Friday, January 2, 2015

My Childhood Bully Wrote "American Sniper"

My partner Jeremy and I saw "American Sniper" on New Year's Day at the Arclight. Afterward, there was a filmed Q and A interview with the screenwriter Jason Hall. I didn't think anything of the super generic name when I first heard it, but when this Jason Hall appeared onscreen, I was genuinely surprised at how remarkably... douchey this guy Jason was. And I actually leaned over and said so to Jeremy, who agreed, as I commented how my experience of writers in general is that they're typically more warm and human and less self-impressed and super-arrogant if not simply more introspective. And that I was hard-pressed to think of a guy who instantly struck me as less douchey. "How on earth did this lug land a gig writing a Clint Eastwood movie?" was the primary question running through my mind. And frankly, it still is.

Then the interviewer says Jason is from Lake Arrowhead, one of my childhood hometowns (I have several), and I do a double take and really LOOK at this guy. And oh my fucking Jesus it's THAT Jason Hall. As in Jason and Jeb Hall who used to torment me endlessly and bully me in elementary school all the way through sixth grade.  Taunting and making fun of me and it somehow always ending with my face in the dirt. And all I can think is... 'David, the matrix has you. For sure.'

I'm writing a musical with a bully character named Chetwick. And there he is in front of me onscreen flapping his jaw. My Chetwick. Fucking mean, entitled Jason. As full of himself at 42 as he was at 12. My "Chetwick." To the T. It's that fucking face. His tongue isn't hanging out anymore the way it always did. But it was him for sure-- that vacant, spoiled rich kid, bullying douchebag Jason Hall. That awful face that used to put mine in the dirt.

I actually contacted Jason years ago on MySpace when that was a thing. HE DIDN'T EVEN REMEMBER ME. YEARS of torment and this dumb, born to super-rich parents entitled lug literally didn't even register who he'd bullied thousands of times. Believe me, the bullied remember. I had to describe to him our little school in the mountains and the inside of his childhood home with the climbing rope that went from the first floor to the ceiling of the second floor, and that I knew Jeb and his little sister Jill for him to believe me. Insanity.

Now the truth is, his younger brother Jeb was the worst bully by far. Jason was more of a spoke in Jeb's bullying wheel. But for me, for some reason, I always hated the bully's flunkies even more than the bully. The bully would yell some heinous threat, but it was always the flunky subsequently  yelling "Yeah!" that really gave the heinous threat its power.

Damn, you could've knocked me down with a light breeze when it fully came over me that I'd just watched a (pretty goddamn boring, Jeremy and I had both soundly agreed, long before this Jason Hall discovery) whole movie by one of my biggest childhood tormentors. Very weird moment for me.

And the person that I instantly most wanted to tell this bizarre story to was my mom who passed away last April. Way too soon and unexpectedly at 64 due to a sudden head injury. This is the chief reason my attitude going into 2015 has been "Goodbye and good riddance, 2014. Wish we'd never met." But now on New Year's Day, I imagined talking to my mom about Jason Hall.

My mom, who was ALWAYS right there in the trenches with me, who knew the name of every bully and every friend. More than anyone, she'd have understood the weirdness of this Jason Hall story more profoundly than anyone.

And I could actually hear her. I knew exactly what she'd say. In her unfailingly blunt and incisively truthful (and totally biased) mother's outrage and wisdom, she'd wind up with, "That dumb little creep? Wow. You run circles around the guy. Imagine what YOU will do next now knowing THAT jerk was able to pull off that." Always in my corner ten times over. I'd point out we don't actually know adult version of Jason Hall. And she'd still call him a little creep. She'd say something genuine yet biting about the power of unexamined and unearned self-confidence and how that's always been my biggest weakness for some reason.

But fair or totally way off base, that was biggest takeaway. When I saw freaking dopy bully Jason, I just had this flood of... "Wait, THAT dude can land a Clint Eastwood movie??" Which was necessarily followed by the thought "Holy crap, I really can do anything" flooding my body.

I guess I'm a mama's boy. And proudly so. My big dream has been to get my musical Invisible to Broadway and bring my mom on opening night. And I spent 2014 heartbroken and feeling like a failure that I'll never have the chance to do that now.

But I'm realizing that's just not so. Her voice, her spirit are as real to me now as ever. Maybe more in some ways. She's right here in my heart and with PLENTY to say about my childhood bullies. And also... taking care of Dad and Sister and our animals. Loving fiercely in a way almost no one I know has the fortitude to actually do. Being authentic and not giving a rip what others think. And owning your power. Knowing who you truly are and holding tightly to it.

It's all right here in my heart. It's her. And it's here for good. And maybe anything and everything really is possible.

So thank you, Jason Hall and the unflappably successful bullies of the world. A door has opened for me.