The Unknown: The Red Line.
  William, who had, according to all appearances, been just as or even more excited than any of the rest of us about the prospects of seeing our hypertext brought to the big screen as a major studio release, did not, in fact, take well to the atmosphere of Los Angeles. There is a lot of work involved in moving a film from the concept to the can, most of it social work. There are producers to meet, backers to pitch, directors to choose, stars to select and/or woo. The difficulties we encountered as a result of the groundswell of interest in Dirk’s cult activities were to be expected, but I had expected better from William. We were all a little apprehensive about moving from a psychic atmosphere described by one critic as “Midwestern Literary Evangelism” and another as “Techno-Pastoral,” to one that could only be described as “Bedding Down with Satan.” The devil wears a thousand guises in Hollywood, but such are the costs of seeing a dream to its full fruition.

Film was a medium that none of us could even begin to understand, but we knew that it had been the art form of the 20th Century. While we have our understanding of collaboration, in Tinsel Town, collaboration takes on an altogether different pallor; it is the stuff of bitter feuds and power struggles, of profit margins and compromises; it is a messy, twisted business that can drain the soul of a writer. It’s just like Speed the Plow. Frank and I loved it. We found ourselves in this element and found that we were surprisingly good at manipulating it. Money was being thrown at us from a million different directions, and choices had to be made. Not that money was, at this point in our careers, much of an issue. We could have all lived comfortably, given our modest tastes (with the exception of Dirk) for years, just on the money we had made from the sales of our anthology. What we wanted was bigger than money. We wanted artistic control, which is worth far more than any bundle of cash.

Those first couple of weeks in L.A. were hairy. So many pretenders at every turn. Every night there was a different party that Marla told me was “absolutely critical” for me to attend. William went only to the first couple: a rather large affair hosted by the DreamWorks people and a wonderful day out at Coppola’s ranch. Then William virtually disappeared, leaving Frank and I with the primary schmoozing duties. Dirk was, of course, attending parties of his own, hosted by celebrity members of the faithful: Tom Cruise, Simon LeBlanc, Tito Jackson, Clint Eastwood, people like that. But film was the furthest thing from their minds: they were hung up on theology.

I was worried about William, and I told Marla so. He had become mean and withdrawn. He abused waiters, waitresses, and stewardesses with a regularity that we had come to expect only from Dirk, who had become accustomed to being a living messiah with great expectations and a lot of “needs.” I had not heard from William for nearly a week and a half when I had Marla track him down via his credit card receipts. They disturbed me. It looked as if he was having fun, but not the kind of fun you’d expect from William. To wit:

$2,250—Idle Wealth Speedway, San Luis Osbispo
One day rental of high performance automobile, track time.

$1,500—Swim With the Fishes Aquatic Adventures, Oakland
Scuba diving with killer sharks in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge.

$2,000—Snowy Joe’s Dry Cleaning, Compton
Most likely a purchase of cocaine and/or crystal meth, or (highly improbable) stain removal from 142 dress shirts, as billed.

$1,555—Fly By Night Skydiving, Sonora
Two midnight jumps (unassisted) from a turboprop at 3,500 feet.

$2,033—Trinity River Rafting
Three day whitewater rafting expedition in Northern California. Solo.

$3,555—Stuntpower Institute
A week-long course of stuntman study that included “Safely Falling from a Great Height,” “Through Broken Glass Without Losing Your Ass,” “Running Amid Explosions,” and “the Doctor Is Out—Stitching Your Own Wounds.”

I asked Marla to have the credit card company give me a call the next time anything popped up, and they did, and that is how I witnessed William’s near-fatal, coma-inducing, bungie jumping accident in the Sierra Nevadas, at the Royal Gorge. It brings me pain even to think about it now.


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William Was Acting Strange
Read 4/8/99
at Brown University
520K RealAudio Clip

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