In the wake of 9/11, Jen and I opted to drive home to New Jersey from Los Angeles. And as if the post-terrorist attack vibe wasn’t foreign enough, we were coming home to a house we’d never lived in.
Before we’d left the motherland eleven months prior to shoot “Strike Back”, we’d purchased a new house in Rumson, a few miles down the road from the old Oceanport, flat-roofed abode. In our absence, a moving company had bagged and tagged all our stuff, shipping the contents of our old home into our fresh, new digs. We were now the proud owners of five acres and two floors in the most desirable part of central Jersey, situated around the block from Bruce Springsteen’s estate.
The whole family had gotten back to the east coast in October and spent most of the next month getting ourselves situated in the new house. By late November, we were ready to host our first Thanksgiving in Rumson. Mewes, who’d been out in Los Angeles, living in an apartment with some sober pals, called to say he wanted to come back to Jersey for the festivities as well, so naturally, I invited him.
“You staying clean?” I asked him.
“Totally,” he’d responded.
“How long now?”
“I’m coming up on five months.”
“And isn’t life better now?”
“It is,” he said.
“If you stay clean, I’ve got a role for you in the next flick. A non-Jay role.”
“Awesome. I can’t wait.”
“I’m really fucking proud of you, man.”
I hadn’t seen Jason in two months when he showed up at my door the day before Thanksgiving with a new girlfriend, Amy. I gave the boy a big hug and then whisked him and his lady into a car with me and Mos, so we could head up to the Gizmo Recording Studio in Manhattan to lay down the “Strike Back” commentary track for the DVD. On the hour-long ride, Mewes chatted a bit, then nodded out a few times.
“You tired, man?” I asked.
“Yeah. I didn’t sleep last night,” he offered, summoning up that old chestnut of an excuse Mos and I had heard so often back in Jay’s drug-dependency days. Quietly, I started to panic.
During the commentary track record, Mewes continued to catch a nod every few minutes, before excusing himself to hit the bathroom. Any shred of hope I’d been living in that the boy had stayed clean was now dying in despair.
On the ride home, Mewes asked if we could stop for cigarettes. When he popped into the convenience store, I turned in the driver’s seat to face Amy behind me and asked “He’s using again, isn’t he?”
“He is,” Amy confirmed, watching the convenience store to make sure Mewes wasn’t on his way back to the car. “He was at a college appearance in Colorado two months ago when someone offered him coke. It’s been downhill from there ever since.”
“Is it heroin or Oxys?”
“Mostly heroin. He scores it a few blocks from my apartment,” she confessed. “You’ve gotta talk to him about quitting. He’ll listen to you.”
“What charming, child-like naivete,” I thought to myself, as Mewes returned with his smokes. Nothing else was said on the subject for the remainder of the ride home.
The Thanksgiving meal was prepared by Byron and Gail, and gobbled up by Jen, Harley, my parents, our friend Bob Hawk, Judy, Amy, Jason and me. When the dinner was over, Mewes and Amy retired downstairs to the rec room/basement. My then-two-year-old daughter Harley, who’d long harbored a crush on Mewes, solicited Jason time and again to play with her in her room, but Mewes repeatedly gave the kid the kind-yet-distinct brush-off, insisting that he’d hang out with her later. Harley lurked by the basement door for most of the day, waiting for the play date that would never come. Jen tried to explain to the toddler that Jay was just tired, but the wife really suspected it wasn’t exhaustion that was making Mewes inaccessible.
“He’s using again, isn’t he?” Jen asked.
“His girlfriend said he is. I haven’t talked to him about it yet.”
“I don’t even care anymore. I’ve put up with his shit for years because you care about him, but now he’s breaking Harley’s heart, and I’m not gonna stand for that. I want him out of here.”
I called Mewes upstairs and went outside with him to smoke and talk.
“You’re using again,” I said to him.
“No, man. I’m just tired.”
“And now you’re lying again. But worse than lying, you’re ignoring the kid – the kid that you love. And you’re ignoring her because you’re high.”
Mewes quietly smoked, saying nothing.
“You brought drugs into my house, didn’t you?”
