High School: 1998-2000
In 1998, after my near death experience, I resolved to make my life a story worth watching. First, I changed my wardrobe to differentiate me from my peers. I wore yellow goggles and died my hair (which was uncommon in the suburban 90's). In time, blue became my signature color and people began calling me Blue.
This chapter of my life began when I ran for junior class president. My campaign was based on equally diversifying power among the student body. At the time, the Preppies had a monopoly on the way the school was managed, and other cliques suffered.
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 if I would give them a voice if they voted for me.
My religious friends advised against helping the Gay Vampires because I was Christian. But I argued that the separation of Church and State means I have to set aside my religious views to become a representative of the mixed population. Therefore, I agreed to give the Gay Vampires a voice.
Regardless, I lost the election. But my campaign caught the eye of the journalism teacher, who invited me to join the school news team. He believed that journalists have more power to change the world than politicians, and losing that election would be the best thing that ever happened to me.
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 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.
This was WAY before cell phones put a camera in everyone's hand. It was before YouTube made fame commonplace. These were the days of the VHS cassette tape and the analog edit machine.
Back then, video cameras were something old people used at Christmas. Most kids had never held a camcorder. I was the only teenager I knew who owned one.
Here, I'm filming student body representatives giving the news. In our school, there was a rivalry between filmmakers and political figures because the responsibilities of both groups were not well defined, leading to 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.
The experience opened my eyes to the potential media has to balance power within a community. I decided it was my responsibility to make more videos for groups that had been underrepresented.
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 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 with them and watch a real film crew in action. I was in love. But, like Bishop Frank said, filmmaking was forbidden.
Looking for a career
Because I couldn't be a moviemaker, I tried other occupations. I worked for McDonald's, Toys "R" Us, and The Department of Justice. I operated a haunted house, managed a roller coaster at Enchanted Forest, the local amusement 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. I also sold Barbies.
I became an eagle scout in 2000. After graduating, I became a merit badge councilor. I taught archery and filmmaking. My 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 saves his friend from a cocaine overdose. The video was shown to various schools in Salem. This is a clip from Back to the Party.
The cheetah van
In my senior year, I bought a 1978 Dodge Ram van and painted it with cheetah spots. From then on, wild cats became a recurring theme in my life.
Delilah the cheetah van. 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 church ladies say Ariel had too much cleavage, I thought the word meant secret. I used the word incorrectly for years until someone told me 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 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 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 is a teen dying of lung cancer as a result of cigarette use.
My first kisses
I was given the lead role in the school play Arsenic and Old Lace. The play featured 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 made me kiss a different girl. When I still wasn't getting it, he made me try it with more until 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.
I didn't learn how to kiss girls until college.
The video camera made me popular, and it seemed like being a celebrity was next to godliness. I could wear anything I want, talk to anyone I want, say anything I want, date anyone I want. I could do anything I want. 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 the first time fans camped in parking lots for movie tickets. I was allowed to take several days off of school to film the event for North News. It was at that time I started realizing the influence that Hollywood has society's behavior.
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.
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 interact 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 places.
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.
A journalist's duty is to prevent crime by showing the consequences of breaking the law. Yet this was a clear example of when Hollywood incentivized 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 were in conflict, which led to confusion about who I was.
For example, the school administration met to decide whether to expel me. On the one hand, I had reached the maximum number of suspensions. On the other hand, I was a good kid. While other troublemakers caused violence, my trespasses were harmless and 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 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 I got detention for this disturbance.
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 backstage until I was trapped in a dark room.
When the lights came on, I was center stage with New Found Glory. Then 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.
As part of my medical condition, I had to urinate often. Because finding a bathroom became tedious, I created a pee game to see 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, me and my friends peed on the handles of the front doors of our rival school. But because of Columbine they were 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.
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, I felt like I couldn't live up to expectations.
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 hadn't found a girl in 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 wasn't 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 a cheerios box.
For senior prom, the guys adopted my blue color theme. People called us the Blue Boys.
Melissa was also from a different school. She treated me like a normal person and grew to be my best friend.
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). She said it was a "Mary-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.
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 awaymy property. If I did, an 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 the intentions of God?
Of course, I refused. Then, she said, one day, I would be homeless and realize she was telling the truth.
That week, Bishop Frank told me I shouldn't communicate with Melissa anymore. That month, she was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder and committed to a psychiatric hospital. Against my Bishop's wishes, I went to see her often. That's when I decided to learn as much as I could about mental health and how the brain works.
Why Did God Make Gay People?
One day, my church friend Devon told me he was gay. I argued that homosexuality was against God’s law. Then, Devon used Mr. DNA 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 didn't have an answer. No one did. In 1999, being gay was not 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 capable of answering the questions that no one else can answer.
But If they can't, what makes them different from everyone else?
My introduction to genetics came in 1993 when Mr. DNA taught me about dinosaur blood.
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 the administration refused to answer my questions. After an hour, I couldn't find the administration at all. Therefore, I assumed the role of school leader and began informing the teachers that their students should divide and go home.
When the vice principle found me, she threatened suspension unless I went to class. I agreed, but when I was released for lunch, I began filming again. When the VP 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 vice 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. 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 don't have the right to speak. People do what they are told. At work, a man obeys his boss. At home he obeys his wife. At church he obeys his pastor. America is not a country that debates. It's a country that follows authorities who dictate laws.
Then I was pissed. I had been a voice for so many people in 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 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:
"All people deserve to have a voice. Without a free speech, we are slaves.
Without intercourse, we are dead. But when we 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 (causing multiple wounds on my arm. I was bleeding all over the place). 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.
The administration said the train scene was too dangerous for adolescent eyes. Then they called the police on me. Because train tracks are private property, the cops felt justified in the administration's request.
That day, during lunch, two police officers cuffed me. As they escorted me through the cafeteria, every student from every table stood and cheered for me. In that moment, there were no cliques or divisions among the student body. Although I didn't belong in any one group, I felt that I had become a part of them all.
Jekyll and Hyde
After graduation, I felt I had kept my bargain with God. My life had become a story. But my 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.
But 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 endorsement.
Bishop Frank said I was trying to serve two masters. God was pulling me toward Christianity and the devil was pulling me toward moviemaking. He compared me to Jeckyll and Hyde. He said that my yellow goggles were a symbol of my rebellious nature and that he would not give me a recommendation until I threw them away. After much consideration, I agreed to his request.
My logic was this: God should be the most important thing in a man's life, and he should be willing to sacrifice everything for his religion. Thus, if I refused to give up my goggles, it proved that I was not really Christian.
Therefore, I took off my goggles, returned my hair to its normal color, and prepared to become a Mormon missionary.
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.