I have seen the saucers.
Not only that, I’ve fought beside Hercules, fled from the Lonely One, braved the lightning when Mr. Electro came to town, worked as a comic book artist in New York City circa 1952, chased fireflies to the farthest reaches of the field when the summer was young, and eyed the moon on a soft July night in 1969, knowing Uncle Ray was happily bouncing upon it.
And then there was the night the Martians landed.
I clearly recall what they said, some of which was: “Live Forever! Be Successful! Make the Impossible Possible!”
How can that be? I answered. I’m just a suburban boy who stares out his bedroom window, waiting for the impossible to become possible.
“Live Forever! Be Successful! Make the Impossible Possible!”
And then I get a call from mother on Friday, Sept. 13, 1991. “Go to the Globe Theater Academy in Excelsior,” she said. “There you will meet a tall man by the name of David Fox-Brenton. He’ll show you the way from there.” This is totally in keeping with my late mother’s Irish sense of magic—a culture entirely plugged into making the impossible possible.
A storm was building that night, lightning flashing in the distance, as a white limo pulled into a theater parking lot in Excelsior, Minn. From the back of the limo emerged two young girls dressed as Pierrots, with baggy trousers and painted faces, a pudgy boy with black, thick-rimmed glasses and, in a crisp white suit … Ray Bradbury.
He had come down from the sky with the Martians, who led him inside where he read from his latest novel, A Graveyard for Lunatics, and listened as Globe Academy director David Fox-Brenton read from Bradbury’s play Falling Upward. A flute recital and celebratory meal followed.
I purchased a ticket for the meal and chatted with a lovely young woman named Loreen. She was a writer—nervously clutching her manuscript and hoping Ray would give her some feedback.
We stood in line to have him sign books. I’d brought my dog-eared copy of Dandelion Wine. He snatched it, looked up at me smiling and said, “Are you a writer?” I nodded. “That’s good, good! Who do you read? Have you read John Collier? You must read John Collier! Amazing short stories. Read him! Also read my book Zen in the Art of Writing! Here’s the publisher…” he happily said, scribbling in my copy of Dandelion Wine. I thanked him and moved on.
Loreen stood outside smoking a cigarette as the storm passed. We chatted by the back door. She was 21, unmarried but living at home with her mother and her 15-month-old daughter Cassandra. She said her current boyfriend, who wasn’t Cassandra’s father, didn’t want to come to the reading. But he also told her he didn’t want her to go, as he was afraid she’d “get picked up.” I told her she was her own person and could damn well do what she wanted to do. She said that what she wanted to do was go inside and get a cup of coffee before heading over to the dinner. I laughed.
She was lovely: pink sweater and slacks, beautiful long brown hair, dark green eyes and a glowing smile. When she returned with a Styrofoam cup full of coffee, I asked her if she wanted a ride to Ray’s dinner.
“Sure,” she said.
At the dinner, a back room atrium was set with a buffet table and five or six long tables topped with candles and flowers. Loreen and I joined another couple at one of the tables, and we all laughed about how wonderful it was attending the reading. Ray was presented with a painting of a flying saucer a girl from the academy had made for him, and he cheerfully greeted people as we ate. Loreen nervously presented her manuscript to Fox-Brenton, who promised to get it to Ray if she wrote her mailing address on it. She was ecstatic.
At evening’s end, Loreen went to phone her mother for a ride, but stopped to give me one pink rose from our table, grabbing another to put in her newly signed Ray Bradbury book. We said goodbye.
As I walked to my car I heard someone call my name and turned to see Loreen walking up. “Um, would you like to come upstairs for a drink? There’s a band playing … I …I don’t want you to think I’m picking you up …”
“Okay, let’s,” I said, tossing my book and rose into the car.
We sat at the bar, she sipping a rum and Coke, and me a beer. We chatted about dreams and family and writing and music. After about 20 minutes, she went to call her mother again. I asked if I could give her a ride, but she declined. Then I told her to give Cassandra a kiss from me when she got home.
“See ya,” I said as we parted.
Faded pink petals from that rose now rest on page 110 of Dandelion Wine. There, 31-year-old newspaperman Bill Forrester meets 95-year-old Helen Loomis for tea, already confessing he’d been in love with an image of her at 21. He says to her he’ll always stay a bachelor. She tells him he mustn’t do that.
“What,” she asks, “would you really like to do with your life?”
He doesn’t hesitate. “See Istanbul, Port Said, Nairobi, Budapest. Write a book. Smoke too many cigarettes. Fall off a cliff, but get caught in a tree halfway down. Get shot at a few times in a dark alley on a Moroccan midnight. Love a beautiful woman.”
Loreen has long gone, but I can still see the Martians pacing the theater parking lot.
“What,” they said, “would you really like to do with your life?”
Then they climbed back in their spacecraft and ascended skyward.
For Ray Bradbury, August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012