Free your mind & your screenplay will follow
by Mark Ebner, "At Large"
We had spent all week at Nick's house, and Nick and I wanted the night alone... We went in to check on Henry, and Henry couldn't shoot himself up. I usually do it for him anyway. I shot him up, and after I shot him up he had this rush. Whatever. I don't even know, but, as I was sitting right next to him at Nick's desk mixing my batch, Henry put the song "Heroin" by Velvet Underground on repeat... I felt nauseous, and I went into Nick's bathroom and stood at the sink throwing up, and when I went back in the room, Henry was like blue and dead, and I guess he had had a seizure and probably been dying when I was sitting next to him -- but I didn't even look up. I freaked out. He was stiff as a board; his eyes were in his head, he was all blue. Little trickles of saliva. He was breathing. I moved him, I tried to give him CPR, but he had swallowed his tongue... I ran and got Nick, and we tried everything, but we couldn't get him back to life...
The narrator of the true scenario above - pretty and pierced, 17 year old, Anastasia Fite - didn't get to spend the night alone with Nick. A friend nearly dying, paramedics, cops and - oh yeah - parents, have a way of fucking up a high. And high school. But that was last year.
Today, Fite enjoys lectures and film class screenings twice weekly. She attends plays at the prestigious Crossroads School in Santa Monica, speaks to 7th and 8th graders about her drug experiences, and reads anything she can get her hands on. The difference between her and any high-achieving Crossroads student is that after four off-campus drug arrests, the incident detailed above, and subsequent dismissal from school -- followed by months of in-patient therapy at a rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota, the literature she devours is delivered to her current residence -- a halfway house in West Los Angeles. She was of the best, the brightest. As were her two cohorts, Nick and Henry (who survived), also arrested and expelled their junior year.
Fite was a daily pot smoker in 7th grade. By 8th grade she was smoking bud day and night, binge drinking, and had added amphetamines to the mix. The straight -A student reflects, "Every time I was on speed I would perk up and lead class discussions, and all the teachers were like, 'Why don't you do this all the time?' I was like, 'What's up? You want me to be speeding all the time?.'"
9th grade saw Fite's "hippie faze" including LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and ecstasy. Her first arrest for possession of drugs (LSD and marijuana) and a trespassing charge went down her Freshman year. When she told the arresting officer that she attended Crossroads, according to Fite, he made a comment like, "Ohhhhh, that explains it."
10th grade was about any drug she could get her hands on, including PCP. "Every pill under the sun," she says. If a prescription bottle warned "do not operate heavy machinery," to her, "those were directions to take it." During the Summer between sophomore and junior years at Crossroads, she first tried heroin.
A typical junior year school day for Fite would begin getting picked up for school at her long-divorced mother's home in Topanga by best friend Nick. They'd pull over and shoot heroin, then make first period. Snack time (around 10 am) involved sneaking out to the parking lot with heavily trust-funded girlfriends to smoke pot -- an activity that would "keep her high until lunch." At lunch time, her and Henry would roll out to nearby Lincoln Boulevard in seedy Venice, where they'd score heroin. If they didn't have afternoon classes (which was often the case), they'd pick up Nick and head back to Fite's house, where, Fite explains, "Since my mom wouldn't get home from work until six, we'd shoot up all day. You know, lie around, smoking, putting on music and shooting up all day." In anticipation of mom's arrival, Nick and Henry would split and Fite would be in bed by 5:30 PM. "I don't know how she put up with me," says Fite of her mom, "but I didn't like her, I didn't want to be with her -- so, I'd be napping all the time." Later in the evening, she'd sneak out of the house and shoot up with Nick.
Fite had been "best friends" with Nick since they met in 7th grade at Crossroads, and counting him as her last boyfriend, she acknowledges that it was heroin that brought them together. Was her mom was oblivious to all this? "Uh, pretty much, but I had got arrested three times in a period of three months for heroin, so she was kind of sort of clueing in."
