off, and all of her furniture was gone. She was sitting in the middle of an empty room, out of which she would soon be moving. And all she had left were her personal effects and a stack of paperbacks. And she said to me—and you know, you hear this said to you, and there's nothing to say to it—she said, "I was going to kill myself." She said, "I was on my way into the bathroom. I had been sitting on the floor with a flashlight, and I was going into the bathroom to get a razor blade to cut my wrists, and I stumbled over the stack of paperbacks. And the one that came out on top was one of your books, Mr. Ellison." How she found me, I don't know, but you know, my phone number even then was not inaccessible. And she said it was my book Paingod, and she started to read it, the story "Paingod." And she said, "I started to cry." And she said, "It gave me hope. And I didn't kill myself. Thank you." And I said, "You're welcome," and that was the end of the conversation.
Now I sat there and thought about this, and started to puff up like a fuckin' pouter pigeon. And then I had the epiphany. The epiphany was this: that if I accept the praise, the kudos, for something that I've written, then I also must accept the responsibility if someone reads one of my stories, takes a sniper rifle, goes up in a bell tower, and shoots 13 people on a campus, and they say, "Well, I read it in Harlan Ellison's book." And as an author, you can't do that. And the extension of the concept—of avoiding the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, not starting to believe that you matter, that you're important, that the words you put down will resound down through the halls of eternity and people's lives will be altered—beyond that, the rest of that, the parameters of that equation are that I cannot pay attention to what people say about my work. For me, personally, I am just this shards-and-ashes human being, who really gets upset when someone says something bad about me. If it's true, I cop to it. If I have any good qualities, it's that. I am not one of these people who instantly takes umbrage when he's corrected or—I love being corrected. People are still correcting me on word misusages now, after 50 years of being in the trade. But I can't worry that I am not beloved by everybody. [Laughs.] When I lecture, people say, "God, he's so surly." Well, fuck you! You knew what you were getting when you came to the lecture. And if you didn't, you found out within a minute or two. I'm here to tell it the way I see it, and I may be as right or wrong as anybody else. But if you let the image of the messenger get in the way of whatever message there may be, however large or small, that's your problem, not mine. So, the movie—which brings us back to "Do I see it as an apt representation?" I do. I see it as a representation of a [Laughs.] As Neil Gaiman says [in the film], a cranky old Jew. I love that! The first time I saw that, I just fuckin' fell apart! I couldn't stop laughing.
AVC: Well, coming from him, given his legendary gentle politesse, it's particularly hilarious.
HE: Well, with that accent, right. Also, have you heard anyone else ever pronounce the word "trachea" tra-KEE-a?
HE: Nor have I! Where the fuck did he get that?! Mr. Poncy Brit.
AVC: The thought you were developing there switched tracks in the middle. You started out talking about how you can't take responsibility for how people react to your work, but it almost immediately turned into talking about how people react to you personally. Do you think of it as the same thing?
HE: Well, look. It's standard bifurcation. Robert Bloch, who wrote Psycho and who wrote some of the most grisly stories ever written, people used to say to him, "Bob, are you really that gruesome a man?" He said, "No." He said, "I have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk." And Stephen King, of course, has reprised that line many times. And at first he didn't credit it, until a bunch of us jumped on him and said, "Come on. It's Bob Bloch's line." There is Harlan Ellison the human being, who takes a crap a couple of times a day, and who farts, and who eats, you know, chicken croquettes, if I can find them. And then there is the writer, this writer-person, who is a much finer person than I. Much more orderly, much more meaningful. Worthier, that's the word, worthier than I.
Early on, I said, "Well, you know, the human being is hag-ridden by the talent. I have very little control over it. There's an onboard computer, if you will, that when I sit down to write, tells me everything I need to know. I trust it implicitly." And people say, "Well, how often do you rewrite?" I say, "I don't rewrite. When I sit down at the typewriter—and I still use a manual typewriter, not an electric and not a computer. I can't stand to work on a PC. I mean, I know how to operate a PC. But I don't use 'em, I still go to my typewriter and I produce a real manuscript, the way I have for 50, 60 years. That other Ellison, that bifurcated Ellison, takes over. And trying to integrate the two is the great paradox and the great problem in every writer's life, in every artist's life, in every person's life. I mean, everybody has a talent, whether it's scrapbooking, or kite-flying, or brain surgery, or writing, everybody has a talent. And if they discover it, and they turn it to their purposes and make a living out of it, well, then they become not "that person," but they become "that writer" or "that doctor" or "that supervisor." Am I making any sense at all?
