There’s something you need to understand first.
It’s not so much that I have no interest in Star Wars or Star Trek as a mature adult. It’s that I never cared about Star Wars or Star Trek.
I was also never into the films of Steven Spielberg.
I had little interest even as a child in E.T. aside from maybe the scene where Elliot pulls the blonde girl toward him for a wind-blown embrace. I used to watch that part over and over again in slow-mo, worrying a little that I’d eventually snap the alien-green tape inside the VHS.
But that never happened.
Part of this disinterest in such films might have been due to my total and complete fixation on another VHS tape. It was this masterwork of modern sci-fi that helped me to leap straight on over to the early works of Mr. James Cameron (and, later, Mr. Paul Verhoeven with his ultra-violent, ultra-nudist RoboCop and Total Recall).
I’m just going to lay it all down here – I was six years old when my dad gave me a copy of The Terminator for my birthday.
This may sound like a strange if not wholly inappropriate gift to bestow upon a six-year-old. But you don’t know my dad. (A subject we’ll blessedly move on from for purposes of keeping this particular vignette short; I received the gift, which is the important thing here.)
I brought it with me to sleep-overs. It was as integral a part of these nocturnal experiences as my trusty sleeping bag, pillow and occasional Wrestling Buddy (I had them all).
The tape of The Terminator did cause some outrage – if not at first befuddlement – on the part of my friends’ parents; this, after they would pop their heads in to see what we were watching.
The fact that I grew up in Rick “Purpose Driven Life” Warren’s orange-flavored backyard didn’t help much. My mom may have gone to Woodstock, my dad may have given his young son a highly graphic movie as a birthday present, but the vast majority of the rest of the parents in Orange County slept in separate bedrooms and only saw each other on Sunday mornings at church.
When whichever unlikely host mother dared to check in on us in the living room, scattered across the carpet and glittered in Doritos dust, screening a film where Arnold Schwarzenegger unceremoniously dislodges his own eyeball or shoves his entire fist up into the sternum of a scrawny, blue-haired punk Bill Paxton, the look on her haggard yet patrician face was always one of equal parts teeming rage and healthy fear.
This last statement, I must say, might have made even more sense if the petulant mothers knew the truth. I mean the real truth here.
The real truth being that the Terminator (not Arnold Schwarzenegger, mind you) was my best friend in those days.
I’ve never really opened up about it before. Who would ever believe me?
Sure, there’s been the occasional drunken outburst at parties or other adult-era get-togethers in recent years. But then anything goes and nothing’s believed (or hardly remembered).
It must have been my one hundred thirty-second viewing of the 1984 dystopian techno-thriller that wrought something very different in my viewing experience.
Bespectacled as always in his 1980s Gargoyles shades and enshrouded in biker black leather – flat top in perfect military fashion – the Terminator was about to throw open the door to the wrong Sarah Connor (so much for computers being more efficient in the future) … when, suddenly, he stopped.
The hopelessly overweight, curly-haired woman biting her lip said something new this time round, asking, “Can I help you, sir?”
I swear to you, she’d never said that before! Never! Ever!
I leaned in toward the television screen, brow furrowed. Was this something I’d missed over those past one hundred thirty-two viewings?
The Terminator said nothing … before actually turning to me. Impossibly breaking the Fourth Wall, he says, “Mathew Klickstein?”
Now, there happens to be another Matthew Klickstein in the world (though he spells his name with the traditional two “t’s” and is now in a fantasy metal band called Wizard’s Throne or some such thing). But I hadn’t known that those fifteen years ago.
I therefore knew the Terminator was talking to me. To this Mathew Klickstein (the one writing this; Hi, me.).
“Yes?” I answered, as more of a question, still in disbelief but young enough to allow for such mysticism to be possible (I slept with the light on at the age, being that those were the days when monsters were still very, very real).
The Terminator’s black gloves reached through the convex glass teat of the screen (no eldritch glowing light, as one would expect from similar fanciful occurrences in other films or TV shows including Arnie’s own Last Action Hero; he simply reached through from the spellbinding Unreal to the mundane very Real, as though the TV screen were merely an open window).
As though by reflex, mesmerized by the sight, I reached out to the large cybernetic hand before me and … we did: We touched.
His gloved fingers gripped mine, and out I plucked him from the tube as he had plucked out his own eyeball one hundred thirty-two times before.
The Terminator wasn’t really as heavy to lug out of the screen as one would imagine. I’m no physicist, but I imagine it’s rather like what happens when someone – even a heavy person (like a metal-bound robotic life form, for instance) – is immersed in water and becomes deceivingly weightless.
The room did jostle, however, when the Terminator planted his booted feet on the blue shag carpet of my floor.
“What the hell was that?” shouted my mom from downstairs in the living room beneath my bedroom.
“Sorry, Mom!” I hollered back down through the floor at her, knowing that that would be enough for her (an actual answer rarely having been necessitated by my mom).
I didn’t take my eyes off the Terminator standing there before me in front of the 13-in. television on my white dresser with the blue trimming. There I was, sitting on the rumpled red comforter of my twin-size bed.
My staring at him (it?) must have been unnerving, for the Terminator – expressionless as always – asked, “What?”
I twisted my lips in perfect McKayla Maroney fashion and replied, “I thought you’d be taller.” (I was a precocious kid, the kind who’d speak his mind with little fear of reprisal … even when it came to a Terminator, apparently; I must confess, little has changed over the years).
“I am approximately 1.80 meters in height,” the Terminator said.
“How tall is that in inches?”
“I’m a little over three feet tall,” I told him, remembering a recent check-up with a shiver running up my spine. “How tall is that in meters?”
He paused a moment before answering. I asked him why, and the Terminator told me he was analyzing the sixty-three Troll dolls on the white shelf with blue trimming next to my bed.
I asked him if he wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s with me and when he asked how we would get there, I said I could ride my bike and he could take my step-dad’s; Mike never used it, which was absurd since he had spent so much money on it.
I made sure to wear my helmet, but it seemed silly to waste time on messing with the straps to get Mike’s helmet on the Terminator’s head, so he road to Chuck E. Cheese’s with me without one.