Today, I was planning on writing about the corporate trudge of my daily life or on the difficulty of sleeping in the microwave that was once my car during the summer or on some other bullshit most likely steeped in self-pity and self-loathing. I was, that is, until I heard the news.
Well, I didn’t so much “hear” the news as I did get a text from my dad. “Ray Bradbury has passed away” is what it said. And, as I paused for a moment to let those words really sink in, in between writing about the “best hotels in Bermuda” and “five-star restaurants in the Caribbean” — I intern at a hotel marketing agency, in case you didn’t know — I couldn’t help but have a nostalgic moment back to my childhood.
It was eighth grade. And I was in the eccentric Mrs. Z’s class when she handed out the novel, Fahrenheit 451. Now, I should probably add that I went to Catholic school for my elementary and junior high years, so reading books with words like “goddam” in them and scenes where Bibles are burned wasn’t exactly a common occurrence. But, for whatever reason, Mr. Bradbury’s novel made it past the appropriate screenings and into our impressionable little hands.
Now, by eighth grade, I had already developed a love for writing and had already figured out that I was pretty damned good at it. Don’t get me wrong. I knew I was no prodigy, but I also knew for an eighth grader, I wasn’t too shabby, either. So, when I discovered we were reading this “author of legend,” as my teacher referred to Bradbury, I couldn’t help but get my little pubescent panties — or Spiderman boxers, I guess — into a bunch.
And so, with giddy excitement, I opened up to that first chapter, “The Hearth and the Salamander” — still the best chapter title I’ve ever read in a book — and began to scurry my hungry little eyes across the first page.
I still remember that feeling I got when I came across those first lines: “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.” I remember that instantaneous knowledge that I had come across something special, some hidden treasure I’d left undiscovered all those years. The experience I could only describe as a religious one and I certainly read and re-read that book like it was a part of some religion.
What struck me about Bradbury’s novel wasn’t so much what had been written in it — although the plot and story were some of the best I had ever and still have ever read — but how it had been written. The language was simple and crude, yet beautiful and almost musical, like some hanging melody from a classical or jazz piece or some perfectly composed work of art. And I knew in that instant that I wanted to write like that, that I wanted to write like Bradbury.
Somewhere between high school and college, though, I forgot what Mr. Bradbury had taught me and I began to write in this disgustingly “high” style. And it wouldn’t be until Sophomore year of college when a professor knocked me on my pretentious ass by giving me a C – on a paper for being “too wordy” that I would change this, using Mr. Bradbury’s writings as a guide back onto the right path the entire time.
So, today, when I discovered that Ray had died, I felt that I had not only lost a hero, but – as cheesy as it sounds — a mentor, a teacher, and maybe even a friend. And, naturally, I couldn’t help but shed a tear or two for him.
Now, I don’t believe in God, but I like to imagine every so often that there’s a place for great people like Mr. Bradbury to go to when they die. And, I’d like to think that if I ever got my chance to meet him in this place, that I’d be able to tell him, in the very least, two words…