During this time, I had a seriously fascinating encounter with a mugger in Oakland, California.
I was walking to my car at about 2 a.m., and a huge man loomed up in front of me.
“Gimme your money, man!” he said.
I looked at him calmly. “What do you really want?” I asked.
His eyes widened. “What?”
“I’m a human being, you’re a human being. If there’s something you need, and I can do it for you, maybe I’d be happy to do it. In which case nothing has happened.”
He looked at me, and time seemed to freeze. Finally he said: “Five dollars?”
“Sure,” I said, opened my wallet, and gave it to him. “Take care of yourself.”
I can’t even say how happy I was with that exchange. I felt no fear. I saw his entire body as one big playground I was going to tap-dance on if he made the wrong move. But for five dollars, not only did I not have to hurt him . . . or risk being hurt myself (always a possibility), but I got a great story I’ve been able to tell for twenty years.
That’s what I call a bargain.
Some time around 1990 I taught a science fiction symposium at UCLA with Robert Bloch, Octavia Butler, Larry Niven, and . . . Ray Bradbury.
I picked Ray up at his house, and we went to dinner together in Westwood. Here was my chance to talk with him more personally. I was plagued by the idea that I may have made too many commercial choices in my career. And I unburdened my soul to this great man. (more…)