Public access TV show host Richard Renda was talking some very big talk in his apartment on West 34th Street. Mr. Renda claimed that he is the Second Coming. That he has been around “since time began.” That he can control the weather “or anything else” since he has a “direct line” to Mother Nature. He also called himself “the Word of God” and “the King of Kings.”
It was 2 p.m. on a Monday, and Mr. Renda looked like Iggy Pop after a rough night. The shades were drawn in his studio-office, which was filled with videotapes, CD’s and stuffed animals. His ex-wife and business partner, Laurie Schechter, was there too, at her computer, working on a freelance project for Muscle & Fitness magazine.
This past February, during fashion designer Oscar de la Renta’s fall collection show at Seventh on Sixth, Mr. Renda almost became famous when he jumped out of the pit (where he was filming the event for his public access show, Totally Cool ), leaped onto the runway and ripped the signs from the hands of two protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But that only got him as far as the New York Post ‘s Page Six, where he called the protesters’ actions “totally outrageous and uncalled-for.” Now he’s back filming installments of Totally Cool and whipping himself up about his latest cause–the West Nile virus-infected mosquito.
“They’re everywhere ,” he said in his apartment. “Ponds, rivers, lakes, puddles, railroad tracks! What, does Giuliani think he’s going to fight Mother Nature? Pardon me. I know about this mosquito repellent and I know this problem is coming.”
At this point, Mr. Renda produced a black, clip-on, electronic mosquito-repelling device. By the end of the week, he said, he’d be getting 10,000 of them, which he plans to sell for $12.95 apiece–or two for $20 on his Web site.
Mr. Renda, 46, grew up on Long Island. His destiny was revealed to him by a series of unmistakable signs. It started when he realized as a kid that he was able to see molecular force fields around telephone wires. Then, in 1980, while he was watching a 700 Club telethon, host Pat Robertson prophesied that a very intelligent 27-year-old male would come into power when he was 31. Guess whom Mr. Robertson was referring to.
Soon Mr. Renda was on a crusade of his own. He believed that more than 50,000 marijuana-smoking Long Island youths were catching herpes from a dealer who smoked with his clients. He went door-to-door to warn his neighbors, but they became annoyed and called the cops. “Five cops put me in a chokehold,” Mr. Renda said. He claimed the chokehold killed him but that 15 minutes later he came back to life. (Mr. Renda is registered with the International Association for Near-Death Studies at the University of Connecticut.) After the choking incident, Mr. Renda said, he was followed 24 hours a day by the cops, the mob, the C.I.A and the F.B.I. “It went cat-and-mouse for a while,” he said. “All I can tell you is, ultimately it stopped. When the shuttle blew up–and when it blew up, it drew a big ‘R’ in the sky, and my name is Richard David Renda–then it stopped.”
Mr. Renda, like a lot of crazy people, maintains he isn’t crazy.
“Trust me, don’t even go for a walk over to the lunatic direction, because you’ll wind up in a lot of trouble there,” he warned me. “I’m not a lunatic. Some might like to say that I am, but then they would have a problem because I’m very certified. I’m certified ‘very sane.’ Oh, you have no idea!”
In 1987, he moved to Manhattan and met Laurie Schechter, the decorating editor at House & Garden . They married, and soon Ms. Schechter became one of Vogue ‘s style editors. In 1991, she was chosen to help launch Allure , but it didn’t work out. Ms. Schechter clashed with Linda Wells, the editor in chief, and found her role diminished. She was given a smaller office and eventually left the magazine.
“There was no Allure before Laurie Schechter,” Mr. Renda said.
Anything else? “The bottom line is, I am the prophet’s prophet. All the prophets that came before–they’re false prophets. But I’m real, and I don’t care whether they were here or not. I am the Word of God .”
“What sort of power do you have?”
“Need an earthquake, a volcano, weekend rain–what do you need?”
Mr. Renda eyed me suspiciously. “I’ll come after you and I’ll take your fucking soul ,” he said. “O.K.? Do not make me look like a lunatic. I am real.”
Before I left, Mr. Renda had one more thing to say. He said his greatest mentors were Condé Nast editors.
“Anna [Wintour] was my mentor,” Ms. Schechter added.
“Right,” Mr. Renda said. “The Condé Nast editors are the editors of quality, the people that really represent the top line–well, for what has been the last hundred years of history. André Leon Talley I happen to love. Unfortunately, I’m very sad at the loss, but Alexander Liberman–that was the person I admired the most, Alexander. S.I. Newhouse. Candy Pratt. Polly! Wonderful Polly, Ms. Mellen–who’d beat your ass with a leather coat. All of the best of the best.”
With all the talk about Harry Potter this and Harry Potter that, nobody seems to have noticed that Bobbi Brown, makeup artist, has quietly cracked the new New York Times children’s best-seller list with her book Bobbi Brown Teenage Beauty: Everything You Need To Look Pretty, Natural, Sexy, & Awesome .
If you’d walked past Saks Fifth Avenue early on July 27, you would’ve seen a big blown-up photograph of the book’s cover–an adolescent model with a glossy Mona Lisa smile and heavy blue liner around her eyes–promoting the author’s in-store appearance. (Apparently, to be “pretty, natural, sexy, & awesome,” it helps to have a whole bunch of colored pencils and foundation sticks in the $15 to $50 range.)
Ms. Brown, a small, wren-like woman in her early 40’s, has three kids ages 10, 7 and 2–all boys. When would she let a hypothetical daughter start spackling herself? “Oh, you know, I think it’s about having them play with makeup whenever they felt like it,” she said in a Demi Moore-esque contralto. “And the truth is, six-year-old girls love makeup, they love to watch their moms do makeup, so playing with it is fine, and, you know, maybe pretending and putting Vaseline on their lips–like, ‘Oh, you’re just like Mommy.’ I think kids love to play Mommy and Daddy. The boys love to shave and they always put Daddy’s shoes on, so I think it’s a normal thing, but when is it appropriate to wear it out? You’re certainly not going to put a red lipstick on a seven-year-old or she’s going to look like JonBenet Ramsey. So it’s really about putting on, you know, a little pinky sheer gloss.”
Besides tips of this nature, the book’s chapters have classic titles like “Smelling Good/Smelling Bad,” “Braces: They’re Not Forever” and, simply, “Zits!” A vague strain of girlie empowerment runs throughout, like if we could just all get together and paint one another’s nails crazy colors, everything would be fine.
“I guess I’m afraid to talk about empowerment, because it reminds me of, you know, the shoulder pads and that song ‘I am woman, hear me roar,’ and I think it’s so much beyond that, you know?” said Ms. Brown. “Do I consider myself a feminist? I don’t consider myself anything, no I don’t … I don’t consider myself not and I don’t consider myself yes. I mean, yes, I believe I should get paid as much as a man and I believe I could be as powerful as a man, and I believe I could, you know, go into work and say ‘I can’t make this meeting because my son is sick’ or ‘I have to go to his play’ or something, but I believe that’s O.K. to do. But I also like nothing better than to cook dinner for my husband. I’m so happy to be a woman and to do the things that I kind of grew up and saw my mom do. I love to take care of people. I know Naomi Wolf–does that make me a feminist? Ha ha ha.”