While Fite's parents were practically clueless, Nick's folks seemed to have slept through much of his golden rule days. "The night Henry overdosed, they were upstairs sleeping," says Fite. "We had the paramedics in there, we had the cops in there, and they were all milling about for about a half hour thinking that it was Nick's house because Nick was trying to manipulate the situation so they wouldn't find out that his parents were upstairs sleeping. Finally it was evident that he was a kid, he was in school, he was seventeen, and, uh, they went up and woke the parents. But they would have slept through the whole fucking thing."
Good morning! Nestled smack in the middle of a Santa Monica, California barrio is the fourteen-thousand-dollar-a-year college preparatory institution called Crossroads School For Arts & Sciences. Few Latinos are found on the campus haphazardly constructed like some gilded ghetto around an actual alley -- except maybe for those who feed the conflux of mostly white, hip hop-styling, happy-hippie, stoned surfer, beglittered rave mavens -- and/or kinderwhore, Courtney Love-worshipping student bodies milling about the roach coaches during their mid-morning snack period. A few African American students are spotted sporting letterman's jackets, and the orchestral Asian faction tote their violin cases around, circumventing a Starbuckian kaffee klatsch of rich Los Angeles Jewish kids sprinkled with a token lot of goyim.
At a roundtable reunion of sorts in a booth at Canter's Deli in Hollywood, Crossroads alumnus (Class of '86), professional "trend-spotter," Richard Rushfield shares: "It used to be that everyone at Crossroads was either Jewish, Baptist, or Buddhist. The Baptists and Buddhists were all on scholarships. The white goyim were the ones on the baseball team." Rushfield's sister (Class of '89), screenwriter/journalist, Ali, jokes: "The black people that weren't on the basketball team were also Jews."
Public schools are polarized, and the Crossroads administration makes ardent claims of enrollment diversity and scholarship funding, but what really makes this school unique is that, in the last quarter century, it has prepped a generation of "young Hollywood" -- some now playing in the star-studded fields of the entertainment industry, others dead: Holly Bendik ('97) killed in an Environmental Education course skiing mishap; Leslie Segal , Class Of '85 - a recent post-grad suicide casualty; Daisy Keith, '87 -- self-inflicted gun-shot-dead daughter of actor/suicide victim, Brian Keith. Or, fresh out of jail: Marxist, ex-faculty member, Jeff Cooper's son, Zeke, Class of '86. While many of us from these kids' parents' generation have had the dubious luxury of living long enough to see our friends wind up dead or in jail, these kids are either doomed to the same fate accelerated, or survive to make movies about it. One girl capitalized on the latter route.
Representing the Class of '96 is the equal parts Lolita/Anais Nin, Jessica Kaplan, who, at 16, penned a movie called The Powers That Be, that was promptly picked up by REM rocker Michael Stipe's hip film company Single Cell Productions at Newline before she began her senior year. Although Kaplan counts her screenplay as more of "a look at media and pop culture," her story of rich white kids emulating hip-hop culture to tragic, if not soap-operatic ends definitely seems Crossroads inspired, or, at least prep school prophetic. The Los Angeles Times mentioned that, in Kaplan's script, "a young male teacher helps the script's heroine deal with the crises it [kids involved with gangsta culture] causes." Interestingly, the young male teacher in Kaplan's story also has sex with the 17 year old heroine, and the school's headmistress. The philandering faculty member would be a composite of ex-Crossroads film instructor, Jesse Engdahl -- who now tends bar in trendy Silver Lake, lubricating dreams of selling a screenplay of his own one day.
Small wonder the character that gets his head blown off for trying to be hard in the face of a real gangsta in classmate Kaplan's screenplay is sur-named "Kessler." Her creative nemesis from the same class, filmmaker, Eric Kessler, 18, is thinking of suing, but having signed with the William Morris Agency, his mind is on setting up the peerless script he co-wrote sans the contrivance of his peer.
"I've read some of her [Kaplan's] script," sneers Kessler, "and it's a direct result of her surroundings. And the denial of that makes her seem ridiculous, you know?" His project, Dementia 17, is a loose adaptation of Georges Batailles' early pornographic novel, "The Story Of The Eye," set in the teen rave scene with the brilliant edge of anything cursed with the NC-17. Creatively, Kessler doesn't merely comment on pop culture, he assaults it. "My script is about many things," says the kid who lives in a world of "comatose fantasies." "Sexuality, sexual assimilation, the repercussions of Reaganism and AIDS..." Kessler's coming up large. Unless, of course, the drugs get the better of him. Like a young Lenny Bruce on methamphetamine, this synapse-exploding savant describes the Crossroads scene.
