After the near death expirience, I resolved to make my life a story worth watching. In 1998, my junior year of high school, I began crafting my story by changing my wardrobe to make me stand out in a crowed. I dyed my hair and wore yellow goggles.
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 could not 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 religious beliefs, then democracy is dead and theocracy has monopolized power.
Thus, 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 the media has more power to change behavior than politicians.
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. But when I joined the news team, I felt like I found my long lost family. The team consisted 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 background, but in the newsroom, we were united by our common desire to entertain and teach truth.
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 and analog machines.
Back then, video cameras were something old people used at Christmas. Most kids had never held a video camera. I was the only kid I knew who owned one.
Lending my voice
One day, after getting caught sneaking onto the school's roof, my teacher blackmailed me into doing a report for the army clique. After the video was shown, the student leader thanked me for giving his group a voice. He said that before then, he felt his clique 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 was awarded the video of the year.
One day, I stumbled upon a flooded library. I filmed the catastrophe and sold it to the local news station. That day, the news team let me hang out with them and watch a real news crew in action, I was in love. To me, filmmaking felt like a calling, but, like Bishop Frank said, it was forbidden.
Looking for an Occupation
I tried other occupations. During high school I worked for McDonalds, Toys R Us and The Department of Justice. I operated a haunted house at Enchanted Forrest, the local theme park.
But these occupations frustrated me. I wanted to make films.
At that time, the Boy Scouts organization had close ties with Christian churches and I was part of the program. For my Eagle project, I created an anti-drug video about a time jumper who travels into the past to save his friend from a drug overdose.
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.
The Cheetah Van
My senior year, I decided that to have a cool story I needed a cool car. Below is Delilah, my cheetah van.
I was never a dog person, but after painting the car, wild cats became a recurring theme in my life.
The video camera made me popular. Everyone knew who I was. 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.
When The Phantom Menace was released in thaters (1999), it was a BIG DEAL. It was the first time in history when fans camped for 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.
The Columbine Massacre
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 heartbroken.
Not all students shared our feelings about the event. Because of the 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 influenced the way power is distributed among peers. It influenced security procedures in public places. In my opinion, Columbine was the beginning of the push to stop bullying in public schools.
Columbine also helped shape my understanding of media influence: One of the motives of the Columbine shooters was fame. They believed that, one day, Hollywood would make a movie about them. Whereas a journalist's duty is to prevent crime by showing people the consequences of breaking the law, somehow Hollywood had incentivized crime by making rule breakers famous.
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.
Dressing in Drag
My first music video was a Weird Al parody. The video shows a male who is dressed in female's clothes. In 1998, this was controversial for a public high school.
Cross dressing was something I did often in my videos. It served as criticism of the female sex. In the video below right, my female counterpart, Amanda Chase, is touring the city.
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.
At one point, the school administration held a meeting to discuss weather to expel me. I had reached the maximum number of suspensions, but I was a good kid. They decided to let me stay. In the picture below, I'm posing with the school's administration. We were the best of friends and the worst of enemies.
One day, me and my friend Alex found some fireman uniforms in the drama closet. We used them for the show.
We got suspended for this video.
This is a video from when I ruined the Latino dance competition. But everyone loved it.
In the quest to make my story worth watching, I did many school pranks.
For one prank, me and my friends created a mock-murder scene on the front steps of the school. The administration perceived the prank as a Columbine inspired warning and threatened to expel the pranksters, if identified. Indeed, times were changing.
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.
Shaving My Head
I did one show where I broke into the places in school where students were not allowed. This included the bomb shelter and the bell tower. I almost got suspended for this video but, instead, I made a deal with the principle to join mock trial (lawyers club).
In mock trial, I was given the lead role of playing Christopher, a teenager dying from lung cancer. Christopher was suing a tobacco company for advertising to children (cartoon camels). For the part, I agreed to shave my head.
New Found Glory
One night, I went to a Blink 182 concert, but I had terrible seats. So, I jumped from a 30 foot balcony onto the floor was chased by security back stage until I was trapped in a dark room.
When the lights came on, I was on the center of the stage of the opening act: New Found Glory. On the second song, they gave me a microphone and let them with them. After the song ended, several officers chased me into the crowed which started a riot. There was blood everywhere. When security caught me, they dragged me off the property and beat me.
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.
My First Kisses
My first acting job 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 us 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.
The Problem with Girls
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. I felt like the me-in-reality could never live up to the me-on-screen.
Also, I hated how public my date life was. I felt that the masses were manipulating my relationships by their uninformed opinions. I hated how people overreacted to my break-ups. When I was frustrated I was made to be a monster. And when I was dumped I was made to be a loser.
Worst of all, girls treated me like a trophy.
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 other students to sing 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.
We are Watching You!
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 the 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. We were caught with our pants down. That was the first time I got arrested.
One day, the power went out in school. I ditched class and used my camera to find out what happened.
When the administration refused to answer any of my questions, I assumed the role as leader and I 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 then, the lunch bell rang. Therefore, I continued interviewing people. When the assistant principle found me the second time, she suspended me...
The First Amendment
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 a right to speak and to be heard by a judge before being sentenced 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 is a country that conforms.
I felt wronged. I had been a voice for so many people in the school. And 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. I asked if I could tell my story. When she refused, I stood on a bench and yelled a braveheart-like speech about the first amendment. I said:
"No one deserves to be silent. Without a voice, we are slaves.
We are dead. But with a voice, we have FREEDOM!"
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 kicked me out of the journalism program.
I'm Comin' Home, Mamma
After three and a half month, I was allowed to return to the journalism class on a trial basis. For my comeback episode, I acted like a western hillbilly.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. They called the police station and were told they could prosecute me for trespassing on private property. Thus, during lunch, they had two police officers handcuff me and take me to jail. As the officers escorted me through the cafeteria, every student from every table stood and cheered for me. In that moment, there were no cliques or devisions among the student body. Although I did not belong in any one group, I felt that I had become a part of them all.
After graduation, I felt that I had kept my bargain with God. My life had become a story. But my church bishop was concerned. After my second arrest, he threatened to withhold my mission endorsement.
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).
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 recommend me until I stopped wearing them.
My logic was thus: 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.
My best friend, at that time, was Melissa. Because she was from a different school, she did not care about my fame. She liked me for me. However, one day, her behavior changed, suddenly. She told me she was receiving messages from an angel. She said she was pregnant with my baby - which was impossible - we hadn’t, even, kissed. She said it was a Mary-and-Joseph type of situation. To prove herself, she showed me the Biblical story of the rich man (Matt. 19:16-30).
In the story, Jesus asks a rich man to become a true disciple by giving away his property. The rich man refuses. Melissa argued that if I was a real follower of God then I should give away my property. If I did, the angel would speak to me and confirm that Melissa was telling the truth, and I was, in fact, the father of her virgin-birthed child . But if I did not give away my possessions, then 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.
That month Melissa was committed into a psychiatric hospital. Against my Bishop's wishes, I visited her often. I also spent much time learning about what bipolar disorder is. This began a life-long study of learning how the brain works and how different people in different health related situations interact with each other. Visiting Melissa in the ward constitutes as some of my most endearing memories.
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 that were made in Jurassic Park to argue that his behavior was inherited. He asked why God would create him to be a sinner. At that time, I did not have an answer. No one did. Being gay was not, yet, socially acceptable.
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. If they cannot answer these questions, what makes them any different from everyone else?
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 disorders. 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. Click below to continue my story.