UNITED STATES—I met Ray Bradbury in the futuristic year of 2001. That was fitting. The 80-year-old literary lion resided at a house on a sloping lawn on a corner in Cheviot Hills. For 50 years Bradbury lived and created there. With bitterness I received news that the house has been demolished without any referendum to the culture at large.
Readers in Memphis, Mexico City and maybe even Mars, felt a twinge for a house they will never know but imagined with reverence. It was a little piece of Los Angeles residential bliss, tranquil and low-key, comfortably cluttered, centrally located a short drive from 20th Century Fox and MGM.
I want to go back to that day in December 2001 when I ventured out with an address gleaned from internet and arrived unannounced:
It is around three o’clock in the afternoon. An owl on the doormat says “Boo” and maize and pumpkins decorate the doorstep. Here is Halloween and summer everlasting a week before Christmas. A wispy woman in a gray bathrobe opens the door at the canary yellow house. The wispy woman is Marguerite, Bradbury’s wife. It’s kind of surprising to see his other half; Bradbury is such a Mount Rushmore figure all by himself, you don’t think of him as having a wife or children, or at least I don’t.
Another surprise: a writer of Bradbury’s stature, instead of a doormat that says boo, you would expect to have a sign out that said, “Leave me Alone.” Herman Hesse did and even Raymond Carver. None of that here. Mrs. Bradbury lets me right in when I say I’d like to say hi to her husband.
A brief walk down a short hall, past a living room that is not comfortably cluttered: it is clean and dead. Then a few steps down, Bradbury sits in a side room with the big-screen TV. Tons of papers and books, and a Selectric typewriter. He’s wearing a dress shirt and a necktie. In this sunny den with an angled mantelpiece and tons of VHS cassettes, genres all over the place, Shakespeare to the Goonies, Bradbury’s big hands grasp mine, massive hands. All the brightness seems concentrated in one eye.
When he learns I’m a writer, he says something appropriate and wise. But that doesn’t stick with me. What sticks with me, besides his passion for everything, is he is wearing boxer shorts. I try to not give a hoot and not to look at the garters that hold up his socks. Now the shorts may be consequence of a mild stroke he’s suffered that may have left him unwilling or unable to put on a pair of pants, but I prefer to think boxer shorts are the perfect working attire for a writer in a cozy house in Cheviot Hills. Or anywhere else, especially on a hot day.
I give him a copy of my book, signed, and he signs one of his for me. While Bradbury handles a phone call with an editor I talk to Marguerite in the sunny December chill, out by some camellias and orange trees while Bradbury’s booming chortles and exclamations float up from the den. When she hears I lived in Mexico, Marguerite tells me she has taught Spanish at U.S.C.
And to think I discovered Bradbury’s stories in Spanish in Mexico. That is, they went from being something on my eternal to-read list to actual reading. In Mexico his literary stature is unmistakable; my Mexican writer friends are going to be envious that I got to visit this master.
In his lifetime Bradbury was omnipresent at so many schools, colleges and book fairs in Los Angeles, I feel like he was sort of taken for granted here. And the message was often the same, “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money…. I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” Now in death a part of his legacy has been taken for granted. You know what they say about a writer in his hometown.
But writing outlives wrecking balls. It avenges all those buildings in my town of Watsonville, doomed by earthquake and the wrecking ball, buildings that I grew up with and loved like the Carnegie Library, and now the House of the Eternal Halloween lives on in words, along with Bradbury’s books as long as there are hearts to receive them; and there will always be a lovely woman with periwinkle eyes getting the door and receiving a stranger as a friend.
Humorist Grady Miller is author of “Late Bloomer” (available at amazon.com). Reader mail is welcome at email@example.com.