AVC: It just seems that throughout your life, your personality has overshadowed your work. People who don't know your work know of you, and let that color whether they seek out your work, and how they read it, or don't. Does that bother you?
HE: Of course it bothers me. The integration of that duality is—without the low-level "celebrity," in quotes, my 15 minutes would probably have been over at the end of the '70s. The fact that you're interviewing me four days shy of my 74th birthday—I am older than entire countries, including the state of Israel—the fact that you're interviewing me on the 23rd of May in the year 2008, when I was born on 27 May, 1934, is undoubtedly due to the appurtenances to my career, my actual writing. I was interviewed on NPR the other day, and the guy said, "What are you doin' these days?" As if, God, ya know [Adopts querulous old-man voice.] "Well, I'm not doin' much. They removed my spleen, and I'm now just sort of sittin' here in a basket." He said, "I don't see anything much by you in print." I said, "Well, I can't be responsible for the limited nature of your reading matter." I said, "I have a piece on Arthur C. Clarke coming up in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer. I just had a very long essay in Interzone, a magazine out of England. I'm writing a piece on my student Octavia Estelle Butler for an anthology that Norton is publishing. I'm writing new stories. I'm still working. I don't work as much, and I don't work as steadily, and I don't work at the fever pitch that I worked when I was 20, but I'm still working, and I'm still here, Jack. Still standing after all these years."
People are like kittens and babies. They play with what's in front of them, and they lose interest in everything that isn't right in front of them. And kittens only have two purposes in life. One is to make everything that's moving stop, and the other is to make everything that's stopped, move. So if you are seeking the approbation of the kind of audience that would pay attention to Sanjaya, or to Lindsay Lohan, as opposed to Frances Parkinson Keyes, or William Faulkner, you're gonna be frustrated, and you're gonna be lonely, and you're gonna sit and mope about the loss of your 15 minutes. I have never given myself time to be disappointed that way. Nowadays, if someone says to me—there was a smartass writer who said [Adopts whiny dolt voice.] "You know, I thought you were big stuff, and then I asked one of my friends, 'Do you know the name Harlan Ellison?' He said, 'Who?'" And I said, "Listen, dude, just because your friends are as stupid as you are doesn't mean that I should feel diminished." I said, "Ask them who Guy de Maupassant is. Ask them who Rachel Carson is. They won't know any name unless it's the name of the person who's paying them their paycheck that week." So you cannot let yourself—yes, it bothers. Yes, it bothers. But without the one, I wouldn't have the other.[pagebreak]
AVC: It seems like a shallow question, but—
HE: No, it's not a shallow question. It's deeper than you think it is. It is a deeper question than you think it is. Because you either get a yes or no answer to it, but it's the shadow that lies behind the yes or no that makes it not a shallow question at all. It's a troubling thing. You show me a writer, scuffling his toe in the dirt like Jimmy Stewart and saying, "Aw, shucks, I don't care if I'm remembered after they plant me. Just let me make enough money for beer now." I'll show you a fuckin' stone liar. Because writing—form follows function, and the act of writing means you wish to communicate. Whether you're writing a memoir for yourself you put in a drawer, or you write a poem and you send it to a little magazine, or you write for publication, it always means—the form follows function. It's inherent in the form, "I need to say this. I think I'm important enough to say this, and I think it's important enough for you to listen to it." Now that is the egocentricity of despots, for Christ's sake. And so any writer who pretends to a disaffection for recognition, well, I think they're being duplicitous.
AVC: Recognition and communication are two different things, though. It sounds like you're saying that all writers want to get important ideas across, that there aren't people writing just for money or fame.
HE: Are you saying, do I believe that there are not just hacks out there who have an ability to put words together, and so they do it to make a living?
HE: I believe there are many like that. It is not a matter of purpose, I think it is a matter of just talent. Michelangelo said, "Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." There are those who feel the burning in them. They write because they cannot not, or paint because they cannot not, or dance. I mean, one must be insane to be a ballerina or a gymnast. These are rigors that stunt your childhood and bend you for the rest of your life. And yet there are people who dedicate themselves to it with a ferocity that is akin to Alaric the Goth! So I think there are people—I know a number of writers who are not terribly endowed, but they work at it, and they have careers that have lasted decades. And the one thing they do have in common, and this is, I suppose, after all the rodomontade I've just ambled through, the salient point is this: No one sets out to do bad work. There are people who are capable only of mediocrity, and when mediocrity is the norm, as it is in the world, that falls into Ted Sturgeon's "90 percent of everything is crap," because when he said "crap," he meant "mediocrity." They're doing the best they can, which is an explanation, but not much of an excuse.
