Crushing Pianos in Los Angeles
I do not enter contests.
That is, until “Will it Crush?” presented an opportunity to meet a lifelong hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The lucky winner of “Will it Crush?”—a charity fundraiser for after-school sports—would fly down to L.A. to drive around in Schwarzenegger's personal tank, demolishing everything in sight. Pianos, dumb bells, bubble wrap. You name it.
“I'm sixty-six years old and I've saved every one of my birthday cakes,” announces Arnold in the promo video, synth beat of The Eurythmics' “Sweet Dreams” pulsing in the background. “Why? So I can crush them.”
Tickets were ten dollars apiece. I bought five.
For the next month my thoughts whirled around the contest. At work while I scrubbed espresso stains from ceramic mugs I imagined crushing those same mugs in Schwarzenegger's tank—I wonder if my boss would notice if I swiped a few? I re-watched the promo video a dozen times, at least. There's a moment when Schwarzenegger looks into the camera and says, “I'm inviting you personally to Los Angeles.” Every time I felt more convinced he meant it only for me.
I've always been a fan of action heroes: Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Bruce Lee. I traded my adolescent life for chase scenes and gunfights, comedic one-liners followed by daring escapes. Sure, action movies are violent, but it's only bad guys who get killed and they surely had it coming. Schwarzenegger does die in The Terminator, but he's a robot and you know they'll make another one. What better segue for a sequel. For my sweet sixteen my mother baked a birthday cake decorated with a muscular Arnold on a motorbike in the leather jacket from The Terminator. Like all cakes she decorated, she lined the base with pink and violet icing roses.
I'm blessed to have found a boyfriend who shares my passion for Schwarzenegger. Last year for Valentine's Day Toby suggested we watch Predator while eating chocolate hearts and kettle corn; I was so in love, I just about proposed. But I'm holding out for an engagement ring crafted with whatever red gem they used to make the Terminator's cyborg eyeball.
If you haven't seen it, Predator is about an elite Special Ops unit on a mission to rescue hostages from guerrilla territory in Central America while an otherworldly creature hunts their rescue team down for sport. There's a vagueness to the ethnicity of enemies that's a staple of Schwarzenegger films: it's always “the Central Americans,” “the Eastern Europeans,” “the Invented-Islanders.” Along with inexplicable plot twists and heroes who defy physics in their avoidance of bullets, it's one of the things you brush aside if you want to enjoy action movies.
When I started playing roller derby I took on the pseudonym Schwarzemegger. I had been skating for less than a year, still edgy and unsure of myself. I believed the right persona would provide a reserve of ammo, and who better than Schwarzenegger—the man who at age twenty became the youngest Mr. Universe—to inspire. I wanted to be The Last Action Hero, the one still skating after a meteorite blew the ceiling off, set fire to the bleachers. Instead of grenades and handguns, I laced skates and tightened wrist guards, kneepads, helmet strap, smudged black paint under one eye to emulate John Matrix's signature face paint in Commando. It was show time.
Not long after I entered the contest I was down in Los Angeles for a training camp with the L.A. Derby Dolls. I spent mornings learning blocker strategy and hockey stops in Culver City, afternoons skating the Venice boardwalk like it was 1973. On the way back to our condo for dinner, I'd linger at Muscle Beach to watch veins pop across bodybuilders' biceps as the sun swung low and made their bare chests burn orange. Schwarzenegger, a regular at Muscle Beach while training for Mr. Olympia in the sixties, discusses his quest for the perfect body in the documentary Pumping Iron: “You look in the mirror and say 'I need a little bit more deltoids, a bit more shoulders so that I get the proportions right.' So what you do is you exercise, and put those deltoids on. Whereas an artist would just slap some clay on either side.” Bodybuilder as sculptor, human muscle as clay. Back in Vancouver I return to this thought as I’m grunting through a weight circuit in the windowless living room of our basement suite. I keep a poster of Schwarzenegger—pumped and holding a cigar in one hand—over the faux-fireplace for motivation.
Despite the telepathic messages I received from Schwarzenegger, I didn't win the contest. It was some guy named Alex, apparently. A guy with a boring name. I considered tracking him down to steal his identity, but realized I didn't have much to go on. Then I began to consider if I really even wanted to meet my hero—what could I possibly have to say? I could never walk up to a single guy in a nightclub without my throat and tongue turning amnesiac; I can only imagine the charade that would ensue if I tried to initiate contact with a genuine celebrity. I'd probably end up hollering Kindergarten Cop catchphrases in an unforgivable Austrian accent.
But pretend I did manage to avoid speaking like a GI Joe stuck on repeat: what if my hero isn't all I've pumped him up to be? I've wilfully blocked out the man—widely publicized for cheating on his wife and vetoing the same-sex marriage bill (twice!) in California—to fabricate a fantasy hero, part human and part cyborg, trapped eternally in the body of Mr. Universe. Coming face to face with real-world Schwarzenegger would destroy this illusion. Perhaps I'd rather not meet my roller derby namesake after all.
Unless Schwarzenegger calls me up to spend the day crushing pianos on the beach in L.A. Then I'm in. You don't need conversation when you have a tank.
Meaghan Hackinen is a Vancouver-born bicycle enthusiast, scuba diver, and roller skater. Meaghan is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Saskatchewan. Her writing explores relationships, experiences on the road, and encounters with wild places. Meaghan's prose has been published in Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing, The Fieldstone Review, One Throne, and untethered.