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RIP, Ray Bradbury: A Personal Tribute

June 7, 2012

Science-fiction legend Ray Bradbury died yesterday, as you no doubt heard. We didn’t post anything here – we were waiting for permission to repost something we saw on FaceBook – as good a tribute to the great Mr. Bradbury as we saw anywhere.

Our sincere thanks to Tom Payne in California for allowing us to share this with our readers.

In 1968, when I was twenty, in a year that cannot truly be described if you did not live through it, I hid from impending reality in the theater department at USF, and took a directing class. Tall and skinny, with long hair and a surreal past, I was a willful dreamer, stubbornly pathetic, with a faith in others as conditional as my confidence in myself. Three years before, which seemed like an eternity at the time, I had seen a play titled “To the Chicago Abyss”, along with two others, (“The Veldt”, and “The Pedestrian”), and it had so expressed the radioactive terror and promise of the times that when I was told to pick a one act to produce and direct it was my only consideration. There was only one problem, It was unpublished. I was a fool. I searched for an address and sent a letter to the author. I had no other plan. A couple of weeks passed, and a manila envelope arrived. In it was a script with liner notes penciled in the margins, with a note from Ray Bradbury, asking to return it when I was done, as it was his only copy, and to contact his agent if it was to be performed for a profit.

USF was blessed at the time. My cast included Glen Kovacevitch and Suzanne Collins, both of whom became professional actors, and my insecurity was perfect for our purpose. We were all foolish, and the lessons we learned I believe are still with us today. The play was a terrific success. It is a story of an old man , after a nuclear holocaust, who appears on a train with a ticket to what is left of Chicago, with both a gift and a curse. He remembers. The authorities are after him for that reason. Memory is forbidden. But the old man, like Ray Bradbury, cannot help himself. Once he says to a group of awestruck rebels, half numb and half enraptured, “Once a man asked me to remember just the dashboard dials on a Cadillac. I remembered. He cried great tears. Happy tears or sad I cannot say. I just remember.” In the final scene the old man is again on a train, after being beaten ferociously by a stranger whose hand movements had prompted him to recite a list of the packaging and flavors of candy bars. He has been given another ticket and passed on, like a memory, by a frightened audience that cannot decide just what to do with him. Their last command to him, after instinctively offering him protection, is to keep his mouth shut. So now close your eyes. You are on a train from nowhere to nowhere, an old man with a ticket tied around your neck, and you carry an unmeasurable history that is against the law to recount. The fires of wreckage flash through the broken windows as the metallic shuddering of the seat pierces your bones. Time passes, and you wait. Your lips move, but the fear in your wounds echos as you repeat ” No… shut up.” Across the aisle a small boy sits down. And suddenly, without thought, without fear, without shame, your lips move. You lean across the aisle. Shhh, boy”, you say, and pause….”Once upon a time”….

Goodbye Mr Bradbury, you will not be forgotten.

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