Because of my father I saw my first pair of
naked breasts and watched Mohawk Guy die all on the same day.
Everything changed for me that Tuesday in 1984. I never saw breasts,
violence, or my father, the same way again. And it was all
Some men love football, others beer, but my dad
loves the movies. Cinema has always been Don Stednitz’s drug of
choice. We were one of the first families in my hometown to own a
VCR, a hulking RCA model that loaded movies through a
jack-in-the-box style top loader. When people came over to watch the
miracle that was movies at the Stednitz house, my father achieved a
regard usually reserved for the rich families with pools. This was
largely because my dad, there in Gretna, Nebraska, had the only VCR
on Earth that came with a “remote control” — state-of-the-art in
By today’s standards that remote was enormous;
it had no buttons except
for the ones on its Star Wars footie pajamas. My father was the only
one who could operate this “remote” because he trained it. My
earliest memories are not that of my father teaching me to read
Little Golden Books, but of my father teaching me to be his remote
control. After his training I could stand on a box and
load movies into the VCR. I learned the fat button was Stop and next
to it was Play. The neighbors would marvel as I was handed a movie
and then operated the VCR for their viewing pleasure. I’d bow to
thunderous applause, my dad beaming with pride by the time the FBI
warning hit the screen.
It has always been movies with my father; in
many ways they’re the touchstone of our relationship. My freshman
year of college my father had a heart attack. Amidst my shock,
sadness and confusion was the clear thought that he had to be okay
because we were planning on seeing the new Star Wars movie together.
When he recovered it was one of the first things we
did. When I first introduced my father to Jayme we all went to see
The Matrix. She approved of the movie so he approved of her.
The day before I married Jayme my father and I roared through
American Pie 2 with drunken groomsmen in tow, the movie not
quite as obnoxious as my counterparts. However, of all the films my
dad and I have seen together none stand out more than the one we saw
that Tuesday in 1984.
“Do you want to go see The Terminator
I looked up from my dueling He-Man figures in
disbelief. My dad had his “going into Omaha” Nebraska Cornhusker
ball cap on. He stood in my doorway casually, as if he hadn’t just
asked a life-changing question, as if he’d just asked if I wanted a
sandwich or had I remembered to let the dog out. He actually had his
car keys in his hand, as if he really intended to go see The
Terminator with me. To clarify, my disbelief was founded in my
knowledge and understanding of a very important law in my house: The
The Patsy Act had gone into effect a few years
prior due to the Raiders of the Lost Ark Debacle. Patsy Jo,
my mother, had been mortified by the last ten minutes of Raiders.
She watched stunned as my eyes filled with horror, terror and glee.
On the screen, Nazis’ faces melted right off! This “gorefest” was
not the movie she had in mind when she took her son to the theater.
Now in fairness to my mom, my dad had sold the
idea of taking me to Raiders as, “It’s a movie starring Han
Solo and it’s about him looking for church stuff. It’s like a
religious, adventure movie”. Once back in the car, free from any
melting Nazis, Patsy explained to my father (in PG-13 language) why
I was never to be allowed to watch “blood and guts” again. The Patsy
Act was written into law without a vote.
My dad’s insane Terminator plan
a clear and decisive act of high treason, a
willful and obvious violation to The Patsy Act. So to find us in the
same car, a few years later, sans Patsy, on the way to The
Terminator was a momentous occasion. I was in awe of my father.
Could my dad be this cool?
Now for the record, I
knew nothing about The
Terminator except that it
was rated R and had a cool poster. I’d asked my
dad about The Terminator the weekend before when the whole
family had gone to see Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.
Before my dad could answer, my mom reiterated the key points of The
Patsy Act. The poster alone, which featured a menacing Arnold with
an even more menacing handgun, convinced Patsy that The
Terminator violated several key violence and language statutes.
As we all headed to Baby I caught my Dad
looking back at the poster. I stopped and studied it: Arnold in his
sunglasses, scary and cool at the same time—like Han Solo meets the
Our eyes met for a moment and we shared a
smile, both of us catching the other looking at an outlawed poster.
I wonder if my Dad concocted his Terminator plan that day,
seeing me staring up into Arnold’s Ray-Bans. I wonder if he sat at
work during his break pondering if I was ready to take down an R.
Maybe he realized how much attention was going to my baby brother at
the time and knew that a movie for just the two of us would be a big
deal to me. Probably he just
wanted to go see
The Terminator and didn’t want to go by himself, but who can
Regardless of the motivation, my father
continued his defiance of all things Patsy. Not only were we
to a blatantly banned film, but we passed the
turn by K-Mart and kept going straight! This could mean only one
thing. We were now behind enemy
lines! I shot my
father a look of disbelief. He smiled, rubbed his beard thoughtfully
and asked smiling, “Did we just miss our turn to Cinema Center?
Guess we’ll have to go to The Twin.”
Q-Cinema Twin—a.k.a. in my house as “the
expensive one,”—was the theatre for the people who lived in
Devonshire. Devonshire, the subdivision on the other side of the
highway, included my dentist and my doctor. The popcorn at The Twin
automatically came with butter and the ticket guys wore vests and
bow ties. I’d gone there just once in my life when my friend Geoff
and his family took me to The Empire Strikes Back.
