Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir

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9780743291873: Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir
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The vice president of PETA describes the high-profile and often incendiary awareness-raising events that have marked his career, from the demonstration during which he dressed like a carrot to promote vegetarianism only to have farming children throw bologna slices at him, to his attack on a GM Rose Parade float to protest their use of animals in crash tests. 40,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

Dan Matthews worked as a dancing tree in the Disneyland Christmas parade, a burger flipper at McDonald's, and a model and actor in Italy before earning a history degree from American University. Upon graduating, he took a job as receptionist at PETA and worked his way up for more than twenty years to become the group's vice president, charged with increasing awareness of animal rights through a variety of provocative campaigns. He lives in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Atomic Meltdown

The strongest earthquake ever to hit North America struck Alaska on March 27, 1964, killing 117 people and propelling a fifty-foot seismic sea wave southward in the Pacific at 450 miles per hour. Anxious forecasters reported that the tsunami, which battered parts of the Canadian coast, might roar ashore in Southern California overnight.

After watching doomsday predictions on the late news, Ray kissed his wife, Mary Ellen, and went to bed, figuring their small suburban house, located an hour south of Los Angeles near Newport harbor, was on a hill high enough to keep the young family dry. Ray dozed off, but Mary Ellen couldn't. As the town nervously slumbered, she enlivened, feeling the familiar pull of some magnetic force inside that lured her to wherever the action was. Carefully tiptoeing into the bathroom, Mary Ellen combed up her dark blond hair, applied her trademark kissy pink lipstick, slipped out into their maroon Plymouth Belvedere station wagon, and made a beeline for the beach in hopes of beholding history. I was her unwitting accomplice; she was pregnant with me at the time. I was headed for adventure before I was born.

Mary Ellen meandered around closed sections of the Pacific Coast Highway and found a perfect spot near Newport Pier, where she was dazzled by the stars and sea and saluted by fellow disaster fans. Then, without warning, it came. Not the tidal wave, but a radio report that the surge wouldn't amount to much more than a surfable swell. With a sigh, Mary Ellen joined the other disgruntled rubberneckers at a beachfront coffee shop that had stayed open to cater the calamity. She sat alone at the counter, disappointed that Mother Nature had thwarted her late-night sightseeing excursion.

I learned from Mom that life is a parade that is more exciting to march in than just let pass you by. Her independent spirit stems from a ragamuffin childhood spent bouncing between orphanages and foster homes in Virginia and Washington, D.C., where she often skipped school to attend trials at the Supreme Court or watch Congress in action. She was at the Capitol in pigtails when FDR arrived to declare war on Japan.

My parents met in Reno, "The Biggest Little City in the World," in the late 1950s. Mary Ellen had ventured west and become a blackjack dealer at Harold's Club, an old casino with a gigantic mural of stagecoach pioneers that towered above Reno's downtown neon strip. Hired more for her looks than her gaming skills, she dealt cards in shiny cowgirl boots, form-fitting gabardine western slacks, a red-checkered shirt with silver collar tips, a bandana, and a cocked ten-gallon hat. She rented a room by the week at a motel where a handsome, friendly young man named Ray was working for the summer. Tall and trim, with closely cropped dark hair and hazel eyes, Ray had unpretentious charm. One afternoon in the parking lot, while kneeling to fix her hair in the side-view mirror of somebody's jalopy, she spied him approaching.

"Are my bangs straight?" she asked, flashing her baby blue eyes. They must have been; the two soon got married and moved to Southern California.

Ray, whose Jewish family stowed away on a Canadian-bound boat to flee persecution in the Ukraine in 1902, grew up in a rough Latino section of East Los Angeles. He's a good-humored, hardworking optimist whose passions include the Civil War, road trips, and food, all of which got passed on to me. He often takes bites from everybody else's plates, another trait I inherited. Shortly after my parents married, Dad was employed as a chicken truck driver, but eventually he landed a job managing restaurants, and they settled into a small house in Newport Beach, an upscale town in ultraconservative Orange County. Ray and Mary Ellen, who were active volunteers for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, never fit into the prim, atomic-era enclave, but they felt the area was ideal for raising a family. My brother Mike was born in 1963, I surfaced in '64, and Patrick arrived in '67. In keeping with American tradition, my parents divorced in '71.

