By Peter Maguire
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By R. Scott Moxley
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And by election night at the Carpenters Hall in Orange, Crisell did have things in perspective. He realized he didn't have a chance to win. When he was called to the podium, Crisell launched into a different kind of speech altogether, attempting to graciously withdraw and grandly throw his support to the obvious winner, Frank Barbaro. But a few sentences into his address, Crisell was shouted off the stage by longtime Democratic Party heavyweight Ray Cordova as Costales impassively looked on. Denied the chance to concede with dignity, Crisell walked quickly from the room, humiliated.
Contacted for comment the next day, Crisell answered his cell phone in Santa Barbara. He said he was on his way to Ojai for a day of silent reflection on Meditation Mountain and a visit to the Krishnamurti Library. He seemed to have recovered his emotional balance. "My life—maybe you got a sense of who I am last night—does not come from ego," said Crisell beatifically. "I went home and took my 88-year-old mom, who is dying of breast cancer, out for cappuccino. If anything, that tells you who I am. Those who have eyes to see can see. Those who are blind cannot see. I'm feeling a lot of different emotions, but I am not feeling hate."
Nonetheless, a few sentences later, Crisell was describing Costales as "a little-old-granny, asshole, powermongering bitch" and Cordova as "full of dominating-male-ego bullshit." Fair enough. They did kinda screw with him.
But then Crisell really took off on a rant, announcing he was running for California secretary of state, suggesting he might run for governor, comparing his setbacks to those suffered by Abraham Lincoln on his way to becoming president. "You're gonna see me run for everything in this state," Crisell promised. "These people can kiss my sweet ass. Look at Warren Beatty in Bulworth. I think I touched some of those people who have to look at their own bullshit. A lot of people in the audience told me, 'I'm really with you, but I can't say anything.' They've got no fucking balls. You've gotta have some guts. Look at the president. The guy's a piece of dogshit. Gore wasn't much better. Here we had a guy who was willing to speak the truth, a guy with a brain—I'm talking about Nader—and . . . well, I woulda had Nader as my secretary of interior."
Maybe Ted Crisell is the crazybeautiful thing about the United States' great experiment with democracy. "I'm not a politician," Crisell will say. "I'm a guy who cares. I just speak the truth from my heart."
He has a point. Granted, some of the stuff he says can be a bit over the top. But Crisell is propelled by the heat of passion. His rant against the OC Democrats was a reaction to the pain of a fresh and raw wound. Viewed from that human perspective—and in comparison with automaton politicians whose unnervingly measured voices tend to chloroform debate about the most important issues in our lives—isn't Crisell's lack of self-censorship refreshing? Isn't it admirable, even? Essential, ultimately?
Except that for all of his supposedly plain speaking, it's still difficult to determine who Crisell really is. His résumé rambles through achievements and experiences large and small, practical and obtuse, and it goes on endlessly—challenging your gullibility, not to mention your attention span.
In less than an hour, he mentions:DANIEL BOONE: "My great-grandfather came out west with Daniel Boone on the Oregon Trail. We still have the family farm. You should see my great-great-granddaddy. He looks like Lincoln. He has the stovepipe hat and the big beard on the family farm. You look at it, like, they're all this farming family. It's like, whoa!" JACQUES COUSTEAU: "I met Jacques Cousteau, and I've been on his boat, the Calypso, and I've been diving with divers of his. I've been a diver ever since I was about . . . ever since I can remember, about 10 years of age." WORLD PEACE: "I founded the World Peace Project about 20 years ago. There is a woman who is really an American saint. She was the Peace Pilgrim. She was a woman who walked for peace as an individual stand. My No. 1 issue is peace. We basically formed a worldwide prayer group. What it comes down to is consciousness and awareness. So on the Internet, I have connections—having been around the world five times and been in 74 countries and having so many connections—and we talk about the subject of peace. And I'm linking it up. That's my No. 1 issue, is peace." NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES: "I almost died four times. First when I was 15, and I stole my father's car to take my girlfriend to Disneyland . . . and this older woman in a big black Cadillac hits us from behind and flips the car. The whole car was totaled. We walked away without a scratch, but I had that near-death experience, that whole type of seeing down the pipe, you know, this silence. It was just incredible. At 15. Then the next two death experiences were in India. Once, I was in the back seat of a car when a child ran in the road and my driver, a Sikh man, hit