'I've Had So Much Fun With Cops'

NOT showing at NBFF: Pray for Me: The Jason Jessee Movie

And Jessee knows that, for him, the convention outside will last another 35 years at least. He strikes a pose and fires an assault rifle on full-auto for the director in Pray for Me. But off-camera, the director says, “He’s his own worst nightmare.” And Jessee knows that’s not far wrong.

“It sucks that, even not being a full law-abiding citizen—I’m beyond fucking retarded—and I still feel guilty no matter what,” he says. “Because of how much paranoia is bred out there. It’s like no matter what, you’re doing something wrong. You drive by a cop and you wave and they’re like, ‘What are you doing waving at me?’”

One story I hear from Lohrman is that the cops came and arrested Jessee at a skateboard contest after he called African-American skater Ned “Peanut” Brown a nigger.

Haymaker. Photo courtesy Steve Nemsick
Haymaker. Photo courtesy Steve Nemsick
Playing dead. Photo courtesy Steve Nemsick
Playing dead. Photo courtesy Steve Nemsick

“I actually talked shit to him, on the top of the ramp,” Jessee says—he says Brown had mouthed off to him before the contest, when Jessee was making nice with his girlfriend. “And the next thing I know, I’m on the bottom of the ramp. He socked me in the mouth.” And even though Peanut hit him first, Jessee got kicked out of the contest. “It was my first humbling experience,” he says. “Anaheim, 1986, and fuckin’ Jeff Phillips won it on acid.

There was more on the way. After he left Santa Cruz Skateboards, after he left his next job, as team manager of Consolidated Skateboards, Jason Jessee needed money fast. His wife, Heather, had injured her back and couldn’t work, and she was pregnant with their daughter, Scout—so Jessee got a job: waiting tables, at Positively Front Street, a restaurant on the wharf in Santa Cruz. Later, he was downgraded to busboy.

“It was so humbling, but it was the best thing ever,” he says of waiting tables, when I first meet him, in Watsonville. “Because I learned what people go through. I got a total new respect for—cops, even—waitresses.”

Cops. “You gotta come downhere with me to hear this story,” Jessee says; we’re standing, with a couple of dozen of his “closest friends,” in front of a store on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, where Vans is launching the Jason Jessee signature shoe. (He says he’s been paid $1,500.)

Years ago, Jessee tells me when we’re out of earshot, he came into a pristine 1960 Mercury Comet—first year they made them. And his friend Vince Everly, who is here tonight, wanted it, so Jason started driving south. The transmission went out, so he had it towed—and the tow truck driver “mashed it in there. And we had it towed again, and the guy backed into the grill. And I’m thinking, ‘This thing was perfect, and now it’s a piece of shit.’” So they ditched it: they got it as far down the highway as they could, which wasn’t very far, and they left it—on the edge of a big drop-off.

“And this highway patrol guy comes to the door and he goes, ‘I don’t want to cause you any trouble. I know you dropped a car off there, and I know you’re going to get it out of there sometime today.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll get it out of there,’ and he says, ‘What time today?’

“So we go down there, and everything is blackened [where it was]. It’s been torched, pushed off the edge of the cliff, and someone has towed it away. So I get back on the freeway and I’m doing 90, 100, 110, and my friend is like, ‘Why don’t you just call it in?’ and I knew I was going to get pulled over—I said, ‘This is quicker.’” Jessee gets pulled over; he tells the highway patrolman—a different guy—why he can’t tow the Comet: because it’s gone.

“By the end, we’re laughing so hard, we were hugging,” Jessee says. “He’s like, ‘If there’s anything to this, I’ll let you know.’”

Then Jessee tells me, “Vince doesn’t believe this story.”

It’s hard to believe anyone could go from there to there to here—but Jessee isn’t just anyone. “Jason’s told me before, you know, how hard it is to live up to [his] rep, because he always has to go bigger in whatever facet,” his friend, car customizer Cole Foster, says. “His rep precedes him; it’s what makes him, but it’s what might kill him.”

Recently, it almost did. In Watsonville, shopping for socks—Jessee says he only wears his socks once, and he only wears the striped athletic ones that come up over his calves—he said something wrong to a Mexican guy, and the man swung at him with a knife. And as Jessee stumbled out into the street, dodging the blade, it hit him that he was 36, and that this guy—who was arrested later that day, after stabbing someone else—was 19. And that if he, Jason Jessee—who has staked his career and his reputation on pushing his luck—isn’t dead yet, then maybe he’s not supposed to be.

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