I Fled Shrieking From That Madhouse of Boredom

I’ve been reading an humongous tome of autobiographical essays by “Designated Bad Seed” of science fiction, Harlan Ellison. I love his alive, cantankerous writing so much, and these essays have reconnected me with a deep well of pluck I’m sorry to say I’d forgotten about. Thank you, Uncle Harlan, wherever you are.

What I’d like to tell you about today, my fellow Escapologists, is a particular essay from this book in which Ellison describes working a drudge job for Capitol Records in 1953. He describes a first day of anxiously working quickly, fearing being judged not good enough by “the Demon God of Industry”, and then being told to slow down by a co-worker because his pedal-to-the-metal processing power makes the others look bad.

He talks to a long-serving Wage Slave, “a mouse of a creature” who has been filing bills of lading for eleven years, against his dream to “just go with the wind.”

The terror that froze my soul cannot be put into words. […This man was] set irrevocably on a cubicled routine of pointless chores making money for Gods on far mountaintops… and I saw what my future would be if I left my life in the hands of those prepared only to dole out thirty-six dollars a week for another human being’s existence.

Sensing a future echo in utero, Ellison’s had enough:

I grabbed up that sack of bills, leaped out of my chair, sending it crashing to the floor, and with all my strength and lungpower flung them into the air, screaming “FUCK IT!” Amid the bills-of-lading snowstorm, I fled shrieking from that madhouse of boredom and dead dreams on West 57th Street, never to return.

As far as I know, to this day, Capitol Records has an unclaimed check for one-half day’s work, in the name of Harlan Ellison.

Hah! Great isn’t it? I really just wanted to share this inspirational moment with you–you fine people with eyes on the door–but I also recommend The Harlan Ellison Hornbook more generally to anyone with low blood pressure.

About

Robert Wringham is a humorist and the editor-in-chief of New Escapologist.

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