To this day, The Twin stands out in my mind as
a kind of church. It housed two auditoriums with giant movie
screens—you remember the kind—so big they had to curve slightly, and
they filled your entire field of vision like a lo-fi version of
virtual reality. A tapestry of paintings rendered with light, big
enough to take you away, immerse you, baptize you in cinema.
As we pulled into The Twin parking lot I felt
the importance of the moment. I was about to join the elite club of
kids who could see rated R movies—for kids of my age, the equivalent
of losing your virginity. Keep in mind this was still a couple of
years before Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s famous
voodoo-heart-ripping-out-of-the-chest scene that would enrage Patsy
and moms like her around the world. These enraged moms would go on
to pressure Hollywood to come up with Hollywood’s greatest cop out
However, in 1984 we were still in a very
black-and-white world: R or PG. In school this meant you either saw
movies for BABIES (which we clearly weren’t), or movies for MEN
(which we were). So it was
right there at the Q-Twin parking lot that my father
recognized I was now a man. I half expected him to offer me a beer.
“You ready to go?” my Dad asked smiling. I was
When we got to the ticket counter I began to
panic. What if this was all just a joke? But then my father asked
for two tickets to see The Terminator. I nearly yelped.
“Sir, just so you know it’s rated R due to
violence and nudity.”
I distinctly remember wishing that ticket girl
would melt like a Nazi, but then my father said something that I
repeated to teachers throughout the rest of my elementary school
“That’s okay, he’s advanced for his age,” my
dad said pulling my Husker hat down over my eyes. My teeth, that
within months would be confined by braces, stuck out stupidly—an
awestruck smile I wore the rest of the day.
As I walked into The Twin my Catholic instincts
made me want to dip my hand in holy water and cross. Pristine glass
frames encased their posters, the floor free of popcorn carnage. The
guy tearing our tickets called us “gentlemen.” When I asked him
where the men’s room was he called me “sir.” Sir. Even the teenage
kid at The Twin noticed the change I’d gone through coming through
their door. I had a ticket to an R rated movie. I was now Sir Damien
the Advanced for His Age.
So it was with this great welling of pride and
budding machismo that I followed my dad down the aisle and we saw
The Terminator. All the melting Nazis in the world could not
match the awe I had for this film. My jaw dropped, only closing to
eat the occasional kernel of buttered (for free) popcorn. My mind
was officially blown.
Arnold was bigger than life; he looked like
He-Man without the pageboy haircut.
In the first five minutes Arnold’s
robot killer trumped my former concept of Bad Guy, Darth Vader, by
punching Mohawk Guy to death. Mohawk Guy's switchblade no match for
The Terminator's fists which punched all the way through
Sure by today’s standards one death in the
first five minutes by punching is pretty tame, but in 1984, for me,
this was a brave new world. My dad wore a sly grin as I furiously
popcorn following the death by punching.
“This guy is a bad guy, huh?” my Dad asked me.
“Worse than Skeletor,” I replied, eyes
My jaw remained dropped through the car chases,
the cool gun with the laser sight (I immediately began taping pen
lights to my squirt guns), the scene where Arnold cuts out his own
eye, the melee at the police station, the colorful use of the F-word
(there are phrases I learned in Terminator that I still use
on the 405 on a daily basis) and of course, the love scene.
Ah, the love scene…Linda Hamilton. I was
speechless. Its significance at the time was largely lost on me, but
I filed the scene away in my mind realizing it was somehow
important. I understood that at a future point the information of
Linda Hamilton naked might be of value. It was.
All through my high school years, Linda
Hamilton's breasts were the ones by which all others would be
Yes, The Terminator taught me a lot. I
learned new phrases,
gained a whole new
threshold for gore, and ultimately a new baseline by which I judged
how cool a movie was. I was eight years old. And I was now a man.
The ride home was near mania. My dad laughed
most of the way, agreeing with me that he also couldn’t believe “the
good guy” had died and that Arnold could definitely beat up Darth
Vader, but that Arnold vs. Godzilla was too close to call. I started
every sentence with something along the lines of, “Wasn’t it awesome
when he…” or “I couldn’t believe it when…” I could barely contain
“Did you have fun?” my dad asked smiling.
“It was better than Star Wars”—the
greatest compliment I had at my disposal.
My father went on to tell me how his dad, in a
rare moment of sobriety, had taken him to a great movie, Vincent
Price’s House on Haunted Hill. I remember this now but at the
time I had no idea what he was talking about or why. I wasn’t really
interested in talking about anything on the way home that didn’t
involve cyborg killing machines from the future. I stopped him
mid-sentence to get his take on whether he thought Arnold could beat
the Huskers. He laughed, pulling my cap down over my eyes again and
answered with the “of course not” that I fully expected.
Underneath the tornado slide in North Park I
recapped the entire film for my friends numerous times throughout
the summer. The F-word, critical to the story recap, became less and
less foreign to my mouth after each retelling. It was clear to my
friends I had matured. Every time I left to do my paper route I’d
tell my mom, in a horrible Arnold impression, “I’ll be back.”
