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.

Ray Bradbury’s Groupie from the Future

ray bradbury reading cropped

I met a man from the future at one of Ray Bradbury’s talks.

Around ten years ago Ray would give classes on writing in San Diego once or twice a year. These turned out to be Ray reminiscing about being a writer, not so much about writing. Not that I minded!

Sitting next to me was this elfin little man with silver hair but the restless energy of a child. He was dressed all in silver, like a jumpsuit. I first noticed him because he was so obviously happy to be there: fidgeting, bouncing in his chair, winking at me when he caught my eye, rubbing his hands together in expectation.

As Ray lectured, the little man kept catching my attention as he was nodding in agreement or chuckling to himself at everything said. Like the buddy who echoes the lines of a movie under his breath to show how well he knows it, or conducts a symphony with his fingers.

At one point Ray launched into a story and the little man leaned over to me, grinning, and whispered like a conspirator, “Oh, thees. You will love thees one!” He had an odd, slurred accent, like a Monty Python caricature of French.

Later, everyone lined up for book signings and autographs. The little man was right in front of me, bouncing on his toes and taking notes on some cards.

We arrived in front of Ray, and the little man said, “I have nozzing for you to zign, Ray Bradbouree, but I have a question for you: Do you believe in time travel?”

“No. It’s impossible.” I was surprised at Ray’s impatient, flatly dismissive tone. Well, maybe he gets asked that a lot. But should a science-fiction writer say something is impossible?

“Oh, you theenk so?” The elf’s smile grew and he slowly shook his silver head, indulging Bradbury’s opinion. Then he handed Ray his pen. At a touch it flared to life like a lightsaber, a hot blue spark, and Ray exclaimed with wonder and inspected it curiously. 

“Well, zis is for you anyway. I brought it wiz me.” And the little man fairly skipped away.

As I walked to my car later, I didn’t see how the elf left. Probably because I didn’t look up.

Fourth of July: Ground Bloom Flowers

Ground Bloom Flowers

This was the core of our annual firework arsenal. We’d often have a brick of these things, leading to a steady course of them over the evening, punctuated by fountain cones or other more exotic (expensive) devices. As the night wore on and we got bored with lighting them one at a time, we tried them in clusters, discovering new and novel principles of thermodynamics. You could braid the fuses of several together. Sometimes this would form a larger, combined Voltron of hissing, skipping, colored flames. Sometimes they wouldn’t stay together, and the spinning fireball would eject a few offspring into new orbits, usually toward watching children. Kept us on our toes. Amazingly we kept all our toes, too.

The pinnacle of Ground Bloom Flower art was amphibious operations. Once the Flower got up to speed, spinning and skipping crazily on the concrete, someone wondered how it would do on water. The families of redneck scientists adjourned to the laboratory: our backyard pool. For a delivery system, a 6″ square piece of plywood was found and floated in the pool. Light the Ground Bloom Flower, nudge the wood out into the pool as the fuse burned down, and…amazement. The Flower whirled to life and danced across the surface of the water. Some of them would fizzle and drown immediately. Some skittered around and burst just as they would on land. But a few…a few of them fought to live. My favorites were the ones that started to slow down, bubbled, then found their second wind and found a way to keep going.

Bonus: the morning of July 5th, the kids on the block were ordered into the pool (hours earlier than normally permitted) to dive and recover the spent Ground Bloom Flowers from the bottom.