Like a great golden bumblebee, an apparition of America's political future stalked through the marble hive of Congress yesterday, 6 feet 2 in his gold boots, his gold lame cape with the red-gold-and-blue epaulets billowing over his 400-pound presence.
Drones gaped. Mouths sagged. Conversations fainted.
Then they noticed the gentle and triumphantly sane face behind the ogre beard, and they smiled. Cautiously.
"Hi! I'm Captain Sticky!" boomed the apparition, and when they passed he muttered, "You'd think they'd never see a fat guy in a cape before."
A child of television, Californiated and commercially sponsored (Polaroid), Captain Sticky mainlines consumer passions like a joyful Nader.
He has exposed so many abuses in California nursing homes that he has only to park his big black Stickymobile with its double-bubble evil detectors and twin peanut-butter-and-jelly cannons outside a suspect nursing home to get action.
He galvanized the state legislature into setting up a task force on nursing homes and then served on it six months. He won an award in 1977 from the Jaycees as one of the outstanding young men of America. He was 32 then.
He has gone after prepaid health plan frauds, methadone program abuses, crooked doctors who charged for their services as long as six weeks after a patient died.
He doesn't just go after them; sometimes he gets them. His volunteer staff of 31 lawyers sees to that. He calls them his evil-fighters, and for them at least, the contradictions of his bizarre figure and his investigations are not a problem.
Last winter, he testified at Federal Trade Commission hearings in San Francisco - cape and all - about the evils of TV advertising for the very young, but he believes that hearings and such are no longer the way America works.
"I've gotten more sophisticated about how this country operates," he said over an 11 a.m. lunch (Chinese pepper steak, rice, cake, two milks) in the Senate cafeteria. "All this testimony and stuff will be printed up and filed away and the lobbyists will get on it and nothing will happen.
"Washington is hermetically sealed off from the rest of the country. I go direct to the consumers. The people."
His latest campaign is developing, he said, into the greatest spontaneous movement of children since the Children's Crusade in 1212.("We know what happened to them, but let's not pursue the analogy too far.")
It started last year when an 8-year-old brownie scout named Suzy Ward wrote a letter from San Diego asking why "all the sugar cereals have good prizes and contests in them and the nutritional cereals don't have any prizes in them. I don't eat the sugar cereals and I don't think it's fair!"
So far, he says, 7,000 children in two states have signed the letter, petitions are being taken door-to-door, and all the schools and civic organizations in Pittsfield, Mass., have endorsed the idea of giving nutritional cereals a fighting chance by equalizing the hype.
This week Captain Sticky turned sleepy Pittfields upside down, appearing not only at all the schools in town, but on Bob Cudmore's radio show, where he announced he would walk on water.
"When we had the big event, the whole city virtually stopped. People parked in the intersections listening to their radios, Nobody did any business."
With Cudmore breathlessly newscasting on the spot, Sticky poured some water on the floor and walked on it.
"i haven't conquered deep water yet," he said.
For four days, Cudmore said later,the big man did for pittsfield what the Music Man did for River City.
He's a catalyst. he doesn't do anything himself, but he gets other people moving. It was like we created a new holiday here: the motorcade, the church groups singing the Sticky Song, a lot of good feeling for the Year of the Child, which is what we started out to promote. The cereal thing was almost an afterthought."
Next to his photos of gangrenous nursing home patients (he gives his informants cameras and Fink Forms to write down their evidence), Sticky has pictures of his new $35,000 Lincoln Continental Stickmobile with its thick crimson plush interior, three radar domes and banks of computers to track down evil.
Sticky started, in fact, as a car customizer in the Tom Wolfe era. Parlaying his Redondo Beach garage into Plyglas Corp., he quickly became a $1,000-a-day success, very comforting to his Pittsburgh coal miner father who had him christened Richard Allen Pesta.
Pesta has been battling the system since kindergarten, refusing his political science degree at a California state college, joining the Kennedy crusade in the late '50s and finally, about five years ago, discovering his true self, Captain Sticky, "America's on (Destroyer of Evil), M.M.O.C. (Mighty Man of Carbohydrates) and incorporated as World Intergalactic Enterprises Incs., or W.I.G.E., pronounced "Wiggy."
"I don't take donations," he said. "I'm a capitalist. I actually believe in the Constitution, all those things. Most of the people i meet believe in it too."
Talking faster than ever, he outlined his plans: He sold 10 percent of his stock to buy electronic gear to project four-color animation sequences on handy clouds. His scheme to buy an aircraft carrier (for rock concerts, charity banquets, shopping malls) is "delayed," but he has his eye on a modest $35,000 blimp with a readerboard which would hover over evildoing nursing homes and run off accusations in lights.
"We're also going to set up consumer protective units in San Francisco for a starter. Most ordinary people just won't go to a public office to get help. This will be private enterprise with a mechanic on duty to check auto frauds and lawyers to initiate small-claims actions by the thousands until we can build up enough evidence to see D.a."
Part of the money for this and his projected homes for "abandoned women and children"will come fromhis no-sugar, no preservative Captain Sticky peanut butter. It goes on the market in July, complete with a label warning you to brush your teeth after eating-especially if you mix it with jelly.
Peanut butter and jelly seems to be a thing with a caped crusader. Where do you think the name Captain Sticky came from, anyway? CAPTION: Picture, Captain Sticky, Richard Pesta, in Russell Building Rotunda, by James K. W. Atherton