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«Troublemakers», Harlan Ellison

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INTRODUCTION: “THAT KID’S GONNA WIND UP IN JAIL!”

No use pretending: too many of the “young people” (whatever that means, 4-6 year olds, 10-13, 15-20ish?) I’m thrown Into contact with these days are, In the words of Daffy Duck, maroons...ultramaroons. Dumb, apathetic, surly, dumb, arrogant, semiliterate, dumb, disrespectful, oblivious to what’s going on around them, ethically barren, dishonorable, crushed by peer pressure and tv advertising into consumer conformity, crude, dumb, slaves to the lowest manifestations of cheap crap popular culture (as, for instance, WWF wrestling; boy bands; idiot Image comics featuring prepubescent fanboy representations of women with the vacuous stares of cheerleaders, all legs and bare butts, with breasts like casaba melons grafted to their chests at neck level; horse-trank home-made mosh-pit Xtasy kitty-flippin’ dope; and Old Navy rags that make everyone look like a bag lady or wetbrain bindlestiff with a sagging pants-Ioad), inclined to respond to even minor inconveniences with anger or violence because they’ve been brainwashed into believing everything they want, they ought to have, and everything ought to be given to them free, and oh yeah... did I mention they’re dumb? Did I mention, also, that they’re ignorant as a sack of doorknobs? Which ain’t exactly the same as dumb.

And isn’t that exactly what you needed today, on a day that has already been as friendly as a paper cut? Smartmouth from some total stranger �way older than you, some guy you never heard of before, comes on fronting you with his “young people suck” riff, tripping on you before you even know what you did wrong to get this geezer so on a mission. Very nice, very cool. Yeah, you say: I gotcher cool right here.

So okay, I’m not talking about all teenaged kids. Just the ones you have to deal with every day. The pinheads, the bullies, the mean little rats who laugh at you behind your back or right to your face because you’re too fat or too scrawny or too tailor too short or you can’t control the farts or you bump into things all the time or you got a helluva acne plague this week or your mommy dressed you weird or you speak with an accent, or you’re good at sports but the other creeps think you’re just a big dumb ox, or you really like to read and you get decent grades but the jocks and sosch skanks think you’re the Prince of the Kingdom of Geek.

Not all “young people,” just the lames who bust your chops. Yeah, all of �em...they should itch forever with no scratch available. They should break a leg or two.

When I was your age, they were on me, too.

That’s who this guy snarling at you claims to be. The kid who was there, same place as you, before you got here. And I’ve got this book of stories that definitely won’t save your life, or get you off crystal-meth, or turn your academic slide into a climb back up, or even clear up your acne.

It’s a book about some of the kinds of trouble we all get into. The stuff that seems to be a good idea at the time, but turns out to be six months in rehab or a beef in the juvie hall of your choice. Trouble has been my middle name since I was two-three years old. Yeah, that far back, I was the one they always swore was gonna wind up in jailor lying in a gutter with UPS trucks splashing garbage and mud on my wretched carcass. Well, it didn’t happen. I’ve got fame and money, and skill and a great wife, and a boss home. And now they ask me to put together a book for youse guys.

Well, imagine my surprise. Not to mention my nervousness. I do a lot of high school and college lecturing, and it’s not at all like what it was, hell, even ten years ago. Today, when I confront an audience of “young people” I get more mood �n’ tude than a serial killer trying to cop a plea. So, like a jerk, I get really honked at them and start insulting the audience.

And here’s what really fries my frijoles... They take it!

They don’t learn from it, they don’t get openly upset by it, they just sit there and pout like babies. And so, I’ve packed it in, pretty much. Not like it was when I did colleges in the �60s and �70s, when everyone was questioning and smart about what was happening in this country, when “young people” really had things to rebel against, instead of being upset that they’re not allowed to play their Gameboy in class.

So here’s this book of weird little stories, something like a modern-day version of Aesop’s Fables, except not really. A book of warnings, what we call “gardyloos.” With lessons to be learned that come out of my own corrupt and devilish adolescence.

Careful, though. Gardyloo! I am nobody’s hero, and I am as fu- well, you know what I mean, I’m as messed up as you. So read the stories for pleasure, and if they make you grin or scare you a little, and you turn out okay as an adult, and you get rich...send me some money.

Because I’m just a poor old guy trying to make a sparse living in a world full of “young people” who are smarter than I, cleverer than I, faster than I; and I’m just about on the verge of becoming like y’know a “bag lady” kind of guy, gnawing the heads off rats, peeing in doorways, begging from door to door. So, when these stories make you rich and famous, and they’ve just completely like y’know altered your life, send me a couple of bucks.

Because I love you folks, you know that, doncha?

I just love ya.

(And while we’re at it, I’d like to sell you some shares in the Panda Farm I’ve got growing in my butt. Very reasonable.)

Yr. pal, Harlan.

HARLAN ELLISONSherman Oaks, California

ON THE DOWNHILL SIDE

Here’s one of the few Secret Truths I’ve learned for certain, having been “on the road” since I was thirteen and ran away. (Had nothing to do with my folks; they didn’t beat me; I was a restless kid, wanted to see the world.) The Truth is this: most of the reasons we give for having done something or other, usually something that got us yelled at or grounded or busted, most of the reasons we dream up are horse-puckey. (I’d use the B-word, but libraries are going to be stocking this book.) All those reasons and excuses are just lame rationalizations, and they only tick off the people yelling at you. So shine �em on. Forget them. The only reason that makes any sense is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Lame though it may be, it’s the Truth. “Why did you bust that window?” It seemed like a good idea at the time. “Why did you get hung up on that guy/girl when you knew it was a destructive hookup?” It seemed like a good idea at the time. “Why did you do that lump of crack?” It seemed... well, you get it. Too bad the guy in this first story didn’t get it, because the True Answer to why you fell in love with someone who ranked & hurt you is...it seemed like...


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