"[Crossroads] is like an opium den," Kessler explains, yet, ironically, at present, he seems safer from chemical temptation on the street than he did under the care and protection of Crossroads, where AA Meetings and drug testing are part of the mysterious extra-curricular. "I think there's more drugs at Crossroads than 6th & Bonnie Brae [a notorious downtown heroin corner]." "I call it the Bonnie Brae Gift Exchange," he says of the spot where he bilged much of his Bar Mitzvah money. There's a ridiculous amount of drugs [at Crossroads]," he laughs. And for the Nineties, would that include heroin? "Sure." Cocaine? "Oh, yeah." Hallucinogenics? "More like with the 7th and 8th graders." He goes on to describe a favorite Crossroads party game called "Daddy's A Doctor." "You'd go to a party and go to the dad's medicine cabinet and steal his drugs. I've eaten a lot of Zovorax, you know what I'm saying?" Well, frankly, no. "It's a herpes medication." Does it get you high? "Not at all, but I've never had herpes."
On a tour of the Crossroads leased property, avuncular Headmaster, Roger Weaver, is careful to steer you to the computer filled classrooms, fancy Arts Center and well-stocked Library named for the school's idealistic Founder/President, Paul Cummins. He's quick to point out all the academic challenges offered, and Crossroads kids clearly do get an education rivaling liberal arts colleges -- but with that challenge comes the pressures of the privileged class.
Crossroads film guru, Jim Hosney -- known for markedly changing the lives of his flock of young cineastes called "Hosneyites" -- will show his high-schoolers films he screens for post-grad level students he also teaches at the American Film Institute, but he'll draw the line with Salo, or Last Tango In Paris because he feels his kids will find them "too emotionally devastating." While he agrees that the average Crossroads student is capable of doing college level work, he worries that "they are doing so much, it almost drives them to the brink of a nervous breakdown." Crossroads curriculum has what they perceive as an holistic cure for that, though - the new age Mysteries Program.
Described in a school brochure as a course that facilitates and honors each student's passage into adulthood..., "Mysteries" (a required Grade 6-12 course within the unique Human Development Department) has sparked much controversy on, and off campus. Mandalay Entertainment film executive/Mary Tyler Moore Productions original owner Mel Blumenthal's heir, Jason Blumenthal ('86), loved "Mysteries," benefiting from all it's guided imageries and self-discovery rituals that culminated into a senior class rite of passage retreat to a hippie commune in Ojai. While developing Jean-Claude Van Damme and Brad Pitt vehicles for company President Peter Guber, he actually pines for the time as a teenager spent meditating in class "in the middle of a crazy high school day."
Blumenthal's contemporary, writer, Jim Gibson (son of Laugh-In joke man, Henry Gibson), regards Mysteries as "a crock of shit." "It was so bizarre," says Gibson. "We would pass around this gourd, and everyone would have to say what they were feeling." Although this course is required, at least one kid got out of it because her parents felt it "interfered with her analysis." A decade later, Gibson still resents having been "force-fed" Mysteries as a requirement, keeping him out of elective courses he preferred to take.
Richard Rushfield describes Mysteries as basically "group therapy, a self-realization class," where you "sit in a circle, and you sometimes do guided imagery: turning off the lights, closing your eyes, and imagining that you're floating down a river with eagles flying overhead." He describes a typical session:
"You'd pass around a gourd, and only the person with the gourd could talk. If you're not holding the gourd, the only thing you can say is 'Ho.' 'Ho.' You can only say 'ho' to express approval. If you disagree, you say 'oh.' So, one day [a female student] had the gourd, and started telling a story about her best friend's boyfriend cheating, and the story goes on and on and my friends and I are straining, sweating, gritting our teeth not to laugh... and ten minutes later, [she] brings the story to a close: '...and so, I told my friend and she didn't believe me, and now none of my friends will talk to me, and, I guess it's just like Billy Joel said -- 'Honesty really is... a lonely word.' At which point we burst out laughing."
