The upcoming turn of the millennium—the entire world in a panic over the time clock situation. Will all the computers in the world go back to the year 1900? People thought planes would crash banks would fail, and God forbid, Ebay and Amazon would be unavailable. I made a decision of my own for the millennium: I was never going to do anything that I wasn’t one hundred percent committed to again. That meant no more bullshit. Never again would I lie, cheat, or steal, if I could help it. I knew I would never do another sales job, never sell insurance and unless Mr. Whittemore gave me the raise he promised, I was going to have to quit my job at the golf course. I already had enough material stored away in my mind and on the mini-cassette recorder to begin my screenplay, Mulligan’s Tour, and I knew that was going to take a Herculean effort to complete.
I didn’t get the raise, so I walked off the course in the middle of June 1999. I had plenty on my plate—a new baby boy and his two older siblings to help take care of, a screenplay to write, and, thanks to the wonderful world of Ebay, I had guitars to buy and sell—an honest job in my field of expertise. I was still playing out in the local clubs trying to promote my new record, See You Around, which was doing fairly well. I was also making plans to begin a new record as soon as the bones of Mulligan’s Tour were in the books. What did I know about writing a screenplay? Not much.
I knew what I wanted to do, but I had no idea how to do it. I bought every book I could find: Robert Mckee’s Story, everything by Syd Field, Screenwriting 434, by Lew Hunter, Linda Seger’s, Making a Good Script Great, you name it, I studied it. It wasn’t until I joined a writer’s group, The Tennessee Screenwriter’s Association, did I get face to face, hands on help with my work in progress. Every Wednesday night I would drive up to Nashville and sit in a room with twenty to thirty other writers of all abilities. The first time I had to read pages from my story I was in a panic. I could get up in front of thousands of people and play a song I had just written but a screenplay? I was a babe in the woods, but I got through it relatively unscathed. A few people I gravitated towards knew a lot more than I did. John Macy was one. He had a few scripts already sold and was making plans to move back to Hollywood. I thought it was ironic that I would move from Los Angeles to Nashville to pursue songwriting and now wanted to write screenplays. I was regretting that decision (moving to Nashville). Macy had some great comments, some that I agreed with, and some that I didn’t, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and my inexperience. I listened to it all. Even though it was painful to find out some of my story wasn’t working, I toughed it out and, after at least fifty drafts, I completed it a year later staying sober the entire time.
The millennium came and went without incident. My mom was still spending six months of the year in the guest room and the other six months in Los Angeles with my sister. Her health was deteriorating rapidly and I didn’t know how much longer she could keep up the pace of shuffling back and forth. My finances were also taking a beating since my decision of no more BS.
Mom made plans to build a guesthouse in the rear part of the three -acre yard behind a grove of trees. I was all for it. She would be five hundred yards away—not too close to get in our hair and not too far, where we couldn’t help in an emergency. She had the idea of getting a log cabin and we got all sorts of information on log homes. We decided to go with Honest Abe Log Homes and got a price of $70,000 complete for a 1500 square foot dwelling. Then the neighbors, sticking their noses in, got in an uproar. They thought I was going to rent out the property and it went before the zoning committee for a hearing. Some of my neighbors spoke up in my defense, but others adamantly opposed. The judgment: the structure had to be 750 square feet or less. Not much of a choice. The day the bulldozers were pulling up the driveway to lay the foundation she said, “You know Jimmy, when I looked into the eyes of a cow and realized it was the only thing I can relate to, I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ve changed my mind. I’m going back to L.A.”
I couldn’t believe she was serious, but she was. I made the best of the situation. I told the guy driving the backhoe to dig up that tree in the middle of the yard and move it back to the side. Oh and while you’re at it, could you dig me a bunker? Also lets grade the area in the back…make it level…add a few undulations. It was going to be my golf hole, putting green, and sand bunker. Why not? I had to pay them for their time anyway. In the summer of 2001, my mom went back to L.A. for the last time.
As I mentioned in a previous story, on September 10, 2001, I bit the proverbial bullet and got a job working in a phone room for a company representing the Red Cross. My job was to solicit donations. I hoped that it was on the level but found it very difficult to get back into that sales frame of mind. I just wasn’t there anymore. After drawing a blank, I drove home thinking I couldn’t hack it but decided to give it another try in the morning. After all, it was the Red Cross—a worthwhile organization. I wasn’t selling something people hoped they’d never have to use—like insurance.
