I'M WARNING you at the door: This is a love story with no satisfaction. It's got plenty of Hollywood but none where you really need it. The hero will do anything to possess the one he has loved since adolescence. He'll run through flames, jump off roofs, step in front of moving cars. But he can never have her. She's changed too much. She's nothing like she was back when he began drawing pictures of her while everyone else slept, fleshing her in with his brush and watercolors, then dreaming of her when he dropped off from exhaustion. ¶ Perhaps, you'll say, this futility revokes his credentials as a hero, and it's fruitless to argue. Clearly we'll never agree. ¶ That's him, on the roof. He's about to lash a 20-pound battery to his back and a 50-pound movie camera to the tail of his motorcycle. Then he's going to take off, hit a ramp, launch over a wall at the edge of the roof, 100 feet aboveground, onto a second roof 20 feet away. A roof where the landing area's so tight that if he's two feet long or two feet short, he's wreckage. All for three sets of B.F. Goodrich tires. Isn't that a hero? But Stanton Barrett won't stop there. He'll keep going and leap again, to a third roof on the Los Angeles skyline, then to a fourth, nothing waiting below but pavement, paralysis or.... ¶ Hold on. The movie director's experiencing a pang. "If you can't do it, no problem," he says.
Some mornings Stanton crawls to the bathroom because of all the nerve damage. Some of his headaches last three weeks. Some days his left leg collapses for no good reason, other than the lousy broken-hip repair and the femur that snapped and ripped through the flesh and left a hole so deep you can stick four fingers in—the 34th of 46 bones he has broken.
"I can do it," replies Stanton.
For $6,000. Three sets of racing tires. The director walks away. Stanton drifts into dreamland. Three stuntmen he once worked with have died on the job, one from a high fall, one from a car crash, one in a helicopter accident. Cradle 2 the Grave—that's the title of the movie he's shooting. That's the subtext to the faraway look in his eyes.
Camera ... speed ... ready ... action! He revs the Suzuki, launches off the first roof, lands on the second, flies toward the third. F---! The jolt from the first landing has sheared off the camera mounting; the camera's flying off, pulling the wiring attached to the battery on Stanton's back, ripping him off the motorcycle in midair. His body hurtles toward the third roof, and his landing shatters a foot in 12 places, bone tearing through toenail.
Oh, crap. His left foot. His brake and clutch foot. The one he'll have to jam to the floor 800 or 900 times next week when he drives in the 2002 Busch Series Charter Pipeline 250 in Madison, Ill. Unless, just for a week, he calls off the chase of the one he can't have. No, impossible—that's the reason he did the stunt in the first place.
Behold Stanton Barrett: the man who risks his life so he can afford to risk his life.
WAIT A minute. What's going on here? You're trying to tell me that a sport in which thousands of people get so wound up that they show up a week too soon for a race, a sport in which more than 100,000 materialize on Saturdays and Sundays and six million more lean in at home, all to see which of those 43 men making a thousand left turns at 150 mph has got the biggest pair of 'em, that this guy, who has the biggest pair of all, hands down, has to jump between four city roofs on a motorcycle to buy three sets of tires so he can be one of the 43? When he really needs six sets of tires to make it through one race?
You're telling me that in a business in which megacorporations spend tens of millions of dollars on a driver whom they can turn into someone larger than life so that you'll associate his name with their products and reflexively reach for them in a store, that they're not tripping over each other to hire this guy? The handsome guy who's on the big screen all the time taking risks that the stars wouldn't take in a million years, making them look larger than life?
The guy in Spider-Man 2 whom Doctor Octopus dangles by the ankle from the roof of a 22-story building ($2,300: one race car fuel cell)? The guy crashing through a second-story warehouse window in Batman and Robin and landing his motorcycle in front of everyone as his posse races Robin and Batgirl ($3,000: three radios and headsets)?