That Could Be Anyones Ass in That Photo

Photo by Robert MapplethorpeMy wife and I were invited to a gathering of the South Orange County Democratic Club at a Laguna Hills home the other weekend. Nice people. Lovely yard. Great brownies! And there were Dems coming together with a sense of purpose, which may be the one good thing to come from living in a hijacked democracy.

The speaker was state Senator Joe Dunn, who doesn't even represent the South County but is the sort of guy who'll show up to rally the troops anyway. I like Dunn. He's funny, self-effacing and unfortunately probably overqualified to be president, in that he can speak extemporaneously in complete sentences.

He also is the sort of guy you should stop and think about before launching into an "all politicians are the same" rant, because that is a cruel and lazy negation of the guys like Dunn who do understand the meaning of "public servant." When the rest of us were sitting around in our underpants with the vague suspicion that we'd been reamed by the energy companies, it was Dunn and his committee who did the hard work of ferreting out the truth about Enron and others gaming the grid. Dunn is planning on running for attorney general in 2006, and we could do a whole lot worse than to vote for him.

He wasn't campaigning, at least not too hard, at the club's gathering, instead talking about the recall. He had an interesting take on Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcing his candidacy on The Tonight Show, opining that not only did it surprise Arnold's staff, party and friends, the pundits and Dick Riordan, but that it also quite likely surprised Schwarzenegger himself. Dunn thinks Arnold wasn't planning on running, but got caught up in the moment and just blurted it out. It simply isn't something a serious candidate, even one who likes exploding cigars, does without having his staff at the ready. Since they instead were packing up to go home, Arnold had to spend the first two weeks of his candidacy ducking policy questions because he didn't have any answers.

Even so, what can the Democrats do in the face of such star power when all they have to offer are two apparatchiks whose only signs of personality are that they can't stand each other? Can they hope for a Gray Day, or should they Bust a Move With Bustamante?

I can't say that Dunn spoke too enthusiastically of either man, but he did make it seem not so hopeless that a Democrat might retain the governor's mansion. He asked us to picture a rectangle, which he then apportioned into so many potential vote percentages that the rectangle in my mind began to resemble televangelist Gene Scott's blackboard. The gist of it was that, with Bill Simon and Tom McClintock getting the frothing Republican vote, and with the non-frothing vote split between Peter Ueberroth and Schwarzenegger, then Cruz Bustamante—even with Arianna Huffington and Miguel Camejo nabbing 10 percent of the vote to his left—has a good chance of winning. The disaffected 20- to 35-year-old voters who usually sit out elections, Dunn said, would probably sit this one out too, since, unlike the wrestling-is-real crowd that helped elect Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, you actually have to, like, register to vote in California. Figuring also that Arnold's numbers can only go down once he starts taking positions, and that he will likely alienate Latino voters by aligning himself with Pete Wilson, that gives Bustamante even more of an edge. California, get ready for Cruz control!

Gustavo Arellano

Dunn moved on to another meeting, while the party continued. I was trying to pay attention to the raffle numbers being called, so I wasn't sure what some disgruntled guy was complaining to me about in a hoarse stage whisper, though I think he was griping that we in the press aren't reporting that the ass in the notorious Robert Mapplethorpe bullwhip-in-the-butthole photo was actually that of 21-year-old hungry, unknown bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had no idea if this was true, but one man's pornography is another man's practicality. Arnold leads a more exciting life than most of us can comprehend, so maybe he simply needed to whip some bulls—with his ass—because his hands were full of steroid-laced marijuana cigarettes or something.

I don't care. A candidate can snort model glue and keep a honey-baked ham up the ol' butler's pantry for all I care, so long as he addresses the issues and doesn't make sandwiches.

But I'm not even sure the Hoarse Whisperer was saying that—hey, my wife won a pewter donkey pin!—and wasn't instead merely trying to point out that, like other celebrities, Arnold had merely and somewhat more clothedly posed for Mapplethorpe, who had also photographed the bullwhip shot that had put Dana Rohrabacher and other conservatives into an anti-arts lather, and that maybe this tenuous connection could confound Arnold's more conservative constituents.

I suppose I wouldn't be a credible journalist if I didn't actually confirm or refute this matter. So I did a Google search on "Mapplethorpe's ass," and son of a bitch if the photo in question wasn't a self-portrait. It is the artist's ass itself from which the whip protrudes, not the Arnold's ass. Some people will argue that photography is not an art form, but you just try taking a self-portrait like that and tell me it doesn't take skill. Meanwhile, Bible fans might be pleased to know that there are only 136 Google hits on "Mapplethorpe's ass," while a search of "Balaam's ass" yields 3,830.

Arnold is not in the Bible, though he played Conan the Barbarian, who was crucified once in Robert E. Howard's original novels. Unlike Jesus, however, Conan tore his hands free of the nails and used parts of the cross to beat his Roman-like oppressors to bloody death. All without using his ass! I would like to refer you, however, to the fine workout album Arnold did for Columbia Records back in the days of vinyl, in which he repeatedly said the word "bwuttocks," as in "this iss a gweat ezercize fwor de bwuttocks." It really is a shame that the U.S. Constitution won't permit him to be president.

I've been thinking about another twist we might give to the recall. The polls only open in this state because thousands of people contribute their efforts as election officials (yes, they're paid, but it's such a pittance that no one does it for the check). I've worked several elections, figuring it's a civic duty, that if you want to live in a free society, and particularly if you want to bitch about it, you have an obligation to participate in it.

But when the election is a cynical cash-driven hijacking of the process, and when experts say we lack the time, organization and machinery to assure the election will be fair and accurate, it becomes one's civic duty to sit this one out. That's what I'm doing, and I urge other election officials to do the same. Without our bodies, the polls couldn't open, the votes couldn't be counted, the doughnuts couldn't be eaten, and there simply could not be an election, at least not until the scheduled one next spring. By then the state could properly prepare to hold an accurate election, and they would also save tens of millions of dollars over what the October special election would cost. What a great state we live in. Where else can you save the taxpayers tens of millions just by sitting on your bwuttocks?


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