Last night, Stephen Colbert’s brilliant bow to Ray Bradbury, a writer he revered, had that click of rightness that annihilates other attempts at tribute.
It shot me straight back to my college years of working at the great Westwood Book Store, in UCLA’s nearby Village. It wasn’t the biggest, but it was hands-down the best; also the smartest and the most accommodating, making it the hangout spot of every writer worthy of the name. .
Ray came in all the time, on the bus of course, sometimes bringing one or more of his tow-headed little girls with him. Since it was my job to take the day’s mailings to the Post Office every afternoon, I used to grab one of these sweet, chattering little ones to take over with me. It gave their father time for writer gossip and for the occasional knotty question, since in the late 1940s and early 50s, not even Ray envisioned the Internet. . (If I’m wrong about that, I’m sure you’ll show me where.)
So I remember very well the time we had one day, verifying for him exactly the degree at which paper burned: 451 Fahrenheit.
I’ve seen that picture in the NEA’s blog of his desk diary in 1953;
I’m sure, as it’s been written, that “he verified it with his local fire department.” I also remember the redoubtable Margaret Winkler and the owner, Jimmy Hakes, pulling down one book after another to give Ray exactly the information he needed. You don’t forget something like that, any more than you could forget the steady, unvarying warmth of the man himself.