Thursday, June 07, 2012

Encounters With Ray Bradbury

As many of you may have heard, Ray Bradbury, author of many books including "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451", passed away a couple days ago.  It turns out our paths have directly or indirectly crossed a couple times.

The first was early in the 90s.  I was waiting for a flight from home from New York (Home at the time was Oxnard, California).  Flights had been cancelled and rescheduled all morning so when a flight finally opened up there was a mass of sweaty, tired travelers crowding to get on the flight.  As I waited among this crowd I noticed a man in a sparkling white polo shirt, sparkling white shorts, sparkling white sock and ... sparkly white tennis shoes.  All these sparkling white articles of clothing matched his sparkling white head of hair.  It looked like he'd just gotten off a tennis court.  It only took me a few seconds to realize it was Ray Bradbury.  I didn't take the time to talk to him.   Everyone, including me, just wanted to get on the plane.

My second encounter, a more indirect encounter, involves the Wife and the book "Fahrenheit 451".  At the time the Wife was teaching the book in her English class.  After they had gotten into the book she would pass out paper and pencils to her students.  She woulds ask them to hold the paper up to the light and look at the watermark.  It said Montag, the brand of the paper.  She would then ask them to look at the pencil.  It said Faber, the manufacturer of the pencil.  These names, Montag and Faber, are the names of the main characters of Fahrenheit 451.

The Wife was getting ready to do this with a new class and, while she had Montag paper she had run out of Faber pencils and was having trouble finding them.  I just so happened to be making a supply run to a stationary store for work so I looked for the Faber pencils.  When I couldn't find them I asked the owner of the store.  He said that Faber had been bought out by another company and was no longer available and he asked why I was looking for them.  I explained what the Wife did with her students and he said he knew a bookstore owner who knew Ray Bradbury personally.  He said Ray Bradbury often visited his bookstore and that I could probably get a book signed for the Wife.

Now, I have tried to surprise the Wife with gifts before and, for some reason, I have never been able to surprise her.  Circumstances always get in the way and the surprise is always spoiled.  This idea, an autographed version of "Fahrenheit 451" was perfect!  I was sure it would be a total surprise.  I got the contact information from the owner and I started to make some phone calls.  It turns out that Ray Bradbury was not going to be making any appearances to the bookstore but, if I wanted, the shop owner could get a signed copy the next time he saw the author.  Awesome!  I said yes, that would be great.  I told him what to write in the book and I picked which version of the book I would like signed.  It was not even the end of September and I had everything set up for an awesome surprise gift.  It wouldn't be ready until December but everything was in motion.  All I needed to do is keep quiet about it for a few months and I would finally surprise the Wife.

So ... a couple months go by.  I haven't thought about the book at all since I called to set it up.  I'm home from work in the backyard playing with Homer when the Wife gets home.  She comes into the backyard and says with a smile, "Ray Bradbury is going to be at a Barnes and Noble in Thousand Oaks!  I'm going to get my copy of Fahrenheit 451 signed!"  I tried to put a cheery smile on my face but I think a bit of my shocked disappointment got out before I could get the smile on my face.  The Wife stopped in her tracks and asked "What?"  I probably could have saved it ... no ... no I couldn't.  I spilled it.  Another surprise dashed.

A few weeks later we are at the Barnes and Noble and we listen to Ray Bradbury being interviewed by NPR and he answered questions from the audience, including some of the Wife's students.  After the questions people lined up to get their copies signed by the author.  The Wife had two copies signed - a new copy and her old, beat up, annotated copy that she taught from.  While we were in line we saw a parent of one of her students.  Damn if he didn't have the same face of shocked disappointment hidden behind a smile that I'd had a few weeks earlier.

So, Christmas came around.  The Wife already had two signed copies of "Fahrenheit 451".  She got another from me.  And she got a fourth from her student.  It took me a while to get over that before I tried to surprise her again ... which I did magnificently on her 40th birthday ... but that's another story.

Rest In Peace Ray Bradbury.


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