Last year, a Ventura County newspaper reporter witnessed 17-year-old Crossroads student, Noah Edelman's turn with "the speaking stone." On his five-day experience in Ojai, after careful thought, he gushed: "I was lost, but now I'm found." Amazing. Might this be the kid who was treated to a faculty member's academic report that basically said he'd be doing better in class, if he "got his head out of Ojai?"
Another less graceful Mysteries story involves an overweight, "ugly" girl who confessed to being pregnant in session, only to have students talking behind her back for the rest of the semester -- wondering aloud "how anyone could even touch such a hideous pig, let alone fuck her?"
The Mysteries Program was originally developed in 1983, and run by Jack Zimmerman, who had previously professed at The Oakwood School -- "a little Crossroads in the Valley." After leaving Oakwood under questionable circumstances (rumors of illicit sex with students abound) in 1975, he founded the experimental school, Heart Light in 1980, which at it's peak, had no more than thirty students. After three years of experimenting on children, Zimmerman's vision unfolded. "I didn't realize what Heart Light was about until about 1983," says the Ph.D. "Then I began to see that what it was really about was this program which we called The Mysteries Program. You know, it was a full school, but the real juice of the school was this program."
Crossroads President, Paul Cummins taught under his guru, Zimmerman, at Oakwood before he founded Crossroads, and when Zimmerman's Heart Light dissolved, Cummins invited him to Crossroads to help the students get in touch with themselves. The bone thrown to Zimmerman was that he could direct the on-campus program, and run the excursions that concluded each senior year at The Ojai Foundation -- a hippie commune where the kids would camp in yurts for five days, and learn how to chant.
The Ojai Foundation was run by, as Richard Rushfield describes him, "an insane homeless person named Brother John, who apparently thought he was a guru, or a prophet." Rushfield's favorite anecdote about Brother John was when two teachers were cleaning out the sweat lodges after use by students. As they were clearing branches, huge rats came scurrying out, causing the teachers to scream in terror. Brother John, overseeing their work from a hill nearby, chirped, "Oh, look at the little field mice!"
The regimen that the Class of '86 was treated to included vegetarian meals, sweat lodging, and clearing the land for the hippies up there. "Free slave labor," is how Gibson and other grads describe the work aspect. An example of down time, as observed by Rushfield, was spent in menage a trois in a medicine teepee where a case of venereal warts germinated in threesome, later spread to other students upon return to civilization.
Rushfield's sister, Ali, freaked out on day three of her Ojai trip. "I ran out of cigarettes, so I convinced one of the Hawaiian shirt-wearing commune dwellers to take me and a friend to the Circle K in the town of Ojai. For some reason he had to take us at 4 am, and he told us to meet him at the sweat lodge. And, when we found him, he and all the rest of the Ojai people were dancing naked around a fire. He saw us, and got dressed and drove us into town... and he had this Tupperware thing of pot on his dashboard." Ali and friend brought back cigarettes and candy to the commune, and one of them made a mistake of leaving a wrapper on the ground. The next morning they awoke to utter mayhem, because "someone had discovered there was like normal food on the premises."
Richard Rushfield recalls a teacher reading an evaluation that Zimmerman had written about a student: Stuart is having trouble getting in touch with his coyotes this semester -- "coyotes referring to the "laughter and the wild man inside of him;" and Kessler, sums up his Ojai rite of passage last year: "Well, I fucked like every girl on the Ojai trip, and I smoked crack, and they [the faculty] didn't give a shit. It was like 'free will.'" One graduate recounts an Ojai session in a sweat lodge when an adult, female associate of Zimmerman's got hold of the gourd and "recounted having an erotic dream of a lesbian affair with the student beside her."
White punks on therapy? Yes, and dope, and social diseases passed like so many exams. All typical fare for many private high schools, but certainly not detailed in a Crossroads brochure.
