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.