the child, killed the child, and I walked away without a scratch. And the third time was in the Himalayas on my motorcycle, when a friend of mine spun out on a road. The fourth time, I was surfing off Bali when I fell off my board and, the tide was pulling me out. I prayed, and I heard a voice: 'Hold on! I'm coming!' And I was pulled out of that surf by a water-polo player from San Francisco. I never saw him again." ACTING: "I was a child actor. I played an Indian in a lot of movies. I danced at Disneyland, the only non-Indian dancing with the Indian dancers at Disneyland. Then I worked in films. I worked with Walter Brennan on The Real McCoys and Playhouse 90. The big break I missed was when Donna Reed had her show and wanted me for her son, Jeff. I was being cast for that, and my mother didn't want me to take that part. But I love the theater. I've been an extra. I've worked with Seinfeld. I was on the Seinfeld show. I'm a Seinfeld nut. I know every Seinfeld show." BEING A BIG BROTHER: "I was a Big Brother to a gang member for three years. My boy actually robbed me. It was a bad situation. I was out of town; he robbed my house, stole my car, stole my liquor and everything else. It was an inside job, so I guessed it was the kid. I had to go to court against him. They were going to try him as an adult. And one of the kids, the father came up to me, he was a black guy, and he was blind, and his son had just been accepted to the military, and this was his way to escape the gangs and stuff. And I said, 'Don't worry. I'm not going to testify.' And he was in tears, gave me a hug, man, and that was the moment for me that said, 'I'm on the right path.'" BEING RICH AND POOR: "I made my first million dollars by the time I was 30. I had a development company, a brokerage company, a construction company. I owned a department store and two restaurants. I was worth between $5 million and $10 million, had five houses, two boats, a Rolls-Royce. I was part of the jet set. It was pretty good, but I wasn't happy. By the age of 40, my life was shit. Then I borrowed about $50 million from the banks in the late '80s and I pretty much lost everything when interest rates went through the sky. I don't have much money now, but I'm happier." LOVING AND LOSING: "My wife was a Miss Oregon. I was married to a beautiful woman, but she got multiple sclerosis and died. My business partner, a great friend, had a heart attack and died. Now I'm a widower, no children, who takes care of his 88-year-old mother, who has breast cancer. But I know I'm still around for some reason. I know I have a purpose." DANCING: "My biggest love, if you want my real love, is the world of dance. I'm a dancer. I compete professionally in dance—ballroom, waltz, foxtrot, tango, samba, rumba, cha-cha, mambo—I compete in all the dances." There's lots more. Is it even worth picking through this fantastical landslide, separating the facts from your suspicions of fiction? For example, a couple of phone calls to Orange Coast College both corroborate and cast doubt on Crisell's assertions that he was student body president and a member of the school's football team. Yes, he was president of OCC for the 1965-66 school year. But there is no record of him playing football. Beyond that, it turns out Crisell was not student body president of Chapman College—only of its floating campus, the ship that takes certain students on a yearlong trip around the world. Whatever. The ultimate fact, again, is that none of this will make a difference come Election Day. Crisell doesn't have a chance. And, ironically, that impossible situation is what has provided him with the opportunity to make his case to the electorate. "I come into this thing and everybody's like, 'Who's Ted Crisell?'" he reflects. "Well, I'm a guy with some balls. I was student body president of Orange Coast and Chapman. I played the student-government game. This isn't much different than student government. All the egos and all the bullshit. They're such wimps. We don't have any real, solid kinds of people. Nobody wants to lead. Everybody wants to strategize, manipulate, maneuver in the background. Not me. I'm here." Yes, he is. And although Crisell isn't going to be anybody's answer, he still poses a very important question: What does it say about our two-party system that our choices are so often between the pleasantly packaged status quo—even when it's the underlying viciousness of easygoing extremists like Rohrabacher—and the desperate provocations of the hopeless? Meanwhile, Crisell would rather pose this question: "Why was Rohrabacher in the Ambassador Hotel that night that Bobby Kennedy was killed?" he asks, referring to the June 5, 1968, assassination of Senator Robert. F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. "Now, Rohrabacher was involved in some funny organizations at that time. . . . Check out those young, ultra-right-wing organizations that he was in—they weren't just regular right-wing; they were some extreme right-wing organizations that Rohrabacher was a party to. I think there's a lot more to these assassinations of the Kennedys than is out there. Tie Rohrabacher to it."