Ray Bradbury, Couch Potato?

Can it be true? Ray Bradbury watches television all day?

Addressing an overflow crowd of more than 600 at the guild-members-only gathering, the 85-year-old author admitted to being a voracious film fan since childhood — so much so that he keeps a TV set in his home tuned in to classic movies all day.

This is the same author whose complacent drones in Fahrenheit 451 watch big-screen “parlor walls” all day; meanwhile all books are incinerated.

In his short story “The Pedestrian” a character takes a walk in the evening and gets arrested for being out at night. While he’s walking, the man notices what everyone else is doing:

Sometimes he would walk for hours and miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows. Sudden gray phantoms seemed to manifest upon inner room walls where a curtain was still undrawn against the night, or there were whisperings and murmurs where a window in a tomb-like building was still open.

. . .

“Hello, in there,” he whispered to every house on every side as he moved. “What’s up tonight on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the cowboys rushing, and do I see the United States Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?”

The street was silent and long and empty, with only his shadow moving like the shadow of a hawk in midcountry. If he closed his eyes and stood very still, frozen, he could imagine himself upon the center of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river beds, the streets, for company.

“What is it now?” he asked the houses, noticing his wrist watch. “Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A comedian falling off the stage?”

When the automated police car stops him, the man explains that his profession is “writer,” which means nothing to the police.

Magazines and books didn’t sell any more. Everything went on in the tomblike houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy. The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the gray or multicolored lights touching their faces, but never really touching them.

This story takes place in November, but for me Ray Bradbury’s works have that feeling of late summer, of good things slipping away.

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