News from Home 21, Part I
11/18/2005 (updated 11/18/2005)

Governor Schwarzenegger knocked on the front door promptly at six, bang on time for his elocution lesson. I ushered him in, but he signalled to me to follow him outside. He had a mischievous gleam in his eye, like a schoolboy with a stink bomb. I trailed after him up the front path, out to the street where a single desert-camouflage HumV was parked – modest cavalcade, I thought, compared to Arnold’s usual style. Modest, I thought, until I glanced to left and right, and saw that they had blocked off both ends of the street.

“Well, what do you think?” said the Governor, positively beaming now with self-satisfaction.

“Nice paint job”, I said, because it was.

“Not the paint”, he said, and opened up the engine compartment. I peered inside.

“It’s very clean”, I said. Credit where it is due.

“I make it easy for you”, said Arnold. He opened one of several dozen hatches in the rear of the vehicle. There was a large metal cylinder inside. It looked a bit like one of those suitcase-sized tactical nuclear weapons.

“Is it a bomb of some kind?” I ventured, feeling more and more like Lady Barnet. Arnold tut-tutted, and shook his head. He brought his face close to mine, fixed me with that famous Terminator stare, and said, “Hy-dro-gen.” He spaced out the syllables just like that, and then said it once more, even more slowly, “Hy – dro – gen!”

I must have looked baffled for a second, but then the penny dropped, and as I nodded in recognition, Arnold laughed. “I took your advice”, he said. “This is California. We care about the environment, ya? I had it converted last week.” I told the Governor that this was a great move, and the environmental lobby was bound to notice, and if he could just manage something a little more conciliatory with the unions, he would do well in the upcoming election, which was costing the taxpayer millions anyway. He promised to think about it, and gave me his usual piece of learned-by-rote, one-size-fits-all political rhetoric, vague enough to fit any occasion. I decided that the first thing we should work on in today’s lesson was the word Hydrogen. I made up a little rhyme, ‘My Hydrogen Hummer is Heavy but Harmless’, which Arnold loved, and which he repeated for Georgio at the end of the lesson. Georgio’s jaw dropped in disbelief, and he said that Arnold had learned more in a few short weeks than he had in thirty years of living in the US. I pointed out to Georgio that he spent most days speaking 90% Slovakian, speaking it to his family, friends, body-builders, until recently his wife, and the Slovakian pool man mafia. English was just an occasional necessity. He admitted it was true, but then turned the tables, and asked, why did I still have an English accent? Why had I not allowed myself to be assimilated into the great American culture? I let the matter drop.

Georgio has been very droopy since Mavis dumped him, and, word has it, he has been courting his ex, Martina. She seems amused by this, and is playing as hard to get as it is possible to be while grinning from ear to ear. I fear, should they get back together again, that her hold over him will be even more absolute. He always complained about her wearing the trousers, but I think he liked it, and she tolerated the vanity of an ex-Mr. Slovakia far more than Mavis. On this very topic Georgio remarked, with unique and fairly untranslatable agricultural insight, that the eagle might wander far from its nest, but the egg only did if stolen by a weasel.

Mavis, our child-minder and zookeeper, is back on the circuit. Mrs. RT and I returned late one evening to find a trail of clothing around the house – the sequence was confusing, and did not point to an amorous termination in any particular room. Mavis met us in the hallway wearing my bathrobe, and explained that she had grabbed it as the nearest thing to wear while she was doing her laundry – the trail of clothes must have dropped from the basket as she was heading for the utility room. This explanation satisfied me, but Mrs. RT insisted on sniffing our bed sheets, and indeed, asked Witherstock to change them.

Witherstock now runs and hides under the table when the Governor comes around, so convinced is she that he is the Antichrist. She has taken to rolling rather than folding the towels in the bathroom; is it an illusion, or does the way they are now folded, rolled clockwise with the tails pointing upwards, resemble the number, six? – and three towels to a shelf being 666? I am beginning to see signs everywhere…