Monday, February 15, 2010

Governor Schwarzennegger and I Compare Calves

LOS ANGELES. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially opened the 43d California International Antiquarian Book Fair on Friday night, February 12, 2010, along with First Lady, Maria Shriver, during a small ceremony intensely covered by the media. Excusing himself immediately afterward, he promised “We’ll be back” to check out the rare books.

Oh, how I wanted to write that lead. A loose-cannon member the Southern California chapter of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), the book fair’s sponsoring organization, had, unilaterally and without consulting his colleagues, formally invited the governor to open the Fair to draw press and public attention. The Governor’s scheduling office sent their regrets but with the his wish for a successful event.

The Governor and First Lady returned to the Fair after a quick dinner at Schatzi, the Governor’s restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica that closed in 2007. They met with an old and dear friend, a member of the local ABAA chapter, who walked them around the Fair and helped the Governor’s security people shoo flies away. It was, reportedly, a delightful reunion; the Governor and his rare book-selling friend had not seen each other for thirty-five years.

I met Arnold in 1975, before he became SCHWARZENEGGER! and was known merely as The Austrian Oak, the most successful bodybuilder in the sport's history, and on the cusp of fame with the general public; Pumping Iron, the acclaimed documentary based upon Charles Gaines' and George Butler's book of the same name, would soon be released (1977) and introduce the world at large to the large world’s superstar in all his glory.

Andy Meisler, a friend and free-lance journalist, was in L.A. on assignment for Sports Illustrated to write a profile of Arnold, who was training for the Mr. Olympia contest, bodybuilding’s top crown. It would become Arnold’s sixth, of seven, wins.

Andy, Kate "The Great" Schmidt - the 2-time Olympic bronze medalist in women’s javelin and world record holder whose American record still stands thirty-three years after she speared it - and I, an amateur boxer with Olympian fantasies, met Arnold at Gold’s Gym - the original, and one and only, on Pacific Avenue in Venice.

The Governor and his friend were, at one point, observed in heated discussion. Though it was unclear exactly what was said and who said it, the words “girly calves” were overheard.

Arnold was in the midst of his workout, cranking out seated lat-rows with the entire weight stack as resistance. He was focused, subdued, and intense. He perspired charisma. Warm introductions were exchanged, and he returned to work, finishing up his morning routine (he worked in split sessions, morning and afternoon). The four of us then walked down to The Brown Bagger, a small restaurant on Washington Street near the beach in Venice, now long gone.

While Arnold ate the entire menu (or so it seemed) we talked and kibbitzed. Arnold, just a few years older than us, was relaxed, centered, low-key, and completely at ease. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a loud, boastful individual; he doesn't need to be. He asked each of us about ourselves and what we were doing. Kate’s Olympian experience and bronze from 1972 (the bronze in ‘76 on the horizon) and my sport of choice piqued his interest and respect. As I recall, he and I got along very well; Arnold did not have to assume the role of pysche-out king as he customarily did with friends and acquaintances who were also competitors. He had an easy smile and laugh, and was very sharp. He answered Andy’s questions thoughtfully and without cliche. He was supremely confident but not obnoxious; he handled himself well and was charming. It was impossible to not like him.

What was most impressive? He was, if not intellectual, clearly very intelligent. At this early stage of his life, before he was earning serious money as an actor, he, through bodybuilding product endorsements, had earned enough and was frugal enough to buy property in Santa Monica before its redevelopment and renaissance along Main Street. He was destined, through hard work and well-developed business smarts, to become wealthy no matter what he later did.

He never knew during our meeting that surrounding my tibias were the greatest set of gastrocnemius, soleus and peroneus muscles to ever grace a man’s lower legs, calves strictly Grade-A, prime milk-fed veal. In an otherwise flawless bodybuilding physique, calves were always Arnold’s weak point and his posing angles tended to mask or downplay the deficit south of patellas, north of tarsals.

No, he never knew that not one but two two former Mr. America and Mr. Universe title-holders, Dennis Tinerino and Reg Lewis had, independently of each other, declared that I was an awe-inspiring Mr. Universe - from the knees down.

The Governor and his friend, near blows, were parted by the First Lady who suggested that they retire to the nearest mens room to settle the argument. She did not wish to see the man she loved and the man she recently spurned resort to physical conflict.

Last year, while cataloging a small archive of Dr. Doolittle author, Hugh Lofting, I came across a few letters written in 1938 to the novelist and his publisher by the president of Yale University’s Dr. Doolittle Club, Sargent Shriver. Thinking that she might enjoy learning of the existence of these letters I wrote a note to the First Lady detailing my find and enclosing copies of them. I received a very warm reply thanking me, my soft sales pitch, apparently, so soft, subtle and nuanced it was completely missed.

