I work for a major California public university. My pay is probably going to be cut by eight percent next month. I’m one of the lucky ones. My fellow state workers at the DMV and other state agencies have been eating an eight per cent pay cut for months already. Now they are told they have to up their sacrifice to 15%. But those of us with jobs, no matter how devalued, are luckier still. At least we're still working (for the time being).
Arnold Schwarzenegger, our Governator, told the state legislature in May that he sees the pain in our eyes and hears the fear in our voices. He didn’t let on that this was music to his ears. “What is best in life?” a Mongol chieftain asks the young Conan in Arnold’s first summer blockbuster, Conan the Barbarian (1982). “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women,” Arnold as Conan stoicly answers to the applause of his warrior masters. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine that ran earlier this month, Arnold said that he relaxes in a Jacuzzi with a stogie and refuses to let those harsh choices he has had to make get him down. With each pay cut, layoff, benefits decrease, fare hike for public transit, park closure, reduction in services to poor children and the elderly, Arnold most definitely hears the lamentation of their women.
But how did I become one of Arnold’s enemies to be crushed and driven before him? I begged my dad to take me to see Conan when I was 12 years old. Despite its R-rating, my dad relented. I think he wanted to see the movie too. “Lots of boobs, lots of beheadings,” was my dad’s glib review to my stepmom after returning from the UA-6 proto multiplex in Redwood City. I guess that was two thumbs way up.
I went to see Predator at the Stanford Theatre, a single screen job that’s now a revival house kept afloat by funds from David Packard. As the end credits rolled, my friends and I swore we could remember each line of dialog from it as if we had seen it ten times. “Stick around… This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus… We’re all gonna’ die… Dug in like an Alabama tick… You’re one ugly mother fucker.” Our belief that we could recall each of the film’s lines verbatim in those days before the advent of IMDB made us love the film all the more.
After seeing an Arnold movie, I’d put a little extra effort into the strength training part of my high school PE class. For weight sets, our school utilized these rusty metal bars that had oversized tin cans filled with hardened concrete attached to each end of them. I did extra reps of military presses, behind the head presses and other muscle building exercises. Coach Parks made me do lots of Bear runs (our high school’s mascot was the bear – like my current place of employment). The Bear Run was about a half mile. I did it very slowly but I did it. I then did more reps with those makeshift barbells before taking off for another bear run. I never saw the results that I wanted. Casting agents weren’t going to call me to be part of Schwarzenegger’s next rescue team any time soon. I was still a fat kid. Nobody told me that I had to do steroids to look like Road Warrior Hawk or Hulk Hogan. The weight lifting mags assumed that you knew this already—that you were in on the gag. There’s a saying in pro body building: “Body building without steroids is like NASCAR without gasoline.” Arnold always was full of a lot of gas, it turns out.
Arnold is ruining his legacy. Not the legacy of seizing the governorship of California through the recall election. Not his landslide reelection that looked so uncertain only months before when the entire slate of ballot initiatives backed by him went down in a steaming heap as voters rejected them one by one. No, he is ruining the only legacy of his that matters: the legacy of sometimes classic but mostly crappy action movies. It will be hard to watch them on late night cable TV because, well, if I’m smart, I’ll dump the cable TV. BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) fares just went up six per cent and the San Francisco MUNI bus line increased its standard fares to a whopping two bucks, mostly due to cuts in state subsidies. Work pays me less but it costs more to get there. No more on demand 80s action nostalgia for me. Maybe I still have old pan and scan VHS copies of some of those movies in a big Sterlite storage bin under my house. But even if I do, I doubt I’ll want to watch them.
Arnold, if you are reading, they are making a new Conan movie without you. Why can’t you abdicate like your equally fame seeking colleague Sarah Palin and make another Conan flick instead? Here’s the pitch: you are Conan as an older man. You have conquered. You are the bearded guy sitting at the ornate throne at the end of the first movie. The burden of leadership both weighs heavily on your brow and isn’t what you had thought it was going to be. You are held captive in your palace, no longer allowed to lead your armies into victory. You can use this multi-million dollar summer epic to reflect upon your years in politics and maybe even scoop up rare (for you) critical raves in the process. “I want to lead but these bureaucrats won’t let me!!!” You can scream in your thick Austrian accent, while no doubt hurling some heavy object encrusted with precious gems at the end of the film’s first act. As act two draws to a close, you can be about to lead your horde into battle once again, in defiance of your political advisors. During the film’s climax, you will perish in battle from multiple battle axe wounds. It’s the way that Conan should go out after all. People will cry just like they do when King Kong goes tumbling down the Empire State Building or the Wolf Man is finally plugged with that silver bullet, releasing him from his curse. This film writes itself Arnold and you need to be in it. Johnny Milius can direct. It’s too bad that Mako isn’t around to narrate. Maybe Dolby or Lucas can devise some kind of Mako simulator.
There’s a homeless guy in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco who panhandles in the median strip on South Van Ness while wearing a dirty Arnold Schwarzenegger t-shirt. It has a pic of Arnold as Conan, flexing his muscles and brandishing a broadsword. “Welcome to Kalee-Forniah” it says underneath our governator’s oiled up mid section. I bet that guy doesn’t get quite the health services that he used to. Maybe we should silk screen a new shirt for him that reads: “Arnold is governor and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
Bob Calhoun AKA Count Dante is a former Incredibly Strange Wrestler, ring announcer and sideshow barker but he never quit his day job. He now works as a researcher at a major California univeristy. His memoir of his more exciting punk rock wrestling years, "Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (ECW Press) is currently available through Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.