Seems everybody has a Bradbury story or two. Here’s mine:
Starting in grade school, around 5th grade, spend many hours hanging out at the Whittier Public Library, working my way through a somewhat random set of books. Included in the mix was just about everything Bradbury wrote up to around 1978. Clearly, loved his stories.
To me, Bradbury’s defining characteristic is that he is such a good writer that it doesn’t matter what he writes about. Plot doesn’t matter. Even characters hardly matter. Used to play the game of summing up the plot of a Bradbury story in a single sentence, and seeing if it even made any sense – for every ‘Ancient sleeping monster mistakes a foghorn for a mating call’ – which definitely makes you want to read the story – there’s a ‘hard of hearing former psychologist rides the bus’ – ya know? And the funny thing is that the Man in the Rorschach Shirt is worth reading. And that’s not even an extreme example – there were stories that were really challenging to put into a sentence, that were as close to about nothing as you could get and still have a story, that were nonetheless well worth reading.
Anyway, Bradbury once gave a talk at Whittier High, around 1976, about a mile from where I lived – so I went. Huge crowd (Whittier High has one of those Temple to Learning style auditoriums built in the 1930’s, reputed to have once been the largest high school auditorium west of the Mississippi).
Bradbury held court. He was big on space exploration, which even back then was clearly losing ground in the popular imagination. He wanted people to dream big. In other words, it was a canned speech from a guy who gave lots of speeches, full of the sort of fluff people expect in such situations. He took maybe 2 questions, gave predictable answers, then headed out. I can hardly blame him, but I was hoping for more.
Fanboy that I was, I waited outside by his limo – what I expected, I don’t know. I did mange to get his attention and said something stupid like ‘I really like your books!’ – he said a distracted ‘thanks’ and disappeared into the car and was whisked away.
That was my first experience trying to interact with a famous person. I pretty much don’t even try anymore (true story: once rode in an airport parking shuttle for 5 minutes practically knee-to-knee with Bill Russel – and didn’t say a word). I think its a combination of being awkward, not wanting to bother people who are, after all, complete strangers, and not wanting to be disappointed. Again.
So, rest in Peace, Mr. Bradbury. I’ll always love your stories.