30 years ago today, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s classic action opus, Predator, premiered. Shimbo shares a tale about that fateful day
I was nine when Predator hit theaters on June 12, 1987.
Back then, we didn’t have the Internet to tease us or give us spoilers about upcoming films. All we had were “Coming Soon” posters, and the knowledge that Arnold Schwarzenegger was coming to blow shit up, including, but not limited to, the English language.
It should come as little shock that a nine-year-old kid would look forward to an other Schwarzenegger slaughterfest. In those days, I didn’t care much about film, but I sure as hell loved movies, and if the Austrian Oak was in it, my ass was in a seat, and someone was going to put me there.
In the week that led up to Predator‘s release, it was all my friends and I could think about. Openly fantasizing the number of kills Arnold would get this time, what the “Predator” was, and the like. Not only could I not stop talking about it with my friends, I couldn’t stop talking about it with my mother and stepfather, probably to a fault.
My mom worked second shift at Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne, IN. She wasn’t a doctor or nurse, but rather worked in “Central Services”, which meant that she was responsible for collecting used needles and linens, an unseemingly dangerous position that would most likely lead to her contracting Hepatitis C, probably as a result of getting pricked by the many used needles she had to dump for disposal. I’d rarely see her most days, since I would be at school while she’s at home, and fast asleep by the time she returned.
My stepfather also worked in an a hospital, although not the same one, as a Director of Housekeeping, which meant he got to wear a tie and sit in an office, supervising the people doing the same shit work he was doing when he met my mother as they worked the same position. His recent promotion meant he got to keep regular hours, and do whatever the hell he wanted after work, since he, too, rarely saw my mother.
Because of their schedules, and my incessant desire to see Predator, my stepfather agreed to take me on opening night, after he returned home from work. I couldn’t be happier.
It just so happened that on that Friday, my stepfather decided to take the day off. As far as I was concerned, I thought he was doing it for me, to make sure that he wouldn’t get caught up with work, having to stay late and missing showtimes for a movie that was sure to sell out, especially since in those days, multiplexes hadn’t quite yet made their way to Fort Wayne.
I woke up Friday morning, excited as all hell for the night to come, already picking out a 5:50 pm showing at Southtown Cinemas, the very first showing of the day for Predator. I remember getting the morning paper from the doorstep, going immediately to the Features section to see all the new releases, and the image of Schwarzenegger with that hand cannon and steely glare popped out with “PREDATOR: NOW PLAYING”. In my mind, I was already at the theater.
Back then, it was important for me to always sit in the front row of a theater not unlike a child goon, staring up at a screen that looked like the biggest thing I’d ever seen in my life. I often think of that feeling when I run late to a critics’ screening of a film and am forced to sit in the front row, which for the eyes of a 39-year-old, is nowhere near as fun anymore.
My stepfather seemed in an odd mood, but I didn’t think about it, and how could I, when all I could think about was seeing Predator in a few short hours which started to feel like an eternity, but then as a kid, I suppose just about everything seemed to feel that way.
Even though it was my day, and a day I was looking forward to, I still had to do chores, and the most dreaded one, mowing the yard, was tops on that list. For awhile, it looked like it was going to storm, which I hoped would keep me from the lawnmower, but there would be no such luck for me. After an hour of sweating my ass off under the beaming June sun, serving as a magnet for bugs and grass clippings, I was done, and it was 3 pm, meaning Predator was that much closer.
After cleaning up the mower and showering, I headed back outside, this time meeting up with some friends across the street. Naturally, all I could talk about was going to the movies, and some of my friends, including a kid named Chad shared their plans of seeing the movie that night as well.
Sitting on Chad’s concrete porch, I see my stepfather get into his car and back out of the driveway. I run across the street to meet him, figuring that maybe we were leaving early and he didn’t tell me.
As soon as he rolled down the window, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. It’s a stench that stick with me even now.
Through mildly bloodshot eyes, he tells me that he’s going to make a quick run, and that he’d be right back. I didn’t think much about it, since it wasn’t even 4 yet, and so I figured there was plenty of time.
I ran back over to Chad’s and hung out for a bit. Even though I was only nine, my parents never seemed to worry about leaving me at home alone, as I kept to myself for the most part and rarely ever did anything wrong. Obviously not the best parenting choice, but I sure as hell wasn’t the only latchkey kid in a relatively safe neighborhood.
