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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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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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Ray Bradbury

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.