Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.
Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a
kind of death. Anais Nin
The theater opened at precisely 8:30 in the A.M. every day except on
the weekends, and then it opened at 8 o'clock sharp. Projectors were readied
for the onslaught of movie starved patrons waiting to batter down the
Plexiglas and steel doors barricading them from cloth stadium seats and
fresh popcorn. Managers arrived at seven and the normal workers arrived at
7:30 because there was much to do to be ready. Butter flavoring had to be
refilled out of jugs that were normally reserved at the plastic plant for
pesticides oozed out their fat into steel bowls heated to 180 degrees. Popcorn
consistently popped so that the sound never left the theater, but instead
enveloped it like a thick gray fog. Doors were unlocked and cupboards were
thrown open violently as employees pressed fingerprints on to touch screens.
Brooms and butlers fell into the open, scared out by the sounds of ushers
waiting to pounce on any stray garbage. Crown Plaza Theater was ready to
serve its customers.
That is, if it had any customers to begin with. The theater is a place of
few patrons since the rise of DVDs and pirates. Pirates are not a new
invention but their technology is. The video camera has destroyed the movie
going experience. From the privacy of a family computer and a simple
software program, people can avoid the entire process of the movie theater.
They save on gas, tickets, and concessions, which meant the theater has
become less of a destination and more of a wayside tavern, with its own
regulars and characters. We were prepared though.
There were three different groups of people at the Crown. Every
employee called the theater the Crown because it was both an abbreviation
and an ironic statement on the richness of the place. The Crown had modeled
itself as a neon beacon to the world. From the outside there was no feature
that was in any way memorable. The theater was the Levittown model of
building on a much grander scale. Hypothetically, a knife could cut the
building right down the middle and every part was identical to the other side.
There were eight theaters on each, sixteen in all. Theaters eight and nine
were the largest and both held precisely 357 seats. On the opposite ends were
Theaters one and sixteen both of which held just a paltry 97 seats. With the
exception of theaters five and thirteen all theaters seating numbers ended in
a seven. Seven was J.P. Marcus' favorite number and as the founder, he
worked the number into every part of the theater's construction. Each
bathroom had seven stalls and the sinks all came out to be divisible by seven.
About the only part of the Crown that wasn't divisible were its employees. We
were a prime number usually and the hierarchy was concrete. At the top was
the general manager. Brad Smith had been the acting general manager for
just shy three years and under his direction the theater had moved away
from Pepsi and M&M's toward Coke, Milk Duds and the promised land. He
was a short, heavyset man with red hair when it wasn't in a military cut.
Freckles were all over his face and his brow was constantly set at an angle
that made him seem perpetually displeased, which was generally his actual
feeling toward the world. Brad seemed to be the child who got picked last for
dodge ball too many times back in grade school and was now taking it out on
Right below him were the two managers, Ben and Sarah. Management at the
Crown had several different personalities. There was one type A, Ben, who
was obsessive compulsive about making sure that the counters were clean. At
close every night that he worked, he came around and wiped a finger over
every surface that could be clean. If it was dirty, the entire operation had to
be shut down until this one eye sore that was a butter stain could be fixed.
Fortunately for the shift workers, Ben didn't close often.
The main night manager was Sarah. At about 24 and with her life slipping
away every time the Superman clock behind the service desk clicked off
another second, Sarah was slowly coming to terms with her failure in life.
She had a sense of humor about it though, but was prone to random mood
swings. Even with this issue, she made certain to remind us all that the
doctor had informed her that bipolar did not run in the family. This never
made a lot of sense but as employees we let it go as another piece of comic
genius that was above us.
On the days that Sarah was not working, she came to the Crown in Slayer T-
shirts and sweat pants, ready to party and to mosh in the back of The Devil
Wears Prada. Her lower back was covered by a tattoo of a butterfly exiting
the cocoon. Red cage bars that represented tree branches crossed over the
Monarch and the three-color design of the cocoon. Apparently it was a
personal design that was symbolic of struggle and beauty. Most male
employees took it as a big “I'm Ready” sign. I was not easily moved by Sarah's
display of sexuality. Her face was old, with wrinkles already forming around
the eyes because she had to squint to see her the amount of money to her
name. At one point the eyes were a pretty blue but time had made the oceans
evaporate leaving just tiny lakes to see out of.
I had been working at Crown for about three months, though it felt
much longer. In the concession stand you don't move forward in time, but feel
it propelling you slowly, straining against dimensions and boredom to hurtle
you to the next second. Schopenhauer calls our entire reality just a collection
of moments and at Crown that rang true. I had been reading some of his
work recently because I try to remain on top of my thoughts, and he was an
author that was good to read on breaks. Generally I worked in concessions
and helped clean out the occasional theater, though the shift leaders said
soon I would be working as an usher.
“You haven't been trained yet? Well Ben said that tomorrow Jason is
getting trained. Of course there are three Jasons, but I'm certain that it'll be
you. Jason M. got trained on Saturday and Jason H. did too I think. Well
maybe not, but don't worry.”
Tomorrow rolled around and I'd be forgotten behind a register as the
theater continued to oil the various parts of its machinery. A movie theater is
perhaps the illustration of how persuasion and anticipation lead to success.
For us in the business, it is the only way to make money at all. Every time a
customer comes up, a cast member (the staff gets a fancy title) asks them,
“Hello Sir. Would you like to try a combo today?”
“No thanks,” would be the immediate reply and then right after the
customer would rattle off three items and a cast member would push the
number 2-combo button and all would be well with the world. It was almost
shocking to see the automation of the place. The cogs and wheels were on the
walls right out in the open turning slowly at every combo purchase or drink
Crown's mission statement was all about efficiency. After making sure the
customer loves the theater enough to come back, efficiency was our top
priority. As a theater we were batting .500. Every part of the theater moved
quickly. The box office churned out tickets with a smile and plea for a
donation to charity. Concessions charmingly smiled and took orders and
change and made pleas for donations to charity. Inside the theater the screen
played different “Behind the Scenes” of upcoming films and charity artists,
and a smiling usher asked for donations to charity. The trouble with Crown
was that less people were filing into the seats, and even less were willing to
donate to charity, regardless of the friendliness of those asking.