Chad had to go inside for an early dinner, so I crossed the street back home when I realized that I left my house key inside, something that my drunken stepfather didn’t bother to notice when he locked the doors to the house, leaving me sitting on our front stoop.
This wouldn’t have been all that big a deal had the rain not started coming down, leaving me to experience my first sunshower.
When I finished being amazed about rain on a sunny afternoon, I began to worry. While there was no clock for me to look at, just by seeing the sun begin to creep lower in the sky, I could tell my stepfather’s “quick run” was now going on at least an hour-and-a-half.
Chad’s family saw me sitting on our porch, still outside, as they backed out of their driveway. They pulled up in their faux wood-paneled minivan asking if everything was alright. I explained that my stepfather had gone off on a “quick run” accidentally locking me out of the house. It was pretty clear they were on a schedule, but Chad’s mom asked if I wanted to use their phone quickly. I could at least call my grandparents, who weren’t far away, and maybe they could pick me up.
The last thing I wanted to do was call my mother, because I knew she would flip her shit, and even though I was only nine, the shitstorm this would certainly bring was not in any way lost on me.
Of course of all the times I needed my grandparents to be home, they were not. I had no idea what the number was to my mom’s department, so, with help, I called Parkview and asked for Central Services. It took a few minutes, but my mother came to the phone, asking me what was wrong.
I was frozen.
After a moment, I explained to her that “dad” was gone, and it was going on three hours now. I could hear the blood drain from her as her voice went from a mild panic to ice cold.
“Stay right there.”
I thanked Chad’s family, letting them know my mom was on the way. They told me to stay on their porch, and they took off to see Predator.
You know, like I was supposed to be doing.
As the powder blue Mercury Tracer sped around the corner, screeching to a halt in front of our house, I felt a pit grow in my stomach. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, but maybe I should’ve had my key on me at all times, even though I didn’t expect my stepfather to leave like that. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, but I felt like I was going to catch hell anyway.
My mom ran out of the car, hugging and kissing me, asking me if I was alright. I honestly didn’t know how to process this, but I sure as hell was relieved my ass wasn’t going into the meatgrinder.
I will always remember that this was the night I learned that my father was an alcoholic and a drug addict, because it was the first time I ever saw cocaine.
Because she had to go back to work, she decided to take me back to work with her. By now, it was just after 7 pm and she only had three more hours to work. For as slow as things were moving in my mind after being locked out of the house all afternoon, things probably moved at three times the speed for her, fueled by disbelief and anger at my stepfather, an anger which leaked from my mother all the way back to Parkview with each “motherfucker” she uttered.
Even though this was clearly a major event that had yet to fully explode, my mother did everything she could to comfort me and make it not seem like a big deal, even though I knew this would going to end in a huge fight, like all the other ones I endured by hiding my head under a pillow in my bedroom. She had someone take me on a tour of the facility, showing me what she did for work, and even letting me wear some hospital scrubs, complete with hair net and disposable booties.
I may have missed the opening of Predator, but I found a whole new way to have fun in a place I’d never been, and for the rest of the night there, I was as content as a nine-year-old in a severely fractured home could be.
As vivid as this memory is for me, even 30 years on, I don’t remember what exactly happened when we got back home. I remember my stepfather was there, and I will always remember that this was the night I learned that my father was an alcoholic and a drug addict, because it was the first time I ever saw cocaine.
Maybe I blocked out the fight that happened, maybe it was just like every other goddamn fight they had and so it blurs in my 39-year-old memory. At this point, it doesn’t matter, not really.
I finally got to see Predator a couple days later, and as expected, it was the best thing ever. It was everything I wanted and more, another proud badge of honor on the Austrian Oak’s bulging pecs. Over the years, Predator found itself safely nestled in my mind as one of the greatest action films of all time, a true testament to the concept of brotherhood and sacrifice, and although one of the darkest days of my childhood is attached to its release, 30 years ago today, when I watch the film, I rarely ever think back to that day.
One of the wonderful things about film is the power it can have to transport you from your worries and cares, and for me, a movie about commandos brutally razing a military outpost, only to be systematically picked off one by one by an alien hunter with a face that looked like an angry vagina successfully transported me from my reality, and in retrospect, I couldn’t be more grateful.
Predator ended up being my happy place, and I feel the same every time I press play.
I got to the choppa, if only in my imagination.
Hashim R. Hathaway (Shimbo) is the host of the Never Daunted Radio Network, and proud father to NeverDaunted.Net. You can reach him on Twitter @NeverDauntedNet