The two men entered the men’s room on the California level of the Century Plaza hotel, where the Book Fair was in progress. With armed security posted at the door, the men’s privacy was assured. Fortunately, however, a member of Book Patrol’s intelligence unit had previously installed bugs in the bathroom in the hope of collecting rare book gossip.

A year later, my Olympics and otherwise boxing dreams down for the count, I was at loose ends, working in a health club and had begun to seriously lift weights. So, WTF, I decided to do some competitive bodybuilding. In the 1976 Jr. Mr. Southern California contest, held at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, I did not win, place or show in this entry-level affair; compared to everyone else (the Weider brothers had thrown in a few ringers to qualify for the upcoming Mr. America competition), I looked like dental floss with legs. But oh, my calves! During the legs pose-down amongst the finishers, I was called out to pose as the standard by which their lower legs would be judged. It was a magic moment, my calves swollen with pride. The rest of me just felt silly.

Around six months later, I ran into a guy who’d competed in a few bodybuilding contests and was totally into it. I told him my monster, highly defined and cut-up calves story. Turns out, he had attended the contest.

“Jeez,” he said. “You’re the one, the guy with the Martian calves. A few of us talked about 'em afterward for a couple of days. Boggling. From another world."

“For months and months I heard the stories but I had no idea that it was you everybody was talking about. I thought: urban legend! What did you do, model for Grey when he was writing his Anatomy? Mein Gott, such long insertions and bulk! And cut like diamonds, the definition of definition! How did you do it?”

“Arnold, Arnold, Arnold. Still competitive after all these years. Relax, we’re both long past our prime.”

“But I have to know, I have to know!”

“Okay. One, my DNA was generous in that department. Two, as you well know, you have to hit the calves hard to get them to respond, super-high reps. It was the boxing, all the running, fast, up on my toes, and rope-skipping, again, up on my toes. That’s the secret. But if, like you, there’s not much to work with, all the running and rope-skipping in world won’t turn your calves into blue-ribbon Holsteins.”

“I’m crushed.”

“Deal with it, buddy. Hopefully, better than with the California legislature.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Hasta la vista, baby. Say goodbye to Maria for me; you're the luckiest man on the planet.”

“Tell me.”

If you go down the list of Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Sports Books of All Time you will see books by Norman Mailer, Paul Gallico, Philip Roth, Budd Schulberg, Jimmy Breslin, Grantland Rice, Thomas Hauser, and Joe McGinnis, amongst other great American writers on sports or otherwise.

Their books are ranked below Arnold’s Education of a Bodybuilder (Simon and Schuster, 1977), a textbook on mental discipline and toughness, deep focus, concentration, goal-setting and achievement. It is only nominally about bodybuilding. Fine copies of the first edition, first printing in hardcover in like dust jacket are not easy to find. There are a few signed copies of the trade paperback and hardcover but they are either later printings or have condition issues.

Pumping Iron by Charles Gaines and George Butler (Simon and Schuster, 1974) was the book that brought bodybuilding out of the shadows and Arnold into the limelight. The most desirable copy to collect would be, presuming it exists, Arnold’s personal copy inscribed by Gaines and Butler. Copies formerly owned by strangers but signed by the authors are fetching up to $500. The movie (1977) based upon the book brought Arnold to wide public notice.

Many moviegoers are likely unaware that after the embarrassing Hercules in New York (aka Hercules Goes Bananas, 1970) and before he became an action- movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared in a truly excellent film directed by the great Bob Rafelson, Stay Hungry (1976), based upon Charles Gaines' novel (1972). Though not the star of the film, it pivots on him. It is a quiet, gently confident and assured performance. While he may have later left his acting chops in the dressing-room trailer, in Stay Hungry Arnold acts, and does so with graceful ease. It remains his best performance.

The most desirable copy of Pumping Iron currently being offered is a very good copy of the trade paperback edition signed by the authors, Arnold, and every single member of the cast, including Jeff Bridges and Sally Field. The asking price is $695.

“One last thing, Steve.”

“Anything, Arnold.”

“Please don’t tell anyone about this. I have a reputation to maintain.”

“Your secret’s safe with me. Your puny calves shall remain hidden beneath your pants.”

But hey, my closest friend in the world who I only met once for a few of hours thirty-five years ago, gave me the bum's rush when I invited him to open the 43d California International Antiquarian Book Fair. Is that any way to treat an old, dear friend?

The knee socks are off.

Eat your heart out, Governor Schwarzenegger. From 1975 - c. 1976 3/4 I was Mr. Universe - from the knees down. And you? Girly calves!

Observe short gastrocnemius muscles (r),
and calves too small in proportion to thighs and torso (l).
It should be noted that while I was massive below the knees I was, by bodybuilding standards, missing above them, three pumped and plumped toothpicks providing the only evidence of my arms' and torso's existence.

Sic transit gloria muscle. Et tu, Guv?

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