Some cast members thought it was because they didn't want to give out more
money. That was wrong though, none of the people minded giving away
money. After all, most of them held popcorn in their hands that had the
capability to feed small villages in the third world for a week. They chased it
down their throats with pop so tall it scratched the sky and quenched its
thirst at the same time. All of this food was expensive and many customers
let the concessionists know this before purchasing even more food, blissfully
unaware of the law of supply and demand at work.
Cast members worked so that there was always an even number to divide
down the middle of the theater. Two ushers worked on both sides and there
were always six concessionists prepared to take orders from customers. Most
of the time concessions were overstocked and people in line would turn to one
another and ask,
“Are they expecting to be busy on a Wednesday night?”
“They must be, I can see several of them just standing around.”
To be honest the Crown was never expecting to be busy. We convinced
ourselves on a regular basis that the next moment people would simply
appear in the lobby and if we weren't ready, concessions would be flooded by
the wave. That was why popcorn was always sitting out and ready, why
pretzels that went unsold were restocked, why hot dogs were reheated, and
why every one of us looked at the clock and prayed that the second hand
moved faster so we could go home. After all, even failing theaters have to
keep up appearances.
On Saturdays, the theater picked up a little bit, but most of the time
even Saturdays were beginning to become stale and routine. There was a
feeling of malaise that even succeeded in overpowering the butter smell on
occasion. I sensed the feeling of depression and melancholy everywhere as I
walked in, even in the repetitive advertisements for buying Coca-Cola and
using a MasterCard to pay for the transaction. My first day was a Saturday. I
walked in expecting the place to be busy as I was working from four to close,
but that was mostly a false hope. The bricks on the outside of the building
even signaled boredom by turning different shades of brown to pass the time.
Sometimes it’s funny what you remember about certain times and
places. Last Friday for instance, I suddenly remembered this time in third
grade when three other kids and myself went out swinging at recess. Most of
the time I played touch football, not tackle because that led to injury.
Anyway, I had gotten fed up with playing football because my team was
losing so I cut out of the game, taking the quarterback and two receivers with
me. We were on the swings and all of a sudden one said,
“Hey I dare you to try and jump to the grass.” This was a tall dare. The
grass was about fifteen feet away and few third graders had the strength to
reach the necessary height on the swings.
“You’re on.” I said, surprising myself both at the time and in the
recollection. So I began to kick hard, rising higher and higher, trying to make
the gravel below me seem as small as ants, which is was, but at the time I
was going for the feeling. I was trying to fly so high that when I let go I’d float
across the playground and finally hit the soft moist grass at the end. I must
have been 10 to 15 feet in the air when I let go.
The jump was a good one. It was completely fluid from my head to my
feet. When jumping off a swing, it is very important to make sure that all of
your body is on the same page. The body must be a well oiled machine, even if
that machine is a small, skinny, third grader. I flew. Then, the wood smashed
into my jaw. The entire playground was encircled by a retaining wall made of
wood that separated the gravel from the grass. In a way, the wall was the
boundary between the playground and the outside world, keeping us safe,
and keeping us in. It was not at all friendly either. I had extended my arms to
try and break the fall so it did not catch me square, but the gash was right on
the top of my head.
I did not cry though. There are certain types of pain that make crying
seem more of a problem than a convinence. The gash was two inches long and
about an eighth of inch wide. Seemingly inconsequential on paper, in
practice, to put it bluntly, it bled like hell. I stood up and walked back to the
swings though. The group looked sickened. Our quarterback had actually
turned his back.
“What’s wrong guys? I got close didn’t I? Who’s next?” Kids.
The Saturday was overcast with a slight drizzle coming down, the
pleasant kind that are great to run in because you can still see and they cool
you down. There were small collections of rainwater around the parking lot
by the drains who had suddenly began to reassess whether falling down a
hole was really in the molecules best interest.
I had parked my car in the side parking lot because it was less crowded
and I did not know any better than to think that the side lot was for
employees only. The first thing I remember was that I parked next to a gray
Porsche. It was fairly old, but still in great condition. The spoiler was a recent
addition and seemed out of place with the overall engineering. There are
things that shouldn't be messed with. Soup Kitchens, Churches, a Man’s
drink, and Porsches all fall under that banner. The license plate started with
The doors were freshly cleaned and smelled like paint thinner. That
was the worst part about remembering my first day, the smell. Paint thinner
is a corrosive smell. It eats away at every other thought in your mind until
the only part left is the thought of the smell. Paint thinner is always
recognizable and is probably the only smell in existence besides sulfur that
people recoil from. Perhaps it was a bit ironic that on my first day, the Crown
smelt like paint thinner.
“Hello Jason.” Brad’s voice greeted me coolly. He seemed detached
from the conversation to begin with.
“Let’s get you outfitted with a nametag and then you’ll be working
concessions.” We went to the office to get the nametags. The part that you pin
on a shirt was in a green box that usually held index cards. My mother used a
gray one to organize coupons.
“How do you spell your name again?”
“No silent L?” He was joking, but I had a strong desire to hit him for
“There you go. Here's your new nametag. Have a good day.” He showed
me the door and I headed back to the concession stand.
“Excuse me. Sir? Are you open?” I had been daydreaming again.
Tapping the register, I turned off the screensaver and logged in. It’s funny
how certain instances make your mind wander to wherever it wants to go.
Scientists have studied this process I’m sure, but it’s probably progressing as
fast as them figuring out why we yawned.
“Sorry about that ma’am. Yes. Would you like to try a combo today?”
Today needed to be over. She ordered some Goobers and a small coke.
Goobers are the bad kind of Nestle candy. Chocolate covered peanuts look
about as appetizing as dead fish to me but to each his own. The total was
seven dollars but she did not even use correct change. I remember that she
gave me eight dollars for a seven-dollar order.
