Thursday, May 12, 2005

TQTJ Talks to Harlan Ellison (Part III of III)

In this installment of our Tough Questions for Tough Jews series, author Clifford Meth interviews fellow tough Yid and award-winning author Harlan Ellison. This is Part III of III -- for Part I, click here, and for Part II, click here.

METH: Last question and I’ll let you go. You’ve told me this before but I don’t think it’s ever been printed. Your solution for Israel and the Middle East, please.

ELLISON: Okay. Here’s the story. It’s got to be 10 or 15 years ago when I get a call from the USIA, the U.S. Information Agency, the ones who do all the propaganda for the United States. They said, “Mr. Ellison, we’ve had a request for you to come and lecture in Israel. As an American-Jewish writer who is very popular—your works have been reprinted over there—they’d like you to come and lecture in Haifa at the university. So I said, “Yeah, that’s all right.” Now, in truth, I have about as much interest in going to Israel as I do in going to Germany, into which I have never set foot. That’s one of the three or four things I’ll never do. I did a list of things I will never do in my life: I will never do an ad for McDonald’s; I will never step foot in Germany; I will never eat lima beans; I would never harm a child; and I will never voluntarily read a book by Judith Kranz. Those are five of the things that are uppermost in my life. So then when I say voluntarily, I mean if you put a gun to my head, I probably would read a book by Judith Kranz, but I wouldn’t like it. As for lima beans, as I have often said you show me someone who will eat a lima bean without a gun to the head, and I will show you a pervert.

So, to get back to where I was: An entire nation of people who are like my relatives, a whole country of yentas and kvetches, is not my idea of a good time. Now, I would love to see Petra, I would love to see the pyramids of Egypt, but I really have no interest in going to Israel. But, what the hell? Free trip, and Susan and I would go and we would do whatever. And maybe I could get to Petra while I’m there. So, I say, “Sure, I could do that.” And they’re going to pay me a nice fee. Okay.

About a week goes by and USIA calls again and they said, “They would like to do interviews with you prior to your arrival so that they can warm the country up for your coming” and I said, “That’s terrific.” They said, “Well, The Jerusalem Post will be calling you, which is one of the biggest newspapers in the world,” and I said, “Great” and “Thank you very much” and “I’m looking forward to going” and blah, blah, blah and all that bullshit.

So one morning, soon thereafter as the crow flies, I get a call from a guy and I can’t remember what his name was, but let’s call him Eleazer ben Yehudi. And he calls and he says, “Hello, this is Eleazer ben Yehudi and I am the senior editorial reporter for The Jerusalem Post and I would love to interview you.” And I said, “Just fire away.” And the first question out of his mouth is: “What do you, as an American Jew, think of the situation in the Middle East?” And I said to him, “Well, why would you ask me that? I’m a writer. I write amusing little fantasies. I’m not a political commentator. I don’t know what you people are going through over there. I have no opinion.” “No, no!” he says. “We’re anxious to hear what you think!” And he nuhdjes and nuhdjes and nuhdjes and pushes at me—already I know I’m going to hate Israel—and he keeps saying, “I want to know what you think! We want to know you want!” He sounds like Jackie Mason. So I say, “Listen. Trust me. You don’t want my opinion.” “Yeah!” he screams. “We want your opinion! We’re dying for your opinion! We’re plotzing to have your opinion!” He goes on and on and on; he will not let me off the hook. So finally I say, “Okaaay… but remember the old Chinese adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it!’” And he goes, “Ha, ha, ha! Extremely clever… So? What is your opinion?” And I said, “Here’s my opinion: all of you guys out there in the Middle East are out of the same melting pot, and you’re all as crazy as a butterfly on absinthe. I don’t know whether you’re all Canaanites at the base, or you’re all Jews at the base, or outa the Land of Nod, or whatever the hell you were at the git-go—Semites or what not—but you’ve been fighting there now for something like 8,000 years! You’ve never had five minutes of quiet and peace; you’re forever killing each other over the Holy Grail, or whatever the hell it is, and the rest of the world has had to suffer with this. Great things have come out of the Middle East, but stupidity seems to be your chief export—stupidity and violence are your cash crops, all you.” (And this was before September 11). I said, “My solution to the problem in the Middle East is this: We erect a wall 26 miles high around the entire Middle East. That’s Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Egypt, all of you—the whole bunch of you—26 miles high with one door, like a regular door in the front of a house. And every 10 years, we will open the door and look inside. If you’re still fighting, we close the door. Loz ze gein, you should live and be well—go and fight and kill yourselves. But if we peek inside and it’s safe, if it’s nice, if you’re not fighting, and you’ve got peace and quiet, you can come out and play with the rest of us like human people.

