Archive for March, 2006

Me and My Shadow, Pt. 3
Thursday March 30 2006 @ 5:57 pm

About three weeks into the “Dogma” shoot, we spent a day outside a shuttered Burger King that Ratface, our production designer, had outfitted to pass as Mooby’s, a fictional fast food franchise with the unlikely corporate icon of a cow as its pitchman (the faux burger joint would pop up again in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” and ultimately feature prominently in “Clerks II”). The scene saw Linda Fiorentino’s Bethany, Jason Mewes’ Jay and my Silent Bob quizzing Chris Rock’s Rufus, the 13th Apostle who’d fallen from the sky moments before. The day will always be noteworthy to me for two reasons: 1) due to a gripe with production, Linda wasn’t speaking to me that morning, making it an interesting challenge to my directorial responsibilities, and 2) because Mewes disrupted shooting in a most unique fashion.

We were shooting Rock’s coverage, and since Silent Bob had no lines in the scene, it allowed me to ride the monitor instead of sit in for off-camera. In the midst of a take, Rock was detailing Rufus’ outrage in being left out of the Bible, when all of the sudden, he started laughing, completely breaking character. I called cut and made my way to the table.

“What’s up?”
“Check out Mewes,” he chuckled.

I looked over at Jason to see him fast asleep, sitting up, in an almost bovine manner. One nudge or two later, and Mewes startled awake.

“Are we going again?” he asked.
“What’re you doing?”
“You feel asleep in the middle of the take, dude.”
“Yeah, but not for the whole take.”
“But we ain’t shooting me, we’re shooting Rock.”
“You still have to stay awake, man! Just ‘cause the camera’s on you doesn’t mean you can take a fucking nap!”
“What the fuck?!”
“What’s the big deal?”
“You’re supposed to be present in the scene for the other actors! Rock needs to act off of you! AND you’ve got dialogue to deliver, too! How the fuck can you just fall asleep in the middle of a take?!”
“It’s the fourth fucking take, though.”
“I can’t help it. They just keep saying the same shit, over and over.”

That sentiment became so instantly revered by the cast and crew that it wound up on the back of the production’s wrap-gift t-shirt. With that simple and honest observation, the boy was able to succinctly express the unspoken overview of movie-makers the world over: filming any scene can get a bit repetitive. Whether you’re making “Schindler’s List” or “Weekend at Bernie’s”, “they keep saying the same shit, over and over” is the thought that inevitably and eventually floats through the minds of casts and crews everywhere. The tedium of life on a movie set was completely nailed by Jason Mewes.

Yeas later, I’d learn that Mewes wasn’t really bored; he was simply “catching a nod” – his preferred terminology for the heroin-induced state of euphoria afforded shortly after shooting up.

Had I been educated on the subject of heroin abuse, I’d have realized that Mewes had, indeed, started using again on the set of “Dogma”. After seven months of closely-watched sobriety, my responsibilities in governing the film’s day-to-day production and my naïve belief that Mewes had, indeed, cleaned up forever afforded Jason the ability to quietly shoot up while keeping it on the down-low. Even though the boy was turning in a performance on that flick that was so beyond-belief great it once prompted Matty Damon to observe “Who’d have thought Jay would steal the entire fucking show out from under us?” he was doing so with the dirty brown coursing through his veins on a daily basis, and passing for sober.

His then largest salary, combined with the additional influx of the three hundred bucks weekly we were paying Stephanie to keep an eye on him and report any suspicious activity back to us, kept the pair flush with “diesel”. The withdrawls that would’ve alerted me weren’t a factor, because the loot he was making and immediately spending kept him doped up and free from the DT’s.

By the time we wrapped the flick, I’d fallen in love with the woman I’d eventually marry, Jennifer Schwalbach. Having met her shortly before production began while she was interviewing me for USA Today, our relationship was on such a fast track that, when I went back to Jersey, she moved out from L.A. and in with me. Mewes, too, moved Stephanie to Red Bank, post-wrap, so the four of us lived in that apartment on Broad Street, until a few months later, when Jen’s pregnancy prompted the purchase of a house. Jen found a home for us in nearby Oceanport, the most prominent features of which were the indoor pool (rare in the Jersey burbs) and the flat roofs (which we’d later discover were designed by the house’s builder, a later-jailed pedophile who had window-peeping on his daughters in mind when he was constructing the dwelling).

