How I learned to stop worrying and love Arnold Schwarzenegger
I was already back home from three days in Sacramento when Jennifer in the governor’s press office called about my credential.
“We were only able to find two articles where you actually covered the governor at an event,” she said.
That meant that someone in the governor’s press office had waded through the 23 Nexised stories where I’ve written about Arnold Schwarzenegger, in order to find the two where I’d actually seen him in person. And that meant that the goodly folks in the governor’s press office had gotten an eyeful of stories like this one:
“When Arnold Schwarzenegger talks, I listen. Well, I mean, sometimes I listen. Sometimes I just stare off into space and wonder what would happen if you put a cheeseburger in front of Maria Shriver. Or a plump baby. Actually, come to think of it, I really don’t listen at all.”
“Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected governor of the golden dream by the sea. He reneges on every campaign promise he can remember making, and then reneges on other candidates’ promises for good measure. Everyone is thrilled to pieces and blames the legislature, except Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-The Taliban), who blames Bill Clinton.”
“A sex scandal could never sink our good Governor Schwarzenegger, though not for his lack of trying. And I’d still sleep with him before I slept with Kevin Federline, though I have to say: not happily.”
And here’s my personal fave:
“Hey, you know who’s charming? Arnold Schwarzenegger! He’s so charming! I think it’s especially charming how the emcees at his events goad the mobs to ‘find the guy from the Los Angeles Times and beat him up!’ Ha! That is hilarious! It is so very funny—especially when you consider how very easy it is to sway and incite the kinds of folk who would show up for an Arnold rally. By which I mean they are simple-minded and stupid. Thank you.
“Hey, here’s a funny one the emcees should try: ‘Find the shops of the Jews and break all the windows, and in the morning, we will round them up and put them on the trains! Ha, ha, just kidding!’ Thank you. You know what’s even more charming than that? How Arnold grabs the breasts of the women and says to them, ‘Have you ever had a man slide his tongue up your ass?’ and all of these things. No, I’m not bothering to put allegedly.
I’ve always found that one to be especially well-put!
“It’ll be you trying to get an interview with the governor,” my editor was saying. “It’ll be great!”
It would not be great. Do you really think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s people will let him be interviewed by any media besides talk radio demagogues John & Ken? And even if he was the free and easy open-government type—and even if he wasn’t now so sought-after by the media that he has to hold his pressers in the Convention Center—do you really think they’d let him get within a hundred yards of me? Now, with Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings sliding to Bush-like lows, and the media licking its chops in slavering glee, I can’t even get Schwarzenegger’s guy on the phone—a guy I’ve known for probably three years now, a guy near whom I’ve attended weddings and funerals and brisses (actually, not funerals and brisses).
And what if the governor tried to touch my boobs? If the governor said something about his tongue and my bottom, and I decked him in his oversized noggin, would I go to jail?
Still, I love Sacramento, being a total power slut and all, and the city itself is just flat gorgeous. Have you ever seen the Capitol park in spring? No? Don’t you want to fall in love? I started to warm to the discomfiting idea. I could hang out with my favorite communist state senator, Gil Cedillo, who is sexy, like Al Pacino, and is a communist!
“Just so you know,” my boss told me, “I’m not sending you up there to hang out with Gil Cedillo. You’re going up there to work.”
Forty-five minutes after I’d checked into my hotel, I was sucking down an Absolut rocks (with a twist) at Chops, formerly the venerable Brannan’s. It still has the dark woods and orchids, but they’ve 86ed the Pat Brown posters and the sad, defeatist “George McGovern: It’s Time We Won.”
This was my grand scheme: to dine at the places the governor might dine (Chops, Frank Fat’s and the Esquire Grill) and ambush him with my delightfulness. I would be polite, certainly, while asking such brain-ticklers as “Knowing what you now do about the state of the budget, and how the shortfall could not have been easily made up, as you’d said it would, by forensic accounting to eliminate waste and fraud, would you still have supported Gray Davis’ recall?” and he would enjoy knocking brains with me. Clearly, going through his office was going to be an embarrassing waste of time for everyone involved.
But I bet I could find him at Chops.
I don’t find him at Chops. But I’m having a delightful conversation with a teachers’ union lobbyist about pensions and tenure—nobody’s all that het up about Schwarzenegger’s plan to raise the requirement for tenure from two years to five, the only part of his education proposal, which he’s been trying to put on the ballot, still standing—and am soon being circled by legislative staffers in sharp suits and former Jerry Brown appointees. I don’t think Sacramento has very many girls.
Schwarzenegger is on everyone’s lips; even unseen, people are giddy about him, even if it’s giddy with bristling hate. Everyone talks about him, everywhere I go.
It wasn’t the same with Gray Davis.
Recently termed-out Senate President John Burton holds court in a corner but leaves before I see him. I nearly cry when someone tells me he’d been there. Lovely, foul-mouthed John Burton! Here’s the LA Times when Burton was termed out from the Senate: “To protest what he considered Republican political attacks on the poor, he once drafted legislation that would have made it a crime to have an income below the poverty level. Another Burton bill would have required that state orphanages serve gruel.”
Fuckin’ John Burton, man. He’s all right.
Wednesday afternoon, lateish: Tammy, Chops’ gorgeous mid-30s barkeep, says, “Well, when the governor was in here Monday night . . .”
“But I was here Monday night!” I say, outraged.
“Yeah, you were hanging out with Juan and those guys, right?”
“Well, he was downstairs.”
Chops, it seems, has a downstairs.
You have to understand about Schwarzenegger: with what is by all reports an obsessively focused mind and a fairly middle-of-the-road approach, he could actually be one of the great governors in history, à la Pat Brown—the man who built the UC system and the freeways, who made California the destination for the entire country—and for a minute after his election, it looked like he might.
Sure, he was carried into office with only 48 percent of the vote on some fat lies (the California Republican Party was whipping up the always latent hate for Gray Davis by blaming him for the “energy crisis” when it was Republicans Curt Pringle and Pete Wilson who’d allowed their buddies at Enron to mug us in the first place)—and when his main competitors were Larry Flynt, Tom McClintock, Cruz Bustamante and pint-sized Diff’rent Strokes star Gary Coleman. And Schwarzenegger’s campaign promises were legendary for the speed at which he broke them: not needing to fund-raise from special interests, since he had his own private fortune (he quickly eclipsed Gray Davis, who liked to fund-raise all day and all of the night, like the sad little pudding he was), or his vow to find the real groper just as soon as the election was over and done, or insuring all of California’s needy children, or that he’d be able to balance our budget with just a bit of forensic accounting to ferret out waste and fraud—as my colleague Steve Lowery says, as if there’s some $12 billion state fund somewhere that buys wigs for pre-op trannies, and once we just find it, poof! The budget’s balanced!—before borrowing $8 billion to add to our deficit.
But when he was deal-making with Democrat John Burton—while the Republicans gnashed their teeth in the wilderness—the star-struck Burton was actually giving up quite a bit. It was a masterful bit of triangulation—and bipartisanship—on Schwarzenegger’s part.
He changed, of course—or maybe flip-flopped. It was at the Republican National Convention in New York City that Arnold left behind his taste for cigar-fueled deal-making and got a sip of the possibilities of One Party Rule. He seemed carried away by the testosterone wing of the Republican Party—the wing that believes fighting fair is for pussies, that you do what it takes to win at all costs—including shutting down the Miami Dade recount through screaming, pounding intimidation or, as Arnold so famously did, intimidating a bodybuilding opponent by bagging his wife and then calling him up with her still in his bed.
He’s always stomped right over his friends—witness his announcement of his run for governor on Leno, next to a publicly humiliated Richard Riordan: Riordan, who had already announced, had gone with him to the taping after Schwarzy had told him his announcement would be his endorsement of Riordan.
Schwarzenegger had called soulfully for a new, bipartisan way of dealing with the Democratic Lege, but after the Republican convention, that was gone in the blink of a roving eye.
All of a sudden anyone who disagreed with him wasn’t an honest opponent but a “girly man” (snooze), and Arnold was no longer trying to find a middle way but was going to use his stardom and bully pulpit to push through devastating attacks on the poor, the middle class, small business and the four most respected professions in our state. Still, we did get that refund on our car tax.
Tuesday morning I put on my chic business attire of mismatched separates and power-walk up to the Capitol. I stop in the governor’s office first and ask for Stutzman. Here’s Stutzman last time I saw him, not even a month ago maybe, during the Santa Ana leg of the governor’s tour of woefully middlebrow eateries while trying to rock his proposals to cut police widows off the state pension plan:
Me: Hey, Stutzman!
Stutzman: Hey! Ha, ha!
Me: I wanna come up to Sacramento and see you guys!
Stutzman: Yeah, come up and see us!
Me: Can I get some time with the governor?
Stutzman: No. But come up and see us!
Me: What, see you through a window?
The receptionist gives me Veronica’s number; Veronica will set up a coffee with Stutzman.
Veronica will never set up a coffee with Stutzman.
My work there done, I stop by the offices of Todd Spitzer (R-Anaheim or something), Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) and Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana). Spitzer’s lady tells me I definitely won’t be able to buy him lunch; it’s Caucus Day! “Why don’t you go ahead and ask him and see what he says?” I say, firm but nice. Peace through strength! Trust but verify! She calls an hour or two later. Definitely no. “Can I take him for a cup of coffee?” I ask. “I’m here till Thursday!” Her voice has an italics-laden edge now. “He said, ‘No, thank you.’”
Damn. I want to see the governor? I can’t even see Todd Spitzer.
I go hang out in Gil Cedillo’s office for the rest of the morning, leisurely reading the newspaper in the office of Dan Savage (no relation to the sex columnist), who is Cedillo’s chief of staff, while Cedillo’s staffers take one constituent call after another. “How am I?” one staffer says into her phone. “Well, I’ve been called a bitch and a child molester today, so not too hot.”
Cedillo, surprisingly, is against child molestation, though you can’t blame people for assuming he’s not, seeing as he’s so communist and all.
I thumb through the lobby copy of The Nation while some Concerned Women of America come in to lobby for Bill “I Love My Dead Gay Son!” Morrow’s defense-against-fag-marriage bill. (For the record, Bill Morrow’s son isn’t dead; nor, most likely, does he love him.) They have very thick ankles.
Tuesday, noon: I get my nails done.
Tuesday, 1:30ish: I run into Gil Cedillo at the Capitol metal detector.
“Will you have dinner with me tonight?” I ask him in my breathiest, most charming voice.
His eyes scan for a second as he schedules in his head.
“I would love to,” he growls all sexy (like a communist Al Pacino), once his mental schedule’s checked.
Tuesday, 2 or so: Esquire Grill. Fabulous chicken pasta. No governor in sight.
He’s kind of like the Great and Powerful Oz, I think, if Dorothy had never actually tried to find him.
Schwarzenegger’s audiences aren’t quite as handpicked as the president’s: he does actually venture forth in public, in venues where people haven’t had to swear a loyalty oath (seriously, at the president’s “public” town hall meetings, you have to swear a loyalty oath) to get in—although there was that one nurse who was escorted from a screening of Be Cool that the governor and his flunkies were attending, despite the fact that she had a ticket, because she was wearing her scrubs.
And true, he never actually enters a place through the front door (his handlers, paranoid and arrogant Pete Wilson people all, know better than to let him get his picture taken in front of screaming and angry PTA moms). But when you see him, it’s exciting. His star power was enough at various Republican conventions to get the types of true believers who actually attend—rabidly pro-life/anti-gay/put-prayer-back-everywhere-they-can-squeeze-it—to howl with love despite his social liberalism and refusal to get sucked into the Culture War.
But Schwarzenegger’s handlers and advisers, remember, were formerly the handlers and advisers to Pete Wilson. Try as they may, they are not Karl Rove, but that’s not stopping them from using the classic Rove tactic of hitting the opposition where it’s strongest, thus neutralizing what should be its winningest points—see war hero John Kerry losing to an AWOL draft dodger, while the Swift Boat Vets screamed that his Silver Star, Bronze Star V, and three Purple Hearts were falsified, and that he shot himself in his own leg (before shooting a fleeing, naked child in the back) to get out of the country.
John Kerry the war hero becomes John Kerry the cowardly war criminal.
And nurses, teachers, cops and firefolk become union tools, while PTA moms become special interests.
So far, it’s backfiring: Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings have dropped to 40 percent in the face of a $5 million barrage of teachers’ union ads featuring pissed-off moms explaining (clearly and concisely, in the most effective political ad I’ve ever seen) that Schwarzenegger borrowed $2 billion from education and then broke his word and declined to pay it back. This, the mothers explain (not teachers, as they could be written off as—you guessed it!—union tools) shortchanges every classroom by $25,000. That’s a lot!
But beating up on nurses and cops isn’t the end game, no matter how many times Schwarzenegger brags that he’s kicking the nurses’ asses: the end game is forcing the unions to spend their money protecting themselves from raids on classrooms and their old-age security, negotiated in good faith back when we believed old people shouldn’t have to live on cat food—and then the unions will have nothing left for whatever’s next to come down the pike.
The end game is Son of Paycheck Protection, a homegrown OC initiative from one of our more charming Machiavellis, Jim Righeimer, that would have castrated unions by forcing them to hold a vote with their members every time the leadership wanted to contribute to a campaign. So while Schwarzenegger’s raised $26 million last year alone from the insurance industry and HMOs and energy companies—like Enron—little folks wouldn’t be able to band together to match that kind of money.
Because unions are special interests, but Enron is not.
I call Veronica. She was just going to call me! Stutzman definitely doesn’t have time for coffee—I’ve picked the week when the governor’s budget revise is coming out, for one, and also the week when famed union organizer Miguel Contreras is being laid to rest following a heart attack at the heartbreakingly young age of 52; since all the Dems will be in LA for his funeral, there is no session on Thursday so all the legislators will be gone any second as well—but Stutzman is going to call me. On my phone! Veronica says.
Veronica is a dirty liar.
I meet up with Tom Umberg. He asks after my small buttercup of a son, even remembering from my column that his name is “Buttercup” (man’s got skillz!), and kisses judiciously the ass of Helen, the ancient Latina who runs the private Lege-only elevator. Helen tells us the governor’s uncle was in the Capitol yesterday, and she took such good care of him, everyone said so! She even asked him if he would like to go see the Holocaust pictures on the second floor.
“You asked the governor’s uncle if he would like to see the Holocaust exhibit?” we ask slowly. “Um, what did he say?”
“He said no,” she tells us with a shrug.
It’s pretty early for Chops. I go anyway. Absolut on the rocks, with a twist. Okay: four.
Dinner with Gil Cedillo, Tuesday, lateish: We talk about sexy, sexy things. Mostly, the illegal alien driver’s license bill, which Cedillo’s been working on for seven years now. It’s passed the Lege and was signed into law by Gray Davis in a blatant pander to the Latino community. It was Davis’s downfall. Cedillo worked a deal with Schwarzenegger too, but Schwarzenegger reneged.
Cedillo is going to be on the live broadcast of The Al Franken Show at the Crest Theater the next morning. I’d planned to go too!
Wednesday morning, at the Crest, a grand rococo theater of gilt and fleurs-de-lis, of peacock feathers and jewels, more than 900 people have arrived before 9 a.m. to see Al Franken. Security isn’t making any of the lurkers sit, and Kelly DiGiacomo, the nurse who was evicted from Be Cool because she was wearing her scrubs—and so was clearly some kind of terrorist threat—is handed a tiara and full-blown orange roses fresh from someone’s garden.
