Wednesday, June 6, 2012
At the time, I was just getting into my voracious reading habit. The event was around the release of his HIGHLY underrated book Green Shadows, White Whale. If you've never read it, you must. It's about when he was in Ireland writing the screenplay for the John Huston film adaptation of Moby Dick. It is a wonderful book and you should rush out and get it with all speed.
His speech was magical and, afterwards, I got to meet him. I had one of those star-struck moments where you start babbling incoherently. Bradbury was very gracious and encouraging, very kind. He understood being the awkward little geeky kid. As I learned, he spent much of his youth in Hollywood having similar experiences staking out in front of movie studios to get autographs.
He autographed our copy of Green Shadows, White Whale, my old mass-market paperback edition of The Machineries of Joy, and a copy of the photograph at the top of the page. We asked him what the cat was named and he wrote "Tigger!" next to the cat. I walked away mesmerized, as if I'd just met Twain or Hemingway, an American author of that caliber. Not just a great American author, but The great American author of his time. And, of course, I was correct.
I immediately read everything by him that I could get my hands on. I think Bradbury would have liked that the news of his death took me back to that time in my life where it seems like I spent all of my time in expensive bookstores at South Coast Plaza and in libraries (I almost didn't say the libraries part because it still seems like that's where I spend all of my time), when I could be so consumed by an author that I would read their entire bibliography without pause, without hardly even looking up from the text. Back in those days before the world became nothing more than germs trying to kill me and before I somehow got enmeshed in a religion that tries to heap shame on me for reading or listening to books or ideas that they don't specifically condone. Back before life beat the enthusiasm out of me. Today reminded me of a part of myself that is still in there deep down somewhere, like a dinosaur sleeping at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be called back to the surface.
Ray Bradbury is a lot of why I am a pedestrian by nature. His short story The Pedestrian made a compelling and visceral argument for me about the narcotic culture in which we live. He has a lot to do with why I never watch the evening news willingly and when I am forced to for whatever reason it is all I can to do keep from throwing things at the screen. Later he reinforced this by pointing out the truth that all of these yip-dog political pundits who are flooding our airwaves and shanghai-ing our political discourse are destined to be forgotten before their bodies are even cold. Don't give the charlatans your press or your attention. He wrote me a permission slip to be an optimist in spite of it all. I wish I knew where I put that permission slip. I seem to have mislaid it somewhere along the way.
He was also the only grown-up I knew who confirmed what I knew: that my classmates were brutes and beasts.
He also showed me that it was okay to love without abandon, to go mad with enthusiasm, to cry like a volcano when occasion called for it. In his 1991 book of essays Yestermorrow, he inspired me through his reminiscences of his friendship with Renaissance scholar Bernard Berenson to stuff my eyes with great art in hopes that great art is what will come spilling back out of me. He told me to write constantly and to write about what grabs me. Also, no matter how old I get, I think I shall always be more than a little in love with the character of Clarisse McClellan from Fahrenheit 451.
On an individual level, I am sorry that he has died and I pray that his family can be comforted in this time of loss. If I could, I would offer that he seems to have lived about as rich, full, beautiful, and happy a life as a man can. His was a truly enviable life. As a human being, the sorrow goes far deeper in that the world is truly poorer for the loss of Ray Bradbury. He enriched humankind in more ways than I can reasonably list in a blog entry.
As for me, I only met the man that once. I am given to understand that the man had thousands of encounters like that. He was known for dazzling the enchanted kid at his book signings. My interactions were with the ideas that he published. I expect to read them to Ezekiel someday soon and I expect that, 500 years from now, Ezekiel's descendants will be reading Ray Bradbury to one another. As for me, the death of Ray Bradbury makes me want to be a better man, in hopes of preserving what would have otherwise been completely lost.