So Tycho and I are up in front of the audience with Harlen, and Hank (the con organizer) presents us with some jester hats (“Fool’s caps”). Tycho and I put ours on because we are polite, but Harlen - who is apparently too cool for school - refuses to wear his. I turn to him and say, “Don’t you want your hat?” and he tells me to fuck off. This caught me off guard, I mean I have no clue who this fucking coot is. Then he points to a pad of paper he has and asks if I’m aware that his paper is also called foolscap. Now, I’ve never heard that term before, I pretty much just call it paper so I shake my head “no.” This really isn’t a fair question. I mean, it would be like me asking him about Photoshop or if he can remember what he had for lunch. The guy was essentially setting me up to look stupid in front of all these people. So then he asks me if I even attended college and I say “No, I did not.” Then, he says “did you at least finish high school?”
I said that I had, but you couldn’t really hear me because the audience is laughing at me along with Harlen. So once they stop, I turn to him and I say, “While I’ve got you here I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the Star Wars stuff you wrote.”
I didn’t know him very well but I felt like mistaking him for someone who writes Star Wars books was the sort of insult that would cut right to his brittle old bones. The audience seemed to agree because I could hear a lot of ooooooooh’s and oh no’s over the laughing. Some people in the front even suggested a fist fight was now in order. I look over at Harlen and he’s staring at me like he wants to choke me. He then says “so that’s how it’s going to be.” Now keep in mind that he’s the one that started hostilities when he told me to fuck off. I’m just the one that finished it. The guy tells some pretty funny stories about how witty he is and how he’s always saying clever things at exactly the right moment. When confronted with someone who was unwilling to take any crap from him he had no clever retort. The great writer just glared at me and then walked off stage. I don’t doubt that given enough time he could craft a perfectly worded and extremely vicious response but up there on stage in front of all his fans the man didn’t have shit.
I don’t blame Harlen for not knowing who I am. I honestly don’t expect him to. I don’t expect anyone that old to know who I am. I did expect him to be polite and at least respect the fact that I was a fellow guest of honor. That was apparently too much to ask for from the great Harlen Elison.