Ex-Director of the Crossroads Upper School, Jake Jacobusse (who left in '91) reflects on the Crossroads emotional experience from his current academic outpost in Holland, Michigan -- the Black River School, an upstart charter public school he's fashioning in the Crossroads image. He admits to mixed feelings about the Mysteries Program -- "The line between teacher and counselor is so very thin, and you really can't breach that line, because when you breach it you're in territory you don't belong..." Especially, he emphasizes, "when the faculty, by and large were not licensed therapists." Of the examples of public humiliation resulting from group sharing, Jacobusse adds, "Those examples are probably two of dozens...When children are privy to private info, it can be hurtful...if not out and out destructive."
The current Crossroads Mysteries Coordinator - drama teacher, Peggy O'Brien thumbnails the program as "a human development curriculum that Crossroads offers, that's a required class basically from grades six through twelve. It focuses on the health of the child in terms of well-being in all aspects. Not just academic life, but emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental development." While both O'Brien and Zimmerman are quick to insist that the ancient ritual-based program is not designed as therapy, Zimmerman peppers his course description with words like "therapeutic," "healing," and "magic," refusing to acknowledge the inherent dangers involved when children disclose private, intimate details of their lives to judgmental peers. His solution is to bring the breach of confidence back into the circle to discuss it.
Mysteries aside, Jacobusse squarely shifts the blame for emotionally troubled Crossroads youth to the parents.
When Courtney Wagner (daughter to RJ and the late Natalie Wood) was having trouble with grades at Crossroads, Jacobusse found himself straddling the fine line between counselor and administrator. "Nobody knows what happened on that sailboat with RJ and [Christopher] Walken," he says of the tragic accident that cost Wood her life, "but as a result, she [Courtney] had a tough time in school because, you know, her personal life was tough." When he recommended a trans-oceanic sailing trip as a way out for her -- "a way to try and have a fuller life, separate from everything that had gone on before" -- she balked, because, he explains, she was so dependent on her analyst that she didn't dare go.
One of Jacobusse's fondest, most hilarious memories of oblivious parenting comes from a phone conversation he had with Carol Burnett. Burnett's daughter, Erin, was about to enroll at Crossroads and Jacobusse called her mom requesting the teen's transcripts from a school she'd been attending in Hawaii. He describes it best:
"We talked business for awhile about transcripts, and then she said, 'Now, what are we going to do about my body?' And there was a long silence on my part -- trying to figure out, 'Was this a come-on...?' So I didn't quite know what to say, and I said, 'Well, uh, uhh,' and then I said something completely irrelevant, and she went into fits of laughter as only Carol Burnett can... and she said, 'Is this Jake from Crossroads?' And I said, 'Yeah, who did you think it was?' 'Ohhhh,' she said. 'I won't even bother, it's gonna make it worse yet.'" Turns out, Burnett thought she was talking to fitness trainer to the stars, Jake "Body By Jake" Steinfeld the entire time.
Jacobusse once found himself reprimanding Jason Simpson (OJ's son) for telling a math teacher to "fuck off," and will never forgive Jack Nicholson for not only refusing to publicly recognize his son, Caleb Goddard, (conceived with actress, Susan Anspaugh on the set of The Last Detail) by saying a few words at the kid's graduation, but especially for not even showing up for the event. "What kind of shit is this?" asked Jacobusse of the nonplused actor. "It's your own son." (Goddard declined to be interviewed unless his parents were mentioned simply "as actors," rather than by name.)
Cher and aging rocker, Greg Allman's son, Elijah Blue was a Crossroads student, but "that Allman twit," as Jacobusse calls him, "wasn't present." "I mean, that was part of Elijah's problem," he laments. "I think Cher was a wonderful mother, but the Allman guy would come into town and not even call. I mean, what kind of life was that for Elijah?"
Another "twit" in Jacobusse's book is Elliot Gould -- Crossroad's grad, actor-director, Jason's father. "Again, Barbara [Streisand] had to be a single mother," he complains. "Gould was never around." If Gould's apparent parental neglect explains why Barbara still stars in movies while he does dinner theater, Jacobusse would agree. "It all comes around," he says.
