October Country

“October Country . . . that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain. . . .” 

Ray Bradbury

For Ray Bradbury’s Centennial: the Impossible Birthday Card

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?”

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.”

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.