"Officer, they stole my wallet! It's all a big misunderstanding. Like a Three's Company episode. Someone came in the wrong door!"
So explains a naked Scott Thompson to two cops outside a highway rest stop in Brain Candy, the brilliant 1996 film by Toronto comedy troupe Kids in the Hall. When Thompson is returned home, still naked and handcuffed, he explains everything to his wife.
"Honey, I think you've got a right to know what happened," he says. "I went out driving, cuz you know I love driving. And suddenly I had to take the biggest pee in the world. I saw this washroom, so I stopped in. But it was full of those types, you know, queens and queers. And they tried to kiss me; and I said no, no, no!"
The scene cuts to Thompson reclining in a shrink's office. "Why would he do that?" he asks.
"Didn't you say you had gripped his buttocks and pulled him closer?" asks the shrink.
"I was concerned he would fall," says Thomspon. "I mean, his pants were down around his goddamn ankles."
I held a special screening of Brain Candy the other week in honor of Ted Haggard, the Colorado mega-church pastor and evangelical leader whose initial "Who put this cock in my mouth?" half-admission to enjoying the company of a gay prostitute and purchasing methamphetamine was cut straight from a Kids in the Hall skit. Before admitting to "sexual immorality" and quickly disappearing with his wife to an unmapped island in the south Pacific, Haggard claimed that he was innocently referred to a masseuse by a Denver hotel, and that while, yes, he bought meth from the masseuse, who, it turned out, also happened to be a gay prostitute, he threw the devilish drug away before trying it.
Never mind buying speed only to toss it: Crank, for the ultimate relaxing massage!
No, I don't believe Haggard threw the meth away, unless you define "throw away" as "suck up your nose while greasing your abs." A lot of people have pointed to the dialogue in Haggard's spastic cameo in the documentary Jesus Camp, in which Pastor Ted condemns homosexuality and tells a 12 year-old kid he's "very cute."
But look beyond the words and the film depicts a man high on more than John 3:16. He stalks the stage wearing a Janet Jackson headset and a grin so big it looks like it's about to rip his face into quadrants. His teeth often appear clamped; his eyes bulging wide. He can't, or at least doesn't, shut up. He's on so many cylinders he even heckles the Jesus Camp crew during his sermon. "If you use any of this footage, I'll sue you!" he jests, cracking himself up. Later, after the Sunday service, he's still going strong. "It's a great life!" he tells the filmmakers for no good reason. Dynamite, even. The man is clearly at an impressive cruising altitude; lunch is now being served with a choice of chicken or pasta.
Haggard's own boundless energy dominated profiles of his New Life Church. A cover story in Christianity Today repeatedly describes Haggard as "ebullient" and "charismatic," and quotes a colleague who marveled: "Th[e] stuff just flows out of Ted." Indeed words do "flow out" of some people. Especially when they're jacked up on speed.
The creation story of Haggard's New Life Church reads like notes from a speed-fueled start-up project. In the early days he sat around his garage building podiums out of buckets. He also ran around Colorado Springs recruiting, talking to anyone who would listen. When Haggard wasn't smiling, playing with buckets and random shit in his garage, or talking to anybody who would listen -- that is, when he coming down -- he heard the voices, saw the demons. A May 2005 Harper's profile describes how "evil forces" would call Haggard late at night and threaten to kill him.
The Harper's story also offers this litany of classic tweaker behavior, including an actual phone book activity:
[Haggard] assigned everyone in the [early] church names from the phone book they were to pray for. He sent teams to pray in front of the homes of supposed witches -- in one month, ten out of fifteen of his targets put their houses on the market. His congregation "prayer-walked" nearly every street of the city.
If Haggard was a speed freak, and I think he was, it was an understandable drug of choice. Every weekend, in front of thousands of swaying, chanting cultists, he had to entertain for hours. It must have been draining. Living within a short drive of a city known for its fine cut glass, why wouldn't Haggard, a hard-working father of five, chip away at the stuff to keep the energy level up? And if his wife wasn't up to it, why shouldn't he find someone to help take advantage of all those nerve clusters, placed there by Haggard's Lord Father, designed after His Own Perfect Image?
The reason, of course, is Jesus-drenched, hip-hop hooray hypocrisy, the currency that sustains the increasingly hi-tech economy of the Religious Right in America. Haggard isn't allowed his harmless pleasures because he spent so much of his life trying to deny them to other people who were actually honest with the world. Haggard was well known for liking rock and roll in his Church; if only he'd accepted sex and drugs, he could have led his evangelical flock in a healthy new direction--less hate, more hot tub. But nobody likes a hypocrite, especially Mike Jones, the former hooker who deserves a decent book deal and who better not have accepted a pay-off to destroy all those hours of James Dobson choke-ball footage.
It's hard not to suspect that such footage exists, that the penthouse of the evangelical skyscraper is one big gay bathhouse, with a wrinkled Dobson getting serviced in the center pool. But Dobson probably has a serious security moat around him at his compound in Colorado Springs. My bet for the next gay evangelical scandal is the handsome D.C.-based Tony Perkins, the Guy Smiley nitwit running the Dobson spin-off Family Research Council. It's possible Perkins even enjoyed the occasional double massage with his good friend Pastor Ted in Denver, while the two plotted how best to roll back the latest New England state court decision against gay marriage.
In his election-week Family Research Council note to members, Perkins blew a note of mock-disgust at Haggard's dark and repulsive behavior. (The italics are in the Perkins original, quoting from Pastor Ted's letter of apology. But Perkins didn't use quotes, choosing the more menacing italics instead.)
Who put that dark and repulsive cock in your mouth, Tony?
It's true Haggard wasn't as bad as Perkins, or his neighbor and former spiritual mentor Dobson. Although a proud Republican and a self-professed leader of the Religious Right, Haggard was a relative moderate in that world. He understood that the environment was in serious trouble and that the Bible offered grounds for "Creation Care"; he claimed to admire the social gospel traditions in black churches; he even lauded Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court decriminalized sodomy in the Lone Stud State. Apparently Haggard's hypocrisy had some bounds, after all.
I just have my doubts that the same could be said for his meth habit.