A week ago he was just Dan Jones, teacher, a regular guy who likes running and hanging out at a tavern in his Little Italy neighborhood.
How quickly things change. As of Thursday, when the latest issue of People magazine hit the stands, Dan Jones, guy next door, became one of People's 100 Most Eligible Bachelors, appearing on the same page as talk show host Conan O'Brien and home run king Mark McGwire.
It's been a bit disconcerting for the 25-year-old Jones, who's already received considerable ribbing from his colleagues at the University of Houston, where he's training teachers until the end of July. The morning before the magazine was released, Jones got up to find a banner hung outside his dormitory room, reading "Here Resides Baltimore's Most Eligible Bachelor."
"It was pretty funny," he says. "I'm continually hearing it - it's nonstop. I shudder to think what's coming. It's instant cannon fodder for everyone around you."
That's not to say Jones is upset - after all, what male wouldn't want to be included in the ranks of such sought-after singles as actors Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Freddie Prinze Jr.? The People list is nothing if not diverse, with the chosen bachelors ranging in age from 23 to 61 and their professions including everything from movie star to farmer, postal worker, astronaut and rabbi. The mix of impossibly good-looking, unattainable men with the kind of guy you might run into at the grocery store was deliberate, says Susan Schindehette, a People senior writer who worked on the project.
"Looks were not the only criteria that we used," she says. "We looked for great, all-around guys. It's a nice socio-economic, geographic mix. We have firemen and stuntmen from Hollywood and cerebral types and Internet entrepreneurs. We really cast a wide net.
"Not all of them are gorgeous - I think that's the coolest thing about it," Schindehette says. "When you see some of these [other] lists, they're pretty boys and models. I don't think those are the kinds of men women are looking for."
Perhaps not. At a time of voyeurism as entertainment - think television shows like "Survivor" and "The Real World" - there may be a growing preference for real, down-to-earth men over their buffed, enhanced counterparts. People has long published an annual 50 Most Beautiful People list, but the eligible bachelors edition is a first. And if response so far is any indication, it appears to have hit on a winning formula.
David Letterman's staff called last week for a copy of the magazine, Schindehette says, and the edition has been a hot topic on New York radio stations. People senior editor Elizabeth Fenner, who came up with the idea, has been deluged with interview requests. Schindehette says when a publicist took a copy of the issue to a party last week, "It was literally ripped from her hands."
The hype holds little interest for Jones, who moved to Baltimore two years ago and teaches eighth grade U.S. history at Fallstaff Middle School.
While earning his bachelor's degree at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Jones focused on marginalized groups and their role in society. He's much more interested in talking about educational inequity than his newfound status, and while personal questions are good-naturedly answered, the conversation is inevitably shifted back to a topic Jones is single-mindedly passionate about.
"I think it's a travesty that some of our students have all these resources and some of our students from more marginalized backgrounds are not treated equally and don't have the same resources," Jones says. "I think all students deserve an excellent education, despite the inequities of our system."
That dedication attracted the attention of People.
While Jones was unknowingly going about his work, People staffers were contacting Teach for America, Jones' Houston employer and an organization that places recent college graduates in teaching positions at some of the nation's neediest schools. People was looking for a bachelor with Jones' philanthropic bent, and he fit the bill perfectly.
"He was a great bachelor for us - he's young and he was working with kids and we hear he's a great teacher," says Amy Bonawitz, a Washington, D.C., People correspondent who interviewed five of the bachelors. "He seemed perfect for it. And he's cute. One of our reporters said he's a little bit like [actor] Michael J. Fox - he's got a lot of charm, a lot of energy."
Even before being confirmed as one of the top 100, Jones was asked to pose for a photo a few months back. He spent four hours running up and down a street in Little Italy, eating ice cream outside a neighborhood shop and being photographed at school and home. "I was definitely uncomfortable with it but [the photographer] was wonderful. She was just such a professional," he says.
Jones heard nothing further until a couple of weeks ago, when a fact-checker called to confirm some information. "They said, 'By the way, you're in,' " he recalls.
Jones says that among his family, which includes a 14-year-old sister and a 28-year-old brother, his mother is the most pumped about the People gig. She'd like him to settle down, but - take heed, girls - Jones says even exposure in a magazine read by about 35 million people weekly won't make that happen. Decidedly single, Jones is enrolled in graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and spends what little spare time he has running, kayaking and reading newspapers and "things other people would find boring," particularly around social issues and urban planning.
"I'm years away from settling down," says Jones, who dates but has no serious girlfriend at the moment. "I'm too busy in my life and I'm too committed to my work. That's probably my biggest downfall."
In the meantime, interested females might find Jones at his favorite Baltimore haunts - the Good Love Bar in Canton and Lucky Luciano's on Eastern Avenue in Little Italy. He's not expecting any extra dates, though, viewing his People appearance as no more than an amusing anecdote he can relate to his grandchildren one day.
"This is definitely something you don't take seriously," he says. "This is something that puts a smile on your face and makes you laugh. It's a great gimmick."