High School: 1998-2000
In 1998, after my near death experience, I resolved to make my life a story worth watching. During my junior year of high school, I began crafting my story by changing my wardrobe to help differentiate me from other people. I wore yellow goggles and died my hair (which was uncommon in those times). In time, I adopted blue as my wardrobe color of choice and people began calling me Blue.
This chapter of my life began when I ran for student body president. My campaign was based on equally diversifying power among the student body because, at the time, the Preppies had a monopoly on the way the school was managed.
During my campaign, I was confronted by the Gay Vampires (an early version of the Gothic clique). They were the most rejected of all groups. They asked me if I would give them a voice if they voted for me.
My religious friends told me I couldn't help the Gay Vampires because I was Christian, but I argued on behalf of the separation of Church and State. If a politician refuses to help a citizen because of differences in religious beliefs, then democracy is dead and theocracy has monopolized power. Rather, I believe that a representative of the people should represent the people, even if it goes against his personal and religious beliefs. Therefore, I agreed to give the Gay Vampires a voice.
Unfortunately, I lost the election because most of the students who supported me were too passive to vote. But, my campaign caught the eye of the journalism teacher, and he invited me to join the school news team. He believed that journalists have more power to change the world than politicians.
This was my campaign poster. It was nine feet tall and was placed in the cafeteria for all to see.
North News Network
North News Network (N3) was our high school news program. Joining the class was by invitation only. Because of my odd personality, I did not belong in any clique at school. During lunch, I wandered from table to table. But when I joined the news team, I felt like I found my long lost family. The team was made of various students from every clique in the school - Preppies, Skaters, Computer Nerds, Gay Vampires, Jocks, Band geeks. At lunch, these students were separated by their clothes and financial backgrounds, but in the newsroom, we were united by our common desire to inform and entertain the public.
The days before YouTube
This was WAY before cell phones put a camera in everyone's hand. It was WAY before YouTube made fame commonplace. These were the days of the VHS cassett tape and the analog machine.
Back then, video cameras were something old people used at Christmas. Most kids had never held a video camera. I was the only teenager I knew who owned one.
In this photo, I'm filming student body representatives giving the news. In our school, there was a small rivalry between filmmakers and political figures because the responsibilities of both groups were not well defined, leading to many conflicts over power.
Representing other groups
One day, after getting caught sneaking onto the roof of the school, my teacher blackmailed me into doing a report for the army clique. Although I didn't want to do the project, after the video was shown, the student leader thanked me for giving his group a voice. He said that before then, he felt his group had been unrepresented.
This experience opened my eyes to the potential the media has to balance power within a community. I decided it was my responsibility to make more videos for groups that had been under represented.
I made this advertisement for the recycle club. Later, it won an award for best video of the year (1998).
From then on, I began learning the rules of representation. When making a video for a group that I was not a member of, I was not free to do whatever I wanted. I had to pretend that I was them. I had to think as they thought, and do what they did.
One day, I stumbled upon a flooded library. Books were floating everywhere. I filmed the catastrophe and sold the footage to the local news station. That day, the news team let me hang out with them and watch a real film crew in action. I was in love. To me, filmmaking felt like a calling. But, like Bishop Frank said, it was forbidden.
Looking for a career
Because I couldn't be a moviemaker, I tried other occupations. During high school, I worked for McDonald's, Toys "R" Us, and The Department of Justice. I also operated a haunted house at Enchanted Forrest, the local theme park. But these occupations frustrated me. I wanted to make films.
Jason and I working the counter at McDonald's. #thefounder.
At Toys "R" Us, I was the head councilor for Camp Geoffrey, which was a daily event where kids could come into the store and do a variety of activities. I also sold Barbies.
At that time, the Boy Scouts organization had a close relationship with Christian churches, and I was part of the program. I became an eagle scout in 2000. After graduating, I became a merit badge councilor. I taught archery and filmmaking. My archery students called me Apollo.
Boy Scout troop 137 at Camp Philmont
For my Eagle Scout project, I created an anti-drug video about a time jumper who travels into the past to save his friend from a cocaine overdose. The video was shown to schools all over Salem. This is a clip from Back to the Party.
The cheetah van
My senior year, I decided that to have a cool story I needed a cool car. Therefore, I bought this sweet 1978 Dodge Ram van from an old lady and painted it with Cheetah spots. From then on, wild cats became a recurring theme in my life.
