Monday, January 25, 2010

The Only Republican I've Ever Liked

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit now that between giving up on rock and roll and becoming the worst-selling author of a book about The Kinks (to whose post-60s music I am not flattered to hear my own compared, and about whom I want never to speak or even hear ever again), I briefly supported myself as a kidnapper.

Vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in the early fall of 1983, my first wife and I signed up for the horseback excursion our hotel offered. During the otherwise pleasant outing, a jowly, pink, wire-rimmed glasses guy whose bloatedness presumably suggested prosperity was snatched from among us with his wife by a quartet of what I supposed might have been called banditos with rotting teeth and intimidating glares. At first, I hoped it was some sort of charade intended to make the experience more vivid, but there was no mistaking the genuineness of Jowlyboy’s terrified whimpering as the banditos’ leader vigorously sodomized him right in front of us.

When they’d gone, our tour leader, who had some typical latino given name that I don’t recall — Miguel, something along those line — explained that, while the Bahía de Banderas tourism office had long been looking into ways of curtailing such abductions, they were still fairly commonplace. He hoped we would enjoy the balance of our ride, and we did.

On getting home to Los Angeles and finding nothing in the mailbox but a lot of form letters from editors thanking me for my interest in their periodicals, but lamenting that what I’d submitted wasn’t quite right for them, I resolved to return to Mexico and try my own hand at kidnapping.

I was lucky enough, within 10 days of essentially becoming a fixture at a Starbucks in Mexico City’s high-crime Iztapalapa district known to be a favorite meeting place of kidnappers, to fall in with a gang of similarly disgruntled fellow American expats. Their leader, or jefe, J. Ronald Feldman, had been a very successful intellectual property lawyer in the Twin Cities until realizing that you go around only once in life, and that his own had been pretty low on excitement. He’d grown a Fu Manchu (or, as he preferred, Sgt. Pepper-era John Lennon) mustache, learned a bit of Spanish, developed what would eventually prove a fatal thirst for artisanal tequila, and established himself as one of Mexico’s top human traffickers.

The Mexican media’s portrayal of him as a brutal sociopath notwithstanding, he was a patient and generous mentor to me, and within six months of my first latte in Iztapalapa, I was leading my own crew. You can imagine my elation on discovering that our first victim, L. Powell Bruton, on whom we descended as he left a swanky restaurant on Av. Presidente Masarik in the Polanco district, was an occasional advisor to Ronald Reagan, a former golf partner of Richard Nixon, and presumably obscenely rich.

The problem was that he was also a good egg, good-humored, brave, not a whiner. A lot of the people I’d snatched as part of the Feldman gang had started out threatening us, saying things like, “You have no idea how much hot water you’ve gotten yourself into, pal,” as though in a Ridley Scott film, and then, when that didn’t work, begging weepily, making real nuisances of themselves (which, of course, was the whole idea). Pow (he explicitly forbade us to call him Mr. Bruton), though, took the whole thing with remarkable grace, saying, “Hey, I understand you fellows are just doing what you think you need to,” even after learning that we would be sending his attorney one of his fingers every extra day we had to wait for the $18.75 million ransom we’d demanded.

He also did his best to help me understand that he’d left very strict instructions for…his people never to negotiate with kidnappers, but I, in that way I sometimes have — in that way I have far, far too often — didn’t take it to heart. Eight days after his snatching, he had only his thumbs left, and we not a nickel in ransom money, but even then he retained his sense of humor. “A heckuva lot of good opposable thumbs are going to do me,” he chuckled at one point while I cursed the non-ringing telephone and motionless fax machine, “now that you’ve left me nothing to oppose them with!” That night, when I finally broke into tears of frustration, he said, “Hey, come on now, John. Nobody’s going to hire me as a typist or piano player, but I can still hitchhike, and in both the USA and UK!” I can honestly tell you he was the only Republican I’ve ever liked.

Within six months, I’d returned to California, swallowed my pride, and myself taken as a job as a typist. Sometimes in this wacky world, people get exactly what’s coming to them.

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