A Tale of Two Rubins: the Orchid Potter and the 'Wow' Peddler

Let's clear this up instantly. There are two Jerry Rubins. One is a Venice peace activist who makes $6 an hour potting orchids. The other is a Famous Ex-Radical who paid $85,000 in personal income taxes last year.

The Venice Rubin is relatively soft-spoken and says please and thank you and had to resort to potting orchids because peace is ruining his paid anti-war activism.

The Other Rubin jumps in your face waving health powders like "Wow!" and displays the kind of relentless energy that drove the Establishment crazy 25 years ago, first when he was a screaming yippie and then a member of the Chicago 7.

When the two Rubins are together, there is no confusing them. The Venice Rubin is tall and curly-haired, wears shorts, a tank top and sneakers and doesn't speak unless spoken to.

The Other Rubin is shorter and neatly trimmed and wears a gray pin-striped suit and red patterned tie and darts around his $5,000-a-month high-rise apartment like a chipmunk in a forest, demanding redress.

The redress he is demanding is clarification. He wants the world to know he is not the orchid-potting Jerry Rubin but the Rubin who, like Ollie North, leaped from the ashes of a former career to achieve success in a new one.

The new endeavor is network marketing in association with a company called Life Extension International, which is about as far removed from political activism as Howard Stern from the Bishop of Canterbury.

Rubin and LEI hustle health potions like the aforementioned "Wow!," an orange-flavored confection which the Famous Ex-Radical urged me to drink, promising it would make me feel stronger and smarter within minutes.

Then he turned to the Venice Jerry Rubin, fixed him with a stare hard enough to pierce armor and said, "I can make you rich."

*

This all began with a nice little column I wrote a fortnight ago about the Venice Jerry Rubin, whom I shall call Rubin 1. He is director of the L.A. Alliance for Survival and made his living taking half of the alliance's profits from its anti-war activities.

But then the Berlin Wall came down, Russia fell apart and the peace movement began going to hell, all of which impacted on the $6,000 a year Rubin was making to live on.

The irony of a peace activist suffering from the agony of peace appealed to me, so I wrote about Rubin, a 50-year-old guy who, by his own assessment, had no skills, couldn't drive and had only $2 in the bank.

Two things happened. Rubin got a job potting orchids for $6 an hour and probably would have been happy potting orchids the rest of his life. But then along comes the Famous Ex-Radical, the 1960s yippie turned yuppie, a description, as columnist Dan Akst says, that runs through his life like a Homeric epithet.

This Rubin, Rubin 2, who is either 47 or 53, depending on whom you believe, moved to L.A. recently from New York and was busily making his bid as Health Powder King of America when suddenly he begins getting telephone calls from people asking if he wants to borrow money.

They have read my column on the Venice Jerry Rubin and assume, upon an inability to perceive details, that it is he.

He pays little attention at first, but then women begin calling to say they are not going out with a guy who has only $2 in the bank. Where could he possibly take them? Then his landlord, whose confidence in Rubin's ability to pay is badly shaken, begins demanding several months' rent in advance.

At least this is what I hear in a series of telephone calls from Rubin, his women, his lawyer, his ex-wife and I don't know who else.

Rubin himself calls maybe half a dozen times, begging, cajoling, pleading and demanding. The confusion of Two Rubins is ruining his life, he says. He even gets Rubin 1 to take time away from potting orchids to call and say maybe we ought to clear the whole thing up.

The assault is endless. I am beginning to feel like Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War. Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies have you killed today?

*

Both Rubins love publicity. They sense media potential the way a tiger shark detects a bleeding seal. By smell? Vibrations? Color alterations in the atmosphere? Who knows. Science is working on it.

Rubin 2 was the one orchestrating a thrust for clarification, since he has the most to gain. Whenever his name appears in print, another 500 cases of "Wow!" are sold throughout the known world.

But the prospect of more ink also appeals to Rubin 1, so he takes a bus to 2's high-rise in Westwood. The security guard says who would you like to see and he says, "Jerry Rubin."

The guard says, "Name please?" and he says "Jerry Rubin" again.

The guard says, " Your name," and he sighs and says, "We're the same."

I am told this story by Rubin 1 in Rubin 2's 11th-floor luxury apartment where we have gathered for the Clarification Session. "See!" says Rubin 2 triumphantly. "There's confusion everywhere!"

In order to end the confusion, 2 launches into a narrative of his own success, in contrast to 1's pathetic orchid-potting existence. He shows me copies of his personal and corporate income tax forms to prove his worth and says he has made more money in one year than Rubin 1 will make his entire life.

It is a strange monologue coming from a guy who once placed money in the same category as the John Birch Society, but he delivers it with a verve not to be denied. Suddenly, by his narrative, "Wow!" is transformed into something on a level with mother's milk and holy water.

1, meanwhile, seems content to leave the show to his more famous counterpart, mumbling occasionally that he still loves peace and doesn't mind potting orchids, but that's not good enough for 2, whose kinetic personality is not unlike that of a mongoose in a tank of cobras. He is everywhere at once. Even when he is sitting he is standing.

*

It is at this point that 2 offers to make 1 rich. "I want you to work for me," he says. "I want every Jerry Rubin in America to work for me."

He offers to train 1 to sell his health potions, even as he has trained thousands of others. Rubin calls his networking "people's capitalism," a phrase that manages an egalitarian cant even as it holds out the prospect of ease and opulence through entrepreneurial magic.

Rubin 1 mumbles something in response, to which 2 says, "What? Speak up, what'd you say?" in words that whistle by 1's ear like .50-caliber bullets.

"I'd like to think it over," 1 says uneasily in a tone only slightly louder than before. Clearly, he would like to leave.

Rubin 2 is not happy with the offer left dangling but lets it go at that. I suspect 1 will go right on potting orchids for $6 an hour and 2 will go right on hustling "Wow!" until he is Wow King of the World. He is already planning a news conference based on our Clarification Session, and who knows what else. Oprah? Donahue? Geraldo?

For my part, I am no happier or smarter for having drunk "Wow!" and hope never to hear from another Jerry Rubin for the rest of my life. It would almost be worth another world war just to keep them all busy working for peace. How could it hurt?

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