I think art—and I said this in the movie—art must be tough! I think art has to be hard. I don't think it should be easy. I think it should take foot-pounds of energy to produce that art, otherwise we would have more mediocre writers, and we don't have room for any more mediocrity in the world. There's already enough of it being visited on us night and day through the Internet, and through television, and through politics. These are places where the human soul should aspire. These are places where great things should happen, and in fact they are not. And that's probably one of my biggest gripes with the Internet, that it settles for mediocrity and disinformation, which puts all information on the same level. Everything has the same value, whether it's Albert Einstein speaking, or email@example.com.
AVC: So should artists' personalities or lives matter when considering their work?
HE: No. Definite, absolute, unequivocal no. Dostoevsky was a drunk. He was a gambler who gambled away his family's money. He borrowed from everybody, never paid them back. He was an absolute shit. He wrote The Idiot! What does it matter that he was a shit? The Idiot is still here. No. No, what a person is, is fascinating or a documentary, but it should not in any way influence—and that's one of the things I hate about the literary school of deconstruction. There's this whole school of French criticism that deconstructs everything, and says, "Well, the reason he wrote this story is because he had boils on his neck when he was a child." Or everything can be traced back to the fact that you were a black woman passing for a white woman. Or because you were a Sephardic Jew in Weimar, Germany. I think it is all the tomfoolishness of the tenured. Ooh, that's a great phrase! "The tomfoolishness of the tenured." Oooh. I can give you an example of this that's really hilarious if you want it.
HE: A number of years ago—this goes back again, and I lose track of time, but it's as fresh as if it were yesterday in my mind. The Modern Language Association, the MLA, was doing a section on my work. A couple of people had picked my stuff to talk about. And I was bootlegged into one of these talks. I sat at the back of the room. And the academic, who happened to be a Jesuit priest, and a very rigorously trained man, was talking about my story "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream." And he went on at great length talking about the basic Apollonian/Dionysian conflict, and the God-vs.-man matrix syndrome, and all of this wonderful, epistemological gobbledygook, and I sat back there and listened. It was pretty smart stuff, it was pretty cool. But it was all wrong. It was absolutely all wrong.
And afterward, they played a very bad—I mean, it was pretty cruel what they did to this poor man. His name was Father William something-or-other. The person who was the moderator of the section said, "Father Johnson"—or Jameson, or whatever the hell his name was—"we have the author of that story, Harlan Ellison, here." And there was a great stir in the room, and this when I was at the height of my popularity, he said with charming humility. You can put that in paren, "(he said with charming humility)." And he said, "Would you like to hear Mr. Ellison's take on this?" Well, the right reverend Dr. Jameson wanted my opinion on what he'd just said about as much as he wanted a hysterectomy with a Roto-Rooter. And he truly lost the blood from his face, it drained, but he was gracious, and he said, "Oh, yes, that would be wonderful." [Laughs.] And he used the word "wonderful" the way you or I would use "glioblastoma" or "dogcatcher."
And I came up and I said, "Well," I said, "what was your name again?" He said, "William," I said, "Well, look, Billy," because the minute you have to start calling someone "Father," you've lost the argument. So I said, "Look, Billy, what you've said is really wonderful, and I'm grateful for the serious attention. But in truth, what you've just said is stuffed full of wild blueberry muffins." I said, "You didn't even notice that the woman, the one woman on whom you based this whole theory about the bitch-goddess and all that kind of stuff, is a black woman." And he said, "What? What?" And I said, "Yes!" He said, "Well, where is that?" And I took the book that he had lying there, and I turned to the passage, and I read, "her face, black against the snow." And he said, "Well, I thought you meant " and I said, "I rest my case." They will find in it what they wish to find in it, because that is their game. That is the game academics play, which is the same game that politicians and dictators play. Stay in power. Keep your job. Write the prescription in a hand that only an apothecary can read, and not the patient, because then you won't need to have a pharmacist-and-doctor, privacy language. It's the same way that kids use letters to fool their parents: CTNMOS. "Can't talk now, Mom over shoulder," mommy's watching me. Something like that. It's an acronym kids use now, because parents are checking to see whether they're looking at porn, or what they're doing. So they've developed this acronym secret language. Every group has its own lingua franca.
