Speechless the Magazine

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A magazine of poetry and related arts straight from L.A.



XXX Feature: The Liberty Theater, Daniel Jaffe

PG-13 FeatureSaturday Afternoons, Royal Theater, Michelle Bitting

Losing It at the Movies


Damien Stednitz

R Feature:
Parental Guidance Strongly Suggested

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 wonderful.

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 1980.

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 today?”

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 Patsy Act.

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 stood as 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 boogeyman.

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 really say?

Regardless of the motivation, my father continued his defiance of all things Patsy. Not only were we sneaking off 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 ever: PG-13.

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 already running.

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 years.

“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 him!

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 began devouring popcorn following the death by punching.

“This guy is a bad guy, huh?” my Dad asked me.

“Worse than Skeletor,” I replied, eyes transfixed.

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 judged.

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 myself.

“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 account 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 machines.

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 or beyond.)

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.

Damien Stednitz's 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.

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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach