How to Stuff a Lettuce Bikini

To the Costa Mesa thugs who used to beat up Dan Mathews: The fat gay punk kid grew up to save lives and jet set with Pam Anderson. Howzabout you?

Illustration by James McHugh'GETTING ARRESTED IS FUN'

This is a story about Dan Mathews of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and since it involves PETA we're obligated to begin with a tale of animal abuse, so here is how the animal abused me:

I don't like walking in people's backyards, haven't since I was a paperboy, and when I talked to Mathews about getting together to talk about his job at PETA—the protests, the arrests, the celebrities, the getting naked in Japan—he asked me to meet him at the "palatial estate" of a friend he was staying with in Venice.

"It's in the back," he said.

I arrived, walked to the back and, of course, was soon met by a table full of people and one growling boxer, apparently very angry, though who can tell with that breed? At that moment I experienced society's worst kind of terror: not knowing how to appear—nonplussed, supremely plussed, what?—and I froze. That's when Mathews showed up, looking like a nine-foot blond St. Francis with muscles.

Now, I love my wife, but let me just say that Mathews is a good-looking man. Good looking with a bit of radiance, which is nice, because when he attended Costa Mesa High he wasn't so much radiant as a fat, gay punker kid who got whaled on all the time and when he wasn't getting whaled on he was reading the words someone had spray painted on the school's entrance—"Dan Mathews: We Will Kill You"—which explains why Mathews, now 38, fled Costa Mesa when he was 16. But we were talking about a dog.

Desperately not wanting to look like an idiot, I looked for help from Mathews, who, fortunately, I found out only later was comfortable dressing as a carrot and a chicken in the name of ethical treatment. He calmly said something, the dog retreated and Mathews said with a grin, "Come on up."

Protesting with PETA in Paris

That was that, and this is what he does: Mathews deals. He's been arrested more times than he can count, so many times that he wrote a piece for Details magazine rating the world's prisons (Hong Kong A-No. 1; Chicago the pits). He's been arrested for commandeering Calvin Klein's office—and then became Klein's friend and the reason the designer abandoned fur. He's been arrested with Chrissie Hynde, has been arrested nearly naked, has been arrested dressed as a rat, rabbit and, yes, a carrot and chicken.

"Getting arrested is fun," he says, the way someone mentions they like riding roller coasters.

Fun. Shouting and being shouted at, being chained up and dragged away. Fun.

"He can take any situation, bad as it gets, and make it fun. I don't think I've ever seen him in a bad mood," said his best friend, Connie Pearson, who shared punk and getting whaled on with Mathews, and says one of the best times of her life was breaking down in the middle of the desert with Mathews on their way to Vegas.

Another good friend, Pamela Anderson—that Pamela Anderson—says "one of the funniest times I've ever had" was the time the Austrians soiled their lederhosen at the thought of Mathews casting red paint about one of their formal balls.

"We always have fun," she said. "Dan's my hero. He's everybody's hero."

Doubtful. Certain fur-wearing, paint-splattered supermodels—Giselle! Incoming!—probably aren't terribly enamored, and the same goes for corporate fast-food and fashion types or Vogue editor Anna Wintour, whom PETA once sent a dead raccoon on a plate while she ate at the Four Seasons in Manhattan to protest fur advertisements in her magazine.

With his favorite animal

His ability to capture the public's attention has helped make PETA the most recognized animal rights groups in the world, with more than 750,000 members and nearly $15 million in contributions last year, most of them in small amounts. Starting with founder Ingrid Newkirk, the organization has an innate ability to get under people's skins and onto their TV screens and into their newspapers—Newkirk recently stipulated that upon her death she wanted to be barbecued and asked that Mathews supervise the hoedown. Their ability to employ the badges of consumer culture—especially sex and celebrity—to fight its successes has become a model for other organizations, and Mathews has been at or near the center of the action for some time, dealing, always dealing with stuff. Perhaps, it's because he got whaled on as a kid in Costa Mesa.

More likely it's because he's Perry Lawrence's son—and for anyone who knows Lawrence, that statement needs no elaboration.

He beckoned me toward his friend's estate, which is a tiny, backyard guesthouse where he'd been sleeping on an air mattress wedged into the teeny demi-kitchenette petite.

"Most of our contributors are old ladies and young kids who can give only 20 bucks," he says. "I just can't see spending $100 of that on a hotel room."

So he prefers to stay with friends on the road, which he's on about two weeks out of every month. Sometimes he stays in a guest house, sometimes in a mansion. It doesn't matter he says: "It's more fun that way." Yes, sometimes he must rough it at Paul McCartney's pad or bum a ride on Pam Anderson's private jet to Vegas, as he'll do tonight. It's a living.

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