In the rich part of town there is a boardwalk by a small man made port where restaurants serve tourists and local bankers, and the tall modern Puente De La Mujer shines bright white and plastic. Two century old frigates sit permanently docked with sun bleached signs advertising their adventures and a walk through tour on the weekends.
I took a walk here yesterday to clear my mind and, as I thought about who I was in this place, I saw a camera crew wrapping up cords and a journalist shaking the hand of an enormous man leaning on the rail by the water smoking a stogie. Anybody in the world would recognize him, it was clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I stood there fumbling in my pocket for my phone to take a picture when he gestured with his free hand to me.
“Do you want to be in the picture?”
A short woman with a clipboard took my phone and I stood by him trying not to look stupid.
“Are you here on vacation?” he asked me.
“No, I moved here a few months ago.”
“Where are you from?”
“Detroit. You?” I felt capillaries in my face break under the embarrassment of the dumb question.
“America,” he said.
After, the woman with the clipboard asked me to sign a waiver that I did not read and she took a picture of me with the clipboard. I walked across the boardwalk to the brewery for a beer so I could post the picture online. I thought about the movies, the headlines, the strange feeling of confirmation that somebody I had only seen rendered two dimensionally was in fact a man of flesh.
I was halfway through my beer when I heard the voice again.
Arnold Schwarzenegger walked up to me on my stool and asked to sit with me.
“What beer is good here?”
I had him order a Patagonia IPA and before the beer got to him he had asked me a dozen questions. His handler spoke spanish to the waitress behind him and went off to the bathroom.
“What I really want to do is write,” I told him.
“Just write?” he asked.
“It’s plenty to do to write.”
“I am trying to write a book.”
The IPA he had ordered came and sat beading on the table in the bright sun and I noticed dozens of people were gathered outside the brewery looking in at him.
“I would have never been Mr. Olympia if I just wanted to work out,” he said.
I have met a celebrity in my life maybe twice, but I never had a real conversation with anybody famous and for that matter I never had a conversation that arrived at my exact passions so quickly with anybody, regardless of fame.
“There is no plan B,” he said. “What do you really want, what does it look like?”
“That’s not for you to feel. Plenty of people will tell you it is, you don’t need to be one more negative voice.” It had started to feel like a motivational speech and I wondered if he had this conversation before with many people many times in his life.
“You have a donkey, right?” I asked, and his eyebrow raised and he looked up to the roof and laughed.
“Lulu! Yes, I had a pony and Heather thought he needed a friend. I come home one day and standing by the pool was Lulu and that was that.”
“There was a meme during covid when all the celebrities were singing Imagine and someone cut you in smoking a cigar and messing up the lyrics, then panning to the donkey.”
He laughed, “yes I remember that. What do you want to write?”
“Say it, c’mon.”
“I would like to write about a town I lived in for a few years.”
“I think it could be a really good novel.”
“It could be a great novel.”
“The next great American novel,” I admitted.
“That’s exactly it. That’s it,” he got up to leave, his drink standing full and beading. “Next time I see you, we’ll talk about all the assholes in publishing you had to deal with to get it out there.” He pushed his stool in and walked out of the brewery, talking with all the people gathered outside. I drank the beer he had left and lit up a cigar I kept in my pocket, removing the headphones I had on and pausing the audiobook playing on my phone: Be Useful.
The sun began to set. It was a long walk back to the place I rented. I saw stories in everyone on the street. In the cars that rushed by there were lives and threads and blood, and for a moment I felt that I could imagine anything and that it was all real.