Mewes and Stephanie were spending so much time at Mewes’ Mom’s apartment in Keansburg that he didn’t ask to move into the Oceanport house. Instead, Bryan Johnson and his then-girlfriend took up residence in one of the five bedrooms.

It was at this point that Mewes asked me to co-sign on a red Ford Explorer for him. Feeling guilty for the lack of time I was spending with the boy (due to my new relationship and the vast amount of hours I spent in the editing room, cutting the flick), I obliged. The deal was that I’d take care of lease payments on the vehicle and he was responsible for the insurance. Beyond that, I’d only see Jay when he needed money – which was so frequent that it warranted me adding him to the View Askew payroll.

A glamorous side effect of heroin abuse is a weakening of the teeth, apparently. Oblivious to this fact, as Mewes’ teeth began falling out at an alarming rate, I assumed he was eating far too much sugar. His diet consisted of Hostess cupcakes and the artificially sweetened red drink sold in gallon form at most grocery stores that we referred to as “Bug Juice”, topped off with a steady mouthful of Lemonheads. The most hardcore smoker I’ve ever known, Mewes could easily go through four packs a day – half of which wound up burning holes in his clothes when he’d nod out, mid-cigarette, and drop the burning cancer sticks on himself. Many times, he’d later report, he’d be woken up by the scent of burnt cotton, if he wasn’t startled awake by a Marlboro burning down to the filter, singeing his fingers.

By Jen’s second month of pregnancy, Mewes admitted he was in serious arrears on his truck insurance payments. This happened at the worse time imaginable: when Mewes nodded out at a traffic light and rolled into the car of an off-duty Middletown cop. The guy, who was very cool about the incident, asked only that Mewes pay for the damages to his car: some nine hundred bucks worth. Furious at his negligence (as a co-signer on the lease, I would’ve been liable had the officer wanted to sue), I told Mewes that I’d take care of the bill, but was confiscating the car for a month as punishment. When he surrendered the keys, I took a look at the odometer to mark the mileage, in case Mewes was hiding a second set and had thoughts of spiriting the car away while I spent my days editing “Dogma”. My eyes bugged when I saw Jason had somehow managed to put 20,000 miles on the car in less than three months.

“How the fuck did you manage that? I’ve had my Jeep for almost two years and I STILL haven’t put that much mileage on it!” I barked. “And I’ve taken the fucking thing cross-country!”

After hours of interrogation, Mewes copped to slipping back into heroin usage. The many miles he put on the car were from constant trips up to Newark to score – five, sometimes six back-and-forth trips of over a hundred miles a day. He pulled up his sleeves to reveal a connect-the-dots worthy series of track marks, accompanied by bruises and burns. Immediately, we took the Explorer back to the leasing lot and abandoned it for the dealers to find, a note on the windshield that read “Can’t pay anymore.”

Since Stephanie had brought her car with her from Pittsburgh, the pair still had wheels to get around. But the word was out on Jason and his drug activities in Keansburg, and anytime he’d motor down the main drag in town, the fuzz would inevitably pull him over and search the vehicle. One such pullover came about as a result of the police spotting Mewes, his sister, and Stephanie driving around with a deployed airbag, following a minor traffic accident the week before. The subsequent search resulted in an arrest, when a needle kit was found in the car and a bag of dope was discovered in Jason’s boot, under his foot. Frustrated and disgusted, I refused to bail him out of his first overnight stint in County. After Scott Mosier sprung the boy, I asked him how he could be so stupid as to not at least attempt to toss the junk once he saw a cop in his rearview.

“I needed to shoot up to keep from getting sick,” he offered. “And plus, I’d spent forty bucks on it.”

Action was, again, necessary, so I moved Jason and Stephanie into the Oceanport house. The pair took a room at the back of the second floor, and both were put on heavy-duty monitoring, with Stephanie only allowed to leave daily for her job at a health food joint in Red Bank.

