In two short transformative years, Sarah Palin has gone from "an engaging, down-to-earth small-town hockey mom" to an isolated, secretive, off-the-rails celebrity road warrior, says Michael Joseph Gross in a largely unflattering exposé in Vanity Fair. And shellshocked inhabitants of her Alaska hometown, Wasilla, don't know what to think of the makeover—or, at least, are too scared to talk about it. Here are five key revelations from Gross' account of Palin's "surreal new world":
1. Palin's a lousy tipper—when nobody's looking
During hundreds of interviews, says Gross, "I heard of Palin giving a generous tip" just once: In front of a large crowd at a chocolate shop in St. Joseph, Mo., she slipped the owner a $100 bill "for the staff." Without an audience, she stiffs the bellhops and maids at the luxury hotels in which she stays during her grueling speaking schedule, or at best under-tips. At the celebrity friendly Hyatt in Wichita, "Palin ranks as the all-time worst tipper."
2. Her code name is "North Star"
An important concept in Alaska, the North Star shows up on the state flag, in the state song, and even as a symbol for God. Move over, God, says Gross: "Palin is on the way to making North Star a personal brand." It serves as her code name at hotels, dots her speeches, and identifies shell businesses run by her aides. "If she ever does run for president, [North Star] might well serve as her Secret Service code name."
3. She has a wicked temper
When Gross first heard tales of Palin's volatile disposition, he says he "couldn’t help but wonder if [they] might be exaggerated." But "corroborating" stories piled up. One family friend recalled a fight between Palin and her husband, Todd: "They took all the canned goods out of the pantry, then proceeded to throw them at each other. By the time they got done, the stainless-steel fridge looked like it had got shot up with a shotgun." Palin gets away with her "horrible temper," the friend said, "because she is a pretty woman."
4. Rumor has it that Palin's Facebook posts are ghostwritten
"Palin's most unconventional hire" is "novice media consultant" Rebecca Mansour, co-founder of Conservatives4Palin, a fiercely pro-Palin blog. At the exact time that Palin quietly hired Mansour, Palin's Facebook page and Twitter feed—until then "written mostly in a stiff, third-person form"—became "increasingly provocative and irascible." Her "virtual voice," says Gross, now often "sounds less like Palin herself than someone else's fantasy version of Palin at her most vitriolic."
5. She doesn't hunt
While much of the small-town-mayor persona Palin maintained before she achieved national fame was "more or less accurate," some elements were just pure fiction, says Gross. "This whole hunter thing for Sarah?" said a longtime family friend. "That woman has never hunted. The picture of her with the caribou she says she shot? She got out of the RV to pose for a picture." And when Palin made moose chili during an interview with Greta Van Susteren, the friend adds, "Todd was calling everyone he knew the day before—'Do you got any moose?' Desperate."