To which she would reply an increasingly
confused, “I know?”
I never did tell her that dad and I had gone to
see The Terminator. This
will probably be her first knowledge of it though I’m
confident that the statute of limitations is up.
Now don’t get me wrong. Is The Terminator
a movie that every 8-year-old should see? No, of course not.
However, when people are reminiscing and they ask me to recall my
favorite childhood memories, seeing The Terminator with my
dad is up there on the list— the first secret my father and I
shared. During a time in my life when
the walking tantrum that was my
baby brother Dustin terminated any time my parents had for me, this
summer day stood out as mine.
Eventually, we all moved on. Arnold obviously
was back like he promised in Commando, Predator,
Total Recall and others. Linda Hamilton enjoyed success on TV in
Beauty and the Beast. I would feel something like guilt watching her
on the TV with my mom. My mom loved Beauty and the Beast. Every
Wednesday I’d have to watch Linda running through the TV subways
with Ron Perlman’s Vincent. The whole time all I could think was:
I’ve seen her breasts. It was the definition of awkward.
Mohawk Guy recovered from his fatal punching.
Though it wasn’t until I saw Weird Science that I learned his
name was Bill Paxton. He would become my mom’s favorite actor by
playing Chet in Weird Science. To this day my mom laughs at
the thought of Chet getting turned into a pile of crap at the end of
the movie. She also refuses to call him anything but Chet. Examples:
“Aliens had too much blood and guts,
plus I hated that Chet died.”
“Damien, have you seen Titanic? The
scientist guy at the beginning is Chet!”
“I just don’t believe Chet would risk being
killed in a tornado for Helen Hunt.”
I pray my mother never watches DVD I bought my
dad two Christmas’s ago. Seeing
Chet get punched through would simply be too much for her.
By the time Terminator 2 came out I was
in high school and had long since stopped going to movies with my
dad. I was far too cool for that. When he asked me to go with him I
thought it was weird that he asked me. I’d already seen it
with a bunch of guys from school.
My dad sat alone through
Terminator 2 at the Cinema Center.
Afterwards, he said it just wasn’t as good as the first one.
It’s only now, as an adult, that I recognize
the disappointment on his face had nothing to do with the movie. I
didn’t return the favor of letting him into my club. Harry Chapin
would have appreciated the irony. Unlike The Terminator,
we can’t go back and change the past. We screw up, time travels
forward, sequels are made, credits roll whether I’m watching them
with my dad or not.
Luckily, Hollywood always has another
installment ready to give us one more crack at a happy ending.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines hit after I graduated
college. By this time I had moved to Texas, but was going back to
Nebraska for a friend’s wedding a couple weeks after Terminator
3’s release. I called my dad and we both agreed not to see it
until I came home. (I still maintain that the only point of your
mid-twenties is to repair the mistakes made in your teens.)
The Q-Cinema Twin Theatre is still in Omaha—sort
of. It wasn’t bulldozed but evolved into something else entirely—an
evolution similar to that of the villains in The Terminator.
Arnold was the bad guy in the first one, a T-100 Terminator robot.
The sequel gave us the T-1000 ,
a new, improved, more dangerous terminator, played by Robert Patrick.
The high number of 1000 emphasized the evolution of cyborg killing
That’s what happened to the Q-Twin Theatre, it
morphed into something more dangerous. It became the Q-Cinema 6 when
I hit fifth grade, it graduated to the Q-Cinema 9 when I was in high
school and is now the movie carnival that is the Q-25. The words
“cinema” and “theatre” have been dropped from the name because the
screens at Q-25 are roughly only 10% larger than the screens in most
living rooms. Q-25 does boast a full arcade, three different types
of nacho cheese, a coffee bar, and nomadic packs of 15-year-olds
that attempt to give you involuntary lasik surgery with their key
chain laser pointers. You do get a free cup (think Dixie) of popcorn
if you say “Go Huskers” on game days.
The Q-25 and theaters like it all over the
country are a pretty close approximation to the theaters in hell
Satan must go to when he wants to see Mission Impossible 3 or
Gigli. (Satan loves J-Lo movies and any sequel that’s Part 3
Terminator 3 is a horrible, contrived
movie, but my dad and I had a good time, regardless. We talked
during most of it, caught up on our lives. We discussed being
married to headstrong women and my dad asked about when I was going
to have a son of my own. It was my first conversation with my father
as a peer. Once more Terminator was the backdrop for a moment
of maturity in my life. As the Terminator 3 credits rolled we
left the theater joking and laughing: two men, two peers, two
friends. And it seemed ironic to be leaving the sequel with my
father, because in a lot of ways I felt like a sequel—hoping to be
as good as the first.
work has been published in various literary journals and
magazines including Falling Star Magazine, Contemporary Rhyme,
The San Gabriel Valley Quarterly and Poetry Super Highway.
Stednitz has done numerous open and featured readings throughout the
central coast. Most recently he has been promoting his second
self-published chapbook We Are Our Own Lions. He lives in Los
Angeles with his wife and is still trying to grasp that he's 30
years old. He loves email, comic books and talking about the movies.