And around it goes. Of twenty ex- Crossroads students contacted, most offered that they would send their children to their alma mater, and donate money to the school -- if only to insure that the next generation of cell-phone kids can meet at the Crossroads. Maybe their offspring will be featured in some entertainment rag or perennial network examination of "Young Hollywood."
There is a saying amongst Gen-X, X-Roaders: "With the exception of the Menendez murders, every major LA scandal has touched familial with Crossroads." Sure, there's OJ's kids (Jason & Arnelle, Class of '87); Bob Evans of the Cotton Club Murders' son, Josh (Class of '89); Heidi Fleiss' top girl, Victoria Sellers (Class Of '81, whose latest project was a featured appearance in Nick Broomfield's documentary, Heidi Fleiss - Hollywood Madam), et al, but, hidden behind yesterday's headlines are the aforementioned gang of three juniors expelled for heroin last year and a faculty member's son, Zeke Cooper, fresh off a state prison bid for armed robbery.
To summarize the plight of many Crossroads kids, it's too easy to point to the concept of diminished expectations -- children coming up without a chance in hell they'll ever achieve success commensurate with that of their parents -- but what we're really observing here are cases of child abandonment in direct conflict with "The Crossroads Philosophy" which states in part: To be effective with young people, teachers and parents themselves must continue to learn so that they may perceive the young accurately and treat them wisely. Clearly, when a group of children abandoned by the nature of their parents' deference to careers and social whirls are dumped into an environment where the crystal chompers are setting the curriculum and building an environment which is the only environment these children know, it's bound to twist some heads.
Sony Pictures executive, Amy Pascal, representing the first graduating Crossroads Class ('76) has fond memories of her high school years: "Starting the day with Latin," then "sitting on the ground having a big talk about sex education," then "backpacking trips." Although not associated with the school any more, her analysis of the Crossroads value system is "about being the best you can be, and not trying to be like anybody else." Interesting word choice given the Army slogan up front about a value system that should be set up by parents, who - in the current Crossroads era - are, by and large, not there. Sure, most alumnae would send their kids to Crossroads, because that is their only sense of familial bonding they had as they came of age.
Pascal (who wanted no part in a "negative" story on her alma mater) implies that a value system should be taught in a school that in effect replaces the home environment. Would that "value system" include teenage girls being subjected to naked adults on field trips on which they are isolated from society - let alone the classroom - for five days? Girls encouraged to disclose details of pregnancy in a curricular group setting, then ridiculed later? Teachers, (not credentialed therapists) leading these sessions? Sorry, but when students are exhausted by confessionals in "group" with rules of communication masked in hokey ritualistic chanting under which dogma is pushed resulting in punishment by humiliation, you have the makings of a dangerous cult.
To be fair, Pascal had left the school before Mysteries had arrived, as had action film director, Michael "The Rock" Bay (Class of '81), who frowns on the fact that Crossroads has become "the star place," and suggests, "It may have lost it's innocence." From the twisted head group of last year's graduating class, Kessler explains it all for us.
On the nature of gurism in a school where students worship their teacher to the point where they are referred to as "Hosneyites," Kessler theorizes that "a cult sort of depends on emotionally insecure people who aren't very knowledgeable about a subject, and they have a guru who becomes worshipped." He believes the theory applies to Crossroads. "They [the students] are very insecure, not very educated, stupid kids who want to know everything and want to be the best without doing any work. So, you have these half-witted know-it-alls who become self-proclaimed authorities, and they become worshipped."
The functional environment where children learn math and science in the classroom and look up to and learn values from their parents at home barely exists as highlighted by ex-administrator Jacobusse, and explained by Kessler.
"Parents of Crossroads kids are egotistical, self-involved people who shouldn't have children," declares Kessler, who, although voted "Most Likely To Be A Thorn In Everyone's Side" by his graduating class, takes more pride in his claim of having introduced crack cocaine to Crossroads. He leans in over knishes at Canters.