Having flunked middle class, Mom, Mike, Patrick, and I moved inland to Costa Mesa, a bland suburb made up of strip malls and fast-food joints brimming with tanned white people who were really happy that the weather was nice. We lived in a succession of dingy two-bedroom apartments; Mike got his own room because he was oldest, and Patrick and I grudgingly shared the other room. Mom slept in the living room on a shabby couch surrounded by overflowing bookcases and a thrift-shop television with a wire-hanger antenna.

Although we continually slipped down rungs on the economic ladder, Mary Ellen insisted that we'd always be culturally refined, a declaration she'd make in a dredged-up Southern drawl. Every Saturday morning, as Led Zeppelin blared from a neighbor's apartment, Mom would switch on the classical station and blast opera, live from the New York Met. Then she'd apply a greasy facial and flit about the hovel scrubbing floors and windows, often in tears -- not because she hated housework but because she was moved by some emotional aria. Mike, who was always the most sensible among us, shared Mom's tuneful tastes and became a Beethoven buff, often playing his junk-shop violin or the beat-up piano crammed into a corner of the living room. My ears bled. The closest to classical I could get was the Electric Light Orchestra, whose songs I taped off the AM radio when I wasn't giggling with Patrick to a crass Cheech & Chong record. Or cheering in front of the television when my favorite skater flipped an opponent over the guardrail in the Roller Derby. If my brow were any lower, it'd be a chin.

Each evening, when Mom got home from whatever bookkeeping job her temp agency had sent her to, Mike, Patrick, or I would have the Hamburger Helper ready, and we'd eat and watch the news. Always up-to-date on local and global affairs, Mom had a sarcastic, unpredictable opinion on everything from bra burning ("What fool with boobs would do that?") to people who tie sweaters around their waist or shoulders ("They should be removed from society"). Once in a while Mary Ellen skipped work to volunteer for an urgent cause of the day, ranging from marching with downtrodden Mexican immigrants to helping Malibu millionaires dig their homes out from under mudslides. She would have nothing to do with the most notable local organization, however: the national headquarters of the extreme right-wing John Birch Society. Mom readily introduced herself as "the last of the Socialists," which didn't win her invitations to many Tupperware parties.

Most parents shield their children from the world's unrest, which, I believe, has caused an epidemic of apathy; by the time kids are deemed old enough to "understand," they've grown comfortably accustomed to not caring. Mary Ellen, in her often irrational and always emotional way, made us feel obliged to choose sides in any issue in the news. When Walter Cronkite reported that Anita Bryant was hit in the face with a pie by gays protesting her crusade against Florida's antidiscrimination bill, Mary Ellen leaped from the table and cheered, then turned down the sound to spell out the controversy to Patrick, Mike, and me.

"Gays are boys that love boys and girls that love girls," she said. "Some idiots are threatened by gays because they say the Bible dictates you should only love people in order to have kids, which happens when a boy loves a girl. That's asinine -- boys and girls love each other all the time without having babies, and anyway there are too many people in the world." My prepubescent brothers and I didn't really understand the "baby" part, but we loved the idea that somebody tossed pies, and we wanted to meet these pranksters, these gays.

"Boys," Mom continued, "I'm going to enroll you in ballet so you can be around them -- they're lots of fun." We were in tights by Christmas, having landed roles as dancing rats in a regional production of The Nutcracker.

Mom's political opinions were often shared with politicians, usually by telegram, despite the cost, even if it meant we bounced the rent check. President Nixon received such a telegram, demanding he withdraw troops from Cambodia, and when we didn't receive a favorable reply, an impeach nixon sign went into our front window.

"Oh, I like Nixon, too," said a simple, smiling neighbor without a trace of irony. "Merde," Mom sighed, rolling her eyes. "Well, at least she understood one word."

The only filthy phrase in our home was "Mind your own business." Mom instilled in us a meddling, protective vigilance, which can be traced to the institutional neglect she endured growing up in orphan asylums during the Great Depression. We learned to observe and react to the world around us, to show a sense of responsibility, and to keep an eye out for others. Even animals.