“It’s only seven dollars ma’am but would you like to donate this one to
charity today.” She paused for only a moment.
“No.” She picked up the pop and the candy and put it into what
appeared to be a faux alligator purse. Part of the taco I had eaten earlier
came into my throat. I’m not an animal rights activists or a fashion expert or
anything. It was her tone of that No, like she was put upon. Then the flood
“And I’d really appreciate it if you and the other employees would not
keep asking me if I want to donate. They asked me at the door, now you guys
asked me, and the last time I was in a movie they came in and addressed the
audience about it. What do you have about taking other people’s hard earned
money? If you want to get donation go to the government, Christ they tax us
enough. 10% is good enough for God, why can’t it be good enough for the
government?” With that she turned and stormed. I remember she was a bit
overweight, but at least it was Diet Coke. In her hurry to make a good exit,
she had left George Washington on the counter. I opened the Charity cylinder
and threw it in yelling out,
“Thank you very much for your generous donation ma’am! Would you
like us to add your name to the list of donors?” I don’t think she heard me and
that’s a good thing because I probably would have been fired. Still, I felt
annoyed. The entitlement of customers is astonishing. I can stand to be
sworn at on occasion, not my favorite experience but livable. However,
entitlement to cop a line from Tarantino, isn’t the same game, isn’t the same
stadium, it isn’t even the same sport. Where but in the suburbs at a movie
theater can someone spend seventeen dollars to go see entertainment they
probably will not enjoy and still complain that they are being put upon to
donate a dollar to the Red cross?
Sometimes it’s funny what you remember.
(I WOULD LIKE TO FLESH THIS OUT FARTHER)
The moon was out in full force, shining strong beams of white light
onto the earth. Astronomers will tell you that the moon does not have beams
because it does not have its own light source. All the moon does is reflect the
sun’s light back at the earth. Beyond the fact that Astronomers must be the
biggest killjoys on the planet, they also are missing the point entirely on why
the moon doing this is fine. All things reflect upon something or someone
else. Our finest buildings today are simply a reflection of past advances, as
are our homes, roads, books, and athletics. The really great ideas that happen
in our society are not what can be built, but what could be built. That is why
God invented the movies. A theater is the reflection to the rest of the world
what our society is about. The language is obviously more stylized and the
people more beautiful and fictional, but who doesn’t look into the mirror and
accentuate their good features from time to time?
Now the reason that I had left the theater at such a late hour was
because I was closing. At my age, most sane people wouldn’t trust me at all,
because the statistics are against me. I had a talk with my insurance agent
about that once. He said that the reason my insurance was higher had
nothing to do with me personally. I paid more for my State Farm Good
Neighbor guarantee because I was male. There is some irony there that the
insurance marketer missed when he came up with that at a brainstorming
session. Girls pay less than I do because a male is more likely to get into a car
accident, though the agent was nice enough to inform me that girls were
catching up fast. Reassuring.
I was not originally scheduled to close because my shift was supposed
to end at 11, but I decided to switch with someone that day because he had to
get up early the next morning and it was only his second day on the job.
Terrence Campbell was his name, and he made sure everyone knew it. I met
him first right after the managers because I had stopped in to check my
schedule. The schedule was on a clipboard behind the front desk and was
comparable to the Bible, Qu’ran, Torah and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy in terms of importance to our little society. Every part of the Crown
moved because of the schedule. There was one time when Sarah was unable
to complete the full two weeks because she had been on vacation and all hell
broke loose. Employees didn’t know whether to usher, be in concessions, at
the door or even at the theater all together. Since then, the schedule has
always been completed two weeks in advance and put in on a special hook
where I retrieved it. He came over and stood next to me.
“Hello man. How ya doing? The name’s Terrence Campbell and I just
started here today. What’s yours?”
“Cool man. How long have you been working here?” He was a big guy,
maybe 240 or so and jovial as all hell. One of those people that walk into a
room and all eyes collectively shift toward him, but in a positive way. He was
tall as well and black as night. He went to Glacier High School and was their
starting center. Terrence could have been a D-1 player if he had practiced
more, but seemed content enough walking all over other schools in the area.
“About three or four weeks now.”
“Cool man. Do you like it here?” Terrance was new to the theater and if
that wasn’t made clear by the previous statements, this one screamed that
fact to the world. No one liked the Crown, but they merely tolerated the
“It’s a job and it pays so I can’t complain too much about it.”
“Cool man. This is my first job so I’m pretty excited you know. I had to
fill out a lot of paper work though man. W-4 forms and Social Security forms
and Emergency forms, you know of what kind of accidents could happen
here?” He met it truly. Terrance repeated the same phrases over and over but
he was always genuinely interested in what people had to say. He was a
sponge for information and imitation. As such I answered in the only way I
“The kettle could break and fall on top of you, and burn out your eyes I
suppose.” I said this with sarcasm dripping as much as the buttery topping
behind the stand.
He laughed at that one. Terrance did not have a real laugh though.
Not that he didn’t show enjoyment and move his mouth so you couldn’t tell,
but it was not Santa by any means. I have an odd laugh too, sort of a machine
gun crossed with heavy breathing, but Terrance was just a single noise. It
was piercing and scorching like a smoker’s cough but without the side effects.
“Man that’s funny. So this job isn’t hard at all is it?”
“Not really, if you can stand the mind numbing boredom and low pay,
the job is actually quite decent.” He laughed again at that, and then turned
“Is it true that a bunch of people just walked off the job?”
“I don’t know.” I lied to him about that. Six people had left the Crown
in a week and a half all at once. The managers had been working double time
to try and find replacements for all of their shifts, even going so far as to pay
time and a half for some of the late ones. There had been an employee
meeting to discuss respect and proper procedure and then a code of Omerta
had been placed over the employees.
