Yep, California elected that guy in the clip there—the one on the left.
And I dated him. Once.
It was almost on a dare. It was the Conan the Barbarian days. I had interviewed him. He asked.
He had to. I was a gorgeous young slip of a thing and he was…Arnold. If he hadn’t asked, I probably would’ve been insulted.
That was Arnold’s rep: Arnold chased women. Arnold had women.
And women loved him. They did. I found that out, too. He would’ve been a fool not to enjoy the bounty that literally fell into his lap everyday.
So I came back to the newspaper conflicted. There was my “Joni Mitchell code” about those things—more on that later. And there was…Maria. Already.
In fact he was already talking politics. And I totally believed he would do…what he eventually really did do. At the time, everyone back at the newspaper laughed when I told them about it. The same way they laughed when I came back from a long day with a then unknown rock band called Kiss and predicted that like it or not, they were destined for stardom.
I was right about them. And I was right about Arnold, too. From the moment that man shook your hand you knew he could have anything he wanted.
He wasn’t cocky about it. He wasn’t that scary kind of driven that makes you back up a few steps or wonder if he’s going to go postal someday.
Arnold was absolutely charming and intriguingly laid back. And he was absolutely charming and intriguingly laid back because he knew he was The Man. He didn’t boast. He didn’t even try to convince you. He just knew he was The Man. And that’s why he was so bloody dangerous.
My reporter friends didn’t help. Newspaper people are like everyone else--maybe even worse since their careers depend on that "dirty laundry" Don Henley sang about. The guy had a rep. They wanted to know if he would live up to it. As one less subtle reporter friend put it, “I wanna know if everything is big…”
So…I went. And I have to admit, I'm glad I did. He dressed to impress, but casually, for a fun night on the town. And I remember that even the jaded Ritz Carlton clientele were on him like white on rice from the moment he emerged from the lobby elevator. He was literally larger than life, and they loved it.
And he graciously smiled, signed autographs, and answered questions while gliding me safely toward the front doors where the doormen were waiting to aid our escape. He was completely poised and purposeful, single-handedly turning a near mob scene into one of the smoothest exits ever.
And when I asked him if he’d ever considered having a body guard—just one, perhaps, to make things a wee bit easier--he just…smiled.
I smiled back. Yeah. What was I thinking? He was The Man.
I’m not going into deep detail about the rest of the evening, but I will say this. I thought about that body guard thing often that night, as manly men of every size, color and culture interrupted us, usually after a few drinks and their lady friends had glanced Arnold’s way a few too many times, to “challenge” him.
It always began in jest.
“You’re not all that big,” they’d chortle.
“People often say that,” Arnold would say, with a calm and knowing smile.
“So, it’s true what they say, huh? Camera adds a few pounds?”
“Absolutely, true. Yes.”
“So...you can press about…what?”
“Oh…I’m not really sure anymore. I’m not training the way I used to.”
He was lying. He was training for Conan. He was possibly bigger than he'd ever been.
But he knew what he was doing. He was steering this conversation artfully, and mercifully, to a non-violent conclusion.
So The Challenger would follow up with a few boasts about what he could press, and…other facts neither of us cared about. But Arnold would actually listen. Even give advice, if asked.
And then…The Question would finally be playfully, but also always somewhat menacingly, uttered:
“You think I could take you? Seriously—I could take you, right? I bet I could…”
This was the moment The Challenger had been waiting for—the whole reason he’d left his date to fight through the crowd and approach The Man, face-to-face. And you could see in his eyes how badly he wanted just one excuse to swing. Any excuse.
They never got that excuse. Arnold would shrug, smile that smile, and say, “I bet you could, too.” Or…something just as innocuous.
Every single time. Same shrug, same smile—a genuine smile, though, because he was a “guy,” too and he knew what these guys were doing and why.
The interesting thing was…they always moved off after that. No one ever tried to up the ante, nobody ever touched, tapped, poked or provoked him any further. That was in that smile, too. It said, “I can say that because I am The Man. And if you touch me, I will throw your sorry ass back across the room and into your date's lap. You...wouldn't want me to do that, would you?”
I knew he could do that. He had shown me how he was learning to use a broad sword for Conan by hefting a huge pole lamp and swinging it around like a baton. And as he was going through all those moves, I realized that the lamp probably weighed damned near as much as me.
So I winced a little, every time someone stepped up to him like that. They had no idea.
But there was never any danger. And that final message was always received. The tough guy always walked away quickly, face saved, but aware that he had been given a brief window of opportunity to escape. And that he should use it to do just that.
Arnold…would return to whatever we’d been talking about with a chuckle. Just a charming, genial, genuine kinda guy.
Scared me to death. Oh, and…was “everything” big? I don’t kiss and tell.
But…he lived up to his legend.
And the fact that he had a legend to live up to was in the back of my mind the whole time. It always was, when I dated someone famous.
I mentioned a “Joni Mitchell code.” These are the lyrics to Blonde in the Bleachers. They were the basis for my “never get serious about any of these guys” code:
The blonde in the bleachers
She flips her hair for you
Above the loudspeakers
You start to fall
She follows you home
But you miss living alone
You can still hear sweet mysteries
The bands and the roadies
Lovin' 'em and leavin' 'em
It's pleasure to try 'em
It's trouble to keep 'em
'Cause it seems like you've got to give up
Such a piece of your soul
When you give up the chase
Feeling it hot and cold
You're in Rock'n'Roll
It's the nature of the race
It's the unknown child
So sweet and wild
It's too good to waste
She tapes her regrets
To the microphone stand
She says "You can't hold the hand
Of a Rock'n'Roll man
Or count on your plans
With a Rock'n'Roll man
Compete with the fans
For your Rock'n'Roll man
For very long
The girls and the bands
And the Rock'n'Roll man"
See…you don’t…marry the Arnold’s of this world. You play with them.
And if you do marry—or elect—an Arnold, you don’t freak out when he turns out to be…Arnold.
I feel for Maria, I truly do. I don’t wanna be too glib because she built a life and gave up a career for this man and the pain of this betrayal has to be almost more than I could bear.
There is no excuse. It's not funny to me and i t shouldn't be funny to anyone else--even if you're The Man, you should be a man, once you choose The Woman, and give up the chase. And if you aren't sure you can...you need to warn her about that. Give her a fighting chance to decide if she can live with it or not. Some women actually think they can.
I was not one of them.
Now...I have a feeling about something I read--I get the feeling he chose the housekeeper or whatever she was because in his own twisted way he probably thought it was better than doing a Hugh Grant. She was in the house, it could go on quietly behind closed doors…who knows?
I don’t know the details. I honestly haven’t been keeping up with all this because…I knew Arnold.
The only thing that shocks me is that the rest of the world is pretending they didn’t.