Every morning I wake up and crave three things: Sex, coffee, and my phone. Usually, the closest thing on hand is the phone—but before I reach for it, a thought always flits through my being—this doesn’t have the answers. I reach for it anyway. And all too often, I’m disappointed.
Sifting through the feed, a random news item caught my attention: Ray Bradbury’s house is being torn down.
Let’s be clear—we are talking about the Ray Bradbury. One of the greatest writers who ever lived. There are few authors who have influenced the world’s imagination such as Ray did. He invented things on paper with a sense of American optimism that is fast going extinct. This was the man who wrote 451 Fahrenheit, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked this Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man. Not to mention, a library of beautiful and spellbinding short stories that are lyrical, soulful, and downright astounding. He influenced an entire generation and will continue to influence for as long as people can read.
It was Ray who predicted that our lives could be transformed into a series of screens. Our minds boxed in by the hypnotic mirage of television, video games, and the internet, which he ironically called “a big bore.” It was Ray who warned that books could be lost to the flames of binary zeroes and ones.
How the HELL could this be? How could anyone let this happen? It was a Thursday and I had to go to work.
Throughout that day and the next the news silently bugged me. My move to California happened just a year or two before his passing. I wasn’t one of the many lucky to have met him in person. What I’d give to have done so. Though I did my best to get close to him, through reading his works and listening to old speeches Ray gave on YouTube at UCLA back in the 60s and 70s. For anyone who wants to learn how to become a better writer—his is the best advice I ever heard:
- Read a short story, poem, and essay every night before going to bed. This will allow your subconscious to soak in hundreds of metaphors and build an eye and ear for what constitutes excellent writing.
- Write one short story a week for a year.
- By the end of the year, you will have written 52 stories.
- Do that for a lifetime and by golly, you’ll be a writer.
The weekend came and I knew that if I didn’t go then, I’d never get a chance to see the Magic Man’s temple. It was nearing noon on a Sunday and I was still in bed, trying to summon the will to write. Not so much that, but to stave off the fear, which ironically only stoked it. My cell buzzed.
A young woman’s voice asked “Hi, Josh. What are you doing?” It was Nataliya, a German exchange student attending UCLA, she lived in Beverly Hills and was doing a semester in their Jewish studies program. She committed the ultimate LA sin of not owning a car. However, she got away with it being that she is somewhat polite, and quite pretty, with Eastern European features and long jet-black hair. Keen intelligence wrapped in mink packaging.
We’d gone on a really bad date in Santa Monica a while back. After I dropped her off, I figured we probably wouldn’t see each other again—but then she kept calling. California has a way of making people feel lonely. Especially newcomers. The endless isolated hours trapped in traffic. The unpredictable rhythm of why and when people want to hang—so long as they don’t seem too available, and neither do you. Bradbury once mentioned that the only man he ever met in Hollywood who could do lunch the next day was Walt Disney. Imagine that.
“Josh… are you there?” She purred in her West-East Euro accent—each side of the continent vying to be her dominant brogue.
“Fine. Yeah,” I said curtly, rolling out of bed. Rubbing crap outta my eyes.
“What are you doing today?” I cut her off: “You’ve read Ray Bradbury, right?
"I think you mentioned it a while back. You told me how impressed you were by the worlds he created, on paper?"
“Yes, of course.”
“Listen. They’re tearing his house down. I want to see it before it’s gone. Wanna come?”
“Um, yeah, that would be nice.”
“Okay. I’ll pick you up.”
“How long will you be?” Nataliya asked zealously. She was the lonely type, which always confused me considering how pretty she is. There must’ve been squadrons of suitors. Or, maybe I was just a schmuck who didn’t seem too desperate.
“Give me 30.” I hung up and hopped in the shower. My mind warmly re-activated, a mélange of thoughts unraveled as the precious Valley water cleansed my body. Nataliya wanted to someone to play with and I had a car and for some reason some rich faceless jerks were destroying a Californian jewel. Why was that house not already deemed a historical landmark? Did anyone care?… Or was I the only one? That felt disturbing. Me and whoever posted it on Facebook? Christ.
Key entered ignition like the twist of a knife and my ye olde 97 Camry awoke on command—as loyal and reliable as ever. Say what you want to about having a shit car. My shit is gold. I put my baby into drive and the car glided onto the I-5 under an overcast sky matching its mystical blue exterior.
Nataliya was waiting for me outside her apartment. She was wearing a short tee and jeans. Her street was between a line of student housing and a large iron gate protecting a massive cemetery. Trees lined the sidewall, overseeing cars that raced down the neighborhood road, thoughtless if not aggressive against all else. Betraying the true nature of the city’s denizens.
She quickly crossed the street, adjusting her spectacles. She only wore them during the day. She got into my car and I immediately plugged the coordinates to Bradbury’s dying abode. I have no sense of direction and would be lost without the GPS app, Waze. Sometimes I’m still lost with it.
We were off.
We didn’t say much. Nataliya had been to the UK for a brief trip and had a bad experience re-connecting with an ex. She hugged me and gave me a gift, caramelized chocolates. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, so I chomped one. The chocolate was of fine European making, thick and sweet yet not overbearingly so, like an American bar. There was an old-world delicious quality to it that sated my stomach. There weren’t many in the bag, so I saved one for my mom.
