Jesse the IslandJESSE VENTURA IS A HARD GUY to lose track of. He was, after all, the monster truck that rolled over Minnesota politics. His mustache alone is mammoth enough to hide a couple of ex-XFL players, a few feather boas, and an entire state’s dignity. Recently, he grew a beard, dyed it black, and braided it, like Fidel Castro on a Princess cruise. “There’s not a Democrat or Republican out there who would get out of ofﬁce and dare to look like this,” he told a college audience last fall while sporting Elvis Presley sideburns and a Che Guevara T-shirt. The man’s a walking exclamation point. But somehow it happened: we lost our Mind.
It’s not like he didn’t warn us. In September 2005, he told Air America radio host Mike Malloy that he was leaving the country to have “an adventure.” The next month, appearing on CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, he said he’d lost faith in government and was leaving the United States for someplace surrounded by warm water. Add this tropical musing to the fact that Ventura’s most recent major appearance in Minnesota media was a mention, way last winter, of his new gig as a spokesperson for an offshore gambling operation—partly based in Costa Rica—and there’s really only one conclusion to be reached: he’s bought his own Caribbean island, hired Hulk Hogan as his cabana boy, and enlisted a bunch of drunken Irishmen to create a town much like his old stomping grounds, St. Paul.
Recently, acting on a tip from Ventura’s rival, Mr. T, we were able to confirm this—and much more. Jesse the Island, as the place is called, is peppered with signs saying “Ahoy, scurvy media jackals, ye shall be Body-slammed on sight.” However, by disguising ourselves as a 38-DD bra—the foundation garment Ventura once told Playboy he’d like to be reincarnated as—we were able to infiltrate the island and enter, Trojan horse–style, into Ventura’s compound. At night, while the ex-Body Politic slept, we snuck into his room and tied him to the bed with his beard braids. Then, after scrawling “I § the fourth estate” on his forehead, we did some reporting.
Seems Ventura has been inviting Castro over for bridge. (Randy “Macho Man” Savage and the Junkyard Dog complete the foursome.) The two revolutionaries smoke a few stogies and talk about how much the free press sucks. At some point in the evening, Castro inevitably has a few too many mojitos and begins taunting Ventura, an erstwhile Navy SEAL, about the Bay of Pigs invasion. Ventura then pulls the chair out from under the old man and smashes him over the head with it, finally flattening the leftist with a non-ironic Atomic Drop. These evenings may explain El Presidente’s recent hospitalization.
Ventura’s son, Tyrel, has the run of the place, and so does Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took the “My governor can beat up your governor” bumper stickers as a literal challenge and once wrestled Ventura to the ground while shouting “Who’s your Terminator?” Schwarzenegger now makes Ventura give him massages, and the former guv can do nothing but mumble about not having time to knead.
For the most part, though, Ventura lies in his doublewide hammock, swatting at small aircraft and downing strawberry daiquiris, challenging iguanas to cage matches and playing his steel drums, secure in the knowledge that Minnesota voters, staring at another dull-and-duller choice for governor next month, kind of miss him. Now and then, for old times’ sake, Ventura will make an official pronouncement, such as the one establishing every other Thursday as “Wear a Do-rag to Work Day.” Or he’ll hold a press conference, as he did last week to announce that margaritas at the house bar would be half off on weeknights, though church members and other weak-minded individuals would still be charged full price.
Yet even with all the horseplay, there is a darker current running through Ventura’s blue lagoon, and it’s not just the specter of contracting yellow fever or wrestlemania. There have been reports of employees from Jesse the Island seeking asylum in Cuba, desiring a better life. They are bedraggled and exhausted; they whisper about El Gringo Gigante, “the man who hunts men.” But it always turns out that Ventura has simply run these men ragged with his incessant demands for sunscreen and one-liners, and that they’ve misinterpreted his playful headbutts and shouts of “Whaddaya gonna do, vote me off the island?” as something more sinister. Some things never change, apparently. Even in paradise, it’s easy to be misunderstood. MM
Tim Gihring is Minnesota Monthly’s senior media jackal.