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The Stunt Man

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"So there's three helicopters riding over the top of the train." The voice is from a guy coming up the aisle behind me. He talks so loud, so emphatically, it's impossible to miss a word, even over the sound of the train. "It's beautiful," he continues. "One of them lands right on top of the train." Whack. The guy claps his hands. "That's when the whole thing blows up!"

As the guy passes me, a nylon pouch attached to his belt passes at eye level. TDK, it says. I think perhaps he's a photographer and uses the pouch for film, but then I notice that he has a total of five pouches--two on his belt and three attached to heavy yellow string wound across his torso--but no camera. He's short and stocky and wears a heavy jacket that makes him look like the Michelin Man with string binding him in.

"They're flying in 18 stuntmen from the coast--18 stuntmen!" The thrill in his voice says that this is the stuff of legend. "We'll have five cameras running the whole time. Guaranteed, we won't miss a thing."

He's talking to a man moving along with him toward the doors. They stop as they reach the doors and turn, and I see the rest of the guy's outfit. He's got a pair of heavy, brightly colored bangle bracelets strung up with the pouches on the string that crisscrosses his body: the guy looks either like a Mexican bandit with yellow string bandoliers or like a haphazardly wrapped package ready to be shipped.

The guy with him asks him something and he says, "No, I'll be up in one of the helicopters with the cameras. I'm the stunt director." He grins at the people on the train. "This time I'm going to be warm. Inside the helicopter." Metal jangles as he rubs his hands together. He's got brass clowns pinned to the backs of his gloves. The clowns have metal rings at all the joints so that the arms and legs swing around freely as he gestures. He's got a third one pinned to his hat brim.

The train stops and the guy I thought was with him gets off without a word. The Michelin man turns to a passenger seated near the doors. "You see Towering Inferno?" he asks.

"Never saw it," the passenger says.

"This is Towering Inferno II. They've been filming it for two years. We're shooting the last scenes. It'll be out for the summer of '90. A real blockbuster." The seats in this car all face the closest doors, so it's like a rolling theater-in-the-round and he's center stage. He keeps looking around and smiling, checking out how many people are paying attention. Except for a young woman giving a mini architecture tour to a British tourist, everybody is.

"Yeah, bang 'em up, bust 'em up, and blow 'em up. That's what we do," he says with great relish. "Bang 'em up, bust 'em up, and blow 'em up." He chuckles to himself. He's in a great mood.

"Who's going to be in it?" a passenger asks him. The guy rattles off a string of names beginning, oddly enough, with Neil Diamond. Jack Nicholson gets fifth or sixth billing. "Everybody in Hollywood," he exclaims at the end of the list. "That's who's going to be in it. Everybody in Hollywood."

More people get on the train and he jockeys for position.

"You see Black Rain?" he asks me and the guy in front of me.

The guy in front of me has. "That part where Michael Douglas comes through and there's the bus--you know that?" He makes some huge chaotic gesture to show what happened. The passenger seems to know what he means. "That was me. And how about the Poseidon Adventure? The guy who smashes through the glass and falls all the way down? That was me. You ever see Bonanza? With Michael Landon? I did stunts for that."

He grins and chuckles. He looks around to see who else he can pull into this jolly discourse. He's glad to share it with all of us, like a prince tossing coins to peasants.

"I don't do many stunts myself anymore," he continues. He has an odd way of looking at individuals and then talking into the air. His eyes move quickly. "I direct," he says. "I'm going to New York after this. Musical comedy. We find new talent. Make 'em stars." His constant chuckle turns to almost a giggle. "My brother owns the company. We do things for people. Make it happen. Hang around with me, you're a star!" He's talking and turning and chuckling. "You're a star!" The man glows with pleasure. "You're a star!" People are smiling and laughing. Everyone is watching. He's an absolute hit!

We pull into another stop and he turns to warn a guy near the doors that they are about to open. "You gotta watch out. I know about these things," he says. "Believe me. I'm a stuntman."

"If you a stuntman," a guy behind him says, "why don't you show us how to fall out that door?"

This gets the biggest laugh yet. At the next stop, Belmont, the stuntman exits. He looks around the emptying platform for a moment, an actor without a stage, then grabs the pay phone, picks it up, and starts talking.

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