“Well I heard that. If it’s true that’s not right. A job is a responsibility
that has to be kept. Walking off man, that’s just not right.” Terrence had gone
to work right away and on his second day had been sent home early because
he had sold a large number of combos. Ben didn’t say the number over the
walkie-talkie so the other employees could hear, but it must have been in the
upper fifties. I took over on his register for him and volunteered to stay a bit
I approached my car and surveyed the parking lot. The lot was
massive, holding well over 1000 parking spaces. Now that seemed like over
kill but less than five years ago, the lot didn’t have enough, so customers
spilled over into Taco Bell and Walgreen’s trying to see a movie. The movies
were better than too. Everything is better in the past except when life was
harder and there were more diseases. It is probably because the past is not
concrete like we believe. Instead, the past is malleable to our own wishes and
dreams and thoughts. The past is a protective covering of our own lives that
envelops us when it must to give us a better beat or a shoulder to lean on. It
was better back then, because I can’t think how it could have been worse.
Something inside of me burned, not an actual organ but a feeling. I
could not isolate if it was jealousy or exhaustion but both of them were
coming on strong. I had to work my whole shift on my second day at work
even though I sold eighty combos, except that number may be a bit low. I
don’t remember the past after all is never set in stone. The Crown made sure
that its authority remained on top. Terrence after two days had gotten on the
good side, and I was still in first gear, stuck behind concessions as the kettle
constantly churned out fresh popcorn. Quitting seemed a legitimate option at
12:17 in the morning but I suppressed the thought because it would not have
done any good. I had a responsibility, even though looking back was a lot
more appealing than looking ahead. The moon fell off behind some clouds, its
beams being obscured, casting the car in a shadow as I drove back to the
house. The job was harder than I thought, but I decided not to tell Terrence
Perhaps there are some times that try men’s souls in ways that they do
not really understand as they are occurring. Certain emotions of ours can be
read in a variety of ways. Take the face that you make for sadness. They’ve,
the experts that is, have done tests on how to read different expressions.
Apparently adults have a much higher percentage of correct answers of what
kind of face the expression is than teenagers. Teenagers are apt to see
different faces as always angry, regardless of whether they are sad,
depressed, or even expressionless. On the surface, that makes a lot of sense,
after all teenagers haven’t been around all that long to learn these faces. But
at the same time, there is a possibility that the face I recognize as anger may
in fact be right.
Facial expressions are not just limited to humans. If one ever wanted
to show evolutionary theory to someone who has never heard of what the
theory is should just show him or her primates faces. Surprisingly, primates
register many of the same emotions that humans do, but they do so in a more
primitive and direct fashion. That does not make their faces or actions any
easier to read. Monkeys throw feces around the cage at the zoo and
everybody thinks that they are fighting. However, throwing feces could just
be a fun game or even a sign of passion, the proverbial readiness to rock and
roll. And before you say that’s disgusting think about your life and then try to
tell someone with a straight face that you’ve never thrown shit around.
Brad was great at throwing shit around. He did it consistently around
work to throw around his weight. Authority was a fundamental right to his
position and he made sure to exercise it frequently. The butter machine was a
classic example. At the employee meeting of the month, Brad went through
the usual list. Don’t sneak people into the theaters, sell combos, actually do
the theater checks (which always got a grown from the ushers) and then
moved onto the butter machine.
“Alright guys, last thing today before everybody gets up and goes.
Concessions. From now on do not ask whether a customer wants butter on
their popcorn. We are not McDonald’s. Have a good day everyone.” He’d end
any meeting with a friendly goodbye, and generally started off with a friendly
hello, his way of making you feel comfortable. The real problem was that it
was completely outside of his personality. The greeting came off as pure
misdirection, to distract an employee from the bombshell that was about to
hit the ground and send shockwaves ten feet wide. Employees who were new
or had gotten lucky enough to stay out of his wrath were trapped like
dolphins in a tuna fish net and left for dead by the rest of the cast members.
Beth was confused. I liked Beth. We all liked Beth at the Crown
because Beth could still laugh. Back at the time I had been reading some
Kesey and he wrote that laughter is what keeps a person grounded, sane if
you will. If a person is capable of laughing at a situation then he’s got the
world beat, one up in the long battle of attrition on his soul. Enough one ups
and eventually he comes out ahead at the end of the game. The Crown was
just the driver’s exam before the road of life, but few of us were passing with
flying colors. Beth generally had a way of making bad situations humorous.
I had been on the job for about two days when I was asked to clean the
side counters. To an untrained observer, this appears to be an easy job. Take
a paper towel and a spray bottle and wipe down the counter right? Wrong.
There is an important first step that many people fail to learn and that is to
wipe all of the salt off the counter before spraying because otherwise the
counter will develop streaks. Having not been informed of this fact, and
unable to read minds to know of it, I sprayed before I wiped. Streaks
developed almost immediately making an X shape in the middle of the
counter. Beth walked over, took one look and deadpanned,
“So that’s where the treasure was.” It was funny at the time at least.
The meeting was over and the employees were filing out, some of them
heading home, and most staying behind to open the theater up. Beth turned
to John and made a face and then left. To me that seemed like the end of the
situation, but I was wrong.
The next morning was cool and damp, wrapped in a sleeping bag of
thin fog and drizzle. The day was chilly as well for that time of year and most
animals had gone into their own shelters to avoid the air. I walked into the
door to begin to open the theater. Tuesdays were half price movie ticket days
because the Crown was trying to keep customers in the seats. The idea wasn’t
exactly a hit, but more people came in that day than usual because of the
weather. The movies are made to see on overcast days. They are Batman’s
light in the sky signaling all people in the vicinity to come enjoy a show in
one of sixteen different theaters.
Unlike most shifts at the Crown, mine was only two hours long on
Tuesdays because that was the catch up day for hours. I generally gave as
many hours as I could away, because while I wanted to make money, I could
only work on some days. The theater’s largest problem was how it destroyed
the will to work in an employee. On the first day, a new cast member is ready
to go, always trying to say the proper phrases to customers. By the end of the
first week, he’s growing tired of the job and starting to watch the clock. If you
were at my stage of work, the clock became your best friend, best girl, and
hottest thing on the planet all crammed together into a diameter of sixteen
inches with two pieces of metal being used as Gods. The main problem with
losing the will to work is that some days, it is impossible to go in and do a
good job. Always trying your best only applies insofar as a person wants to
give his best to begin with.
