Scoops, Kansas City's beloved ex-DJ, is going through a rough patch. He lost his job at 96.5 The Buzz, lost his bid to collect unemployment, and even broke up with his boyfriend. At 29, he says he's in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. And he's having it on Westboro Baptist Church's couch.
It's a weekday afternoon, and Scoops is inside the Topeka home of America's most famous hate-spewers. This isn't Scoops' first time here, either. He has asked for and been granted three visits -- including, as he is eager to point out, on Easter Sunday.
When Scoops told me he was tight with the Phelps family, I was naturally skeptical, given his gayness. To prove it, he called up Megan Phelps, granddaughter of hate-riarch Fred Phelps. She answered, and they laughed about how Scoops gave her AIDS when he kissed her on the cheek at a Lady Gaga protest. Then Scoops showed me video of his previous visits, during which he helped the family plan a protest against him.
Scoops has just finished waxing nostalgic about the loss of his job at the Buzz. The topic took almost half an hour, and received an impressive amount of patience from all involved -- especially considering his fag-hating audience. Though it was a story about job loss, Scoops managed to sprinkle in some butt-sex jokes, for extra gayness.
Sufficiently baffled, I offered to drive him to Topeka, to witness in person this collision of attention whoring. So here Scoops is, back in the Phelps family's living room. Megan's mom, Shirley Phelps-Roper, wears her trademark bubblegum-pink "God Hates Fags" shirt, while Megan sits to the side in shockingly short jorts.
"Why do you put up with this?" I ask Shirley.
"Hon, we put up with everything," she says. "Omigosh! Have you seen the way people act towards us on the street? He doesn't come up and hit us! He doesn't throw things at us and he doesn't spray bear mace at us!"
She makes a good point. Every good relationship is founded on the principle that both parties will refrain from the misuse of bear mace.
Scoops films the entire exchange on his Flip, collecting footage for a movie he plans to make about his relationship with the family. But he pauses the camera whenever he smells theology coming. Rhetoric has nothing to do with Scoops.
"Hold on hold on," he says. "I only have so much tape on here, so I have to get certain things."
"All right," Shirley says, patiently.
Now, back to Scoops.
"Do I have a civil case against them?" he asks, referring to the Buzz. "Based on them trashing me on the air, making me unhireable?"
"I don't hear one," Shirley, a lawyer, says.
"So I need signs," Scoops says. "We need to go to the warehouse and make some signs."
Shirley laughs. "What would your signs say?"
"Um, you tell me," he says. "Do I need to get attention by exposing them for frauds?"
"I don't know!" Shirley says, growing impatient. "Look, this isn't about the word of God or serving God! This is about Scoops dealing with some people he's upset with."
"I don't know what he wants here," she says to me.
I'm starting to wonder that myself. But Scoops asks first.
"Why are we drawn together? You guys talk to Katie Couric and you're not hanging out with her. What is the reason? There's gotta be something there!"
"Hon, you're working too hard at this," Shirley lectures.
But he's here, I say. You must want something from each other.
"We're here talking to him 'cause he asked if he could come over," she says.
She looks at her watch with a dramatic flourish. We've been here for more than an hour.
"What do you want from me?" Scoops says, in one last attempt to expose the Phelps family's closet Scoops fetish. "Why do you keep coming back to me?"
"Hon, we don't come back to you," Shirley says. "We'll talk to anyone."
It's time to go; it's getting awkward. But before we leave, Scoops wants a photo. He and Megan sandwich Shirley between them, and Shirley stretches her arms around the two of them. It almost feels like a family photo with her kids, she says. Almost.