Delilah the cheetah van. She was equipt with a bed, a television, a mini fridge, and a licorice dispenser. She was named after a villain in the Old Testament.
Me and the cheetah van riding in the Salem Christmas parade.
Ariel's Cleavage was my first rock band. The name stemmed from a misunderstanding regarding The Little Mermaid. As a child, after hearing some women at church say that Ariel had too much cleavage, I thought the word meant secret. I used the word incorrectly for years until someone told me that cleavage is actually a part of a woman's breasts.
When the school refused to let my band play for an assembly, we agreed to change our name to The Jolly Roger. This was my introduction to the world of censorship.
Shaving my head
Mock trial is a club where students are given a legal case that they have to fight in a mock court of law. We competed against other schools and the trials were judged by real judges. For our case, I was given the lead role of playing Christopher, a teenage boy dying from lung cancer. Christopher was suing a tobacco company for using cartoon animals in their advertisements. His claim was that the media was targeting children. For the part, I agreed to shave my head.
Christopher Hinchey, a teen dying of lung cancer as a result of cigarette use.
My first kisses
My first real acting gig was in the school play, Arsenic and Old Lace. I played the lead role, which had a kissing scene. Due to my strong Christian roots, kissing terrified me. During one rehearsal, the director had me do the kiss over and over. Then, he had me try kissing a different girl. When I still wasn't getting it, he had me try it with another. Before I knew it, there was a line of girls kissing me, one after the other.
Arsenic and Old Lace: Newlywed Mortimer Brewster (played by myself) finds a corpse hidden in his house and realizes his family is crazy.
Because I was terrified of girls, I feel like I botched this kissing scene. Please don't judge my acting based on this clip.
The video camera made me popular. In many ways, it seemed as though being a celebrity was next to godliness. I could wear anything I wanted, talk to anyone I wanted, say anything I wanted, date anyone I wanted. I could do anything I wanted. And my journalism teacher was right: I could change opinions.
I've come to believe that celebrities have a responsibility to lead the public in positive ways. But back then, I was new to fame.
When The Phantom Menace was released in thaters (1999), it was a BIG DEAL. It was the first time in history when fans camped in parkinglots for movie tickets. I was allowed to take several days off of school to film the event for North News. It was at this time that I started realizing the influence that Hollywood has on the behavior of society.
On April 20th, 1999, two students walked into a school in Colorado and shot at their classmates. At the time, this was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. I watched the event, live, with my journalism classmates. We were shocked and heartbroken.
Not all students shared our feelings about the event. Because of segregation among social cliques, some teens felt that the bullies who were murdered got what they deserved. I mention this because Columbine was the beginning of a social evolution that changed the way teen cliques interacted with each other. It was the start of the anti-bullying movement. It influenced the way power is distributed among peers. It effected security procedures in schools and began a nationwide push to put cameras in public locations.
Columbine also helped shape my understanding of media influence: One of the motivations for the shooters was fame. They believed that, one day, Hollywood would make a movie about them. Thus, whereas a journalist's duty is to prevent crime by showing people the consequences of breaking the law, somehow Hollywood had incentivised crime by making rule breakers famous.
The Trouble Maker
In high school, I tried balancing my identity as a good Christian with my identity as a good storyteller. But, often, the two conflicted. This made people confused about who I was and what I was trying to accomplish. At one point, the school administration held a meeting to discuss weather to expel me. On the one hand, I had reached the maximum number of suspensions. On the other hand, I was a good kid. Whereas other trouble makers caused violence, my trespasses were, usually, ethically founded. For this reason, they let me stay.
Here, I'm posing with the principle and his administration. We had a strange love-hate relationship.
Dressing in drag
My first music video featured a male dressed in women's clothes. In 1998, this was controversial for a public high school. I defended my position by saying people should be allowed to cross dress as a form of criticism of the opposite sex. From then on, cross dressing was something I did often in my videos.
Girls Just Wanna (1998). Song by Weird Al.
Amanda Chase tours the city. Halloween, 1999.
The adventures of Jonny Lekrib
In an effort to make my story worth watching, I had many adventures in high school. The following are a few examples.
One day, me and my friend Alex impersonated firemen and ran all over town as though there was a fire we were trying to find. We only got detention for this video.
