Ray Bradbury, pomegranate, beams into Soho

Earth to author. (Zak Dychtwald)
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“I couldn’t afford an office and I needed a job. I wandered around UCLA one day and there was an office in the bottom of the library where I could rent a typewriter for 10 cents for half an hour.“ A 15-foot projection of 90-year-old science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury smiled boyishly—via Skype from L.A.—at 120 fans gathered in front of a white MacBook at McNally Jackson Books.  “I went home and got a big bag of dimes," Bradbury said. "I went back to UCLA, sat down. In nine days I spent $9.80, and I wrote the first version of Fahrenheit 451.” 

That was 60 years ago. 

Every one of the 80 chairs the bookstore had set out were taken, and another 40 fans were standing. The presentation was lead by Sam Weller, author of Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews and, for the last ten years,  Bradbury’s “authorized biographer." 

Dwarfed by the projector screen, Weller began by saying that Listen to the Echoes is "unfiltered Bradbury, Bradbury unplugged.”

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Before initiating Skype contact with Bradbury, Weller warned the audience: “Ray might be a little tired. He is not in the best health.” He spoke of Bradbury in the same terms a son speaks of his infirm father. One man next to me whispered, “Who is he to he say this behind Bradbury’s back?” 

Weller read briefly from the book before initiating the Skype call. The first dial-up failed; everyone laughed.

The second attempt delivered the author of Fahrenheit 451, Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man. His aged face and mussed white hair were greeted with enthusiastic applause.   

When asked how he was, Bradbury replied wholeheartedly, “I’m feeling good now that you’re here.” 

“How has your writing changed over the years?” Weller asked.

“It has become brilliant,” Bradbury replied.   

“Which of your stories is your favorite?” 

“I don’t have a favorite.  They’re all my children.” 

“Do you ever marvel at how much you’ve created?”  (Bradbury has published close to 600 short stories, over 30 books and numerous poems, essays, and plays.) 

“The simple fact is this: I’m a pomegranate. I’m a very big pomegranate that exploded and my seeds are all over the place. So there are 10,000 seeds of me all over the place. I am glad that I exploded and that I took root to become a pomegranate.” 

“Do you still read much?” A few of the crowd members weren’t quick enough to sober up after the pomegranate metaphor, and were caught still laughing when Bradbury replied, “No. I can’t  because I’m half-blind.”  

The author offered some of his personal philosophy. “Don’t think.  Do!  Become a Zen Buddhist.  I’m a pure Zen Buddhist. I used to have a sign over my typewriter that said ‘Don’t think, just do.’ My advice to all the students there,” he said, making a sweeping motion across the screen, “is to get the hell outta there and do it.” 

Then the connection went out. Weller said that Bradbury was probably tired (they are both planning a trip to Comic-con on Saturday) and that the old man should rest.

But seconds later, there was a call from Bradbury, who asked what the heck had happened.   

Weller reflected, “In Fahrenheit 451 alone, he predicted flatscreen TVs, virtual reality, the rise of reality television, school violence and school shootings, automatic teller machines. . . the demise of newspapers, the demise of long-form reading.  Now think about this: This was published in October of 1953.” 

As the Skype session drew to a close, the 120 fans thanked him, as a chorus, before he signed off. Bradbury gave a final 15-foot wave and then the picture blinked and the screen went dark.