Me and Mr. Jones
Mike Jones's fifteen minutes of fame just got extended.
He knows all about billing by the hour.
In the days before last fall's election, the male escort's revelation that Ted Haggard had been a longtime client exploded in Colorado, and the fallout spread across the country. On November 1, Jones first started spilling his story on Peter Boyles's radio show; on November 3, he was whisked off to New York to repeat it on the Today Show. And as fast as Jones's media star was rising, the massive machinery he'd set in motion moved even faster. In the beginning, Haggard denied even knowing Jones, and religious leaders in Colorado Springs, where Haggard was the founder and pastor of the giant New Life Church, rallied around him. But on the second day, Haggard resigned his post as head of the National Association of Evangelicals, a thirty-million-member organization that rated weekly conference calls with the White House. And on the third day, when Haggard confessed that he'd bought meth from Jones — then thrown it away — everyone took cover. Even as Jones was flying back to Denver from New York, New Life Church leaders announced that "our investigation and Pastor Haggard's public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct" and revealed that Haggard had agreed that he should be dismissed. On the fifth day, letters from both Ted Haggard and his wife were read to the congregations gathered at New Life Church for Sunday services.
And on the seventh day, the story momentarily rested while Coloradans went to the polls — Jones himself waited in line for two and a half hours — and defeated a measure that would have granted equal rights for gay relationships, a measure that was Jones's motivation for going public in the first place. He certainly wasn't doing it for fame and fortune. "In less than a week," he remembers, "the whole world knew my tale of sex for sale and my client's meth use and the pastor with the big smile. Even worse, the whole world knew that I was 49, just one year away from being eligible for membership in AARP!"
Ah, the glamour of those fifteen minutes in the spotlight.
While New Life prepared for its resurrection, Haggard and his wife left Colorado for intensive counseling — within three weeks, Haggard had been "cured" of homosexuality, one supporter revealed — and then moved on to their own new life in a new town (Phoenix, it turned out). By then, Jones had something of a new life, too, writing a book. The deal came in handy, since he'd lost his clients — both illegitimate (the escort business was done) and legitimate (ditto for massage and personal training) — and even his gig as an artist's model.
Now Jones is back in New York, back in the news, with the release of I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard's Fall and parties and a signing at Barnes & Noble, then an early-morning flight Friday to Atlanta for more signings, then a stop back home in Denver (he'll be at the LoDo Tattered Cover on Monday night). From here he'll travel on to at least nine more cities — none of them Colorado Springs, by the way, because Barnes & Noble outlets have refused to stock the book. (A gay bar has invited Jones to have a book signing there sometime this summer.)
It could be that the cultural police think an author who confesses his fondness for The Golden Girls — the show reminds Jones of the women in his family, including a great-grandmother who was a madam in Central City and a supportive mother who passed away painfully last year — won't draw very well in the Springs. Or think that residents there don't need to read about how in the summer of 2006, "Art" contacted Jones — who by now had figured out the identity of his every-month visitor — and then, because Jones's father was upstairs in his apartment, had given him a blow job (and $200) in the game room of an apartment building in the heart of Capitol Hill. Or think that they don't need to suffer through descriptions like this: "Without saying a word, Ted entered my apartment and immediately pressed himself against me, stroking me as if I were one big penis that he wanted to stimulate." By the way, that squirm-inducing incident was the last time Jones saw Haggard, who'd sent money for meth but got nothing but a fast hand job from Jones. That's why Jones thinks he never heard from "Art" again after early August.
He never heard from him, but he thought about Haggard plenty, studying the man and exploring the gaps between his beliefs and his behavior. "I never wanted to get emotionally attached to my clients, but I did get sad for them," Jones says. "They feel like they're trapped." As a religious leader, Haggard could help men break out of that trap. But instead, he, too, had placed his wedding ring carefully on the clothes he discarded whenever he visited Jones.
"Sodomy is a violation of God's law," Haggard had written in Ministry Today magazine in 2004, "and Christians are justifiably upset about the legalization of the practice. But we are faced with an age-old dilemma: At what point is it appropriate to enforce our moral convictions upon the willing through the power of the state?"
Or the power of the press.
Jones didn't go to the press because he was an agent of Karl Rove, who wanted to make sure the Democrats won in 2006 so that the Republicans could win bigger in 2008 — one of the rumors going around. Or because he was a tool of anti-global-warming forces, who wanted to oust Haggard because he'd put environmentalism on the evangelical agenda — a better rumor going around. Or even because he had a book deal, because he didn't.
No, Haggard's hypocrisy is what prompted Jones to go public — although it wasn't all that easy to spill the story, as he recounts in his book. Paula Woodward at Channel 9 needed to gather more proof, and when he later came to me, I suggested that he needed not a smoking gun, but a "smoking penis." (Our meeting rated a special Queer Eye housekeeping assessment in the book.) Jones had almost decided to wait until after the election — but then changed his mind and contacted Peter Boyles. "This is about religion in America and how it's dealing with the homosexual issue," he says. "The fact is, they're not dealing with it." Haggard certainly wasn't.
"You have to understand, I had no idea it would turn out the way it would," Jones continues. "I thought there would be a Jimmy Swaggart moment, when he cries and confesses. Even when the scandal broke, he could have made a positive out of it. I think he missed a golden opportunity." A Golden Girls opportunity. Because instead, Haggard went away and got "cured," with his family by his side. Jones, on the other hand, hasn't heard from his older brother since November. "My younger brother will talk to me," he adds, "but he's never talked once about the story."
Still, it's the group that Jones hoped would benefit most from his revelation that has most disappointed him. He got good feedback from Geraldo Rivera after his interview this past Sunday, Jones says, as well as kudos from reporters at Fox, the only network that hadn't clamored to interview him last fall. On Monday, he learned that he'd won an award from the Monette-Horwitz Trust. On Tuesday, he did eight interviews, not including his talk with me. But gay organizations have not rallied around. The Harvey Milk Foundation and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of New York City lauded him, but "otherwise, every gay group has turned their back on me," he says. "Because I'm an escort, they've turned their back on me."
He didn't expect that when he went public, didn't tell his story to further divide the gay community. "I get people from the church coming up and congratulating me, and people from the gay community coming up and saying I had no business doing that," he says. "You don't need to be proud of me for what I was doing for a living, but you can stand up for what I'm saying."
Because he didn't say it just to get fifteen minutes of fame, or even a full hour. In the end, Mike Jones said it because he couldn't help himself."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.