This is much nicer than trying to interview the governor.
Phil Angelides (he’s our state treasurer, people; get with it!) comes onstage. He’s adorable, in a wonky Jew way. Is he Jewish? I don’t know! Next to me is a representative from the Association of Flight Attendants, who lost her pension yesterday when a bankruptcy judge okayed United’s reneging on labor contracts signed in good faith years ago. She’s a little frazzled.
The organizers of the show, seeing my notebook and chic business attire of mismatched separates, escort my new friend and me to the front row. This is good, as it will enable Gil Cedillo, once his segment comes on, to see me stalking him.
But Angelides is a regular showstopper: he talks about Schwarzenegger’s speech to the Republican National Convention, the one where he said he’d been inspired by Richard Nixon to enter politics.
“I too was inspired to enter politics by Richard Nixon,” Angelides says, and his deadpan timing is impeccable. I’m telling you, people: comedy gold!
He talks about the financial cap Schwarzenegger’s placed on the UC system, how $100 million has been cut from inner city outreach alone.
And he talks about shareholders’ rights, and not investing California’s multibillion-dollar pension funds in companies that incorporate in a post office box overseas. But the governor, who’s been losing his ass this year over privatizing pensions the way the president wants to privatize Social Security, hasn’t made a peep about pension losses from the corporate scandals at Enron and AIG.
I regret a recent column where my big punch line regarding the coming governor’s race was, “But who’s gonna beat him? Phil Angelides?”
Clearly Angelides is feeling pretty good about his chances. But a year’s more like a dog year in politics, and Schwarzenegger’s a ruthless prick.
Now, I’m not the world’s best political prognosticator: I called the governor’s race for Tom McClintock, and John Kerry by 340-something electoral votes.
But while all the mainstream media is reveling in Schwarzenegger’s precipitous recent poll drop—not because they’re liberal, but because they’d all bought the myth about his invincibility, so a drop is news, news, news!—I’m not nearly so silly as to think Schwarzenegger couldn’t win handily on name ID alone no matter how pissed off at him the nurses (and teachers, and cops, and firefighters) are.
Still, at least Angelides, look-Jew though he does, isn’t a stiff in the Gray Davis/Cruz Bustamante vein. If people saw him, they’d like him. Really, he’s adorable!
And then Arnold would go on John & Ken to remind people the Mexicans are coming, and that would be that.
Behind me, a nurses’ lobbyist tells me that, while the Dems will be attending the Rosary for Miguel Contreras in Los Angeles tonight, their fellow Catholic Schwarzenegger will be attending a fund-raiser at the Bonadelle Mansion in Fresno.
Shit. Now I have to rent a car and drive to Fresno.
I do not rent a car and drive to Fresno.
But I do contemplate it—all five hours’ round trip. To Fresno. And just in case I ever rent that car and drive to Fresno, I decide to go to the governor’s office and get my ass credentialed, something I might have thought about doing the first day if I wasn’t already drunk. Like Brit-Brit and K-Fed, we are gonna make it official!
Did I have a press credential from law enforcement? Jennifer in the governor’s press office wants to know. “We don’t need them in Orange County,” I reply, neglecting to mention I’d blown off my appointment with the sheriff’s lady who was all ready to give me one some weeks ago.
I don’t even carry business cards.
Do I cover the governor on a regular basis?
Jen would call me; I needn’t call her. Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays between noon and 2 p.m., I could get my photo taken by the CHP in Room 1160.
Keith in the CHP office is terribly helpful, even though he can’t actually help.
I await Jen’s call at a reception for Al Franken on the Delta King on Sacramento’s peaceful chocolate river, having walked a couple of miles in my business attire of mismatched separates and some non-sensible (okay: hookery) shoes. I do not bother trying to meet Al Franken, who is stomping bowlegged through the small reception, shrimp already traveling from hand to mouth, like a very small Godzilla. I do talk to a handsome young man named Adam, though, who, when I mention my dinner with Gil Cedillo, murmurs knowingly, “One Bill Gil.”