“I’m stopping, I swear. It was stupid, I know. But I’m quitting.”
“You can’t stay here, man. You lied to me and told me you were coming up on five months clean. You made it, what – like three months, really?”
“Ben said he’d pay for me to go back to Promises.”
“That’s fine. But until you get clean again, you can’t stay here. You’re gonna have to go stay with your sister while you’re in Jersey. I’ll drive you and your girlfriend over now.”
Rather than fight the decision, Mewes simply said “Alright.”
I dropped him off at his Mom’s old house in Keansburg. It was the last time I’d see him for two months.
Around December, I had to go to Los Angeles to receive the People for the American Way’s Defender of Democracy Award. The ultra-liberal organization (headed by “All in the Family” creator Norman Lear) cited “Dogma” as the film that earned me the prize, which I was to be presented with at the same ceremony in which the “South Park” guys, Kim Pierce (the director of “Boys Don’t Cry”), and the Dixie Chicks (who’d taken a world of shit for anti-Bush comments in the wake of 9/11) were also being recognized. Byron, Gail, Harley, the wife and I flew out to California and checked into the W Hotel in Westwood.
The morning after the PFAW Awards Ceremony, we were enjoying a family breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant when a discussion about our time in L.A. sparked a massive change in all of our lives. We’d spent almost a full year in California while making “Strike Back”, and my rationale was that if you spend a full year anywhere short of prison or Calcutta, it takes on the aspects of home. With the Jersey winter approaching, we embarked on an exploratory conversation about snow-birding it: moving back to L.A. for six months where I’d spend the time writing “Jersey Girl”, and the rest of the family could escape the impending freezing east coast temperatures. The idea snowballed, and soon, we were calling the owners of the Toluca Lake house we’d rented the year before.
When we got back to Jersey, I’d phoned Ben to see whether or not he’d wound up sponsoring Jason’s trip back to Promises. He said he had, but Mewes made it only four days into the program before checking himself out. We commiserated over Jason’s condition for a while before I announced that I was moving back to L.A. for the winter, to finish the “Jersey Girl” script.
“Where you gonna live?” Ben asked.
“We’re gonna rent that Toluca Lake house again.”
“Why don’t you buy my place instead? I just bought Drew Barrymore’s property on Coldwater, so I’m moving out of this joint. And you know your ol’ lady loooooves my house.”
I’d been to the house in question only five months earlier, for a fourth of July party, shortly before Ben checked himself into Promises. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, Ben’s place was easily the most beautiful house I’d ever been in. A tri-level mansion with massive, high ceilings and a pool on the top floor, it boasted an amazing view of what I felt was a mountain, but the locals called a hill. Jen had instantly fallen in love with it, and when Ben told us that – due to the joint’s proximity to the street which afforded all manner of paparazzi the freedom to shoot the shit out of him whenever he walked out of his front door – he was thinking about selling it, she had turned to me and said “I want this house.” We’d spoken with Ben at great lengths about taking the joint off his hands, but after the rehab stint, the topic never really came up again… until that moment.
“I just bought a house in Jersey, so I can’t buy your place until I get paid for turning in the ‘Jersey Girl’ script,” I told my multi-millionaire friend.
“So then just rent the house instead,” he countered. “I’ll charge you the same monthly that the Toluca Lake people were gonna hit you up for, but go one better: all the money you pay in rent I’ll knock off the purchase price of the house when you’re ready to buy it.”
It was, to say the least, the biggest steal since the U.S. had purchased the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans for some pelts and beads. Thanks to Ben’s largess, Jen’s dream of not just moving back to California, but moving back to California and living in that mansion became a reality. We put the Rumson house we’d purchased a year earlier and had only lived in for a total of three months on the market and, in January of 2002, headed West for good.
We’d been in the house for about a day when Jason showed up. He looked a lot worse for wear, but he seemed chipper, taking me through our new house and showing me where he’d slept or banged girls when he’d stayed with Ben a few times, pre- and post-Promises. I inquired about his most recent and brief visit to that same rehab, and he said it was a dumb move on his part, and that Ben was generously offering to send him to a different rehab. He talked about the possibility of moving into the house with us if he cleaned up, and I said with all the space we had, I’d happily give him a room, if he could get his life back on track.
