The New Yorker
A Jolly Green Giant
by Jake Halpern
Few New Yorkers took notice when, last November, Bernhard Goetz—the famous subway vigilante—ran for mayor and lost. He received just thirteen hundred votes, and even much of this support seems to have been born of confusion. "I met about a dozen people who voted for me, and generally I can't say I really agree with their reasoning," Goetz said over lunch at a vegetarian diner the other day. "Some people said they voted for me because they supported the right of gun ownership, and I wasn't even talking about that on my mayoral platform." Goetz's platform called for the creation of a vegetarian menu in the city's schools, jails, and hospitals. "Despite the fact that I do not have a love affair with New York City, I think that New York City does influence the whole world, and I think a quarter of the world's problems would be solved if most people would become vegetarians," he said as he sipped a soy milkshake.
Goetz's credibility as a spokesman for the vegetarian cause is somewhat hindered by his legacy as the man who, in 1984, shot four teen-agers with his unlicensed .38 handgun. His only regret, he said later, was that he had run out of bullets. (He served eight months in Rikers Island.) "I would much rather be known for playing a small part in the vegetarian movement," he said.
To that end, he occasionally joins volunteers from the VivaVegie Society to pass out informational flyers, but he does it incognito: dressed as a giant pea pod—or, rather, a giant sexy-lady pea pod. "When he's wearing the costume, you can't see his face," Pam Rice, VivaVegie's director, explained. "I think that's what Bernie likes about it."
A few weeks ago, Goetz made one of his pea-pod appearances, in the city's annual Halloween Parade. That evening, he and some fellow-volunteers gathered in Rice's apartment. After Goetz slipped into his costume, he looked over and nodded approvingly at a cohort dressed in a giant vine-ripened-tomato suit. "Good—we needed this. Excellent! We should have a walking banana, too." He hung a sign around his neck that read, "Give Peas a Chance." "There's magic in this costume," he announced. "The pea pod casts a spell. People react positively to it. They just do."
Later that evening, as Goetz marched up Sixth Avenue, amid axe murderers, Roman emperors, and transvestite vampire hookers, his towering outfit attracted throngs of admirers, many of whom wanted their picture taken with him. "Did you make that costume yourself?" one girl asked.
"I was born in this costume!" Goetz replied in his high-pitched pea-pod voice. "Don't eat the animals!"
The big tomato, who was following Goetz to keep him supplied with pamphlets, stumbled and almost fell. "Careful, Tomato!" Goetz called out.
Two hours later, when the parade ended, at Twenty-second Street, Goetz ventured into a rush of traffic and tried to hail a taxi. Rice eventually suggested the subway. Down on the platform, Goetz, still in disguise, posed for more pictures, then ducked into a No. 9 train. A group of high-school students greeted him with a round of applause. Goetz nodded his oversized green head, bowed slightly, and gave them the peace sign.