Listen to the Echoes

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RETURN TO THE CITY OF ANGELS

By Sam Weller at 8:08am ET

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.

11 Comments »

  1. Hi Sam, I just found your blog a few weeks ago. I have been enjoying going through and reading all your past entries.

    I love Ray Bradbury’s work. I wish I could say more about how his work makes me feel but words aren’t sufficient.

    I’m 36, and I first read his work when I was around 14 years old. My parents had divorced and I was bitter, angry, and lost. I went to the library a lot, as I always enjoyed reading and it offered me escape. The first book I picked up of his was The Martian Chronicles. By the time I got to the end of the final chapter, “The Million Year Picnic”, I was crying. I had been so taken by his story, it was like a soothing balm on my weary soul. Today, I own and have read just about everyone of his books. They helped me through some very bleak days. He inspired me to write my own stories, which were dreadful I’m sure, but helped me. To this day I enjoy reading and occasionally I will write a story for my own enjoyment or to help me out of a dark mood.

    Thank you for writing and promoting Bradbury and his work. I never met the man, although I wish I had. I’ve read your biography and a couple of your short stories and I really enjoyed them. So please please PLEASE write more! Next time you are at his grave, please tell him I said “Thank you!”

    Comment by Art — June 19, 2015 @ 5:52pm
  2. And thank you, Sam, for yet another beautiful post. It was well worth waiting for. Please do keep coming here, even if it’s not often.

    I’ll tell the people on the Bradbury message board to come here and savor what you’ve shared with us.

    Comment by Peter Nel — June 20, 2015 @ 11:16am
  3. How sad it must have been to stand on dirt where so much happened….

    Comment by Thea Miller Ryan — June 20, 2015 @ 1:17pm
  4. Art–

    Thank you for sharing your own story with me. Ray’s words have a way of comforting us through our life. He would be so very moved by what you have shared here. Thank you!! He would ask you to send some of your writing to him, so I ask that you send it to me!!

    Comment by Sam Weller — June 21, 2015 @ 7:43am
  5. Peter—

    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. all of us writers need them. I very much appreciate you letting the Bradbury message board know to visit this blog. I also tweet Bradbury related items daily @Sam__Weller.

    I’ll do my best to post more if you promise to stick around.

    Comment by Sam Weller — June 21, 2015 @ 12:41pm
  6. Thea—

    I slept in that house. Cried in that house. Rejoiced in that house. Marveled at the history that occurred in that house. Ray became my father, friend, mentor and biographical subject there. I promised him in that house that I would carry the torch of his legacy on to the future and he entrusted it to me. To say I am saddened and angry that it is gone would be an understatement. With Ray now gone, I know the stories of that home perhaps better than anyone.

    The new owner who knocked it down is on Twitter– or his firm is. @Morphosis. I would love it if he reached out. Tell him!

    But more importantly—thank YOU for reaching out.

    Comment by Sam Weller — June 21, 2015 @ 12:49pm
  7. Sam,

    This is simply the most poignant entry in the blog. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for letting us in. Thank you for letting us come along on such a personal journey. I know I speak for may here when I say, we Love you for this.

    Andy

    Comment by Andy Burnside-Weaver — July 16, 2015 @ 12:23pm
  8. Mr. Bradbury lived such an intriguing life! At first, I was really sad about his home, but then I was reminded of something I heard from a movie…“They say we die twice – once when the last breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name” (Stand Up Guys). He will always live in his true home: his words and that is a fantastic place. What was it like for you the first time you walked into his home? Thank you for being the wonderful writer that you are, and I can’t wait to read your up and coming works.

    Comment by Angela W-B — August 12, 2015 @ 10:43pm
  9. Sam, I’m glad you found the trip uplifting and inspiring. The photos are heart-breaking. I’m thinking you and the rest of Ray and Maggie’s family today.

    Comment by Cathy Akers-Jordan — August 22, 2015 @ 11:42am
  10. Sam, thank you for sharing all these and for all you have done. I think you have a great future as a writer.

    Comment by L — October 31, 2015 @ 3:50am
  11. Thank you, Andy, for your kind words, as ever!!! Thanks also to Cathy and “L.”

    Angela, what a beautiful sentiment, thank you for sharing it! The first time I walked into Ray’s house I felt a bit like Dorothy arriving in Oz. INCREDULOUS!

    Comment by Sam Weller — January 4, 2016 @ 10:35am

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