Losing Ray Bradbury from this world is like being told that hot fudge sundaes have ceased to exist and I will never have the experience of eating one again in my life. Losing his creative and imaginative writing, his brilliant and adoring words, is tantamount to losing something that is both tangible and visceral. Great writers die and their works live on, but Bradbury’s presence and persona imbued him with a god-like aura, I think because wherever he went, he simply oozed joy and love and enthusiasm.
During the science fiction phase of my young adulthood, I read and loved The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles. In college, first one professor then another told me Bradbury stories. This man who loved the idea of dinosaurs and time machines and rocket ships refused to drive cars or fly in planes. He was a hopeless romantic. He loved everyone. He swore like a sailor. A prof at UCR had us read a short story by Bradbury in which he reverses history (with the deployment of a time machine) and Ernest Hemingway does not blow his brains out with a shotgun. My hero. (For time travel enthusiasts who ascribe to the "butterfly effect," please note that the term was coined from Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder.")
Though he traveled the world (and especially adored Paris), Bradbury loved living in Southern California and agreed to countless speaking engagements here. When he came to speak at nearby Chaffey College, my friend Lana and I went to see him. We arrived an hour early and sat in the front row. Though mesmerized by his often shouted remarks (“I love America! I love the freedom of our democracy! If you don’t like the sons-a-bitches, you can vote them out and vote the bastards in! And if you decide you don’t like the bastards, you can vote them out and vote the sons-a-bitches back in! It’s wonderful!”), I did have the presence of mind to notice him take one sip from a tall glass kitchen tumbler that had been placed on his lectern. Afterward, as the auditorium cleared, I told Lana I wanted to take it, but I’d never stolen anything before, so I was deeply conflicted. Just then a stagehand appeared to clean up, and I asked him if I could have the glass if I promised to replace it. He handed it to me. It sat on the highest shelf of my kitchen cabinet for a year—until Lana’s daughter dragged it down to get a drink of water, dropping it in the sink, where it shattered. Nothing lives forever….
In the fall of 2010, I saw Bradbury speak at the Duarte Authors Festival. Wheelchair bound, he was frail and attended by several handlers. But he had lost none of his enthusiasm. He told story after story of living life as a writer, admonishing the crowd repeatedly to “love each other, love everyone.” That was how he lived his life.
Geez, Ray, a light has gone out down here. But… I’m curious. What are you doing now? Smoking cigars with Hemingway? Buzzing around from planet to planet? Riding on the backs of dinosaurs? Enjoy yourself. It’s going to take me the rest of my short time here to read what I haven’t yet read of your life’s work. May I be so prolific, so imaginative, so original in my own writing. Farewell for now, my friend.