The Taco Bell Chihuahua sits slumped over a picnic table at a Doggie Diner in this Los Angeles suburb with the misleadingly glamorous name. He's wearing dark glasses and chain-smoking Dunhills.
"I fucking knew it, man," he says, stubbing out a barely started cigarette on the tabletop and adding it to a rapidly growing collection under his seat. "Everything's always 'Cool, beautiful, man, we love your work,' but I always knew deep down that I was just a dog to them."
"Them" is the Taco Bell Corp., which announced this week that it's dropping the popular pup from its advertising campaign. The change came as part of a corporate shakeup that also saw the fast-food chain's president, Peter C. Waller, replaced by former Wendy's executive Emil Brolick.
"You know how I found out about it?" the Chihuahua says, lighting yet another. "I heard it on the radio. These 'morning zoo' bozos were joking about it. 'Yo quiero a new job, ha ha ha.' Very funny, assholes. I mean, this is my life we're talking about here, and I have to hear it from these jerks on the radio."
The Chihuahua speaks softly, and his streetwise accent isn't as pronounced as it is on TV. Though obviously fit in that gym-buffed, Southern California way, and just as cute in person as he is on the tube, he looks like he's been up for two days.
He shot to stardom two years ago with the success of his Taco Bell ads, which featured his trademark slogan, "Yo quiero Taco Bell." The adorable pooch was seemingly everywhere, with plush Chihuahua toys selling by the millions at Taco Bell stores. It was quite a rise for the former stray who grew up on the hard streets of Pacoima, a dozen miles up the Golden State Freeway -- and a whole world away -- from the bright lights of Hollywood.
As the Chihuahua talks about that initial flash of success -- the critically acclaimed "Godzilla" tie-in spot with its "Heeeeere, lizard lizard lizard" line -- and the minor drug and legal problems that followed, a young couple driving past in a small pickup honks and hollers, "Wooo! Drop the chalupa!"
"Hey, drop this on your mother's ugly ass!" the Chihuahua yells, then immediately buries his face in his paws. "Jesus, what am I doing? They probably don't even know yet. I'm just trying to deal, you know?"
The Chihuahua says he'd been planning to stay with the Taco Bell commercials for at least another year or so, then try to move into feature films. "I get scripts all the time," he says, "but it's all 'Ace Ventura' wannabe crap, or some kind of boy and his dog bullshit. I don't want to do that stuff, man. I want to do real stories, about real dogs and real people, you know? Stories about dogs like me, or the dogs I grew up with in the Valley. But nobody's doing that stuff.
"I've been thinking about writing something myself, but I wasn't expecting to have to think about all this for a year or so. Now I have to make some money. Everybody thinks I'm rich because I'm on TV all the time, but it doesn't really work that way. The money was just starting to come in for real," he says, then stops short, leaving unstated an accusation that this was the real reason behind his sudden firing.
"Writing's never been easy for me," he says, gazing at the hills. "Just the typing part is really hard for a dog."
It's clear the Chihuahua is trying to focus on the future, to fight the bitterness he's feeling toward Taco Bell, but it keeps seeping back into the conversation. "You know that 'I gotta get a bigger box' line in the Godzilla spot? I ad-libbed that. Fuckin' made the spot. No thank you, no little bonus, not even a doggie bag," he says, his voice trailing off. He sits staring at the passing cars, pulling on his cigarette. The faintest little dog whine can be heard above the traffic noise.
"I've been going to this yoga guy," he says, finally, as he hops down from the bench to leave. "It's really helped me stay calm through all of this."
"Still," he says with a wink, "it's really hard to resist talking about how ironic it is that Taco Bell's been using a dog in its commercials, if you know what I mean."
And with that he trots off down the sidewalk, toward home, toward the uncertain future that always awaits icons of popular culture.