The next morning I woke up early and Donna was already in the kitchen watching the news. That’s when I saw the burning building in New York. It was the World Trade Center and they said a plane had crashed into the north tower. I couldn’t believe it. Was it pilot error or a terrorist attack? Fifteen minutes later I saw the second plane hit the south tower and I knew, as everyone else did, it was no accident. I stood in the kitchen unable to move. Watching the twin towers collapse was the worst thing I had ever witnessed. It was worse that the JFK assassination, worse that John Lennon’s murder. I knew this country would never be the same again. I also knew that I wasn’t going to go into work selling donations for the Red Cross, especially since now people were giving hand over foot. They didn’t need my help.
When Jonathan and Daniel came down to get ready for school and saw the horrific scene on the TV, they thought it was a movie. There was no easy way to tell them it wasn’t any movie. It was real. There wasn’t going to be any school today and probably not the next day either. By the end of the week, Donna and I felt that it would be all right for the boys to get back to school and resume some semblance of normality. Like most of the country, I kept my eyes glued to CNN and listened to Wolf Blitzer’s (his real name) commentary on the gruesome events in Manhattan, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Nothing was ever going to be normal again.
Three weeks later, on October 2, 2001, Daniel’s fifth birthday, I thought I would take the Healey to Henry Horton Golf Course and play eighteen holes. I had to be back by three to pick Daniel up at school and Morgan at day care. Upon seeing a crowded parking lot, I knew something was up. There was a tournament, and that meant I had to venture on, I decided to go to Lewisburg, out in the sticks, and try Saddle Creek. I was a stuck behind a cement truck going twenty-five mph for a few miles. I had recently painted my Healey in the storage shed— a two tone blue and white. She was running great and being stuck behind this hulking, fully loaded cement truck was trying my patience. At the stop light on Highway 50, a mile from the course, I passed the beast. I sped ahead and soon realized I’d better slow down or I would miss the golf course entrance on the left, which I did. I drove on to the next street and signaled to make a left. It was a two-lane road with no shoulder, so I crept as close to the yellow line as possible. Unfortunately, the turn signals on the Healey are small and hard to see. I guess that IMI cement truck didn’t see it at all. As I waited for the oncoming traffic to clear, I went into my turn. That when I heard a roaring from behind and before I knew it, the 77,000 lb. cement truck was plowing into the driver’s side of my precious Healey. It was a like bad dream, an altered reality where everything is moving at half speed. Speakers flying in slow motion, wires floating in the air like feathers, steel and glass buckling, radiator water and brake fluid raining down, the battery catapulted from the trunk and sailed over my head with golf clubs, balls, spiked shoes, and tees. I saw the front end of that monster strike my door not more than two inches from my legs.
That’s it I’m dead, I thought, or at best crippled for life. I was dragged forward a good three hundred yards and when I finally came to a stop I ran out of the car towards the cement truck who had pulled over in a field next to a drive-in movie theater. I was going to kill the guy for destroying my beautiful little sports car, the same car I shipped to Tennessee after fourteen years of traversing the back roads and freeways of Los Angeles. I knew the car was never going to be the same no matter how much bodywork or mechanical repair I did. With fist clenched, I raced toward the driver. Then it hit me. Wait a minute; I just survived an accident with a fully loaded cement truck. I’m alive! That’s a good thing. I let go of my anger. I asked the driver what in the world he was thinking by passing me on the right. He said, as I surmised, that he didn’t see my signal and thought I was veering back to the median or was broken down. Cops came, got the report that I was speeding from a witness in a Ford Excursion. Even though I knew I wasn’t in the wrong, I was fucked. Here I was in redneck heaven in a fancy British roadster out to play the rich man’s game of golf. I didn’t stand a chance. Still, it was a miracle. I was not only walking, but no bones were broken, no cuts or bruises, only a sore lower back. Was it karma? Payback for the day I rear-ended my precious Healey in a fit of drunken anger? I think so.
When I got back home, the tow truck unloaded the heap in my yard. I called the school to say I was late, did the same with Morgan’s day care, and then called Donna with the news. She said she would pick up the boys. I guess she was nervous, think I was in shock. One accident was enough for one day. I called my friend Bruce Bradley. His father was a lawyer. I met with him the next day and we put a case together. He said he would know more after he got hold of the police report, which I knew wasn’t going to be good. I went back to the scene of the crime with my camera and took photos of the skid marks on the road, and every angle possible.
At my next meeting with the attorney, he advised me to stay at home, see a doctor about my back, and for god sakes no golf. They are spies working for the insurance companies that would love to see you active and well. That would blow the case. When the police report came in, it was worse than I thought. It read as if I was the one at fault. I decided right there and then to drop the case. There was no way on earth I was going to act like an invalid. Besides, no golf for a year? Forget it! I sold the Healey for fifteen hundred bucks to a guy who had a body shop in North Carolina. I watched in tears as the flatbed truck carrying my Healey, my baby, turned the corner, and drove away. Gone—Karma is a bitch.