It’s no secret that I am a rabid reader. I don’t read nearly as much as I wish I did, but growing up, I was seldom without a book. And there was no reading that I got more passionate about than science fiction.
I started reading the genre in junior high school, discovering authors like Arthur C. Clarke, Issac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Bradbury, who passed away last week, was probably my favorite author ever. I loved the stories that he told, and the way he brought characters to vivid life. My friends also loved him, and I remember making our own movie, Super 8 style, of Farenheit 451 for an English class project. I fought to take a senior level science fiction class in college, even though I was a freshman and fulfilled none of the prerequisites, because they were reading The Martian Chronicles and I knew I could keep up (sidebar: I got an A). He inspired me to dream my own dreams and reach higher.
So it’s not without sadness that I tell this story. Flash forward to 1996. Mr IT and I, newly married, are about to cruise across the Atlantic on the QE2. It’s a Friday. Two days before, my nagging cough and fever were diagnosed as pneumoia. Thankfully, my doctor allowed me to take the trip, saying that it was probably better for me to be on a ship at sea where I might actually relax, than in my apartment where I would be tempted to be active. The ship arrived about 6 hours late, so instead of boarding at 4 and sailing at 6, we were expected to sail just after midnight.
Mr. IT and I were able to board early because he was an employee of the cruise line. For him, it was a work trip. There were numerous meetings scheduled during the cruise that he would need to attend. His boss wanted to bring his family, which wasn’t really allowed, and figured Mr. IT would be less likely to snitch on him if he too could bring a companion. For me, it was a childhood dream come true, and there was no way I would miss the experience.
So, it’s shortly after 6, and we’re on board walking around the top deck. There are a handful of other people, but no one stands out. I’m getting tired, being sick, so I sit down on a deck chair to relax and catch my breath. Just then, I notice 3 other people. One was a man who looked really really familiar. I quickly realized it was journalist Jack Germond, who appeared to be traveling with a woman. Wife, I think. Not sure. There was another man with them and I could tell by their body language that they had just met. They got closer and I got to hear snippets of their conversation. The man was, for lack of a better word, annoying. Everything he said was all about him. I, I, I, was all I heard. I leaned over to Mr. IT and said that I had no idea who the guy was, but he seemed to be like Charo – famous in his own head, and for no reason. If it were today, I would have pegged him for a reality “star”.
Their conversation continued with Germond humoring the guy by pretending to listen and responding with “Uh-huh, uh-huh” Then the mystery guy said something that stopped me cold – “When I was working with Roy Disney on Spaceship Earth at EPCOT…”
Wait a minute…I read the Birnbaum guide enough. I knew who worked on Spaceship Earth. Ray Bradbury worked on Spaceship Earth! This man on the deck RIGHT NEXT TO ME was Ray Bradbury, one of my most favorite authors and human beings ever. I walked a little bit away from them to tell Mr. IT who it was. He was not really impressed, being close to functionally illiterate (but he’s a whiz with numbers!) I was a little disappointed – Bradbury was acting like a pompous ass, but I figured if you had the pedigree that he did, maybe he was entitled.
We also noticed that Francis Ford Coppola was walking around too, but that’s a story for another blog post…
It was getting late, and I was starting to need a nap, so we left the deck. When we were back in the room, I realized that Bradbury was a guest of the cruise line and would be speaking twice during the cruise. Since I was alone during the days when Mr. IT was working, I eagerly marked my calendar for the days when he would be speaking.
I was in the balcony of the theater for his first lecture because the turnout was so great. He was in his element and did not disappoint. He told stories of growing up and how they led him to write, and what his inspirations were. How his generation, which experienced so many innovations, learned to dream and dream big. He was funny, charming and wonderfully provacative. It was, in a word, magical. I enjoyed it immensely.
Unfortunately, his next lecture reveled a different side of Mr. Bradbury. He spoke of his generation again, but how creativity and innovation ended with his generation. How the innovations of that day (remember, it was 1996) paled in comparison to what his peers brought forth. How the Internet was a fad that distracted from other great innovations. How women had no part in these innovations and were inferior to their male counterparts…
Hold the phone. Did he just call me inferior? My jaw dropped and I got up and very loudly walked out of the theater, shaking my head and very much on the verge of tears. The man whose words caused me to dream bigger dreams than I ever thought I was capable of came off as a bitter old man living in the past. I later heard that the lecture got worse after I left and verged in anti-semitism. I can’t verify that as I wasn’t there, but I have heard others have similar experiences with Mr. Bradbury.
As many times as I think about how great a writer and a visionary Ray Bradbury was, and how much his work meant to me, I will forever remember those words he spoke that day at sea. Like an asterisk next to a tainted sports record, Ray Bradbury will always be the author I loved who let me down. Which is why I am so bowled over when authors live up their billing. Recently, my daughter had a chance to met an author and someone she would call a hero, and he went beyond any expectations. I’m so grateful that he lived up to his billing and more. Because the pain of having your hero marginalize your devotion cuts deep.