Customers began to filter in around 10 and every time one of them
approached the concession stand to take an hour Sarah would ask,
“Sir/Madam, Would you like butter on your popcorn?” Most of the
customers said yes and were treated to several shots of buttery topping onto
their popcorn. Our “butter” was actually coconut oil and vegetable oil mixed
together. Most concessionists saw no reason why any customer willingly put
it onto their order, which was already too expensive to be fouling up with
coconut oil. I understood the buttery topping on a different level. The oil
inside of the butter machine counteracted the dry, stale state of the popcorn
in normal conditions.
Brad heard Beth continually asking the same question and came over.
“Hello Beth How are you.”’ Before she had a chance to respond to the
question he continued, “I was wondering if you had forgotten the theater’s
new policy regarding the butter machine
“I did not Brad, I heard every word of it.”
“Ok, so why have you asked every customer so far if they wanted
“I just think that it’s a common courtesy for them. After all every
customer deserves to be treated like a King and asking if they want topping
on their popcorn is just one way of achieving that goal.”
“That is an interesting idea Beth, but it is important that all
employee’s follow company policy. I can’t have insubordination among the
“Brad, the rule does not make any sense. We have three butter
machines that are primed and readied every morning. Doesn’t it make sense
to use them?”
“You will use them if a customer asks. Beth the theater does not need
to keep restocking butter behind concessions because all concessionists are
using too much.”
“But we are a movie theater that sells popcorn. Butter is integral to
that experience and I think that we are denying customers a chance to
experience that and if we continue to not offer butter, they will grow tired
“Beth just follow the damn rule or I’ll write you up.” He was losing his
cool quickly. Small beads of sweat began to appear on his brow because of his
proximity to the butter machine.
“What are you going to write me up for Brad? Insubordination? That
should be a good one to explain to the district manager. Bethany Williams
failed to follow the rule that employees are not supposed to ask customers if
they want butter.” She was in her element at that moment, right next to the
edge. It was true that the rule was stupid, but it was Brad’s rule and he was
very particular about making sure they were followed. He probably would
have written her up if a customer had not walked up at that very moment.
“Excuse me Sir, this popcorn does not have butter on it and I was
wondering if you could put some on. They didn’t even ask me at the
concession stand the first time so I assumed it was there. You should talk to
your employees about making sure that they ask the customer what they
want the first time.”
“I am very sorry about that Sir,” Bethany said with a face that could
only have been interpreted as gloating. Brad’s was more difficult to read, as it
was a mixture of anger, annoyance, and two different shades of purple and
red respectively. As the customer started walking away, Beth began laughing
under her breath.
“Are you still going to write me up for not following the rule Brad?” she
asked with a smirk. He didn’t respond to that, but instead made another face
that would have made most two year olds cry and run to their mothers.
Turning quickly, Brad left concessions and went back to the service desk
where he was confronted with several more complaints about the
concessionists not asking about butter. Beth laughed throughout the day and
I learned that not only was she sane, but the Movie Theater and McDonald’s
had more than I thought in common.
The neon lights were out in full force again at 8:30 and the theater had
begun to spring to life again. I had been on the job three weeks and had been
toying with the idea of quitting for the whole time. The employees were
standing around the kettle discussing the recent problems raised at the last
“Emergency procedures may have been the funniest meeting I can
remember in a long time. ‘If one or more of you is on fire please stay away
from any flammable materials in the theater as it would only increase the
problem.’ That’s a no brainier.” Ryan was in full force with a captive
audience, except captive may not have been the right word. Bored to tears
and looking to run was probably a better description. Ryan was the person in
the room who did not know how to tell story. He held onto to sentences whose
mothers had kicked them out of their houses in his brain long ago.
Ryan wore Star Trek shirts that prominently advertised both his
geekiness and ego. Flaunting Star Trek gear in public is not for the faint of
heart, and Ryan's insistence on always having some form on managed to
bother all of us. He was 23 and still lived with his parents, probably in the
same room that he had covered with posters of Spock and Data five years
before. Ryan had brown hair and sideburns that were carefully clipped to
produce a straight-line effect on his countenance.
He had been at the Crown for seven months and made the same
amount of money as the rest of us, though he tried to ignore that fact. He
wore a nametag that claimed he was an information director at the Crown,
but none of us had any idea what that meant. Instead, we merely assumed
that he had made the title up as a way of making himself different than the
other cast members.
Being different is necessary for very few people in our life. I can count
on one hand the amount of different people that I know. That does not mean
that being different is some type of ideal for us to put on a pedestal and
worship. Different is possibly the worst expletive in the world. I’ll elaborate.
Different is not the same idea as individualism. Individualism is the ignorant
belief that there is some reason to separate our own self from every other self
consciously, even though by being a self, we are inherently different from one
another. Individualism is different from individual though and it is important
to not get the two confused. An individual is nothing. There is no one aspect
of our lives that is so disconnected from someone else as to call it an
individual aspect. We have shades that define us as humans, not traits.
Different though is reveling in the underbelly of culture and
unpredictability. A different person is an odd person, one that does not fit in
because of his or her own volition and only encourages bad behavior. Ryan
“I suppose so man,” Terrence had chimed in to the conversation but
Ryan would not let him get far.
“Think about it though. If I am on fire why would I go near other parts
of the theater, it’s just common sense and after all how would we get on fire
in the theater anyway.”
“Well man the kettle could fall on you and you could catch fire.”
“That is a ridiculous notion Terrence. The kettle is screwed on to the
top of the machine and is built solely to tip at a certain point. You are dumb
aren’t you?” The end of the sentence was classic Ryan. It was also why there
were quite a few employees who wouldn’t have minded seeing him catch on
fire. Michael interjected quickly, partially to take Terrence’s mind of Ryan’s
“That wasn’t the best part. That had to have been the emergency
procedure in case we get robbed. Who wants to rob a movie theater anyway?”
