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?

"More than a political movement, animal rights is a consumer movement. It's about what we eat, what we wear, what we buy. That's why we are always pushing things in the public eye, because it helps shape consumer habits or discourage them. By using good-looking vegetarians like Orlando, Shania, Paul McCartney, Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, we're pretty much putting to rest the idea that vegetarians are weak and look anemic. We're trying to get people to do things out of self-interest. Wanna lose weight? Go veggie. There's no reason to think that a cause can't be marketed like any other product."

Phrases such as "boiling any of the brains out of it" are dead giveaways that Dan isn't always comfortable with the method himself. To be honest, he says, he "distrusts the masses" it's his job to reach. He's really not into celebrities—his all-time favorite is Lawrence Welk—and though he counts some very famous people as friends, he talks about them in terms of friendship, not fame, as in "Morrissey? Oh, he's a really nice guy."

He's currently reading a book called The Twilight of American Culture and is convinced the country is going the way of Rome with its emphasis on fluff and entertainment at the expense of substance. Then again, his job at PETA doesn't charge him with saving the culture, just raising awareness about PETA and the plight of animals . . . which would raise the consciousness and nobility of the race. So maybe it is.

A NATURALLY OBNOXIOUS PERSON

This being a story about PETA, I thought it'd be cool to get arrested, but they use guys like me as mints in prison, so Mathews was kind enough to include me on a scouting mission to find the perfect Kentucky Fried Chicken where people can soon be arrested. As it turned out, with Ms. Anderson's plane beckoning, we only had time to case one store. Mathews got out, notebook in hand, walked around the store, then in, then out, then got back in the car. The whole process took maybe two minutes. He'd done this before.

"It's not a great one," he said. "The drive-thru is too wide to close down and the counter inside has Plexiglas, so it would be hard to get onto the counter. On the other hand, they've got these wonderful railings to chain yourself to and there is a lot of traffic going by, so you can make a mess."

"Mess" equals arrests and coverage, and PETA wants the world to know that it believes KFC's chicken-killing method is inhumane, that the blades they employ to kill the chickens sometimes fail and that the animals end up being dropped alive into scalding water. It's horrible, Mathews says. Then he laughs and tells the story of how Chrissie Hynde took part in a protest against a KFC in Seattle and had a store manager yell at her, "Hey, get a job."

This is Mathews' job, too: not just deploying celebrities, but fucking things up, making people uncomfortable. It seems when you meet him that it would wear on him, but it doesn't.

"I'm a naturally obnoxious person," he said. "There is so much wrong with the world. What we do to these animals is wrong and anything we can do to fuck things up royally, I'm for. Frankly, I don't think we go far enough. It must go back to my old punk sensibility."

But being a punk in Costa Mesa in the late 1970s was anything but sensible. He'd grown up acting in local theater, got straight A's, skipped seventh grade and was fat—"They called me Shamu in swim class." He was a beatin' just waiting to happen. By the time he got to Costa Mesa High, he discovered Connie and punk.

"The idea that in the tanned, blond 1970s a guy would want to take a razor blade to his hair and dye it black didn't go," Mathews said. "I mean, I got beat up before I became a punk, but punk allowed me to be a more stylish outcast."

Connie says she got beaten up too, though she admits Dan got the worst of it since "he was 90 feet tall and a drama geek." The beatings continued throughout high school—sprinkler heads were thrown at him, he was tied up—and happened so often that, he said, "If there had been a gun at home, I probably would have shot somebody."

Fortunately, there wasn't a gun at home. There was Perry.

HE WENT DOWN LIKE A FAT BAG OF GROCERIES

Perry Lawrence was born an orphan in Virginia. Raised in foster homes, she was marching in civil rights demonstrations by 1960, though she didn't exactly buy into the whole movement. She once was turned away while trying to board a CORE bus, because officials were concerned she wouldn't so much turn the other cheek as make with the lefts and rights.

"And they were right, of course," Perry said. "If someone spit on me, I would do something about it."

She demonstrated against the KKK near the White House and marched with La Raza in honor of slain journalist Ruben Salazar. She took her kids to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and seemed more at home with Dan's punk friends than women her own age.

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