Friday, June 8, 2012

Ray Bradbury - Our Friend

Ray Bradbury was a friend of mine.  I'm not saying this figuratively, in that way, everyone was his friend, I mean this literally.  Our family was lucky enough to know him personally and we loved him.  He was a great ally to us, our belief systems and our Santa Barbara bookshop (The Earthling). 

As a child, I remember the white linen suits that he wore on hot summer days.  I remember thinking that I'd never seen such a well dressed man.  He almost glowed.  When he came to visit, he would drink a tumbler of scotch that my Dad would fetch from the bar across the street as he sat by the unlit fireplace signing hundreds of copies of his books.

When we were surrounded by both a Boarders and a Barns and Noble and the sad fate of the independent bookstore cast it's shadow over the Earthling, Ray made the trip up to Santa Barbara to try to breath some life back into our sales.  He held a marathon signing once, where the line stretched around the city block.  He didn't leave until the last person was greeted and even then he stayed to sign a few extras for us.  To me, he was like a jolly ghost, who would appear in our shop, making my parents happy, making sales go up and reinforcing the belief that independent bookstores were nurtured by and nurtured, independent minds like his.

My Mother wrote the following article for the Santa Barbara View upon hearing about Ray's death.  She sent it to me last night and it made me nostalgic.  I guess I had forgotten that "Fahrenheit 451" was the reason that she wanted to own a bookstore.  In a way, it seems that Ray was the reason that I was raised amung the canyons of bookshelves and surrounded by the smell of paper.  Ray was the reason that I was breast fed in a bookstore's receiving room and that I took my naps under the sale table.  He was the reason that when Salman Rushdie wrote the "Satanic Verses," that my Mother refused to take it off the shelf despite death threats.  Apparently, Ray was one of the reasons that my family was inspired to be so brave.  And for that, I cannot put into words how grateful I am to that man.

I hope his spirit is flying somewhere over the surface of Mars in a freshly pressed white linen suit, tumbler of scotch in one hand, typewriter in the other.  I sure will miss him here on Earth.

Memories of Ray Bradbury
by Penny & Terry Davies (my Mom and Dad)
Hearing about Ray Bradbury's death was certainly a shock. The Earthling Bookshop and we, Penny and Terry Davies, owed him a lot.  He came to our bookshop at least once a year between 1974 and 1998. He not only was our favorite, among all the authors we hosted, but he was a good friend and supporter of The Earthling.

When we opened a shop in San Luis Obispo, he said he and his driver would be happy to go up there for a signing. (Ray never drove himself anywhere, he was uncomfortable driving.  He always had his driver bring him up to Santa Barbara to see us, and to Barnaby Conrad's Writer's Conference). 

Penny told him that "Fahrenheit 451" was the book that inspired her to become a bookseller. He liked hearing that. He loved independent bookshops and did everything he could to support and advance them. We were amazed that he offered to drive from Venice, where he lived, to appear in our brand new satellite Earthling in San Luis Obispo. Four hours up and four hours back, and, as always, he filled the new store with thrilled fans.

Ray never just sat at a table to sign books. Invariably he gave a little talk first. The store was always packed when we announced his coming. He would relay the following story over and over again because he loved imitating John Huston:

John Huston: Ray, I want you to come to Ireland and write the screen play for "Moby Dick".

Ray: But John, I've never read "Moby Dick".

John Huston: Don't you think you'd better get a copy?

Ray went to Ireland, but didn't stay with Huston on the hill.  A couple of miles from Huston's mansion was  the village pub with accommodations upstairs. Ray stayed there where he mixed with the locals and drank plenty of the local booze. They amused him by telling stories of the Banshee who haunted the hills around the village. One night, he was walking back from the big house and heard the wails of the Banshee. He was laughing at himself, saying that he ran all the way back to the pub, all the while wondering if he had had too much Irish drink, or was there really "Something Wicked This Way Comes".

He always opened the SB Writer's Conference, advising perspective writers in very positive terms.  He told them about his comic book collection when he was a child. Ray looked back on his childhood and said those comic books opened his imagination for the books he would write when he was a man.
He lamented the fact that someone told him to destroy those 'useless' comic books, and he mistakenly took their advice.  His theme at the Writer's Conference was: "Everything is a Metaphor". At first, we were never sure what he meant, but by the time he was finished, we knew he was right.

After a signing one Sunday afternoon, we offered to take Ray to dinner down the street at his favorite Indian restaurant.   He, in turn invited all his entourage to come along. These were admirers that always came to see him when he came to the Earthling. Ray enjoyed himself enormously, eating huge amounts of very spicy Indian food. His face was very flushed and we asked him if he was worried about his blood pressure. "I've never had a sick day in my life", was his reply.  We thought he would live forever.

The Earthling closed both locations in 1998 and we moved to North Carolina in 2008. When Ray died this week, all the good memories of Ray in Santa Barbara came rushing back.

Ray Bradbury was not only a gifted writer, he was a kind, happy man who enjoyed his life enormously. Thanks for coming into our lives, Ray, and making it richer for having known you.

Penny and Terry Davies
(somewhere in politically disgusting North Carolina)

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