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Ray Bradbury

Meeting Ray Bradbury

I sat down years ago to make a list of Remarkable Things I Want to Do in My Life. #1 was “Tell Ray Bradbury how much I love Dandelion Wine.” Shortly after, I moved to San Diego, and read that Ray was going to teach a seminar for writers. Right down the hill from my home. I could walk a hundred feet from my front door to the edge of Mission Valley and look down on the roof of the hotel that would host the event.

After the storytelling came a signing session. I stood in line, holding my well-thumbed, well-loved paperback copy of Dandelion Wine like a totem. As the line shuffled forward, I noticed my hands were beginning to sweat. I was fidgeting, restless, breathing and heart beating like I’d just run laps instead of sat in a chair listening for hours. How silly, I remember thinking, I’m a grown man, I don’t do starstruck or tongue-tied.

And of course there’s Ray, peering up at me expectantly, and I babble something about how much I like this book, and I read it once in high school, and I just want to say how much I like this book, and. And.

And Ray slowly stood, came around the table, gave me a hug, and said,

“I love you, too.”

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Fourth of July

Buying Fireworks

A friend on Facebook: “You can learn everything you need to know about someone just watching them purchase fireworks.”

One summer, my best friend and I were too poor to buy fireworks, but we loved window shopping at the firework stand. The dudebro attendants noticed us and offered us a deal: take stacks of their flyers, distribute them far and wide on our bikes, and they’d give us $100 worth of store credit. Deal! We took off and papered Anaheim with their ads going door-to-door.

Hours later, we returned. And were laughed at by the same guys: sorry, dudes, you should have gotten it in writing, sucks to be you!

My friend and I moped around my house, crushed. My father noticed and asked what’s going on.

He went to the fireworks stand and returned with $100 worth of fireworks.

I learned everything I needed to know about my dad from watching him “purchase” those fireworks.

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Halloween Ray Bradbury

Bradbury, on Halloween, in the Library

The day before Halloween some years ago, Ray Bradbury was appearing at a Los Angeles public library to drum up support for the institution–to remind people of the library, and its importance, and the books there for the asking. I found out about the event on short notice, and sped north from San Diego. First miracle: a parking space only a block or two away, and I crept back through dark suburban streets to the little branch library, now buzzing with an after-hours crowd.

My heart fell as I saw how full the place was. Second miracle: a seat, first row, but way off to one side. Far from the podium. But if I craned my neck, I’d be able to see the speaker. There was a small table in front of me, way over on stage left, with a lit jack-o’-lantern on it. Nice of the library staff to provide some atmosphere.

It was a while before things got organized, but eventually the room packed full, and a hush fell, and Ray was invited to the podium. There was a quick discussion between his assistant and the MC, and Ray rolled over in his chair and stopped a few feet from me. The podium wasn’t wheelchair-friendly, you see. He’d be more comfortable seated.

Ray began spinning his stories of how he became a writer, of educating himself in libraries, of typing Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter at UCLA using $9.80 in dimes over nine days.

And then the lights went out. Library staff scuttled around in the dark, then apologized: the lights wouldn’t be coming back, but they’d let the talk continue if nobody minded.

Ray didn’t miss a beat. In the faint glow of the jack-o’-lantern, he seemed to talk directly to me and the people to either side. We were probably the only people Ray could see.

For more than an hour, I felt I had a private audience with Ray Bradbury, listening as he told his tales, conspiring over a pumpkin, watching as the Halloween candlelight played over his face and fired our imaginations.

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Uncategorized

For Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

I grew up watching Star Trek with my parents, and it played a particular role in bonding with my father. A 10th-grade dropout, a mechanic, a contractor and engineer with little regard for standards, measurements, or straight lines–nonetheless, my father was fascinated by the ideas in the show. Long after we’d watch a rerun of the original series, he’d want to talk about the Big Ideas coded into the adventure of the week. Working under a car, he’d muse how unlikely it was that we were alone in the universe, or urge that humanity needed to get out there, if only so we spread out and increased our chance of survival. The show made a philosopher out of a high school dropout who never read a book in his adult life.

christopher-pike

This is Captain Christopher Pike, confined to a wheelchair after being horribly burned by radiation. He’s only able to communicate by beeping: once for ‘yes’, twice for ‘no’. (I know–oddly retarded technology for 300 years in the future, but whatever).

My father and I watched Pike, in the first-season episode The Menagerie, reduced to cryptic yes/no signals. Beep. Beeeep Beeeeeeep.

I clearly remember my father turning to me and saying, “If I ever get like that, if I can’t live without being plugged into a bunch of machines, pull the plug. Don’t hesitate. Pull the plug.”

Thirty years later, a doctor called to tell me they’d tried everything they could think of, but my father wasn’t coming out of the coma they’d induced. Ever. It should have been routine, like waking from sleep, I was told. Which is why I’d left his side. Which is why I was three thousand miles away when things went inexplicably and permanently bad.

The doctor wanted instructions. In the background, I heard the life support machines. Beep. Beeeep Beeeeeeep. I didn’t hesitate. The doctor was kind enough to put the phone to my father’s ear, and I spoke to him while the tones of the machinery lengthened, became steady, then were shut off.

Sometimes Star Trek gets things wrong. There *are* no-win scenarios. But because of the show and its ability to fire imagination, I knew exactly what to do, and was equipped with the resolve needed in that moment. I couldn’t turn death into a fighting chance to live, but I could honor a final request and do it without flinching.

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Uncategorized

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Nerd

playing tron game comic-con 2009Rank on Tron machine at Comic-Con: 1

Drew a small crowd at the recreation of Flynn’s Arcade from the movie. In 1982 I was world champion at Tron for about 2 weeks…name printed in Electronic Games magazine, etc. My score still ranks #15 or #16 in history.

Later, this image appeared on CNN in an article about “Top 10 things we saw at Comic-Con this year.” The back of my head is famous.

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Uncategorized

Halloween Homecoming

Nothing made me feel so awesome as people spotting me in the ‘Ambush’ costume, calling out ‘Rob! I heard you were coming back!’ and running up to hug me.

I didn’t know how much I missed this community–until I was welcomed back. Also, there’s a dragon.