'I've Had So Much Fun With Cops'

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

“’Cause I’ve been waiting for this heart attack that never came,” he says, describing the last days and nights of his skateboard/clothing company, the Auto Modown, which he started with a loan from his dad after leaving Consolidated. It failed, and Jessee owed back taxes; he owed his dad $212,000 in start-up money; and he’d stopped paying his rent $40,000 ago. He tried to sleep, tried to die, on a couch: maybe the very one I’m sitting on. “I thought if I laid on the couch, I could will it,” he says. “But I couldn’t.”

What’s next? David Rogerson, the Pray for Me producer, withdrew the film from consideration for the recent Newport Beach Film Festival—where this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Crash, debuted—after I got my hands on a copy. He has a friend in the movie business, and, Rogerson says, they want to start hitting “the real festivals—maybe even Cannes.” But if Pray for Me goes to France, Jason Jessee will be staying home. He’s been grounded since Jan. 4, when he was taken off Frontier Air Flight 169 in handcuffs at the San Jose airport, by San Jose police and FBI agents. Passengers, it was reported, had seen him writing in a journal with the words “suicide bomber” hand-written on the cover, “acting bizarrely,” according to the San Jose Mercury News, and “clutching his backpack.”

When the feds strip-searched him at the airport, he bent over and offered it up—Marlon Brando telling the cops, “My old man used to hit harder than that” in The Wild One. Except Brando as Johnny-the-biker had a world-weariness that Jessee still lacks. He walked off the plane apologizing in disbelief. “I really didn’t think it would ever happen,” he says. “I wanted to test the waters. I can create my own reality. I never thought they’d be frist—what is that word?—frisking me.” He considers meeting himself: “I’d hate to be a cop and have to say that: ‘Let me frisk you.’” Jessee thinks about how words sound, and this is the real reason he was busted.

A date with destiny. Photo by John Gilhooley
A date with destiny. Photo by John Gilhooley
In Watsonville. Photo by Theo Douglas
In Watsonville. Photo by Theo Douglas

Among the official publications he owns is a copy of the Pocket Partner: a thick, pocket-size paperback with emergency protocols, checklists and contacts for “policemen, firemen, paramedics, doctors, the military, government, and large and small businesses alike,” according to its website, Jessee likes knowing what people in charge do in certain situations, and so he bought a copy—but he thought the title sounded “like pocket pussy,” so he crossed it out with a black pen and wrote the infamous words “suicide bomber” on the cover. It’s a song by one of his favorite bands, the Highway Murderers. And later, passengers sitting next to him on the plane saw him reading it—and then the cops were waiting for him. He had computer discs on him with artwork for his skateboard company—and miscellaneous rambling letters to himself, which he’d typed out on his ancient typewriter, and assorted other personal documents, and the feds copied everything. They went through his cell phone; they took blood when he couldn’t pee in front of an agent, and they said they’d be making a follow-up visit. And everything he worried about but thought would never happen was finally happening.

It makes him think of San Francisco years ago, when the feds pulled him over outside where a United Nations palaver would take place the next day. His mufflers were rapping—lowriders are notoriously loud—and they said it sounded like machine-gun fire. And so the homeless African-American guy on the sidewalk stood up—he was an agent—and the Asian street racer dude in the Honda pulled in for backup—he was an agent—and when they were done, they both melted back into the pavement. San Jose was part two of that story arc: an ending he didn’t see coming until it was upon him.

“Did you see that police car go by?” he asks, as we stand around outside his warehouse unit in Watsonville. When I leave, a highway patrol car and a police motorcycle are parked at the Chevron a half-mile down. They look like they’re getting gas, but are they? Jessee wonders: “Don’t they get gas at [their own] place?” he asks when I tell him about it later.

“‘You can’t win,’ they told me—this Georgia cop, when I was 19—‘You can’t win,’” he says—another story of another run-in. “And I was like, ‘I could blow my head off, and then I’d win.’ And he was like, ‘No, you can’t win.’”

Now he wonders about that too.

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