One afternoon during third grade I was walking home from school and spotted some menacing fifth-graders throwing rocks into a bush. I slowed down out of curiosity, though I tried to appear nonchalant, as these were boys who would certainly slug you in the stomach unprovoked. As I strolled by, a miserable screech echoed from the shrub. The boys chuckled. I knelt down to see a terrified, pregnant gray tabby. The cat was trying to hide and had become entangled, looking defenseless and defeated. Our eyes locked, and she seemed to wonder if I, too, was an attacker.

Would these older kids beat me up if I intervened? Unsure of myself, I forced a smile, making them think I might join in the fun while pondering my options. Should I find my brothers or call Mom at work? Should I flag down a cop or knock on the nearest door? The boys had run out of rocks and began chucking sticks and dirt clods at their target, trying to drive her from the bush. What would they do then? I knelt down again, and she looked up at me, full of anguish.

Suddenly oblivious to the junior sadists, I dove under the bush and reached through the low, dry branches to unsnarl the fat cat without squishing her stomach....

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

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ISBN 10:  0743291948 ISBN 13:  9780743291941
Publisher: Atria Books, 2008
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Duckwo..., 2009
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Book Description Atria Books, United States, 2007. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Committed is a bold, offbeat, globe-trotting memoir that shows how the most ridiculed punching bag in high school became an internationally renowned crusader for the most downtrodden individuals of all -- animals. This irresistibly entertaining book recounts the random incidents and soul-searching that inspired a reluctant party boy to devote his life to a cause, without ever abandoning his sense of mischief and fun. Everyone has a tense moment in their career that makes them wonder, how the hell did I get into this mess? writes Mathews. For me, it was when I was dressed as a carrot to promote vegetarianism outside an elementary school in Des Moines, and a pack of obese pig farmers showed up and peeled off slices of bologna for kids to throw at me. As the irreverent force behind the colorful crusades carried out by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the most effective and enduring pressure groups in the world, Mathews has strutted naked before a fur convention in Tokyo, halted GM s use of animals in crash tests by storming the carmaker s float in the Rose Parade dressed as a rabbit, and crashed a fashion show in Milan dressed as a priest. With self-deprecating wit and candor, Mathews reveals all the edgy details of his unorthodox coming-of-age and equally outrageous career.With backdrops such as the rock scene in Hollywood and London, the inner sanctums of New York high fashion, jails in Hong Kong and Boston, and a psychiatric ward in Paris, Committed spotlights the adventures life can offer when you don t abandon your youthful ideals and imagination. Seller Inventory # NLF9780743291873

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Book Description Atria Books, United States, 2007. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Committed is a bold, offbeat, globe-trotting memoir that shows how the most ridiculed punching bag in high school became an internationally renowned crusader for the most downtrodden individuals of all -- animals. This irresistibly entertaining book recounts the random incidents and soul-searching that inspired a reluctant party boy to devote his life to a cause, without ever abandoning his sense of mischief and fun. Everyone has a tense moment in their career that makes them wonder, how the hell did I get into this mess? writes Mathews. For me, it was when I was dressed as a carrot to promote vegetarianism outside an elementary school in Des Moines, and a pack of obese pig farmers showed up and peeled off slices of bologna for kids to throw at me. As the irreverent force behind the colorful crusades carried out by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the most effective and enduring pressure groups in the world, Mathews has strutted naked before a fur convention in Tokyo, halted GM s use of animals in crash tests by storming the carmaker s float in the Rose Parade dressed as a rabbit, and crashed a fashion show in Milan dressed as a priest. With self-deprecating wit and candor, Mathews reveals all the edgy details of his unorthodox coming-of-age and equally outrageous career.With backdrops such as the rock scene in Hollywood and London, the inner sanctums of New York high fashion, jails in Hong Kong and Boston, and a psychiatric ward in Paris, Committed spotlights the adventures life can offer when you don t abandon your youthful ideals and imagination. Seller Inventory # NLF9780743291873

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