“Man why not. This place would be great to rob. I bet it’s completely
insured for that kind of stuff.”
“Jason,” (not me Jason M), “Stop quoting Tarantino.”
“Still it’d be funny Mike.”
“Exactly man. A robber comes in and all we can say is ‘I’m sorry sir.
The register only opens if you make a sale’ or something.” Terrence was back
to his smiling again.
“Ok,” feigned Michael in the voice of a thirty-year-old grizzled man.
“I’ll take a number three combo but upsize the drink!” Everyone doubled over
as if torn apart by cannon fire and cried out with laughter. The laugh was a
real laugh too, not simply by a single person, but as a single entity all its
own. The sound came, not from the throat, but of the belly of every employee
standing around, a hopeful cry from a group of tired cast members who were
not yet ready to put on the act for the customer. After all, the clock only said
Ryan was the only employee not engaged in such primitive behavior.
To him, laughter was beneath his station. That was why he kept talking,
because taking in the absurdity of life was painful for him. Each morning he
put on his information director badge and came into work, confident that he
could keep up a one sided conversation and be the head usher that everyone
at the theater looked up too. It was possible to mistake this emotion as
confidence, but most cast members had quickly figured out that it was merely
an irrational response to his situation.
“You should stop laughing and get back to work again guys. There is
water that needs to be filled and the pop towers still are not operational.”
“Thanks for pointing that out Ryan.” Jason M sprayed sarcasm like
buckshot in Ryan’s general vicinity, hoping that some might actually hit him.
Ryan did not notice though. He never noticed that his presence was growing
wearisome on others. It was why he still lived with his mother.
“Hey guys. Party over here.” Sarah spoke half-heartedly and her eyes
betrayed her level of comprehension. “Now remember that today is Free
Morning Film Day, so get in as many combos as possible. We’re getting close
to our charity goals for the month and it would be nice to finish them today.”
Her voice stayed monotonous throughout this entire briefing. Sarah spoke
with a vocal pattern that made every word seem less important than it was.
Her pitch raised on the wrong syllables that made her seem depressed. The
fact that she was probably taking Zoloft did not help this problem.
“Oh by the way. Jason. No not you. You. We’re going to get you trained
in for usher today so at about 10, head on over to the usher station.”
“No problem Sarah.” It was hard to hide the excitement in my
enunciation, which came in contrast to hers because I was legitimately
excited. Sometime excitement does not have to be about an event that is
groundbreaking. It is the small moments that make us feel excited. As
Schopenhauer says, the world is unknowable, so we should take heart in the
moments of pleasure. At 10 I headed over to the usher station to meet up
Aaron was seventeen. He had been working at the Crown for just
under a year. He was a smartass. If you can understand those three facts,
then Aaron becomes much easier to understand as a person. He was thin and
average height, but always looked tall. There are some people that look
smaller than they are because of their posture. Aaron managed to always
seem taller from a distance and it was only when you were right next to him
that he revealed himself to be on the short side. He had blonde hair that was
prematurely graying and was content to do nothing about it. Aaron was from
the south and shopped at Wal-Mart. He was a mixture of German and
Scandinavian and he was funny as hell. I liked Aaron. He and Beth were
great friends and they were almost always together on the job.
I headed over to the station and he showed me the basics of the job.
“Alright. So this is the theater checklist. Basically we’re supposed to go
into theaters with this flashlight and walk up the aisles with it. Oh shit what
time is it?” He glanced at his watch and scribbled his initials on the paper.
“What are you doing that for?”
“Missed a check three minutes ago. But you didn’t know that. Anyway,
when the movie gets out wait until everybody is gone and then go clean up.
Sometimes there are people that like to watch all the credits so you have to
check before you start sweeping shit.”
“Seems pretty easy then?”
“Is there any job at this theater that seems hard?”
“I don’t think that is applicable there.”
“I don’t really care.” As I said I liked Aaron. After eleven months on the
job, he was able to reduce any job to its bare elements, a decomposer in
human form that returns matter back to a reusable state. Too often, people
make microcosms into complex construction sites complete with piles of
bricks made of words and situations that are brittle to the touch. They see
the construction and not the finished product. Aaron got the finished product.
He and Beth were fast becoming the emergency exits from the tedium of the
Crown. I respected them for that, for their ability to be in the moment, to
understand what was important. I told myself that I needed to read more
Schopenhauer. Even the Crown employees should keep up on that stuff.
“All right want to hear a story? So my dad lifts plane engines for a living, he
fixes them too but he lifts them. Means that he's a lot stronger than people
think because he isn't that big of a guy. He's 5'10” without his shoes on and
pretty skinny. But his arms are just huge, mainly because he's a black belt in
karate. The thing is the karate hasn't taught him the art of calmness or
whatever the hell you call it and his temper is really short. For a while he
joked that the military made him take a bunch of steroid pills.
Anyway, yesterday we're driving down the interstate when all of a sudden
this guy comes right next to us and cuts us off. Now my dad is at the steering
wheel and he flips the guy off. I look over and see that this guy looks gigantic,
maybe 6' 4” and as menacing as one can be behind a Lexus SUV. The guy
pulls over about 2 minutes later and gets out of his car. My dad says 'Sir, get
back in your car.' But the guy doesn't take the hint and he comes over
swearing up a storm. Shits and Fucks and Motherfuckers and Bitch are
coming out of him like they're going out of style at the mall so they're having
a clearance sale.
He gets to my dad and looks down at him and then snorts and for a second it
was possible to see the alcohol in his breath. Now dad's staying calm at this
point but his jaw is beginning to clench. They argue for a little bit more and
then all of a sudden the guy takes a swing at him. However, my dad's in
karate so he moves to the side and puts his hand into the sign language for E
and hits the man so hard that you can see his teeth come out of his cheek and
pierce my dad's hand. All 240 pounds of this man crumple at once as if all of
his bones have turned to oatmeal and blood is pouring into ground so parched
it disappears soon after.