The only thing he did with his life and that proverbial track, however, was tie that shit up like it was Dudley Do-Right’s girlfriend Nell and he was Snidely fucking Whiplash waiting for a train. The second rehab Ben paid for was a bust as well, with Jason bolting after only two days. Even worse, the Freehold Court back home in Jersey had issued a bench warrant for his arrest, after Jason missed a mandatory appearance. The tragic irony was that the court date in question was the final sum-up to Mewes’ old possession case: he’d successfully completed probation, and all that remained was some final face-time before the judge, at which point His Honor would’ve declared Jason free to go, case-closed. Too high to make the plane, Mewes never made it back to Jersey, and the bench warrant was issued.
The role I’d told Jason I’d written for him to play in “Jersey Girl” became a moot point, as the boy couldn’t step foot in Jersey without being arrested. When we headed back east to shoot the flick, Mewes asked if he could live at the L.A. house in our absence, taking care of the dogs. Staring at his crack-pipe burned lips and glancing at the track marks up and down his arms, it wasn’t difficult to say no. Sadly, it would be the first film in nearly ten years that I made without the boy.
While I was back east, Jason declined further. By the time we got back to L.A., the word was that he was living on the streets. He’d lost a great deal of weight, and had burned a low budget production in the southeast that’d cast him as the lead in an indie flick. When the director contacted me, I commiserated with him about Jason’s drug-induced behavior in an effort to make it clear that there was little the guy could’ve done. It wasn’t the lack of budget (which Mewes taxed further by insisting they keep him in his “medicine”) or the production’s fault, I’d told the director; Mewes was just a destructive force of nature.
I called Jim, Jason’s former counselor at Promises, to see if they’d take the boy back into the program. Jim finally set me straight, though, as he tried to explain that the Jason situation was out of my hands.
“Part of the problem is you’ve never let the kid hit rock bottom,” he explained. “You’re always there throwing a net out to catch him before he hits. He knows he can count on you to get him out of any jam, because that’s been your role for years as an enabler. You’ve gotta change that approach and practice some tough love instead: don’t allow him into your life anymore. He worships and loves you; to Jason, you’re like the Father he never had. And based on his affection for you, you’re the only person who’s got a shot at reaching him and getting him to clean up. But the way you’ve gone about it hasn’t worked so far, and that’s because you haven’t hit him with the worst thing he can imagine: being cut out of your life altogether. You’ve gotta let him hit rock bottom.”
“But what if his rock bottom is the grave?” I asked. “What if he winds up over-dosing?”
“Then if that’s the case, there’s nothing you can do to stop that. If Jason’s meant to OD, all you’ve done is prolong his journey to the inevitable. Every addict has to make the decision to clean up his or herself, and each time you’ve intervened, it’s been you making him get clean, so it’s never stuck beyond a few months. He needs to want to get and stay sober for himself, not for you. But where you can really help him is by turning your back on Jason; because I believe he feels that not being in your life is as bad as it could get for him – and then, maybe, he might turn himself around for the best.”
So while I was in post-production on “Jersey Girl”, I took Jim’s advice and laid down the law with Jason: he wasn’t allowed in the house anymore, until he cleaned up. He wasn’t allowed to see Harley anymore, until he cleaned up. I wouldn’t finance his life until he cleaned up. I wouldn’t hang out with him until he cleaned up. The Tough Love approach had begun.
November 2002 saw the first Thanksgiving we’d spend at our new house in L.A. The day before the government-sanctioned food gorge, Jason stopped by the post production office where I was cutting “Jersey Girl”. His relationship with Amy long-since over, he was there with another girl entirely. She waited in the car while I spoke to the boy in the parking lot.
“Thanksgiving tomorrow,” he observed. “Gail cooking again?”
“Yup,” I confirmed. “What’re you gonna do?”