This time around, I was mandating a cold-turkey kick, so the methadone route was not an option. On the second day, Mewes was in such bad shape and pain, he took to crying and screaming at me. When I refused to give him dope money, he bashed his head against a wall, drawing blood. I sent him to his room.

Due to her pregnancy, Jen decided to give up the job she’d taken in New York at Mtv. As a sort of going-away gesture, she held a Christmas party at our house, inviting the friends she’d made at her city gig. While we prepped for the shindig the morning of the affair, Mewes slipped out of the house, disappearing for hours. He returned while the party was in full swing, briefly muttering hello to the guests and heading upstairs. I excused myself and followed him.

He wasn’t in his room. Instead, he was in the upstairs hallway bathroom. Not hearing any noises emanating from the john, I silently stood outside, waiting for him to emerge. He knew I was there, and for an hour and change, we played a twisted game of chicken: him not coming out of the bathroom, and me waiting, stationed quietly outside, leaning against the wall. When he finally gave in and opened the door, he feigned surprise in seeing me.

“What’s up?”
“What were you doing in there?” I demanded.
“I was taking a shit and reading comics.”
“You weren’t taking a shit for over an hour.”
“I was reading comics too.”
I studied his face. “What were you doing in there all that time?”

Dead silence.

“What were you doing in the bathroom all that time?”
“I swear, Moves. I was taking a shit and reading comics.”

I glared at him for long, silent minutes. He was clammy and making sporadic eye contact.

“What the fuck were you doing in the bathroom for an hour? Because you weren’t taking a shit or reading comics.”
“I was.”
“You weren’t. What the fuck were you doing in there?”
“I wasn’t doing dope, I swear to God.”
“I don’t believe you. What were you doing in there?”
“I swear to God, I wasn’t doing dope. I was taking a shit and reading comics.”
“You’re lying to me.”

He didn’t respond.

“I need you to tell me the truth.”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“I’m gonna ask you one more time, and if you lie to me again, I’m throwing you out of this house. If you’re honest with me, you can stay. What the fuck were you doing in the bathroom for an hour.”

He stared at me. After a minute, he repeated “I was taking a shit and reading comics.”
“I want you out of here. Now. I don’t give a fuck where you go, but I want you out of here. Get out.”

Bitterly, he grabbed some stuff and took off. By the time I returned to the party, it was over.

I’d later learn that he wasn’t shooting up in the bathroom. Instead, he was smoking cocaine. The burned tin foil and straw were hidden under some towels in a drawer.

Stephanie came home an hour later and when she asked where Jason was, I told her I’d kicked him out because he was doing drugs and lying about it to my face. The assumption was that he’d gone back to his Mother’s apartment, but rather than have Stephanie join him there and have them both backslide, I told her she was welcome to stay in the house without him, so long as she stayed clean.

Mewes called multiple times every hour for the next week, but still, I was steadfast in his suspension. Stephanie pleaded Jason’s case and said he’d copped to smoking coke, but was remorseful about it and swore he wouldn’t do any more drugs ever again. He desperately wanted to come back. Ultimately, I relented, issuing even more stringent rules than he’d been living under before his ejection.

Stephanie, meanwhile, was looking deathly thin. Already slight in frame, the once-pretty girl Mewes had met in that comic book store in Pittsburgh was now a pale shadow of her former self. She weighed well under a hundred pounds.

Her parents, farm folk from the western Pennsylvania/Ohio area, had called our house one day looking for her. They told me they hadn’t spoken to her in months, and that any time they called Mewes’ Mom’s apartment, nobody would answer. They’d somehow gotten my number and were puzzled as to why they couldn’t track down their only daughter. I saw my window.

“I don’t know how to break this to you, but Stephanie is a pretty bad drug addict,” I confessed. The stunned silence on the other end of the line spoke volumes. “She and Jason just moved in with us here at the new house, and they say they’re getting clean, but I don’t believe either of them. She’s sickly thin. I don’t want to sound dramatic or scare you guys even more, but your daughter’s gonna die if she doesn’t make some drastic changes.”