“One Bill Gil”? He has had other bills besides the illegal alien driver’s licenses, you know. For instance? A bill that would keep the fuzz from impounding the cars of people whose only crime is that they don’t have licenses! “One Bill Gil”? That smarts.
Jennifer never does call, that dirty bitch.
And it’s back to Chops. This is when lovely Tammy, the bartendrix, tells me that a) she went to high school in Paducah, Kentucky, with Angels center fielder Steve Finley, and b) that the governor had been in here Monday night. At the same time I was.
Then the guy next to me, joining in the conversation, asks if I’d seen the governor’s announcement that day.
“The governor made an announcement?” I ask.
Yes, he’s going to fully fund Proposition 42, the law that says the gasoline tax must go to transportation projects. It was passed overwhelmingly in 2002, but first Gray Davis suspended it, grabbing $868 million (fiscal emergency) and then Schwarzenegger suspended it, diverting its $1.2 billion to other programs (fiscal emergency). So let’s see what Schwarzenegger said this fine day: “The people voted to have [gas] tax money used for transportation. But the politicians, of course, had other ideas. They raided transportation funds to cover the deficits and their reckless spending. And our roads and infrastructure have suffered.”
Yes. “The politicians.” You tired? I’m tired.
My new friend pulls out a binder with all the relevant facts of the announcement Schwarzenegger had made at the League of California Cities luncheon.
“The governor was at the League of California Cities luncheon?” I ask.
I knew there was something I’d forgotten to do: like maybe ask the governor’s office for his schedule.
I’m so fucking fired.
On the bright side: maybe they wouldn’t have given it to me without a credential anyway! I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll tell my boss.
I’m done with this town. My body is bloated from the vodka and ravaged by the waistband of my chic business attire of mismatched separates. Following a fruitless stint at the Hyatt, where the governor makes his home (I’ve tried but not succeeded to hang out long enough to let him get back from Fresno, as I’m falling into my drink), I’m back at the hotel, naked, in bed, when Juan calls. He wants me to get my ass dressed and come to Simon’s, the Chinese restaurant of choice for politicos (well, after No. 1 Frank Fat’s). He’s hanging out with a bunch of staffers from Van Tran’s office (R-Garden Grove). I don’t want to go to Simon’s!
I go to Simon’s.
There, I listen, in totally over my head, as the staffers discuss the good old days of some San Diego race. I couldn’t begin to guess what they’re talking about. But eventually the talk turns to gun control. I know about gun control!
I confuse the Second Amendment with the Fourth. What the hell is the Fourth anyway? Unreasonable search and seizure? In that case, what’s the Third? It’s 1 a.m., and we start calling everyone we know to find out. Unfortunately, there are no Libertarians nearby with their handy pocket Constitutions.
Still, I am a laughingstock. That very afternoon, when I’d run into former Assemblyman Tony Strickland at Chops, and he’d told me he’s now the prez of the California chapter of Club for Growth? Yeah, then I’d been able to quote back to him some of national Club for Growth head Grover Norquist’s greatest hits, like when he said that it was cool for the Republicans that more of the Greatest Generation was dying off each day, because they were all socialists who’d demanded the New Deal. Now, in addition to having called the governor’s race for Tom McClintock, I don’t even know the Second fucking Amendment, and the staffers have handed me my ass like the puppy owners handed Schwarzenegger his, when he tried to reduce the kill time at the state’s pounds.
Shit. They’ll probably think I’m some bimbo broadcast journalist or something. I’m mortified, appalled and humiliated.
I’m humiliated like Richard Riordan on Jay Leno’s soundstage. I’m humiliated like Schwarzenegger’s erstwhile friend, the one whose wife he publicly banged. I’m humiliated like any number of women held down and molested on rowdy movie sets—or even the British talk show host he manhandled.
I’m still not bothering to put allegedly.