“Me and this chick are gonna hang out in our apartment, I guess,” Mewes explained, pulling a thick-frosted banana cake purchased at 7-11 from his pocket, biting into it. “It kinda sucks because we didn’t pay the electric bill so they shut the power off. We’ve been lighting a lot of candles.”
“You guys going to her folks’ for Thanksgiving or something?”
“Nah. Not allowed.”
The girl in the car, a stick-thin junkie with eyes bulging from a hollowed-out face, climbed out of the vehicle and stormed toward us.
“Half of that’s mine,” she barked at Mewes, snatching the banana cake from his hand and heading back to the car.
Jason shrugged, as if to say “Life’s come down to me and some girl I barely know battling over the last bite of convenience store vended single-serving deserts.” I pulled a pair of twenties out of my pocket and handed them to the boy.
“Go to KooKooRoo tomorrow and get yourselves some Thanksgiving turkey with this,” I insisted. “Do NOT buy drugs with it.”
“Thanks, Moves. I won’t.”
As he shuffled back to his snack cake harpy, we both knew that forty bucks wouldn’t make it to the KooKooRoo cash registers.
The next day, as my family finished the Thanksgiving meal, the doorbell rang. I joined Jason on the front steps outside of my house.
“What’re you guys doing?” he asked.
Mewes nodded his head, then lifted his nose skyward, saying “I can smell Gail’s turkey. Was it good?”
“It was.” After a beat of silence, I added “This is the first Thanksgiving in three years you haven’t spent with us.”
“It sucks on this end, too. But I can’t invite you into the house – you understand that, right? I can’t let you in until you clean up.”
“We’re going to the Betty Ford Clinic tomorrow,” Mewes informed me, pointing to the car, where the banana cake girl was sitting. “She knows someone who works there, so I think we’re getting in for free.”
“That’s great. Stay in the program this time. Don’t leave ’til you’re clean. Then, maybe next Thanksgiving, you can eat with us again.”
“Cool,” he muttered, wiping tears from his eyes. I hugged the boy and sent him on his way.
The Betty Ford sojourn lasted about as long as Mewes could make it in rehabs around that point. Two days later, he signed himself out and came back to Hollywood. He’d stop by the editing room from time to time, always to bum a few bucks off me “for smokes”, which I knew would go into his veins instead. All the while, I was dealing with “Jersey Girl” and other issues that kept my mind off Mewes.
In February, the family and I found ourselves momentarily homeless due to a mini-disaster of sorts. I’d had a fountain Coke machine installed for Jen as part of a Christmas gift only two months before, but what none of us knew was that the crew which had installed it didn’t do so properly: they’d tapped into a water pipe under the bar sink and in a prime example of the American work ethic, simply electrical-taped the hole closed. While the entire family was up in Aspen where I was a featured guest at the annual Comedy Festival, the electrical tape finally gave out, and the tapped pipe began gushing all over the top floor of the house. By the time we got home, tens of thousands of gallons of water had flooded the house, soaking the third floor until it collapsed the ceiling of the second floor below it, as well as the first floor below that. The entire dwelling had to be stripped to the beams inside and rebuilt. Luckily, I’d just closed on the house in January, finally purchasing it from Ben after a year of renting, at which time I’d been forced to carry a then-seemingly ungodly amount of insurance, which included a Flood policy. My former bitching about carrying a Flood policy “on a house on a hill in a desert” was quickly negated, as some $200,000 in repairs were covered thanks to that insurance.
The policy also covered rental expenses for the length of time we needed to be out of the house, so we found a place in the flats of Beverly Hills on Sierra Drive. One day, while I was setting up a DVD player in the bedroom, Jen made a heart-stopping discovery in US Weekly that, startlingly, didn’t have anything to do with Angelina Jolie or Jessica fucking Simpson.
“Oh my God…” she uttered from the bed, where she was leafing through the magazine.
“What’s the matter,” I queried.
“I think something’s happened to Mewes.”
She pointed to a small, sidebar feature in the magazine. It was about Mewes, who’d been reported missing for months and presumed dead.
To Be Continued…
To see a very alive Jason Mewes, three years clean, peep the exclusive online “Clerks II” trailer here.