(an excerpt from My Companions,
originally published as Moji Drugovi, Kuca stampe, Zemun (Serbia-Montenegro), 2004)
We saw each other only other twice a year, on Easter and on Christmas, at the Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in New York. During these most holy days, he came to this church, which was planted between a couple of flea markets and overshadowed by the tall buildings that had mushroom around it. In any case, he had been living in the Henry Hudson Hotel on Fifty-Seventh Street and Ninth Avenue for more than thirty years, at first alone, then later with his daughter from his first marriage. The story of Milan Radunovic's life unfolded here and his fortunes sometimes rose and at other times fell as time flowed down the boulevards of this great city. He married an Irish gal named Rosie who bore him a son and a daughter. In fact, he came to this colossus of a city some thirty years ago straight from Hollywood where he had worked as a stuntman and screen double for Charles Bronson, which paid this healthy young man, who was raised on fresh coastal breezes and who was full youth and life, in bruises and broken shinbones, ribs and hands.
Milan was utterly delighted to have landed a job such as he never could have imagined. To tell you the truth, he never even knew that such a job existed in the capital of the film industry. So, he began smashing up his body and breaking his bones to make a living. Sometimes California's balminess would prompt him to recall the long childhood treks he made, even during the greatest snowstorms, when he would leave his village and go to town to see some movie, typically a Western, which was all the rage in his youth. He was a village boy who had a wispy mustache that darkened his upper lip, and he would rush to the Jadran movie theatre, and trembling with excitement, he waited for the Cowboys and Indians to appear on the great screen; it was a moment of great drama, and when the projector finally came on and the world slowly began to retreat, he found himself enraptured. He watched the screen, asking himself where all these heroic men and mighty stallions came from, yet he was certain that the Indians had hidden themselves somewhere along the great curtains that hung along the margins of the stage or perhaps in the cellar, where they took advantage of hidden passageways that led who knows where. Later, while walking home, which was a hike of some seven or eight kilometers, he caught himself reacting to each and every unexpected sound just as the hero of the film would have, and drawing his imaginary revolver and peeling off a few noisy rounds at the emptiness, he settled scores with an attacker who resembled a long-haired Indian or an outlaw with a bandanna masking his face. And then he would sometimes make a few quick turns on these village roads, run for cover, hit the ground, and start shooting feverishly into the emptiness with revolvers that existed only in his rich, overexcited imagination, which had already left behind a heap of dead Indians and outlaws, along with a few bears and wolves thrown in for good measure.
That was a long time ago; later he found himself smack dab in the middle of the place where all these movies were made, and Milan Radunovic was not only an observer but a participant as well.