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?

"I remember her as a very beautiful woman, but also as just a very shocking person," Connie said. "She behaved like no mother I had ever met. I think she forgot to go to mom etiquette class."

Above all things she taught her kids to resist bullies, that if they ever saw anyone picking on someone weaker—especially parents mistreating their children—they were to berate them, shout at them and make them stop. When kids in the family's Costa Mesa neighborhood thought it was fun to crush cats' skulls, she had her sons collect any strays they could find. Soon, their small apartment teemed with 22 felines.

"My only memory of social consciousness is reminding my children as well as anyone else's that it was of vital importance to look out for those with needs of any kind," Perry said. "Ethics. Ethics. Ethics. Fellow man and fellow animal."

At the time, of course, Mathews was the one beset by bullies. One day, as a high school senior, he got slugged in the stomach and went down like a fat bag of groceries.

"All these people stood around in a circle and they were laughing. It was an awful situation," he said.

A month later he was on a fishing trip with his father and brothers. He'd already started to feel uneasy about fishing—why did a fun activity have to include making some other living thing miserable? On this trip, he actually caught a fish, a flounder, and pulled it aboard the boat, where it flopped about to be laughed at and then beaten.

"All of these people were just standing around laughing at this poor, ugly fish and at that moment the flounder was the only living thing I could relate to on that boat. I suddenly realized that I'd become the bully. I instantly stopped eating fish.


Drinking with Morrissey

"To be honest, I really wouldn't describe myself as an animal lover. I love cats, I love raccoons and monkeys. Dogs are all right—they're a little needy. I'm at PETA out of basic respect. My mom raised me and my brothers to be very aware of what was going on in the world and that we had responsibility to help correct things. I ended up at PETA because if you look at the sheer numbers of those being abused, the most downtrodden segment of the world is animals. They're burned and blinded and mutilated, skinned alive, beaten and forced to perform. It seems like we're almost at war with the other animals. Animals were the place that was the emergency situation for the sheer numbers of atrocities. And no, I'm not saying they're more important than other things—than fighting for the homeless, let's say. Anyone who has the calling should do what they need to do. It's the people who say, 'Well, what about people?' who are always the ones doing nothing."

WALTZING IS A WEAPON

I've been telling my friends I'm working on a story about a guy who works for PETA, and these generally liberal people—they might prefer "progressive"—have generally done the same thing, which is to cluck their tongues and say things like, "Oh, those guys go way too far. They chase away more people than they attract."

That PETA, scary PETA, seems like an entirely different organization right now as we sit in the offices of Klasky Csupo—the folks who produce Rugrats—to check out a commercial they're producing for PETA. It features Dolly Parton singing as a mugging Kathy Najimy rushes to get home (the song suggests) to her man. It's a really cute and funny commercial and, as it turns out, Kathy is not rushing home to her man but to her dog. It's a soft reminder, aimed at kids, that animals have feelings, that they're worthy of our love and respect and should be treated thus. It's a gentle message, but one to grow on.

Mathews would be loath to admit that PETA is looking to soften its image. There are plenty of people and corporations, he says, that need to be "bashed on." He can tick off incredibly inhumane tales of cows skinned alive, sheep dumped alive into the ocean, and one circuitous dance of cruelty that involved not only the slaughter of rabbits but the recording of their screams as they were being slaughtered, so that it could be sold to hunters to lure predators, which they shoot, kill and mount on their walls.

But it's hard to fight that culture with people who have been raised to see that as the culture. The key, as McDonald's and Quiksilver will tell you, is to get to your target audience early, bring them along, educate them as they grow. Brand them. And much of PETA's efforts have been aimed at Gen-X and younger, he says, "because they're just forming" their eating and spending habits.

So, who knows, in the years to come Mathews may become the avuncular "Unky Dan" that kids grew up listening to and learning from about our friends the animals. But for adults these days he's still an unholy terror whose reputation precedes him. Last February, Pam Anderson invited him to Vienna to take part in the city's annual Opera Ball. But when folks there found out Mathews was appearing, cancellations rained down as women despaired of having something horrible thrown at their furs. It turned out that he really wanted to go to the ball, that he had taken dance lessons and faxed the organizers to assure them he had no intention of throwing red paint—or anything else.

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