Latino Dance Competition
I got to the school assembly late. Had I known the competition was for latinos only, maybe I would not have joined.
The Bell Tower
I had one series where I broke into the forbidden rooms of the school. This included the bomb shelter and the bell tower.
My friends and I did ten senior pranks inspired by the ten plagues of Moses. For one prank, we created a mock-murder scene on the front steps of the school.
The Pirate Flag
Our best prank was when we hung a pirate flag on the school's bell tower. It was so high, the administration had to get a fire truck to take it down.
New Found Glory
One night, I went to a Blink 182 concert, but I had a terrible seat. So, I jumped from a 30 foot balcony onto the floor and was chased by security back stage until I was trapped in a dark room.
When the lights came on, I was in the center of the stage. The band playing was New Found Glory (opening for Blink). When they saw me on stage, they gave me a microphone and let me sing with them. After the song ended, several officers chased me into the crowed and beat me, which started a riot. There was blood everywhere. When security caught me, they dragged me off the property and beat me again.
Later that night, I saw several members of New Found Glory signing autographs. I told them my story and they gave me tickets back into the show... but this time, I had front row seats.
Because of my fame, dating was difficult. There was no clear way of knowing if a person liked me for me or because I was popular. Also, expectations were high, and I felt like I couldn't live up to what women thought I should be.
Also, I hated how public my date life was. I felt that the masses were manipulating my relationships with their uninformed opinions. I hated how people overreacted to my break-ups. When I was frustrated I was made to be a monster. When I was dumped I was made to be a loser. Worst of all, girls treated me like a trophy.
Me and the guys at Winter Court.
The time I got stood up at snowball.
By senior prom, I could not find a girl in my school that wanted me for me. Therefore, I visited a rival school and found my old friend Wendy (from the lunchbox puzzle).
During class, I gave her cake and got the students to sing her happy birthday (even though it was not her birthday). After leaving, she found a hidden VHS inside the cake. On the video, I asked Wendy to prom. A few days later, Wendy responded by giving me a box of Cheerios. Inside the cheerios were letters that spelled the word YES.
Wendy responded to my promposal by giving me a puzzle inside of a cheerios box.
For senior prom, the guys adopted my blue color theme. People called us the Blue Boys.
As part of my medical condition, I had to urinate often. Because finding a bathroom became a burden, I created a game where me and my friends competed over who could pee in the coolest place. One guy peed on a homeless man. Another peed on the windshield of a car while a couple was making out inside. Soon, half the school was playing our game, even the girls.
One night, a group of us went to our rival school to pee on the handles of the front doors. But this was just after the Columbine shootings. We were unaware that that campus was the first public school in the state to install security cameras. Thus, we were caught with our pants down. That was the first time I was arrested.
The first time I was arrested was for peeing on a school.
One day, the power went out in school. As my journalism instincts kicked in, I ditched class and started filming. I soon learned that our communication services had been compromised, but when trying to get more info, the administration refused to answer my questions. Then, after an hour, I couldn't find the administration at all. Therefore, I assumed the role as school leader and began informing the teachers that their students should divide and go home.
When the assistant principle found me, she threatened to suspend me unless I went to class. I agreed, but when I was released for lunch, I began filming again. When the assistant principle found me the second time, she suspended me...
The right to free speech?
I felt that my suspension was unfair. How could I go to class when it was lunchtime? In protest, I scheduled a meeting with the assistant principal. At the meeting, she refused to listen my side of the story. I told her that I had the right to speak and to be heard by a judge before being punished for breaking a rule. What good is public education if it does not play by the laws of society.
The assistant principal told me that, in the real world, people do not have the right to speak. People do what they are told by their authorities. At work, a man obeys his boss. At home he obeys his wife. At church he obeys his God. America is not a country that debates. It's a country that follows authorities who dictate law.
I felt that I had been wronged. I had been a voice for so many people in the school. But now, when I needed a voice of my own, my voice was silenced.
The next morning, I gathered 100 students and approached the assistant principal in the hallway. Again, I requested to tell my story. When she refused, I stood on a bench and yelled a Braveheart-like speech about the first amendment. In the speech, I said:
"All people deserve to have a voice. Without a voice, we are slaves.
Without free speech, we are dead. But when we can communicate,
we have FREEDOM!"
