I once received a birthday card from a Neil, postmarked from England, and while I thought that was very kind I didn’t know any Neils, and certainly not any from England.
Inside was a kind note and some drawings in pen, and then it dawned on me that I was holding a birthday card sent to me by Neil Gaiman, who shouldn’t have any inkling I exist.
Later I learned that a mutual friend had arranged that as a birthday surprise, and that Neil Gaiman thought it was so clever he carried the card from the US to the UK just to mail it with the more exotic postmark.
It was an excellent idea, so I borrowed it.
Years later, another good friend was about to have a son. Ray Bradbury was coming to San Diego to do a book signing. I saw my chance. I waited patiently in line among some fans and some speculators asking an elderly man to sign a stack of hardbacks bound for eBay.
When it was my turn, Ray peered wearily up at me from his chair. I presented him with a blank birthday card. He puzzled over it while I explained my idea to him and his assistant (Ray’s hearing was going). I got across that a friend who had introduced me to many wonderful authors was about to have a child come into the world, and I thought they’d like to hear from Ray Bradbury.
When Ray understood, he lit up. “That’s wonderful!” And with new energy Ray wrote in the card, and seemed very pleased to be in on the scheme. He handed it back to me, and I sealed it in an envelope without reading. It wasn’t for me, after all.
Ray’s assistant caught up to me as I was leaving. Standing near a limo with F451 license plates, he said Ray was really happy and this was such a cool idea. Which made my day–I think I even remembered to give Neil Gaiman the credit.
I sent the envelope to a friend in Los Angeles who remailed it to disguise my part (a San Diego return address or postmark would give me away). Not entirely successfully, though:
A few days later, I got a phone call from my friend the new father. “Ahh…Rob, we got a birthday card from Ray Bradbury for Alex. Do you know anything about that?”