Arnold went to Harlem on Wednesday, visiting an elementary school gym where kids were swarming him like the Good Humor truck. To be Arnold is to be swarmed, especially this week, even on 130th Street, in a part of New York where Republicans aren't straining to find votes.
But kids, like everyone, strain to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero-turned-governor-of-California known as simply "Arnold."
The Democrats might have a big advantage on celebrity support, with Ben Affleck, Bruce Springsteen and Barbra Streisand, among many others. But the Republicans have Arnold, the ultimate blend of glitz, glutes and governance. His face is big and stiff like a statue's, stuck in a faraway smile as he high-fives his way off the podium. He has just finished a 15-minute speech in which he makes no mention of the Republican convention that brings him to New York. He makes no mention of the speech he delivered at the convention the night before, or of the president he wants to see reelected, or of any politician at all, except for John F. Kennedy, whose "Ask not what your country . . . " dictum Schwarzenegger invokes for the gym-full of people.
When Arnold shows up, it is an Arnold event, not a political event, simple as that.
"As soon as we mentioned his name, everyone wanted to come," says Janice Wells, a kindergarten teacher (not Cop) at P.S. 129 in Harlem. "He is the first celebrity we ever got to see. This is a historic event for us."
"Do yoh home-wuhk," Schwarzenegger implores the kids in his distinctive accent. "Listen to yoh teach-chuhs and listen to yoh men-tohs," he says. "You can all be huge win-nahs and make a lot of money."
Despite his outsize stature, Arnold is doing his best to keep a low profile this week. Because this is, all together now, George W. Bush's convention. But it's laughable to think that Arnold could ever be anything but the Big Wiener Schnitzel wherever he goes. Everyone else is meatloaf. Which is fine. Americans like meatloaf. But they worship celebrity. And Arnold is so palpably huge, he is incapable of staying in someone else's shadow.
So Schwarzenegger's "low profile" week includes paparazzi stakeouts: at the Ritz-Carlton (where he ate lunch Tuesday), at the NBA store (where he shopped with his kids) and everywhere he's rumored to be going. It includes a prime-time, nationally televised speech, a red-carpet arrival at a Planet Hollywood bash, a photo op at a Midtown firehouse (at which he hailed firefighters for the "[guts] you have to do the jobs you do"), a big entrance at a post-speech bash in his honor, and a trail of commotion everywhere to exceed anyone's except the president and maybe Michael Moore.
Schwarzenegger's speech was one of the few at the convention where even the security guards and service personnel stopped and listened. During his speech, some members of the California delegation wore wraparound sunglasses in tribute. (Schwarzenegger came well prepared for his speech, a convention official said, but he insisted on rehearsing three times at Madison Square Garden arena -- once midnight Monday and twice on Tuesday before the convention crowds gathered. Schwarzenegger worked with Roy Henderson, a former Shakespearean actor and voice coach retained by the Republicans to help prepare the main speakers.)
"He brings that something, that Hollywood image," says Britt Sturgeon, of Dripping Springs, Tex., after hearing Schwarzenegger's speech. "He gives you those tag lines, like 'I'll be back,' that people can grab onto. They don't want to hear about war and recession all the time."
"Arnold is the man," says one New York police officer, who wouldn't give his name because he's not supposed to talk to the press. "The other guy" -- that would be John Kerry -- "is more of a girlie-man," the officer says. He is standing outside a late-night party in Arnold's honor at the Boathouse in Central Park. Inside, the guest roster includes about 700 delegates, Republican congressmen, staffers, NFL greats, entertainment industry types and a smattering of celebs such as Angie Harmon and Ben Stein. They ate goat cheese and asparagus and got pictures taken on a red, white and blue motorcycle.
Arnold arrived by limo at about 11:15, but the cops missed seeing him. That makes 200 of us -- support staff, limo drivers, paparazzi and the Great Unwashed and Uncredentialed masses left outside. They are here, in the middle of the night, in the middle of Central Park, for a sliver of a glimpse of Arnold.
The California governor's office heard from 89 media outlets that wanted to hear Schwarzenegger talk in Harlem, many of them international press crews. He arrives at 10 a.m., wearing a gray sport coat, white dress shirt, khaki pants and black alligator shoes. Under the glare of TV lights, his sculpted dark hair takes on an unnervingly orange tint.
He visits a computer lab, where seven kids in maroon and white T-shirts work on Toshiba laptops.
When he bends down between students Skarling Encarnacion and Haziah Alexander, the two kids giggle. "You're studying China?'' he asks. "Do you know what the population is? It's a huge population.''
He moves on and Encarnacion bursts into an excited grin. "He touched me," she says.
At the end of his speech, Schwarzenegger tells the children, "You can become a doctor, you can become a teacher. . . . Keep up the good work, and I'll be back."
"I like all his movies," fifth-grader Darius Marthone says, a few feet from where Arnold is being trailed by a swarm to the exit. Darius saw "Terminator 3" on Tuesday night.
Now he is being interviewed by Japanese TV.
"I like all his movies," he says again.
Staff writer Eric Pianin contributed to this report.