It was clear that Jason and Stephanie were, by now, a lethal combination, supporting and fueling one another’s addiction, and the only way they’d ever get better would be to disappear from one another’s lives completely. They’d never make this choice on their own, so in that phone call, Stephanie’s parents, Jen and I made the decision for them.

An intervention of sorts was organized. Actually, it was more along the lines of a kidnapping. We gave her parents directions to our house, and arranged a time for them to show up, unannounced, on a day that Stephanie wasn’t working. I’d taken Mewes into Red Bank and left him at the Secret Stash with Walter for a few hours, insisting he had to help Walt with new comics to make up for his coke-smoking hijinx in the bathroom. He was elated by the prospect of getting out of the house for the first time in days, so he kissed Stephanie goodbye, telling her he’d see her later.

Stephanie’s parents arrived shortly after I got back to the house, and we quietly let them in and had them wait downstairs. I went to Jay and Stephanie’s room and told her she had visitors. Stephanie’s Mom started crying at the sight of her, and Jen and I excused ourselves, heading outside to afford the family some alone time.

Stephanie packed and loaded her stuff into her parents’ car, passing us on the way out. We apologized for the deception, but she said she understood, and asked us to tell Jason she loved him. Her parents, who’d apparently had their daughter late in life, thanked us and asked that we not allow any contact between Jason and Stephanie, should she try to call. With that, the girl drove out of our lives, in tears.

I picked up Jason from the store a few hours later, and on the ride back to the house, I broke the news to him that Stephanie’s parents had come to get her and bring her home. Mewes assumed I was kidding, but when we got back to the house and he saw her stuff missing from the room, he realized it wasn’t a joke. We sat in the backyard, smoking, putting it all into perspective.

“I get it,” he said. “When I met her, she had her own apartment, her own car, a good job. And she left here with, what? One suitcase, maybe?”
“I think she had two suitcases.”
“I ruined her life, huh?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. She made her own choices. But you two WERE pretty toxic together,” I observed.

Mewes smoked quietly for a minute, and then chuckled.

“Remember that day back at the apartment, before you guys moved into this house? When you saw me laying on the floor outside of my bedroom, and you asked me what I was doing, and I was like ‘Shhhhh’?”
“I do,” I smiled. “That was weird.”
“I was pretty doped up, and I was sure Stephanie was cheating on me.”
“I don’t think she ever cheated on you, dude.”
“No, I thought she was cheating on me right THEN. I was watching her through the crack in the door because she was laying there with her eyes closed but her lips were moving.”
I was a bit lost. “And?”
“And I thought she had some guy under the bed. I thought some guy had climbed through our window when I was in the bathroom, and she heard me coming, and hid him under the bed, and she was whispering to him, and that’s why her mouth was moving. I thought she was pretending to be asleep. When you found me, I’d been watching her for two hours, waiting for a guy to come out from under the fucking bed.”
“You realize that’s insane, right?”
“It’s pretty nuts, right?”
“It’s beyond nuts. That fucking certifiable.”
“I’m an asshole,” Mewes laughed. Then, as a sober afterthought, he added “But I just loved her so much.”

It was at this point that he started crying. I hugged him.

“You think if we both got clean, me and Steph could be together again? Like normal people?”
“Sure,” I lied. Harsh truth wasn’t needed at that moment.
“I swear to God I’m gonna clean up.”
“You’ve gotta, man. It’s really time.”

Jason nodded. Then…

“But this is pretty hard to deal with right now, so I want to get some dope.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“I won’t do it here. I’ll do it at my Mom’s. Stay there tonight, then come back here tomorrow, and go cold turkey.”
“I get how you’re feeling, but I can’t let you do that. If you leave now, I can’t let you back in. You understand, right?”

Mewes nodded, smoked, then shrugged, as if to say “It was worth a shot.” We went inside, ordered pizza, and watched a movie with my then-six months pregnant girlfriend. Even though Jen and I were sure we’d done the right thing, we still felt pretty guilty. Both of us were extra nice to Jason that night. The whole affair ranked as the most Mewes-induced heartbreaking day I’d ever known.

Until a week later, when he’d burn a dealer at my house.

To Be Continued…

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