My dad grabbed the guy and threw him back into his SUV, took out his cell
phone and called 911. “Hello. I am next to mile marker 101 and there has
been an accident. A man appears to have slid over the side of the highway
and crashed his head against the steering wheel. No ma'am he does not
appear to be wearing a seat belt. Yes an ambulance seems to be necessary.
No ma'am it was not a problem to inform you, I just consider myself a Good
Aaron finished telling me his story and slid back against the wall, proud to
have produced a story that left his entire audience as slack jawed as the man
in the SUV. There were four of us sitting by the Kronos machine in the
hallway behind the concession area. The Kronos was the machine that
everyone clocked into when they began their day of work at the Crown. It
served one purpose, but most of the time it failed.
It was a swipe card machine, red in color, with several different functions.
The machine could show when an employee last punched in, how long a
person had been away and when they were scheduled to clock out.
Unfortunately, only by swiping a security card through the side of the
machine could the data be accessed. My card only actually worked about 50%
of the time and normally, there would be a constant struggle to make the
machine actually read a card. Some employees were better than others. Peter
never had a problem. He always said that 'I have the touch with this
machine,' but most of us just assumed it was because his card was the oldest.
Peter had been with the Crown for almost four years. For most of us that was
an eternity. Shifts generally ran for eight hours. In the interview, Sarah said
that the pay was competitive. After receiving the first paycheck, many
employees began questioning whom the Crown was competing with. It used
to be tempting to say that it was with Gerard's, the old theater that was
demolished to make way for a Super Target, but that wasn't right. I'd say it
was similar to drugs but it isn't. Drugs get you high and keep customers
coming back. The Crown couldn't keep people in the seats. Our prices were
slashed once again and at some point I imagined we would end up putting up
a dollar menu or maybe a sign:
“Popcorn, small bag $4.50. Large bag. $5.25. Please buy. Willing to haggle on
price. Every bit must go before 11 PM tonight.”
For myself personally, I felt that we were competitive with a fast food
restaurant. A theater and McDonald's share a surprising amount in common.
Both of them serve people with food that most raccoons stay away from for
exorbitant prices because people will pay them for a good time. Employees
are paid as low as possible and are mostly teenagers. There is the occasional
old timer who knows all the ropes but still isn't promoted because the
manager needs an employee they can lean on who's “just another employee.”
The experienced one has authority that even a shift leader or manager does
not have. He gets paid the same wages as everyone else at the theater that
has been recently hired but he keeps returning every day. Normally he works
over 30 hours a week and seems to be a regular guy. He is the one that shows
all the new hires how to work the cash register and when he's finished, they
realize that a baby seal could work it just as well and probably sell more
combos on account of cuteness. Peter was that guy for the Crown and he
knew it. Deep down, he realized that the best he could hope for was head
shift leader and another .25 cents an hour to his paycheck. There was a part
of him that always seemed to sag lower than the others as if he had an
invisible broken leg that required him to limp.
“You're making that shit up. Do you mean the cops didn't do anything to
him?” Dan spoke with an air of both amusement and detachment. Do you
mean the cops didn't do anything to him?”
“What were they going to do?» Aaron replied. “We had gotten off of the on
ramp into some park when it happened and no one else was around. The
other man had started it and I was the only witness. The cops can't do
anything to him. Besides why would I make that up?”
He continued, “That was one of those moments when you see into the soul of
a person though. There are certain times in a person's lifetime where he gets
to go inside of a man and peer around into the machinery that makes him
tick. All of us are really just large, walking, clocks. Every different tiny piece
makes us who we are. Really we are simply billions of billions of tiny cells
that form around liquids and blood and organs. Each organ is made up of
even more tiny pieces of machinery that people say God put together. Most of
the time though, our eyes do not recognize that. Instead I see emotion and
action and words go through the air around us. But when he was sitting over
that guy, he had this look in his eye, just for a second, it was power man,
power. He knew he was stronger. It was primal, physical. It made me realize
that one more smart ass comment and I could be next.”
“That's deep man.” Said Peter, “Now get back to work. Theater 11 needs to be
cleaned.” We scattered immediately, fearful not only of Peter, but of
ourselves. If a full grown man can return to the state of nature, what does
that say about four teenagers with little to do on the weekends? Superman
Returns credits were just beginning as I entered into the dimly lit theater
with the image of mashed faces still burned into my brain.
New employees were always looked for at the Crown. Mainly it was
because of the turnover rate. There were few employees like Peter, most of us
worked during the summer, maybe on occasion in the fall too. Few made it
passed the first three months. They were simply a death trap for most, who
entered, except without the camouflage. There was no hole in the ground
with leaves and Vietcong in the bushes. The theater advertised as much. Its
mission statement summed up the feeling nicely.
The Crown Theater exists to provide customers with a good viewing
experience while keeping costs low and profits high for its shareholders.
It was simple and succinct and understandable and damning to every
employee that read the sentence. A mission statement can't be long. Any
decent statement must follow the 30-second rule. That is, a business owner
should be able to describe his business during a 30 second elevator ride. The
mission statement is the answer to the person standing next to him that is
making conversation. Of course, the 30-second rule never factored in whether
or not the other passenger was paying attention to the answer. It is highly
probable that the man standing is waiting for the third floor button to light
up and get out. A mission statement does not care about that.
Summer was the busy season for the theaters. All the big budget
blockbusters come out in the summer because they have the largest audience
at that time. Economics is all that goes into it. If a studio believes it has an
Oscar worthy entry, the movie usually premiers in October. When a studio
feels that have a hit, that movie is released in the middle of July. By
extension, summer was also a big deal for the theater and the wanted signs
went out to all the necessary papers. Sarah usually did the actual hiring,
while Brad did the firing. They were the angels of light and death on a
microscopic scale, or the fates of ancient Greece, measuring out the string
and preparing to cut when necessary, at which point another string is
measured. Hiring new employees was a constant process.