AVC: When you were talking earlier about the woman who felt that you'd saved her from suicide, you said you can't take responsibility for how people take your work. But do you think there's any kind of contract between a writer and reader? Do they have any obligations to each other?
HE: Oh yeah. Absolutely, there's a contract. And that's again a very smart question. That's exactly what it is. It's a contract. Let me give you a for-instance of a breach of that contract. There is a mystery writer, and I won't name him, 'cause he's a nice enough man. He wrote a book in which he had a character do something that he was physically incapable of doing. In other words—this was not the example, but if I told you what it was, you could identify the book—but let's say he had no arms, and this guy had him driving a stick-shift car. The instant I read the scene, I put the book down. I couldn't trust him any longer. He did not know what he was talking about. He was not paying attention. That is the only message that art conveys: "Pay attention." That's it. That's the beginning and end. That's the alpha and the omega. Pay attention. And the contract between a writer and a reader is that the writer will break his or her ass to do it scrupulously, absolutely properly. That you can't say, "Well, grammar doesn't matter," or "It doesn't matter that I misspell," or "A copyeditor will fix it." Or if the syntax is spavined, broken-backed. That doesn't go. If you're a jewel-cutter, you don't let your wedge get dull. If you're a doctor, you don't let the scalpel get dirty. When you're a writer, you have—as I said before, it's language, the one tool that enables us to grasp hold of our lives and transcend our fate by understanding. That's the contract. That's the contract. And the great enemy—this one's from George Orwell—"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." So you have to have the passion and the skill and the craft. It's not just enough to have the passion. You've gotta have all three.
AVC: So is there another side of that contract? What does the reader owe the writer?
HE: Well, that's harder. That's harder, because it sets a personal bar under which someone may not be able to limbo. I usually say I write for the smartest, cleverest, wittiest audience I know, and that's me. [Laughs.] What the hell else can you do?
AVC: You perform bits of your work several times during the film, and your elevated language works particularly well that way—it sounds almost like poetry. When you're writing, do you consider what your stories will sound like if they're read out loud?
HE: Oh, absolutely. I never send a story off until I have read it aloud to at least two or three people. Because when I read—and I don't need their criticism, what I need is my own—when I read it aloud, there is a flow, there is a poetry to it. Here's what I'm writing right now. This is the piece that I'm writing. I'm gonna read you just the first page. This is what I'm writing now about Octavia Estelle Butler. And the piece is called "This Is About A Tall Black Girl And A Short White Guy." It says, "This woman of whom we speak, this woman you call Octavia, who to me was always Estelle, this imposing black person was more than a small human miracle. Estelle was a loner. She came from a family that loved her, and her love in immense measure returned. But not 'til she made of herself a human miracle who fascinates us, even though she is gone, did her family and everyone else have a clue how thick lay that fog, how deep and fast ran that hidden river, how remarkable was her soul. 'Til she was a grown woman, that tall black girl, not 'til she was an adult, no one 'got' her. Not even her family." See, when I read that aloud, there is a cadence. And I got that cadence—this is what writers have influenced you—from Frederic Prokosch.
You talk about fame My favorite book in the world is The Seven Who Fled, by Frederic Prokosch. You can get one off Amazon in any number of editions. It's a novel about seven people fleeing a Chinese warlord across the Gobi desert. And there is one section near the beginning, in a chapter called "Layeville," who is one of the characters, where he describes the desert. And it is the most mesmerizing writing I have ever read. And there is a flow to it, because Prokosch was also a poet. And this was the Harper Prize novel, I think in 1933, or '34, something like that. And it was not his first novel—his first novel was The Asiatics—but it was his second. And for someone that young to write that brilliantly sets a mountaintop for people such as I to aspire to. And you cannot—I will take that book with me when I do writers' workshops, and I will read them just that one section. It's not much, it's about a page. And I say, "When you can write like that, then I will bow down and I will kiss the hem of your garment." So.
AVC: Given your somewhat legendary reputation at this point, it's hard to know how to approach you. You seem to get all kinds of people bracing themselves for antagonism from you, from people at readings who sort of cringe and grovel to people who start off belligerent and angry, expecting a fight. How would you like people to approach you?
