Last week I read most of an interview with Ray Bradbury in The Paris Review. In it, he describes the altogether unbelievable but hopefully real friendship he had with Mr. Electrico, who might be familiar to you from either the novel or the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes.
According to his story, on the way back from the funeral of one of his favorite uncles, little Ray tells his dad to stop the car. When his dad complies with this ridiculous request (which my own father would have merely laughed at), Ray runs away to the carnival, where he suddenly finds himself face-to-face with Mr. Electrico.
Slightly intimidated, to break the ice, Ray gets a magic trick out of his pocket and asks Mr. Electrico for some expert advice. Seeing from Ray’s pocket inventory that they are of the same fold, Mr. Electrico takes kindly to the boy and shows him around the carnival. As the story gets even more surreal, Ray and Mr. Electrico wind up walking along the shore of Lake Michigan when this conversation happens:
Mr. Electrico says, ” I’m glad you’re back in my life. [Ray says], What do you mean? I don’t know you. [Mr. Electrico] said, You were my best friend outside of Paris in 1918. You were wounded in the Ardennes and you died in my arms there. I’m glad you’re back in the world. You have a different face, a different name, but the soul shining out of your face is the same as my friend. Welcome back.”
One on level, I’m incredibly touched by the sentiment of these statements, of how old friends can be channeled through new faces or even animals (I swear one time the spirit of a good friend communicated with me through an Italian golden retriever), and how there can be familiarity even among strangers. On another, slightly more objective level, this relationship is bizarre. Then again, what should you expect from these two.
That night, Ray goes back to see his new friend at the performance. He recalls the experience,”
Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly […] He sat in the chair with his sword, they pulled the switch, and his hair stood up. He reached out with his sword and touched everyone in the front row, boys and girls, men and women, with the electricity that sizzled from the sword. When he came to me, he touched me on the brow, and on the nose, and on the chin, and he said to me, in a whisper, “Live forever.” And I decided to.
It’s impossible to know whether or not this relationship happened exactly how it’s been portrayed, or if Ray was merely spinning memories every which way out of his geriatric mind, but it doesn’t really matter. I was struck and am still struck by that last statement, “live forever.”
This is how I interpret it: living forever is a choice. It means knowing that the actions of your life can have repercussions far outside of your own existence, and that those repercussions can last longer than you imagine. It means that conventional wisdom is often just that: conventional, and that “You can’t live forever” is not a viable argument, but a blind negation of notion that can be scary. With those words, Mr. Electrico pushed the boundaries of the possible and revealed a bird’s eye view of what life could be.
Life is much more interesting than we make it out to be sometimes. Maybe I should go find my Mr. Electrico and get some weird advice that the Paris Review will want to hear.
What do you think of Mr. Electrico’s statement? Is he just a strange man with some wacky words, or is there something more?