June 6th, 2012
What follows here is an email that I sent out at work. On the occasion of Ray Bradbury's death, I came to work without a hat. I wrote this email to forestall the inevitable queries about this momentary disturbance of my habit:
Those of you in Eagan won't have noticed, but some of you in the Fremont office may have noticed that probably my most distinctive feature is missing today: my hat.
Today is not a day for hats. Let me explain.
In 1995, one of my high school (yes -- high school. This is your cue to feel old, people.) English teachers encouraged me to go to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books which was being held that year at UCLA.
I was the sort of kid in high school who preferred to stay home and read or write code -- I can't imagine that I'm the only person who felt that way in this august company. In any event, I decided to go.
One can only look at so many books when one hasn't properly entered the workforce and cannot possibly hope to afford all the things he might want. Out of self-preservation, we looked at the schedule of speakers and thought we'd sit in on a few of the panels.
My eyes fell instantly on a name in the afternoon block: Ray Bradbury.
I've always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Call it an inherited taste from my father. Call it just plain good sense. But when it comes to fantasy and science fiction, few people have blended the two as beautifully as Ray did.
I knew instantly that I simply had to go.
Those of you who have had the pleasure will know, but I suspect that most people never had the opportunity to hear him speak. Ray Bradbury gave these wonderful speeches about his life and all the things he'd done. He usually tied them around a theme. In his later years -- especially after his wife passed away -- he wrote them around love.
He'd say that he was the world's greatest lover and point out that everything he did, he'd done out of love.
I won't attempt to recount his stories. The man did it much better himself and I'm fortunate enough to have a copy of his speech from 2007. I've put it on my home server and I'd encourage you to download it. In my estimation, it's worth your time.
After the talk, he went to a signing area. I purchased a copy of my favorite Ray Bradbury book: The Martian Chronicles. My friend & I were kinda goofing off when we met him, but he was so touched by our genuine admiration for him that he exclaimed: "I think I'd like to adopt both of you!"
As it happens, my friend had just gotten a voice recorder and he decided to start it running while we were talking to Ray, so this was actually recorded. I have the .wav somewhere on a zip disk.
After that afternoon, I never missed another L.A. Times Festival of Books, nor did I ever duck Ray Bradbury's panels. Every year, I'd drag a new friend along and I'd buy a book as a gift for someone -- it was a good excuse to talk to him again.
As the years went by, he eventually had a stroke. I remember being a little worried about how it might have affected him. The next time I saw him was at the premiere of a play based on his work that a friend of mine was in. I tentatively approached his table where he was seated in his wheelchair.
He looked at me, smiled, and said "Hi testing4l! How the hell are you?"
Truth be told, the loss of his wife affected him much more than his stroke ever did. It was those later years in which he'd deteriorated somewhat. But every year I saw him, he'd light up a little when he signed my book.
Not so long ago -- maybe 4 years ago? -- he pledged to never again attend the LA Times Festival of Books because he was incensed that they'd removed the book review portion of their newspaper.
He held to that promise, so the last time I saw him was under that hot afternoon sun, signing books at the UCLA campus. I remember the woman ahead of me mentioned that she saw a picture of him during his younger years and told him that he was hot.
It is in mourning and respect that I have elected not to wear a hat today. Truly, if my hat were ever to be off to anyone, then it should be off to the sheer volume of writing that Ray put out there. The world is a poorer place for his loss.
One last note: A carnival man from Ray's youth exclaimed "LIVE FOREVER" at him. He'd often point out that after a fashion, he would live forever. You can go to any library and find him between other giants of the field, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.
He'll certainly live forever in my home.