HE: Well, I'll tell you the worst of it, and then I'll tell you the funniest of it. [Laughs.] This is one of the worst things I ever did, and I have done some terrible things in my time. It was a gang book signing, with Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, the editor of the book we were signing, whose name was Ron Borst, and I, and it was a book of movie posters. We were sitting at a long table, and I was around at the end of the table, so you had to go past three people to get to me. And because it was such a large group of signers, the line stretched out of the bookstore, down the street, around the corner, and into a parking lot, where they had to put up ropes to keep people in line. And the funny thing is that Bob and Ray and I had known each other for donkey's years, so we're busy cuttin' up and shuckin' and jivin' and just breaking each other up and saying funny things to each other while we're signing, and talking to the people, and being just in general very cheery and accessible and nice. It was a terrific going-on.
The problem is that people were not leaving, because they wanted to hear all the funny shit. They were gathering behind me and crowding the back of the bookstore. And the line kept on going. So now comes a woman, and she goes past Borst, gets his signature, and then Ray, and then Bob, and she comes to me, and she's holding the book, and I can't remember what it was she said, but it was incredibly stupid and rude. It met at that median between obsequious and boorish that people come on with you because they have to assert that you're not such hot stuff. They have to put you in your place. And she said it to me loud enough that the people behind her heard it, and you could see them playing Telephone. Or as my wife, who is English, calls it, Chinese Whispers. You know, repeated, "My God, did you hear what she said to Ellison? My God!" And it went down the line. And Ray and Bob pushed back their chairs, as if they did not wish to be hit by a comet of flying flesh. And I heard this voice say to this woman, "You know, when I hear a remark like that, I know that you weren't born yesterday. 'Cause nobody could get that fuckin' stupid in just 24 hours."
And the woman burst into tears, dropped the book, and ran, and of course everybody now down the line said, "That bastard Ellison! That dickwad! What did he—" Well, it was, of course, I who had said it. People who come up to me, or approach me, or talk to me in a civil manner, are treated civilly. I was raised well by my mom and dad. I'm not a boor, I'm not a bad guy. I do a lot of shit that I think is funny, and sometimes it goes over the line, but I do it not meaning to be a bad guy. There is a good heart behind it. And you have to—that's what you have to rely on: "Is this done with a good heart, or is this Ho Chi Minh here?"
That's the awful one. Here's the funny one. This is decades ago, a friend of mine, William Rotsler, one of the great wits of our time, and a wonderful writer and an artist and a sculptor and a moviemaker. He was just a Renaissance guy and a terrific guy. In fact, it was Bill who came up with the title "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream." He did a little drawing, and there was a little creature, looked like a rag doll, that had no mouth on it, just stitches, that said, "I have no mouth, and I must scream." And I thought, "Wow, what a great title for a story." And I asked Bill if I could use it, and he said, "Yeah," and there it was. I don't think I've ever told anybody that.
Bill was in attendance at a very large reception, at a convention, may have been a Worldcon, in some place back east, I don't know whether it was Washington DC or Pittsburgh or something like that. But I came—at the time, I was dating some young woman—and we came off the elevator into the midst of this huge ballroom full of people. And the minute I stepped out of the elevator, it was like a scene in an MGM musical—you know, where they clear the floor and June Allyson and Peter Lawford do their jitterbug.
The waves parted, the Red Sea parted, and people moved on both sides. I thought, "What the hell is going on here?" At the end of the channel cleft between these two drifts of people was a young woman who I did not know. And we walked, my date and I, saying hi to people on both sides as we walked down this aisle. And the minute I got there in front of this young woman—I had no idea who she was, but she was staring at me and facing me off. It was High Noon, and I was Gary Cooper, and peculiarly enough, she was Grace Kelly and not the bad guys. And she unloaded on me. I mean, this—I guess the proper word is bitch—unloaded on me, just began to rip me up one side and down the other. I can't even remember what it was all about. When she was done, she paused for breath, as if to say, "How do you like them apples?" And I turned around with my date, we walked back the elevator, and I left. But as I was leaving, I heard behind me, this woman say, "Why didn't he say anything? Why didn't he say anything? What's the matter with him? Why didn't he say anything?" And I heard Bill Rotsler—and Bill vouched for this later—Bill said, "When you're the fastest gun in town, you don't draw against plowboys."