Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Passing Scoundrel

Personalities and actions do not always illustrate one another.

You meet people who may be very nice outwardly, yet are not kind. You may also have met guys who make a negative impression until you get to know them for real, and realize you weren't seeing clearly. For me, Bill is an experience in the latter.

Bill and I met on a show we did in Los Angeles in 2005. Bill was new to the company, so I met him at rehearsal. At first, I was intimidated by him. It wasn't his tall and muscular stature and intense eyes, but rather an assumption I made about him. He was very smart, the kind of guy who doesn't miss a thing, very confident, and prone to saying very blunt things with a grin on his face. I assumed at first that he was a cocky bastard and I held that idea for a couple of days. Pretty soon, I began to notice things that left me feeling very embarrassed.

What became clear right away was that Bill was a highly skilled actor, always early and well prepared. More came into focus later: he made no display of being kind or friendly, yet it's hard to keep secrets when you share a dressing room. He was the kind of man who will empty the trash cans and never be caught doing it. I gravitated towards his dark sense of humor. It was a pranky show, and he joined in the fun. When his laughter really got going, it was a boyish belly laugh that was utterly contagious.

We found lots to talk about when it became clear he knew a lot about Buddhism - a surprising amount, in fact. He was not religious in any conventional sense, but he had a daily practice in his life that clearly worked. When the show was out of rehearsal, we had long conversations about meditation, living in vow, life and death - always finding so much humor in the human condition and our frailties.

In particular, we found anger fascinating and amusing. We exchanged stories about road rage, obsessions, our own bad tempers, and those times when things go up your ass for no apparent reason.

Saturday night was one of those times. I watched myself reacting strangely to a normal circumstance, and feeling very irritated about it. You see, I was very annoyed about being prevented from making a left-hand turn.

I needed to go to the grocery store, and to go there I had to make a left onto Hyperion. As I arrived, however, the parking police was just starting to set out cones and flares, and with a shake of his head he told me I couldn't go. Instead, I would have to go straight - once traffic permitted me.

Breathing irritation through my nose, I went straight, made the next left, and the next left after that. Damn it, I was going to that grocery store! Coming down the side street leading me, I hoped, to Trader Joe's, I soon encountered more yellow tape and more flares. The intersection with Hyperion was closed here, as well. The tape and the flares detoured me into the parking lot of Gelson's.

Nothing is wrong with Gelson's, except that I wanted it to be a choice. Feeling very annoyed, I drove into the lot and parked.

For some hidden reason, I just felt irritated by the whole situation. Hyperion was blocked off on one side. What could be going on? Instead of going into the market, I walked to the curb. I just felt nosy. One vehicle was parked at the curb: a white SUV with one corner of its front side smashed. The driver was pacing around, talking on a cell phone. Up a little further, there was one LAPD vehicle with its lights flashing. I did not see any police walking around. Still, the tape and the flares suggested a fatality or a major injury had taken place. None of the onlookers seemed to know what had happened. Something about it went right up my ass, but I wasn't getting any satisfaction about it. So I went into the damn store and bought food.

Last night, just as I was leaving my office, I got the news from a friend. There had indeed been a fatality at that accident on Saturday night. That SUV had struck Bill while he was crossing the street.

We have lost a fine, disciplined actor, and a genuinely compassionate scoundrel. I have lost a friend and I regret to say, so have you.

* * *

Bill's accident made the news.

In the days that followed, Bill's friends and neighbors got activated.

One morning, I called the Los Angeles DOT and spoke to a lovely engineer over the phone who made several good suggestions about that intersection. Following that conversation, I wrote some letters and made phone calls. Sharing that information with others, the ball got rolling: people called the businesses in the area where Bill was hit, and found them no less concerned. Within days, the DOT confirmed to us that a signal light will be placed at that intersection by July of this year; and the City Council will adjourn early on Friday in honor of Bill Wingard.


Anonymous said...

We will miss Bill. He was our next door neighbor. I already miss his varied music, his attempt at singing and his "it smells like Bill's house is on fire wood scented inscense". Most of all I miss his smile which seemed to be on his face every day for the last six plus years he lived next door. Bill watched our house last summer when we took our kids down to Mexico. When we returned he refused the cash but smiled widely at his Mexican blanket. I told him the cash would make a good Trader Joes run and he took it. Trader Joes has lost a good customer and well....we have lost a sweet neighbor. May the spirit be with you Bill, your family, and your friends!


Ji Hyang said...

Ji Jang Bosal--

I will chant for Bill, today.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Bill had to depart this world so soon. What a beautiful person, and you've keenly brought him to those of us who never met him in person.

j said...

Thank you for sharing Bill. A candle was lit on this side of the world.