I spent my early and formative years living in Los Angeles. I moved back again when I was 23 for a time, but soon left after my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
And then, on a fateful day in 2000, I flew to LA to interview Ray Bradbury for a Chicago Tribune Magazine story. Now, 15 years later, with four Bradbury-related books and a recent Bradbury-inspired comic book series under the proverbial belt, the journey only continues. A “biographer” is a life appointment.
After Ray died on June 5, 2012, I haven’t had many reasons to return to Los Angeles. I flew back for his funeral. I returned again for the wonderful street naming of Ray Bradbury Square outside of his beloved Central Library. I went back last summer simply to visit his grave.
This last week I returned to the City of Angels for two events that would have thrilled Ray. First, I spoke to a capacity lunchtime crowd at the Los Angeles Central Library where Ray went three-nights-a-week for a decade after high school to self-educate himself. He loved this library—passionately. He effectively earned a liberal arts degree here. Along with the old Carnegie Library in Waukegan, Illinois, where he first fell in love with reading, Central Library was central to Ray Bradbury’s soul. To speak here was both a privilege and honor.
That evening, I drove down to Palos Verdes to speak to the Southwest Manuscripters, a SoCal writers group founded in 1949. Ray spoke before this group that first year, and every year thereafter. It was a writer’s community close to his heart, and for this reason I went to channel a bit of Bradbury. In his later years, Ray knew I could go to events as his emissary, to deliver his message, to inspire with his words and wisdom.
The Manuscripters are an eccentric bunch—an aging lot of characters dedicated to supporting their creative community. It was a terrific evening and Ray was with us in spirit.
But perhaps most important, while I was in LA, I went to visit Ray’s house of 54 years. I also went to his graveside for a chat and a damned good and long overdue cry.
The house. What can be said? At this point most people, at least in Bradbury circles, are aware that is was bought and razed in a hurry by architect Thom Mayne. Most surprising to me was that, while it was torn down in a shock-and-awe barrage of bulldozers, the old lot at 10265 Cheviot Drive now sits empty and vacant with nary a brick laid. All that remains now of the incredible old Bradbury residence is a leveled moonscape of dirt.
I was surprised to find fragments of the old dandelion yellow stucco still embedded in the soil, amidst the weeds and the broken glass. It was bewildering to stand where I had once spent so much time with Ray. The storied basement where books like Something Wicked This Way Comes had been written was now gone and filled with soil. Maggie Bradbury’s rose garden was but a memory. The den where Ray sat and talked with visitors was gone, along with all the other rooms. I instinctively wanted to bound the front flagstone steps and ring the doorbell and hear that booming voice one last time. But there was simply nothing left. The house is now completely gone.
After saying goodbye for the last time to the lot at 10265 Cheviot Drive, I ventured up to Westwood Memorial Cemetery and visited Ray and Maggie’s graves. It was so good to kneel there and reconnect with them in my mind. I told Ray about my next book projects—a Bradburyesque novel and a short story collection—and asked for his strength to help me complete them. While he was still alive, he commanded me to write these books and I was proud to tell him of my progress. It was a beautiful day and a tearful visit.
Life moves on. The house is gone. Ray and Maggie are gone. But I am always buoyed by the fact that at any time I wish to hear Ray’s voice I need go no further than my bookshelf. His words really do live forever.
My visit to Los Angeles was good and necessary. It provided some needed closure. It also reminded me just how good the city has been to me over the years. Before I left, I went up to Griffith Park and looked down at the city below. It was all right there sprawling and vibrant before me, stretching on and on and disappearing into the ubiquitous haze to the east and the marine layer to the west.
As I stood there, the eucalyptus trees swaying in the cool breeze, it struck me. I needed to thank this beautiful city for all she has given me over the years. She truly lives up to her name.
So thank you, Los Angeles. Thank you.