If a white boy from Canada named Chris Jones is cool enough to hang out with Clinton Portis in an all-black club in Washington, DC, he’s cool enough for us to interview. Whatever your job is, Jones likely has you beat – one minute he’s interviewing Matt Leinart, and the next, he’s on a private jet downing beers with John McCain, all in the name of journalism for Esquire. What follows is our interview with him, in which he talked about clubbing with Clinton Portis, third-wheeling with Matt Leinart and his baby mama, fun with Joey Belle, and Jim Fregosi’s dick.
Q: You and Clinton Portis, up in da club in Washington DC. What went down that night that didn’t make the Esquire article? Did you hang with his posse until 4 a.m.?
Well, that story is a relatively thorough retelling of our evening together, including our staring into his vagina-reminiscent sea anemone. I actually liked Clinton. For a big-time athlete, he was pretty friendly and accepting and happy to have me lope along with him. But when he said we were going out to the club, I was like, Oh hell, I’m such a honky. And, of course, I was not wrong. Santana Moss and a couple of other guys came over to Clinton’s house beforehand, and I got whipped at pool and was generally made to feel like the most clumsy, uncool white dude on the face of the earth. Then we head out, to this club called Love. It was some BET event, and I shit you not, I was the only white guy within six blocks of the joint. The weird thing was, everybody – starting with the doorman – kept calling me “Too Short.” Not in any kind of mean way, just friendly, but I mean, everybody. Like, two dozen people called me Too Short. After we were inside for a while and these pretty sweet girls came up – like everybody else, genuinely curious what I was doing at the club – and they called me Too Short, I was finally like, I’m the same goddamn height as goddamn Clinton Portis. Why am I too goddamn short? And the girls told me it was because my T-shirt stopped at my waist, not at my knees. The whole night, folks were making fun of the fit of my clothes, and I had no idea. I just kept smiling like an idiot and making dumb jokes about Love’s diversity program. Thus proving my point: I’m such a honky.
Q: While we’ve only visited Canada on several occasions, you’ve actually lived there. The country has a bum rap as being the weak neighbor of the mighty United States. Thoughts?
See, you’re not going to goad me into becoming yet another high-pitched Canadian defending my country, although I love living here. All I’ll say is, American kids traveling through Europe stitch Canadian flags to their backpacks, and that’s not because they think the maple leaf looks like a marijuana sprig, although that probably doesn’t hurt.
Q: You met the mother of Matt Leinart’s baby at the Esquire shoot sometime in 2005. She looked good in a bikini. What was the shoot like?
Actually, I didn’t go to the shoot, but I did spend time with Matt and Brynn together. It was a pretty strange little assignment, really. At first, I had lunch with Matt and one of his coaches and a friend of his at the restaurant behind Fred Segal. We met all sorts of weird, third-rate celebrities, like the dude from House of Pain and the guy who banged Paris Hilton on tape. (Nice bit of foreshadowing there, don’t you think?) Later, Matt and I drove in his truck, picked up Brynn, and went to Santa Monica. Along the way, she kept trying to get Matt to sing for her, which I guess he did a lot. Finally, he starts busting out some Avril Lavigne (Canadian, by the way), and I join in, and we’re belting out some song with the windows down, cruising down the freeway. Then we walked along the beach and on the pier, where Matt and Brynn shared an ice cream cone – and where I felt like a third-wheel chaperone. To be honest, they seemed like a really good couple, very loving and affectionate. They looked good together. Then we went to In & Out Burger, which was fucking awesome, and we talked for a couple of hours at one of the tables outside. They talked about their plans for the future, and I really was snowed by it. I thought they were in it for the long haul. Then, of course, Matt ends up pulling a flake and slapping Paris Hilton’s ass goiter. This will sound stupid, but I was disappointed. I thought he was better than that somehow. It’s not like I get a personal stake in my subjects, but I’m usually pretty good in my reads of people, and his straying made me feel like I’d misread him somehow. Part of me still thinks he and Brynn will be together, especially now that she’s knocked up. Who knows? It was a strange trip to California, though, I know that much.
Oh, and yeah, for sure she’s hot, in that West Coast kind of way, if that’s what you were getting at.
Q: The job you’ve got is what any writer aspires to: full-time freelancer. How’d you fall into this job?
I will say this: It is the sweetest goddamn gig I could imagine.
The arrangement Esquire has with its writers is a little different, I think. I’m full-time and exclusive – I can’t write anywhere else – signed to a nice long contract and paid a salary, but I’m not an employee of the magazine, exactly. I’m kind of like an independent contractor. I work from home, in Ottawa, but I’m an Esquire guy through-and-through, if that makes sense. Writer at large, they call us.