The car rolled past traffic—numerous neighborhoods and eventually into Cheviot Hills, Bradbury’s town. A sense of irony struck me. Here we were, driving to a dead writer’s house—a man who didn’t drive. Bradbury was afraid to, because he too easily got lost in daydreams and was convinced he’d kill pedestrians whilst formulating a fantasy. He was also afraid of cars and never learned to drive. As a young boy he witnessed an auto accident that gave him nightmares for years. Robert Towne, screenwriter of Chinatown has the same problem.
The car rolled down a steep block, past a regiment of gaudy homes and finally we reached our destination. I recognized it on sight. A newly erected fence surrounded the home’s perimeter, quite tall. I pulled over and we hopped out.
Outside the large green chain-links stood a single mother with her two kids. The woman appeared to be in her late forties, holding an old camcorder, which she raised above the barrier shooting footage of the house, which we could not quite see from our vantage. “A great man lived here. An author,” she said to her children, two blonde haired boys sporting bowl cuts and bright colored tees. They stared in bewilderment through the fence. Not quite understanding. Not yet.
Nataliya watched me round the corner of the house—it was large and yellow and stood on a hill. The sky was graying and it was a bit chilly. I looked back at the family, “It’s a shame isn’t it?”
The woman nodded. “Why do they have to tear it down? Of all the houses they could’ve bought, why did it have to be this one? There are so many others and with what a home costs in this neighborhood…” She looked away. And I realized then, that the people preforming this crime—this act of ignorance—most definitely never read Bradbury. If they did, there was no way they could have done this. That would be inhuman.
The mother and her kids stalked off and I continued circling the barrier, trying to see. Then I did. Only, I didn’t just see the house. It saw me.
I’m not one for spirituality per-say, but I felt something—hell, I felt a spirit, a force that punched the heart hiding in my belly. I looked at the house and it stared right back.
The house had eyes.
The exterior was yellow with a brown triangle thatched roof and a thin brick chimney. The windows had been destroyed—the frames, like the living room, were gutted. Their remains tossed into a large blue dumpster resting on a hillside covered in dying grass. All that was left were two large cragged square shaped holes that bore inward yet outward all at once. Inward, laid the wisps of soot polished ruin. Hardwood floors, a mantle, masonry, some shelves and dust. Outward—the structure telepathically transmuted its emotions of loss and sorrow. She knew she was dying.
I was transfixed, my eyeballs locked with the house’s. It was like something straight out of a Bradbury story! My hands tightly gripped the fence, chain-links dug into my finger tendons. Focused on the yellow lawn, my mind pictured a phantom montage of Bradbury, time-lapsed: Watering the grass. Reading on the steps. Puttering about. Stalking the sidewalks. Talking to the neighbors. Talking to himself. Writing. Staring at the sky. Staring at the stars. Staring beyond. Marveling in awe. Downright dreaming—of rockets and Martians and technicolored time travelers.
It all felt so cosmically unfair. Why’d they have to tear it down? Why’d they have to piss on a legacy? It felt like we were all losing something—even if we didn’t know it. That our country—the people—the vanishing literate—were losing not only a landmark, but a sense of our collective wonderment. That we were continuing a bad trend that had no hint of ending—swapping our heritage for a buck. That’s the American way some would say. Some—maybe—but not all.
A hand touched my shoulder, “Are you okay?” Nataliya whispered.
I didn’t answer. I looked back one last time, snapping a few pictures on my phone so that I’d never forget the yellow vestiges that had once been the address of one of the greatest storytellers. So I’d never forget that the house had eyes.
We drove silently for a while, my car cruising along the empty streets. Nataliya asked that we don’t go home. That we stuck together. She didn’t want to go back to her apartment alone and I didn’t want to go to mine either. “Let’s go to the beach. Let’s go to Venice.”
“Sure, first I have to get gas.”
Prices were about $4.39 a gallon. The station was near an overpass above a massive highway. I parked the car, put $40 on the meter, and started pumping. The numbers ticked away on the little LCD. I was sad and mad. Nobody cared about the most prophetic generation of authors. Bradbury was dead. Philip K. Dick was dead. Isaac Asimov was dead. Six months back Harlan Ellison had a stroke. Ellison... Probably one of the last ones alive of that generation. Mentee of the Golden Age. Renegade of the 60s New Wave. For some inexplicable reason, I felt that I had to reach out. Tell him that someone out there knew what he and his peers created. That it would stand the furnaces of time. That they would not be forgotten. That their work matters. But how would I get my message to him?… I did eventually write a letter to Harlan and he did receive it. But that’s another story.
The ticker stopped. I fingered the trigger on the nozzle a couple times, then shook it to ensure I got every drop of the preciously overpriced petro.
We hauled it to Venice. Took a while to find parking and since it was the weekend we were some ways away from the shore. We took our time strolling along the canals. We admired the seemingly untouchable homes. We admired the water and boats that floated under thin quaint bridges. We admired each other’s company.
We talked about a lot of things that afternoon. Well, she did most of the talking, I was pretty quiet. “My visa is expiring soon,” she confided. “I don’t want to go back to Germany. I want to stay her in California… with you.” We made our way over a bridge and she wrapped her arm around mine, then leaned her head against my shoulder. It felt right. At that moment, I felt a sense of hope in all this. We still have Ray’s books. Let us never let them die.
Later, I recalled that Bradbury once lived in Venice and wrote a story called "The Fog Horn," about a dinosaur arriving on its shores.
We should’ve looked for it.