And the guy says, “What?” And I said, “Do you want me to repeat that?” He says, “No, thank you very much.” Bamm! He hangs up on me. Within an hour—an hour—USIA calls up and says, “Tour’s off. Pffffft!” And I tell you, I was relieved!

Being a tough Jew is like being a tough Oriental kid in an all-black neighborhood. When you’re an outsider, you’ve got two choices: You either become a target for people to hit you, to bully you, and con you, to take advantage of, and you wind up marrying people you shouldn’t, and you wind up in a job you shouldn’t have with people who bully you, or, you get tough. Now tough doesn’t mean hard. I’m not a hard guy; I’m a tough guy. That means that I take no shit and I’m wrong more often than I’m right, and when I am, I admit it. And that’s another part of being a tough guy. When you’re in the wrong you’ve got to face up to it and you’ve got to take responsibility for it. You can’t keep pushing it off on other people, and you can never blame the fact that you are a Jew! That’s what gets the goyim pissed off at us.

We just had a little fender-bender up here and I’m talking to the woman at AAA and she starts talking about “You people.” She was a black woman so she probably didn’t know that she was actually quoting the thoughts and philosophies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but that’s what she was doing. I tried to straighten her out but it was impossible. It’s widespread common lore that Jews own everything, to which my response is, “Well, if there is actually a great international Jewish money conspiracy, there’s some Jew out there with two shares, because I’m working my ass off!”

You’ve got to be able to accept responsibility for what you do, and you’ve got to be able to try and convince a lot of people who aren’t bad people, they’re just ignorant—not stupid, just ignorant; big difference—that Jews are not the arrogant, all-knowing “Chosen People.” That is as elitist bullshit as the Christians who think that when the Rapture comes, they’re going up and we’re going down. That’s just elitism, and it’s a bad kind of elitism, as opposed to my elitism, which is based on intelligence. Which is a good elitism.

And if you don’t like it, I’ll punch the shit out of you.

© The Kilimanjaro Corporation, 2005


At 4:08 PM, May 12, 2005, Anonymous yomama said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:31 PM, May 12, 2005, Anonymous akojen said...

What a great interview! I know Harlan's not exactly a shrinking violet who needs to be coaxed into sharing personal stories, but Clifford Meth did a great job setting HE up.

At 9:06 PM, May 13, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HE's solution of the Middle East problem has merit. The wall might be physically impossible to build but wouldn't if be great if the idea could be translated into some real action by the other countries of the world! I know: it's too late now to leave them alone to settle their own differences.- - - HERC member: M1268 ( formerly #398 )

At 9:16 PM, May 14, 2005, Anonymous Clifford Meth said...

>What a great interview!<

Thank you.

>Clifford Meth did a great job setting HE up.<

Clifford Meth loves him like a father.

At 4:16 AM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous 'laizer said...

Can someone exlain to me what the funky flying tubular gear-spinning treehouse fantasy is all about?

At 8:37 AM, May 15, 2005, Blogger Chazarmaveth said...

if you look closely, it's also the portrait of a face... Harlan Ellison's face... from the back cover of The Essential Ellison, art by Leo and Diane Dillon.

At 3:18 PM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous 'laizer said...

10 Minutes!
10 Minutes staring at that green thing, turning this way and that and going cross-eyed.
I was going to give up, and then I saw it! Visions electric! Funky Green Head with Peter Pan Flyovers!

Now I know why I stay up late...

At 3:43 PM, May 15, 2005, Anonymous 'laizer said...

Well, you sent me searching and reading in this late Israeli evening, here behind the 26 mile high wall.

Coming up intrigued.

I think this column adds an interesting note to the proceedings.


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