Then, the school erupted into a riot. Students cheered and kicked over benches and garbage cans. The assistant principal physically dragged me to the principal's office. That day, the administration suspended me from the journalism program. My voice had been silenced.
After three and a half months, I was allowed to return to the journalism class on a trial basis. For my comeback episode, I acted like a hillbilly cowboy. The closing scene featured me trying to catch a moving train to return home, to my mother.
That day, the administrators said the train scene was too dangerous for adolescent eyes. Therefore, they called the police and requested that they arrest me. Although trying to catch a moving train is not, actually, illegal, because the tracks are owned by the train company, anyone who tries to catch a train is, technically, trespassing on private property. Therefore, the police felt justified in the administration's request.
That same day, during lunch, two police officers handcuff me and escorted me to jail. As they walked me through the cafeteria, every student from every table stood and cheered to support me. In that moment, there were no cliques or divisions among the student body. Although I did not belong in any one group, I felt that I had become a part of them all.
Jekyll and Hyde
After graduation, I felt that I had kept my bargain with God. My life had become a story. But my church bishop was concerned...
In Mormonism, when a male is 19 years old, he is expected to proselyte as a Christian missionary for two years. Men who refuse this obligation are... dishonored (to put it bluntly). However, before someone can go on a mission they need an endorsement from their bishop. But after my second arrest, Bishop Frank threatened to withhold my mission endorsement.
Bishop Frank said that he would not endorse me because I was trying to serve two masters. God was pulling me toward Christianity and the devil was pulling me toward moviemaking. He said I was two faced, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He said that my yellow goggles were a symbol of my rebellious nature and that he would not give me a mission recomendation until I stopped wearing them.
After much consideration, I agreed to his request. My logic was this: A person’s god should be the most important thing in their life. A man should be willing to sacrifice everything for the god he worships. If I refused to sacrifice my goggles, it proved that I was not really a Christian. Therefore, I returned my wardrobe to normal and prepared to become a Mormon missionary.
At that time, my best friend was Melissa. Because she was from a different school, she did not care about my fame; she liked me for me.
One day, her behavior changed, suddenly, and she told me she was receiving messages from an angel. She said she was pregnant with my baby (which was impossible because we hadn’t even kissed, much less...) She said it was a "Mary-and-Joseph type of situation." To prove herself, she showed me the Biblical story of the Jesus and the rich man (Matt. 19:16-30)...
My friend Melissa
Jesus asked the rich man to give all of his property to the poor and become his disciple. Is the giving of property a requirement to become a follower of God?
In the story, Jesus asks a rich man to become a true disciple by giving away his property, but the rich man refuses. Melissa argued that if I was a real follower of Jesus, I should give away everything I owned. If I did, the angel would speak to me and confirm that Melissa was telling the truth. The angel would confirm that I was, in fact, the father of her virgin-birthed child. However, if I did not give away my possessions, how could I know God's intentions?
Of course, I refused to give away my property. Then, she said that, one day, I would be homeless and I would realize that she was telling the truth.
Because of her claims, Bishop Frank told me that I could no longer communicate with Melissa. Later that month, Melissa was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder.
Shortly thereafter, Melissa was committed to a psychiatric hospital. Against my Bishop's wishes, I visited her often. From that time, I committed myself to learning about mental health and how the brain works. This knowledge became useful throughout the years as I have tried to understand various circumstances of my friends and family. It was also beneficial, years later, when I was diagnosed with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.
Why Did God Make People Gay?
That same month, my church friend Devon told me he was gay. I argued that homosexuality was against God’s law. Then, Devon related several issues from Jurassic Park to argue that his behavior was inherited. He asked why God would make him to be a sinner. At that time, I did not have an answer. No one did. Being gay was not yet socially acceptable and the subject was rarely discussed.
As I searched for the answers to Devon's questions, I saw that religious leader refused to address the topic. When interviewed, they were silent. I wondered why.
If religious leaders have a special relationship with God, they should be able to answer questions that no one else can answer. If they cannot answer these questions, what makes them different from everyone else?
My introduction to genetics came in 1993 when Mr. DNA taught me about dinosaur blood.
At the close of 2001, I felt that high school was a worthy chapter of my life. I learned about fame and social cliques. I learned about genetics and mental health. But most of all, I learned about moviemaking.
For the next chapter of my life, I went to Baltimore, Maryland to become a Mormon missionary. To read this chapter, click here.