The Black Knight of Sacramento
No matter how bad it looks for him, no matter how many political flesh wounds he suffers, Gray Davis isn't dead yet.
12:00 AM, Aug 22, 2003 • By LARRY MILLER
THIS IS LARRY MILLER, your Special Man On The Street, Self-Appointed Hollywood Recall Election Correspondent, reporting live from the rooftops of Universal City. Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. I can see the lights of the explosions below me in Encino. Oh, the humanity! No, wait, that's just the premiere of "T3." Where was I? Ah, yes, the state is ablaze on the left and the right, and I feel like Raymond Burr leaning out a window in Tokyo narrating the carnage before being knocked through the uprights by Godzilla.
Or someone with a better build. Now, from the very beginning of this madcap adventure I have been against, against, against, and against the recall, and it seems every day I add another "against." Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe I'll see the light in the next seven weeks, but I can't help thinking that even if the Republicans (whoever they are at this point) manage to beat Davis and put someone in office, they'd just be sliding over and taking the wheel of a truck that's already gone off the cliff.
What news, Horatio? Here's what: Cruz Bustamante (which I still think sounds like the junior officers' nickname for an Italian honeymoon ship) is essentially neck and neck with Schwarzenegger in the polls. Cruz has become a nationally known figure because of all this, which is significant given that until last week his parents weren't even sure who he was. They know now. He's tied with Arnold, who is apparently not über alles anymore. And how dumb can I possibly be about all this? I still think Gray Davis is going to foil them all and win.
First, a tiny bit of history. The California state constitution, which, as every schoolchild knows, begins its preamble with the stirring phrase, "We, The Idiots," added its recall provision around 1911. To place that moment a little better in the story of the Golden State, this was two years before a young director named Cecil B. DeMille had bad weather filming in Arizona and sent a cable to his bosses in New York saying, "FLAGSTAFF NO GOOD FOR OUR PURPOSE. HAVE PROCEEDED TO CALIFORNIA. WANT AUTHORITY TO RENT A BARN IN PLACE CALLED HOLLYWOOD FOR SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH. CECIL." (True story.) Anyway, after the recall law, there followed several other additions, like direct voting on propositions and referenda. These were all progressive measures designed to return a decibel or two of the vox populi to a government that was, apparently, in unrelenting thrall to railroads, shipping, and maybe even cattlemen. Remember also, these were the days when newspapers large and small regularly held forth against things like Chinese immigration, a stance that began to evaporate as more and more of my ancestors read DeMille's telegram and headed west to (a) make movies, and (b) get decent take-out.
The recall amendment was tinked in 1974, but just a hair. (I still had hair in 1974, but I don't believe the two are related.) The point is, any of you who think the current dust-up is a perversion of democracy should know that recalls have been tried here before, dozens of times in fact, and Ronald Reagan (R) and Jerry Brown (D) were both targets.
Whoa, Nelly. Here's a development I believe is so startling, if we didn't have "agog" and "agape" in our language we would have to invent them.
Cybill Shepherd, one of the most beautiful women in the history of beautiful women, says she fell for Gray Davis when they met years ago in Hawaii, and fell hard.
Let's take a break on that one. Go get a soda. I'll wait for you.
EVERYONE BACK? That's right, she was completely smitten the second they met and says he's a great listener, a great kisser, and a great guy all the way around. She saved his letters and said he talked her into doing things that would serve society, and if making out on the beach was one of them, you'll get no argument from me on it.
(If you think I'm kidding, check the San Francisco Chronicle of August 17, or Bill Whalen's article.) Is that something or what? Hell, I'll let the guy triple my taxes, build a casino every 30 feet, and take my car, if he just promises to spend his next inaugural talking about her.
That's a fabulous shot in the image for the governor, but it's not why I think he'll prevail. I think seven weeks is a long time for a short election, and people are going to get so confused wondering who to look at, they'll forget California has less cash on hand than Zimbabwe. They'll forget all the things that are wrong, and they'll say, "A pox on all your houses," and they won't show up.
Even if they do, has anyone thought about the mechanics of what's going to happen on October 7? There are 135 people running in this goofy thing. Can you imagine printing that ballot in seven languages? You'd have to be built like Schwarzenegger just to lift it. By the way, the company with the contract to print most of the California ballots is called--no kidding--Sequoia Voting Systems, which is appropriate since they'll probably have to cut down 1,000 giant redwoods to do it. There are going to be so many chads west of the San Andreas Fault, the whole state is finally going to break off into the Pacific. (If something goes wrong, though, I want that guy from Florida with the bifocals to hold each ballot up to the light.)
And here's the weirdest part. Most people will probably get into the booth and say, "Well, I don't like Davis, and I think at least 37 of these folks could do a better job, and I probably ought to oust the guy. But not if I have to read through this thing. I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the whole morning leafing through the collected works of Proust before I get to work today. It's all just too much trouble. NO ON RECALL."
One more thing. You know how most people are in the media. Through the '80s and '90s, it ate them up every time Arnold had a hit movie and they had to report another huge success for him. And then when he made "Last Action Hero" they coiled and pounced and bit him like cobras. Remember? Every interview he had for a year started with a reporter putting on a phony voice of concern and saying, "It must've hurt to fail that big. Want to tell us about it?" I think these same folks are in their basements sharpening their knives on a big grinding wheel right now. Oh, sure, they've been dumping on the governor, but in a few weeks they'll tear into Schwarzenegger and make Davis look like Cicero.
On the other hand, Arnold is not only nobody's fool, he's probably some kind of genius. Look what he's accomplished in his life. How many Austrian teenagers tell their friends, "I'm going to the United States and become a big movie star. Then I'm going to marry a daughter of one of their greatest families"? And I'll bet nobody laughed at him when he said it, either.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Arnold blows right over everybody. I saw his first TV spot, and it was good. I don't know. The only thing in all this I'm certain of is that whatever his next movie is, I would really like to be in it.
After all, could be Cybill Shepherd is there, too.
Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.