My favorite writer died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 91. I read my first Ray Bradbury story in the summer of 1976 when I was 16. We had just moved to The Pacific Palisades from Ft. Lauderdale. Bicentennial and disco fever were being force fed to us all over the airwaves. I remember being very excited about moving to California mainly because of all the great waves I read about in Surfer Magazine. I thought it was so cool that Monday Night Football started at 6:00pm here on the west coast. We lived on the top floor of a brand new condominium off of Sunset Blvd. We had a pool table, a real Bally pinball machine, an Atari Pong video game, Theta Cable T.V.(where we could watch R rated movies) a great darkroom with temperature controlled stainless steel sinks and roof access where we watched the 4th of July parade and fireworks. On a clear day you could see all the way to Catalina Island. My dad was vice president of Santa Monica Bank and he had a brand new silver Caprice Classic company car which I learned how to drive in. I thought I was happy but now I think I just never knew what unhappiness was.
On Friday nights I usually stayed at home and listened to Hour 25 on KPFK. It was a 2 hour radio program devoted to science fiction and fantasy. Every week there was a guest writer, director, actor, artist, astronaut or scientist talking about science and science fiction. This is where I first heard Ray Bradbury being interviewed. I loved that he grew up in Los Angeles, spent endless hours in the public library reading and writing, never learned to drive a car and was deathly afraid of flying.
Soon after that night I picked up a used copy of The Martian Chronicles at A Change of Hobbit bookstore in Westwood and read his story “Rocket Summer” and I was on my way to Mars. I’ve read many Ray Bradbury books, I met him a few times at book signings, and heard him speak a few times. One time in the early 1980′s I saw him in the mens room in between films during the Filmex Science Fiction Film Marathon. I said, “Hello,” to him while we both washed our hands.
I keep a cassette tape of The Martian Chronicles which I must have got for subscribing to KPFK many years ago in my 1995 Volvo. It’s read by Ray Bradbury himself and I’ve played for all my kids at one time or another. I love the story called “There Will Come Soft Rains.” In the story mankind has been obliterated by a nuclear war but a house with every automatic amenity continues to make food, clean, play music and organize the life of the deceased former owners. A Sara Teasdale poem is recited for the empty house. It ends like this;
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Sometimes, when I’m looking at the sky and see the contrail of an airplane streaking high in the sky I’ll tell one of my boys that it’s a rocket to Mars and they say, “Really?”
Thanks Ray for all the great stories.