"Let me sum it up for you: Crossroads is a school for over-privileged rich kids whose fathers are pretty intelligent, and whose mothers are pretty, stupid women who their fathers fucked. The product of their loins are stupid kids who think they're smart, but don't read and don't write, and sort of assume knowledge." To Kessler, apathy seems the rule among Crossroaders. "It [apathy] runs rampant at Crossroads. I mean, you go to school in such a sheltered environment that you don't even realize the shit that's going on politically outside the school -- socially, economically, and culturally." Got it. What of the future of dumb, apathetic youth from Crossroads? "They're fucked if they don't have a trust fund," says Kessler. "If they don't have a trust fund, they'll be homeless in less than ten years."
Kessler also has fast answers for tragedy and related Crossroads drama. On the Holly Bendik Human Development-sponsored field trip death, his theories smack Hollywood conceptual. As reported, Bendik and her friend, Sarah, strayed from their group, and Bendik fell 2,000 feet down a Sequoia National Forest mountainside. "I think she was pushed," Kessler declares more than muses. "I think her friend pushed her. I strongly believe that. I even said there should be an investigation because they were up there by themselves; and you know her friend pushed her because she wanted to be the most popular girl in the school." He starts singing a refrain from TV's Sabrina The Teenage Witch: "I wanna be the most popular girl in the school"
Even the occasional suicide attempt by a student - one girl reportedly ate 48 Ibuprofen capsules in an unsuccessful try, another banged her head against a hallway wall repeatedly while threatening to cut her wrists - doesn't phase Kessler who, offers instructions on the art: "If you really wanna kill yourself, get like fucking ten grams of fucking coke, three or four grams of heroin, and fucking do it in about a half an hour and you'll be dead."
Or perhaps firing a .22 pistol into the back of your head might do the trick. It worked for Daisy Keith, Class of '87. After an argument with her boyfriend a couple of months ago, she decided to get the last word in by blowing her brains out in the bathroom with a gun reportedly given to her by her father as a present. Her pop, Family Affair's Brian Keith - riddled with cancer - shot himself recently, following his daughter's lead. It was a family affair. It's a family disease.
When told the tale of a student's apparent breakdown in '86 when, dressed as a pirate, he interrupted a Crossroads awards assembly featuring the Secretary Of Education, and declared himself "Emperor of Crossroads," Kessler takes to the director's chair. "Excellent, cinematic, genius," he waxes. But that kid (who also staged an impromptu "tortilla toss" from the roof of an administration building) was having a breakdown in front of an entire school that encourages "wacky behavior." "I won't disagree with that," concedes Kessler. "Have your fucking breakdown, but capitalize on it, you know what I'm saying? Have your breakdown, but make sure you get it down on paper and get it to your agent by Monday morning so she can send it out."
When the idea of channeling psychoses, in effect capitalizing on one's breakdown doesn't sit well at the table, Kessler leaps up, indignant. "What are you talking about? He knows what's going on. Don't you understand? The insane people are the people who have been enlightened." He's flying now, but does he ever come down? Does Kessler ever crash? He settles into the naugahyde -- calm, business like. "The thing about me is that I've learned to control myself in the last several months because there's so much money at stake." Well, all that self-control found Kessler - 6 months after he moved east - back in Los Angeles, yes, homeless-as-predicted -- strung out on heroin in the last chance Valley drug rehab, Cry Help. Although their methods have since softened, Cry Help's therapy once included having patients shave their heads, and dig their own graves with a spoon.
Kessler spent much of his senior year disrupting film festivals trying to flog his short film, Family Money, starring Heather Graham, but Zeke Cooper wasn't allowed to participate with his fellow classmates on Graduation Day, 1986. He missed a ceremony highlighted by an address given by Crossroads parent and self-described "dabbler in the cinematic arts," film director, Sydney Pollack. He missed Headmaster, Roger Weaver's reflections of the academic year past: "Trying to get students down from buildings delivering iconoclastic speeches...[students] studying to Black Flag," and his encouraging of grads to "develop further [their] innate weirdness." Cooper wasn't present for the processional march through the alley to the song "Happy Trails," and a gospel rendition of "Que Sera, Sera." The small, 5'6", 120 pound, half white-Jewish/half-African American kid, described by his only high school friend as "a social outcast, a clown puppet for everybody," was suspended from school a few weeks before graduation for cutting a kid on the arm with a knife in what was described as a play fight.
