By now, everyone has heard the tale. The drama is over, Bruce is OK, my insurance paid for the limo, the paparazzi circus that invaded Sonoma has moved on, and I'm no longer looking at extensive jail time.
But it was touch-and-go there at first. Nearly killing a celebrity is bad on a number of levels. First, you're immediately guilty and everyone hates you, and second, Bruce Willis is not someone you want pissed off at you.
The idea was hatched about a month before the Sonoma Valley Film Festival this April. I wanted my high school art class to study environmental artists: Andy Goldworthy, Christo, Keith Haring, etc. I had students learn about each artist and produce reports on their favorite. I figured a great final would be the creation of a 10-foot-high "SONOMAWOOD" sign to be erected in the hills behind the plaza during the film festival. It would be a rip-off of the "HOLLYWOOD" sign, welcoming all to our little town. Ridiculous, educational, fun—my students loved it. After two weeks of sawing and hammering, we had the letters finished.
There were three spots in the hills where I wanted to put the letters. One was on county land, one in the cemetery and one in public open-space. I had begun the process of getting permission a month previous, but even with the backing of a local supervisor, the mayor and most of the city council, no approval had been granted. "Just put them up" was the advice I received from a number of people, but I figured that since it was a school project, I should keep it legal.
My next idea was to put the sign on the grass in front of the Sonoma Community Center, but the executive director told me that it wouldn't be fair to other artists to simply put up my piece when others had to go through an application-approval process. We were short on time.
A week before the festival, I was sitting in the plaza and looked over at the Sebastiani Theatre and thought, "Perfect." The Sebastiani is the main movie house for the film festival and the owner is a friend of mine. He was game after we came up with a way to secure the letters.
We waited until Wednesday to put the letters up, because I wanted it to be a surprise. It took six of us three hours to haul them up the side fire escape and secure them, but when we were done, we knew we had created something good. The only problem was the split in the front façade on the roof. The building has two vertical towers, so the letters had to be split, "SONO" on the left, "MA" in the middle, and "WOOD" on the right. It looked great from below but the "A" was a little angled because the base was blocked by a pipe. I solved the problem with a length of rope.
It looked great towering over the Sebastiani Theatre. In the evening, the moving spotlights hit the letters from left to right. It was right above where the VIP's were dropped off for special events.
Bruce Willis was in town for a superstar tour of Sonoma. I had just interviewed him during the VIP dinner at Estate, where I kept hounding him with quick comparisons: Suits or jeans? Foie gras or peanut butter? New York or LA? Pot or booze?
I trailed Bruce around, but to be honest, I was as interested in the free booze and food as I was in Bruce. But he seemed to be entertained by my line of questioning. That became important later, as it kept him from being guillotined.
After the VIP party, I followed Bruce and his limo to the Sebastiani. Half drunk on free beer, I wasn't satisfied with the results of my "interview." The wind was howling. When I approached the theater, I realized there was no easy way to get to Bruce. A red carpet was rolled out and an area sectioned off so Bruce could go from limo to destination with little interference. The spotlights were illuminating the sign perfectly. I parked and headed into the melee. It looked like a scene from the Oscars, as paparazzi flashed their cameras and yelled to get Bruce's attention.
The limo was out front; Bruce got out first, opening the door for his new wife. I yelled, "Lakers or Nets?" He stopped, turned around with his famous smirk and said, "Celtics, baby." He waved to the crowd as I heard a loud crack from above.
Everyone looked up as the "A" fell forward, off the roof, its point aiming right at Bruce. He looked up just as the tip sliced through the cartilage of his nose. The letter hit the ground and fell onto his limo, which his wife had luckily crowded back into. Bruce grabbed his nose. Blood shot through his fingers. Everyone converged. I was worried that a second letter would release so I scaled the fire escape to check. Someone saw me from below, illuminated by the spotlight ("California Teacher Tries to Kill Bruce Willis"), and figured I had intentionally released the letter. The police raced to the roof and had me in cuffs before I knew what was going on. I kept repeating, "But I saved his life, if he hadn't stopped to answer my question . . ." It was true, but nobody would listen.
Initial reports in the tabloids were overblown. The headline "John Moss in Love Triangle with Demi and Ashton" was just ridiculous.
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But Bruce still has not contacted me. His lawyers sent me a contract to sign explaining that I could not talk to any media about the incident; also, I am not allowed to benefit financially from the incident or talk about Mr. Willis' injury to anyone. I can only assume that he, like me, wants to put the whole thing behind him. But when he calls, I'll ask him, "Hey Bruce, Moss or Bobbit?"
John Moss wrote the strange and savage tale of a field trip gone south for our Jan. 9, 2009 issue.
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