Tarpinian: Quality Time With Ray

George Clayton Johnson and Ray Bradbury watch restored "Icarus Montgolfier Wright" in 2008.

By John King Tarpinian: Ray is now resting beside his beloved Maggie and only a few blocks from where he pounded out Fahrenheit 451 on a rental typewriter for ten cents a half hour. I was in attendance but would have rather run away to a sideshow carnival to meet Mr. Electrico.

The services were beautiful and exactly what Ray would have wanted. Many people would like to know the specifics of the service but I am respecting the family wishes to keep things private. 

And instead of a eulogy I am sharing some of the quality time I was honored to experience with Ray.

We’d be at events such as Comic-Con. The den of noise was such that Ray’s hearing aids were just shy of useless unless somebody was in front of him an shouting…as did Joe Hill in 2009 when he first met Ray. As we walked down the aisles a minute would not pass when you would not hear, “WE LOVE YOU RAY,” “OMG that’s Ray Bradbury,” but the one that will always stick in my mind was the father and his son who was riding on his dad’s shoulders and the father telling his boy, “That man is Ray Bradbury…the greatest writer in the world.”

We’d be at book signings and older men would come up to get Ray to autograph their tattered copy of The Martian Chronicles and say that they were retired from JPL or NASA and became an astrophysicist because they read Ray’s books as a child. People would come up to Ray with tears in their eyes (as I now have) and tell him they became English teachers or librarians because of Ray. He touched people in so many ways.

One evening after a library event there was a group of us enjoying a meal with Ray.  People were chatting about nothing in particular but there was much laughter. All of a sudden Ray asks for a pen. A story has come to him, fully formed. The story was about Ponce de León in search of the Fountain of Youth. He finds the indigenous peoples know what the real fount is, laughter. And this from a group of friends sharing a meal and laughing.

We’d be coming home from an event. Ray would announce he’d like the driver to take him through Hollywood. The next magical hour would be Ray, as tour guide, telling us what he did, where and when. We’d go to exactly where he met a movie star, at age fourteen and on roller skates, to get their autograph. We’d sit in the car next to the cemetery he wrote about in Graveyard for Lunatics. I’d tell him that is where my paternal grandparents are buried and he’d say, “I’ll be damned.” I got to tell him that he wrote about an in-law of mine in “Who Killed Constance,” Thaddeus Lowe. He’d laugh.

Thanks to Ray, at one of his 90th birthday celebrations I got to be in the same room with THREE of my childhood idols: Ray, Buzz Aldrin and Hugh Hefner. That gave me the opportunity to tell Buzz that he knew another in-law of mine, Pancho Barnes. (Look up The Happy Bottom Riding Club). Heck, I got to tell Hugh that I dated the younger sister of Miss August ‘72. All thanks to Ray.

We were once at a screening of a cleaned-up copy of Ray’s Oscar-nominated animated film “Icarus Montgolfier Wright.” In comes a page to say that, Steven Spielberg is in the building, has learned that Ray is here and would HE be disturbing the group if he could come in to briefly pay his respects. How cool is that?

That same evening we are having dinner at one of Ray’s favorite restaurants, Musso & Frank’s. George Clayton Johnson is with us. There is a local TV celebrity also eating there, Huell Howser. Ironically Huell recognized me (Ray and George had their backs to him) because he did a special on my fountain pen collecting club the year before. So here I am, a nobody, introducing Huell to Ray and George. What’s wrong with that picture? 

Also in the restaurant that evening is the owner of another favorite restaurant of Ray’s, El Cholo. He comes over to pay his respects and leaves. When it came time to pay the bill “somebody” had already paid the bill for the whole table. 

My last remembrance is the first time I got to converse with Ray. I had been at many signings before but never got up the gumption to speak other than bowing and saying Thank You. When I finally did I asked if he minded signing my book with a fountain pen.  He kindly said yes. I then pulled out my case and asked if he would prefer a pen from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s. With a laugh he asked to use the one from the 40s, saying that was when he was a young man. While signing he told a story about going on a date with a young starlet. He bought a new white shirt for this date. When they got to the restaurant Ray took off his sport jacket only to discover the fountain pen had leaked all over the new shirt.

I realize how lucky I have been to be able to call Ray friend and him to call me friend.  He has made my life more fulfilled by just being who he is and sharing. May everybody be as lucky as I, to have a childhood idol become a friend.