'I've Had So Much Fun With Cops'

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

“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.”

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

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.

“’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.

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, thepocketpartner.com. 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.

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