Cooper grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and had his father, Jeff, not been on the political science faculty at Crossroads, he might not have ever seen the ocean -- let alone this private school by the shore. "The criminal minded thing was ingrained in him from the start," says his friend. Within a month of the graduation day he was barred from, Cooper's Crossroads diploma ticketed him to an arrest for burglary in June of '86; armed robbery in November; Grand Theft Auto the following January; Minor Possession of Alcohol in March, and he was busted for Taking A Vehicle Without Owner's Consent in April. Almost a year to the day from his first arrest, Cooper was popped again - this time for Receiving Stolen Property (a gun) - and subsequently saw his probation on an earlier robbery charge revoked, and was sent to State Prison on a two year bid.
Cooper is said to be on the straight and narrow now: working at a university -- in a relationship, possibly attending college. Efforts to contact him by phone failed, probably because - as his friend relates, "Zeke probably wouldn't want to talk to you. He's really bitter about the school." The friend goes on to describe their relationship: "I was Zeke's sidekick and we did a few bad things when we were in school, but, you know, we were just kind of bored and we didn't feel accepted by the rich kids, and we didn't live in their same neighborhood, and we just lived the way, you know, kids from South Central lived."
When Cooper showed up with that knife at school, he was clearly crying for help. His incriminating comments to an arresting police officer who found a stolen handgun on him echo the early cries. When asked why he was carrying the gun, according to his arrest sheet, he actually confessed, "It's my buddy's gun... both of us uses the guns when we do our robberies," then threatened, "Some Bloods jumped me in Hollywood last night. If I see them again, I'm gonna do them."
"The robberies were a cry for help... we were outcasts in school," explains Cooper's pal. "He was a small kid. He ended up in prison and hooked on crack because he was the smallest kid who had to live up to the OGs." And he was an outcast at Crossroads, a place where individuality was encouraged as long as it was practiced as a whole. Cooper's friend agrees: "As long as you were respectable to some certain standards, then it was okay to do whatever you wanted, and I guess it depended on how much money your family had, or whatever."
Zeke Cooper could not even raise money to hire a defense attorney. Where was his father? Described as a Political Science guru with his own "following," long separated from his wife, Jeff Cooper was "probably off teaching somewhere... Maybe it is true that Jeff didn't think to show him how to think about the outcome of things," muses Zeke's friend.
The Crossroads School takes it's name from a passage in Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Less Traveled." Unfortunately, with divergence comes a body count. There are plenty of schools like Crossroads. Most start-up and die like Zimmerman's Heart Light, but Crossroads is embraced and supported by the wealthy Hollywood community -- adults wanting to be hip and "alternative" at the expense of their children. So called alternative education can be a frightening place where serious boundary violations can occur, because it's all about the parents and where they send their kids. So, the problem really isn't Crossroads as much as it is the parents. Crossroads is but a symptom, much like television, CDs, and movies. Parents don't want to parent, so they foist the responsibility off on media and other people who do, without questioning the motives or methods of the "other people who do." Kids under pressure start thinking of themselves as adults, and start playing adult roles. Soon, they are beating the hell out of themselves for mistakes they think they made.
Crossroads alumnae suicide victims aren't coming back. The girl who went off a cliff isn't coming back. No second chances, and no amount of therapy is going to help the dead, or heal the more devastating emotional scars. But the other kids mentioned can survive in spite of the dysfunction foisted upon them by parents and academics. Hell, the little junkie girl in the halfway house (Anastasia Fite) is already taking college classes, way ahead of the class she was expelled from. With continuous sobriety, Eric Kessler may well wind up the next Joel Silver, and Zeke Cooper may marry his girl and have children he can raise with all the nurturing obviously denied him.
When Crossroads parents and teachers learn that a drama teacher has absolutely no business treating a maladjusted child in a non-confidential environment filled with other judgmental students, and parents are required to take a class in parenting to learn to treat their kids with at least the courtesy reserved for celebrity pets these days, maybe things might improve. A little.
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