I’d refinanced my mortgage twice, each time skimming thousands off the top, blown a fat equity line, defaulted on one credit card, and maxed another. With three kids, two dogs, and a wife counting on me, I’d bungled my finances so royally that I’d run out of options. I swallowed my last drop of pride and returned, with my tail between my legs, to the classroom. I became a 40-year-old substitute teacher. To borrow a line from The Big Lebowski, “Darkness washed over the Dude — darker than a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night.” Then, that very afternoon, as I untucked my shirt and got on the interstate to mediocrity, I got the call that would change everything.
It was Perry Moore, a fellow Virginian who’d been living in New York. He’d received a copy of my recent self-published how-to, The Kook’s Guide to Surfing, from his sister for Christmas. He raved about my writing and insisted that the book needed to be made into a movie. “That’s what I do, take books and turn them into movies.” he said. “You may have heard of them, they’re called Narnia.”
Perry was the executive producer for The Chronicles of Narnia series, among the highest grossing series ever. You may have heard of it. Perry was also the author of Hero, a novel about a gay superhero published by Disney’s imprint Hyperion. His book was well-received and an inspiration within the younger LGBT community. Its author, by the way, was also gay.
I agreed with Perry that my book was awesome. Using my background as a teacher, pro surfer, instructor, and writer, combined with a sprinkling of humor (and don’t forget modesty), I believe it to be the best surfing instructional on the market. But a movie? I hadn’t pictured that. However, after listening to Perry’s vision — a guy wants to impress a girl so he learns to surf, complete with graphics pulled straight from the book — as well as his passion, I was sold.
Although we were around the same age and grew up surfing in the same town, we’d never met. After ten minutes on the phone, where he’d promised a bidding war for my book and a deal for the movie rights with Disney, we were best friends. That I’d just become a substitute teacher to earn a few grocery bucks suddenly seemed like a fun fact for the VH1 special on my impending meteoric rise to fame.
I’d learned that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is, so I tempered my expectations. While I dreamed up an exotic surf trip to be funded with my advance from Disney, and what I’d say to Oprah when she had me on her sofa, I kept subbing.
Perry and I spoke regularly over the next month. His fervor had me diving into a screenplay while he focused on securing me a literary agent. I booked a flight so we could meet to hash out some details and solidify our plan, but a February blizzard shuttered New York airports. Not a big deal, as I’d accepted a long-term sub position. And no matter how many classroom shenanigans I dealt with, I’d soon have the last laugh. Mr. B was cashing in and looking forward to the day I could moonwalk out the door yelling, “See ya, bitches!”
I rescheduled my flight and kept hacking away at the screenplay. It had been a few days since I’d heard from Perry. Last we’d spoken, he’d received the books I’d sent and was putting them in “the right hands.” We discussed surfing on Long Island, and a trip to Montauk was penciled in for spring. Then, one night, I got word that Perry wasn’t busy making me rich. He wasn’t busy doing anything. Perry Moore was dead.
After I came to, I learned that he’d been prescribed multiple medications that, when taken together, apparently caused a heart attack. As horrible as I felt for his family, part of me had to ask, How could he do that to me?
For a while, I kept at it, feeding off the remnants of Perry’s enthusiasm. I refused to allow the project to die with him. This was, after all, my game changing moment. After years of living Demeter’s schedule – thriving in summer and scraping every winter – The Kook’s Guide was going to be my salvation.
The call that would change everything changed one thing. I acknowledged the clusterfuck I’d made of my finances. Surfing wasn’t enough to support my family. Like it or not, I’d have to work for a living. Unfortunately, it still wouldn’t be enough.