Monday, January 14, 2013

The Story of Mr. Electrico

Once upon a time, during a family reunion when my peeps were trying to drag me onto The Twitter Machine, I found myself in need of an apt Twitter handle.

We quickly found that by blog pseudonym -- "driftglass" -- had been taken, which was fine with me, since A) I was sure this "Twitter" dealy wasn't going to amount to anything so what did it matter and, B) "driftglass" was a name I sorta stumbled into (it was my commentor nom de blog at Steve Gilliard's  "News Blog", back before I had any intention whatsoever of running a blog myself.  Then one day I discovered I had a "brand" and that Steve and a lot of his loyal readers wanted me to stop waxing eloquent in the his comment section and start my own site already!)  I've never actively disliked "driftglass  but I have never been particularly happy with it either.  As a pile of vowels and consonants, it doesn't "sound" like me (if that makes any sense) so tacking another love-child name to my of long list aliases

didn't bug me.

And thus, after much backing-and-forthing of my kitchen cabinet, I settled on wearing a "Mr. Electrico" hat when going abroad on The Twitter.

Here's why (from the Paris Review excerpt of Sam Weller's Listen to the Echoes.)


... The need for romance is constant, and again, it’s pooh-poohed by intellectuals. As a result they’re going to stunt their kids. You can’t kill a dream. Social obligation has to come from living with some sense of style, high adventure, and romance. It’s like my friend Mr. Electrico.


That’s the character who makes a brief appearance in Something Wicked This Way Comes, right? And you’ve often spoken of a real-life Mr. Electrico, though no scholar has ever been able to confirm his existence. The story has taken on a kind of mythic stature—the director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies calls the search for Mr. Electrico the “Holy Grail” of Bradbury scholarship.


Yes, but he was a real man. That was his real name. Circuses and carnivals were always passing through Illinois during my childhood and I was in love with their mystery. One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.

The next day, I had to go the funeral of one of my favorite uncles. Driving back from the graveyard with my family, I looked down the hill toward the shoreline of Lake Michigan and I saw the tents and the flags of the carnival and I said to my father, Stop the car. He said, What do you mean? And I said, I have to get out. My father was furious with me. He expected me to stay with the family to mourn, but I got out of the car anyway and I ran down the hill toward the carnival.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I was running away from death, wasn’t I? I was running toward life. And there was Mr. Electrico sitting on the platform out in front of the carnival and I didn’t know what to say. I was scared of making a fool of myself. I had a magic trick in my pocket, one of those little ball-and-vase tricks—a little container that had a ball in it that you make disappear and reappear—and I got that out and asked, Can you show me how to do this? It was the right thing to do. It made a contact. He knew he was talking to a young magician. He took it, showed me how to do it, gave it back to me, then he looked at my face and said, Would you like to meet those people in that tent over there? Those strange people? And I said, Yes sir, I would. So he led me over there and he hit the tent with his cane and said, Clean up your language! Clean up your language! He took me in, and the first person I met was the illustrated man. Isn’t that wonderful? The Illustrated Man! He called himself the tattooed man, but I changed his name later for my book. I also met the strong man, the fat lady, the trapeze people, the dwarf, and the skeleton. They all became characters.

Mr. Electrico was a beautiful man, see, because he knew that he had a little weird kid there who was twelve years old and wanted lots of things. We walked along the shore of Lake Michigan and he treated me like a grown-up. I talked my big philosophies and he talked his little ones. Then we went out and sat on the dunes near the lake and all of a sudden he leaned over and said, I’m glad you’re back in my life. I said, What do you mean? I don’t know you. He 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.

Now why did he say that? Explain that to me, why? Maybe he had a dead son, maybe he had no sons, maybe he was lonely, maybe he was an ironical jokester. Who knows? It could be that he saw the intensity with which I live. Every once in a while at a book signing I see young boys and girls who are so full of fire that it shines out of their face and you pay more attention to that. Maybe that’s what attracted him.

When I left the carnival that day I stood by the carousel and I watched the horses running around and around to the music of “Beautiful Ohio,” and I cried. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I knew something important had happened to me that day because of Mr. Electrico. I felt changed. He gave me importance, immortality, a mystical gift. My life was turned around completely. It makes me cold all over to think about it, but I went home and within days I started to write. I’ve never stopped.

Seventy-seven years ago, and I’ve remembered it perfectly. I went back and saw him that night. 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.


StonyPillow said...

Seem to remember Tax_Time. South Springfield, possibly. A gritty place, kind of intimidating, good people there.

Cliff said...

That Bradbury quote brought a tear to my eye. I'm not joking around, I was moved by that.

Jack said...

Gosh, driftglass, I love the name "driftglass," and think it suits you very well. It's a very distinctive and memorable handle. You stumbled good when you stumbled into it!

BTW: I'm one of those comments-dwellers from Steve's old blog, and remember those early days when you first set out on your own. Your efforts have evolved into something quite wonderful -- and in a very real sense you have carried on Steve's legacy.

Thank you for that!

pluky said...

Wow! Where did you find this? I've read Bradbury since elementary school, but this is new to me. It's amazing how he is able to extemporaneously tell a tale of such pathos. Truly a master.