The Stuff of Legends, Myths, or Drunken Nonsense

I’ve had a tab to this article open in my iPad’s browser for more than three months. It’s about the razing of Ray Bradbury’s house.

I can’t bring myself to close it.

Ray died almost three years ago, but knowing his house still stood was a sort of balm. I posted about the house back in July, just after was it sold. If I’d known the buyer was going to tear it down, I would’ve tried to organize a public fit of hysteria or something.

Of course no building can stand forever. But I hoped this one might have been the exception. A grand, eternal Second Empire, not a slowly slackening clockwork.

It’s weird to feel so connected to a place I’ve never been, and to feel so sad when it’s gone. Kind of like the emotional unrest we all experienced at the loss of our local Kenny Rogers Roasters.

Ray’s house was such an integral part of his work, and his work is such an integral part of me. And if I can manage to never grow up, I wanna be just like Ray. He helped me believe in immortality, and helped me to understand that death is often a part of living forever.

What I wouldn’t give to spend an afternoon with him in his perfectly chaotic basement office, talking about dinosaurs, and séances, and the Egyptian sands of Illinois, and the weather on Phobos .

large-Ray Bradbury at the typewriter

But I guess, in truth, I’ve spent more than my fair share of warm, print-scented afternoons with Ray—and rocket fire–bright mornings, and sinister midnights, and weary-souled 3:00 AMs, too—so I shouldn’t really have much room for melancholy. I still miss him, though, this man and friend I never met but have known so well since I was 12. I wish he were still sitting at that desk.

Of course no one can live forever. But I hoped Ray might have been the exception.

And a small part of me will never give up the idea that maybe he is.

Hooray for this, the Oingo Boingo-est of Months!

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. And I hope Ray, the eternal MC of October, will forgive me for not opening with one of his. First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys, would’ve been a fine choice, too. Today though, I feel like Maud’s words are a better place to start. Plus, as a PBS-raised lad, one of my childhood crushes was Megan Follows, and I think Ray would approve of me letting my boyishness take the lead.

I love October. It always feels like the true beginning of Autumn. It’s when crisp straw-broom breezes sweep up all the apple orchards, pumpkin patches, crackling golden trees, caramels, skeletal corn stalks, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg seeds, and scatter them about in every direction. It’s when mischief is anticipated and encouraged, even by the virtuous. When specters ride the growing shadows, some full of antagonistic-but-amiable celebration and laughter, and others eager to burn and topple and terrify as much as they can before they’re warded away by winter’s arrival, by collective faith, and by the presence of a different order of spirits who touch our minds with hope and songs of great joy and on earth peace, good will toward men.

San Diego and his friends are welcome to their perpetual springs. Most people would gladly settle under forever-sunny skies. But I need the clouds and the rain and the cider and the hocus-pocus.*

In October, the world transforms. Every yard becomes a graveyard, every leaf skittering down the sidewalk becomes a promise of something mysterious, and every kid running through freshly harvested fields becomes gypsy royalty.

And an even better reason still: I fell in love with my wife in October. I could’ve led with that, and the rest would’ve been a few odd Fun Size Skittles in a pillow case full of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

*Hocus Pocus—arguably humankind’s greatest artistic achievement. We should all just play it on a loop for the next 30 days.

Somewhere a Band Is Still Playing

Summer for me begins a season of rituals, none more sacrosanct than my annual reading of Dandelion Wine. I think this will be my fifteenth time through. I’m getting to it a little later than normal this year, but thankfully not so late that my OCD has decided to take up the cause. Dandelion Wine, and Farewell Summer with it (at least for the last several years), is a warm precursor to the pumpkin-and-dead-leaf-and-promise-of-frost-scented tales of newborn assassinsdark carnivals, and October mansions that will dominate my September and October.

As I’ve already had Bradbury on my mind, I was delighted a few days ago to bump back into a story I first read in late May. It’s a small write-up on the listing of the Bradbury family home in Los Angeles.

Cheviot-Front

Of course Ray painted the house “dandelion yellow.”

Creeper that I am, I’ve kind of kept my eye on it, and according to the realtor’s site it just sold for $1,765,000. I guess I got outbid a little. Sigh.

Along with the chance to glimpse where Ray wrote and found inspiration for so many of his classic stories, the article links to a quiet, beautiful piece written by Sam Weller, Bradbury’s official biographer. Part eulogy and part reminiscence, it paints the home as it was before and just after Ray’s death. Weller is a genuine fan, and he’s always written about Ray with less objectivity than serious literary critics might find appropriate. Which is, I would imagine, exactly how Ray would want it.

I think Ray was giving himself something to aspire to as he gustily typed out Granger’s words to Montag. A direction to guide the next six decades of his life. Something even the most eloquent admirer would be unable to top. And it worked. We knew exactly what to say two summers ago when Ray died. “He shaped the world. He did things to the world. The world was bankrupted of ten million fine actions the night he passed on.”

And since I’ve geeked out this far, I might as well let Granger speak a bit more of his wisdom.

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between you and the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

What a great reason to write. Or to garden. Or to paint a picture or raise a child or build a car or a treehouse or a time machine or take a photo or listen to and record the stories of a loved one or go to Mars or learn to play music or …

Well, I was going to stop there for the day … but I can’t. So …

I don’t think it surprises anyone that my literary hero is a true puer aeternus. My own dusting of Peter Pan is pretty obvious. The small part of me that is more or less grown up will forever marvel at Ray’s craft, his mastery of metaphor and theme. But it’s the boy in me who will run with his young poet-guide cohort through the jungle-hot midnight ravines and dusty Egyptian attics and into white-xylophone-bone-littered Martian ruins and through hobo camps where Moses and Plato and Byron and Thomas Jefferson warm their renewed flesh around phoenix-flame campfires.

And here I was getting ready to lose it even further and launch into Mr. Electrico for a few minutes, but I think the damage has been done. So instead, one of my favorite quotes from Ray. It’s not his deepest granted, but it’s among his most honest and it pretty handily sums up my love for him and his work.

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