The story of my getting the job is kind of long and crazy, but here’s the gist of it: I started out as a baseball and boxing writer for the National Post newspaper in Toronto. While there, I started writing longer features, always with the idea that I’d one day like to work at a magazine, and always hoping that magazine would be Esquire. (Like every other wannabe, I read Charlie Pierce religiously.) Anyway, I went to New York City to cover a Jays-Mets series in the summer of 2001. Because I’m an imbecile, I decided that I could just go to the magazine offices and sit down with David Granger, the editor in chief, you know, to introduce myself and let him know I was out there. Of course, security doesn’t let me in, but a janitor overhears our conversation, sweeps his way on over to me as I’m headed out the door, and tells me that I need to talk to a guy named Andy Ward – young guy, good guy, likes sports, blah blah blah. I go back to security and ask if I can just call Andy. They let me, Andy answers, I ask if I can meet him, he asks me when I’ll be in town, I tell him I’m in the lobby, and he says I can come up later that afternoon. I come back with two boxes of Krispy Kreme original glazed – one for Andy, one for the janitor and some clips. Sit down with Andy, who was very nice and hospitable. I told him I didn’t expect a job now, or even five years from now, but that one day I hoped we could work together. He told me to keep in touch, and off I went to the ballpark.
That August, I had kind of a freakout and quit my newspaper job. My now-wife and I roamed around for a while. We lived in the woods, went down to Nova Scotia, flew to the South Pacific for a while, and ended up driving around the American Southwest, tooling around the desert, aimless. We were pretty close to broke; kind of homeless, truthfully. It was a wonderful time. Then, one night in Flagstaff, Arizona, I check my e-mail, and there’s one from Andy. I can so clearly remember reading it. He told me that Charlie Pierce was leaving, and they were looking for a replacement. (Heart’s pounding, right?) A bunch of writers would get to write a column, and the guy who wrote the best column would get the job. Pressure. I mean, apart from the fact that I’m broke, I’m getting a chance to win the job I’ve dreamed about for years.
I ended up writing a story about Barry Zito. I’ve never known who the other writers were, or even if there really were other guys in the competition. But I got the job. I wrote a few more columns without a contract – Jimmy Rollins was one, I remember – and then after four or five, I was signed up as a contributing editor. I haven’t looked back since, as they say, except to give high holy thanks to that janitor. The Breakfast Club had that much right. They are the brains of these operations.
Q: Cooler: John McCain or Clive Owen? And why didn’t you lobby harder for the Keira Knightly interview? She’s all kinds of hot.
Well, if we’re talking about who is the cooler dude, then I have to say Clive Owen, who was pretty damn cool. But if we’re talking about which was the cooler experience, then it was definitely shadowing John McCain. Our politics are different, but I really grew to respect him as a man. I thought he was honest and genuine and really cared about working hard to make America better. He also gave me better access than I’ve received from asshole scrub middle relievers, so I’ll give him points for that, too. Sitting on a private jet to Portland, Maine, just McCain and I, drinking a Heineken, talking politics. That was a pretty surreal and awesome experience.
Best part of this job, of course, is getting to dip into little universes that I’d otherwise never be allowed into. That’s particularly true of the Hollywood stuff. We don’t really fight over those stories, because they’re actually kind of weird – you know, you spend a couple of hours with a stranger and then have to sit down and write something interesting about them. But I’ve been lucky with my assignments. My first one was Naomi Watts, and apart from being easy on the eyes, she was really good to talk to. My wife is pretty sure I’m in love with Naomi. It’s kind of a running joke in our house. I always laugh it off, but on the inside, I’m crying.
Q: We’ll get cheesy: Your dinner table, any three living people. Quick, before somebody on your list kicks the bucket.
I love talking writing, so I’d probably invite three writers. J.R. Moehringer, who wrote “Resurrecting the Champ,” probably the greatest sports magazine piece of all time, as well as The Tender Bar. I think I’d invite Charlie Pierce, too, because I’ve never actually met him, which I’ve always thought was strange, but also to pick his brain about writing the perfect sentence, because he usually does every time he sits down at his desk. And then I’d take Tim O’Brien, who wrote The Things They Carried among other great, beautiful books. And then I’d just get them started talking shop, and I would steal all of their ideas and knowledge, and I would claim them as my own.
Q: Biggest disaster of an interview? Perhaps an athlete/coach/celebrity who was a big-time cock?
Man. Bad interviews, eh? Worst celebrity one was probably Colin Farrell. The original idea for the story was that I was going to try to get him into a boxing ring and knock out his nubby Mick teeth. That didn’t happen, although I wish it did, perhaps because it would have saved us from Alexander. Athletes – the entire Baltimore Orioles clubhouse during the late nineties, especially Joey Belle; Tiger Woods, although beyond talented, is close to subhuman in a lot of ways; and speaking of cock, I had an unpleasant encounter with Jim Fregosi’s dick that I’ve already shared too much about. Needless to say, I was unimpressed on every level.
Really, though, those bad experiences don’t hold a fart to the good ones. I’ve been very lucky. I could never think of doing anything else for a living, and I plan on doing what I do for a long, long time. Until they come and take my toys away, at least.
Oh, and fuck adverbs.