There were several employees who left before anyone met them. To me that
was a terrible occurrence because everybody has to know someone. Without
any connections to a place, it is quickly forgotten, destroyed by the consistent
change of synapses in the brain that need to be used elsewhere. The filing
cabinet of the brain has not had time to create a folder and date for a life
experience. Yet it is experience that is all we have as individuals. Without it,
what are we but a machine that moves slowly and robotically from one place
to the next, never stopping to understand what is going on before our eyes.
Life drives a car without brakes, but the least we can do is look out the
Beth had been hired on the 4th of July, an ironic statement on independence
to be sure. She was the perfect movie theater employee. She smoked, which to
the Crown, was as important as knowing how to add. Marlboro was who
brand of choice, though always lights, because as she said,
“They taste better and are proven to have less heath side effects than regular
cigarettes.” She carried two packs in her purse. The packages were white,
with a blue trim advertising “New Soft Pack though I never understood what
that meant. I don't smoke, which at the Crown was as original as an extra
toe. Cigarettes were a means of establishing connections with others. They
were a bond that was not easily broken with either one's self or with others.
Many conversations were started with,
“Do you have a cigarette?” If there was an extra one available and it left your
possession, a person was in. There was intimacy in the sharing of cigarettes.
Beth craved intimacy because she was a social person. Contact was as
important as speaking, because only through contact did she know you were
real. There was nothing esoteric about it, to Beth; it was a fact of life. She
had auburn hair that curled at the ends when the humidity was high or
concessions got particularly hot. It was soft with no added chemicals. She
advertised this to anyone who wanted to get on the subject of hygiene. Not
surprisingly, Beth loved to talk. You could see that in her face when she
began to speak. Her eyes opened up and her face became brighter and calmer.
Words were as much of an addiction as nicotine.
But smoking was not the only reason Beth was a good employee of the crown.
She could pass time better than anyone on staff, except maybe Peter, but he
had a head start over everyone that worked there. Unlike other cast
members, Beth knew how to think by herself. As much as she enjoyed
talking, at heart she was an introvert. Her cash register was a place of refuge
from the clutter of life. It was there that she could put the puzzle pieces in
order of size and shape and then begin to make sense out of them. We all
tried to do this in one way or another, to understand our existence, why we
settled for six dollars an hour, but not in the same way Beth did. I spoke to
her before that act occurred in the break room.
“How are you doing today?” the conversation would invariably start, an
icebreaker and a crutch delivered without a bit of sincerity. Generally Beth
picked up the invitation.
“I'm doing all right today, though I was a bit late today and the nicotine fix
this morning was fierce. Forgot my lighter at home. You don't have one…wait
you don't smoke, never mind. Yesterday though I figured it out why we take
this job though. It's only because people say that it is easy.”
“Well the job is easy. After all, we don't actually do anything besides sit
and wait for people to show up to see a show.”
“See,” Beth said beginning to become animated, “That is the problem
right there. We've convinced ourselves that our job is easy. It isn't. Our job is
a piece of shit. That's all the job will ever be, shit. But as society, we promote
and label our line of work as easy because as a society, we're fundamentally
lazy. Think about all the times every day that you say like Justin, about fifty,
maybe more. Why do we say like?”
“Because we don't know what we're describing?”
“No, because we are too lazy to come up with a descriptor. It is no
different saying 'she was like,' or 'she said.' In that case uttering 'she said' is
much shorter, but it takes more time. Semantics really. Now say society
denotes a job as easy, well lazy people now think, 'Hey there's a job for me.”
“Well what about working as a garbage man?” I asked. “That's an easy
job, all they do is pick up garbage bins and they make about fifty grand a
“Wrong Justin. A garbage man is, pardon the pun, a shitty job. Society
has deemed it as dirty and nasty and the job has become an outcast,
ostracized from the very people that depend on it, ironic huh? Why don't we
all want to be janitors? That job is easy, at least in description. So why don't
you want to be one?”
“Well it's a nasty job, like you said.”
“Precisely, so is this one. Working as a concessionist is never anyone's
career, well maybe Peter's, but no one else. We fool ourselves into thinking its
easy, and that makes it passable. Hell, we fool ourselves into a lot of things
here.” With that statement, she got up and walked out the door back to her
Rarely was a shift busy during the weekday. Mainly, it was the
problem of being a multiplex theater. The theater was simply too large for the
amount of people that were likely to enter into its lobby and peer up at the
plastic ceiling. The movie theater recently added a large big screen in the
middle of the lobby to even make that into some type of theater. It was all an
allusion to movies. People came to a movie to escape their lives, at least that
is what Hollywood had been selling for the past 100 years.
Movies are the ultimate confidence schemes. In them, actors get paid
millions of dollars to play someone else, while customers sit in the stadium
seats and wish that they could be actors. The truth is, even though most of us
hide from its searing glare, is that we are all actors. Take a school for
instance. High school is a movie for the new generation, just as it was for the
old. Teen comedies can only dream about the average high school, and teen
dramas water the subplots into full-grown melodrama with a perfume as
pungent and disgusting as sulfur.
Every single student must fulfill a certain part or a certain role.
However, instead of “Introducing,” it is a more subtle part, the kind that is at
the end of the credits. Preppy kid number seven is seen much more often
than the big name or star because schools do not have stars. There are many
more Average Joe number eights. But that of course is life, even if our
teachers choose not to admit the fact to us. The world has many more leaders
than followers and few can be President.
The movies are our ticket out of that reality though; they transport us
to a different place, one of excitement and happiness. It is through them,
through any story, that it becomes possible to get inside another person’s
skin. Great actors are not great because they are attractive or because they
can speak in several accents, but they are great because they understand
being another person. The average con artists are great actors, but the con
artists that are never brought to justice are the great actors. They pretend to
be someone they are not, and make millions doing so. What do the lack of
good movies say about our culture? To me, the good movies just became hard
to find. There required a long drive to an indie theater somewhere on a
college campus to unearth the diamond in the rough of Americana. The
Crown though was a Wal Mart without the money, selling many different
items, but all that could be stripped to the same cookie cutter model of
consistency and predictability.
For a movie employee, this presents a challenge, because like the
Hollywood style of old, when we do our jobs correctly, no one is supposed to
remember us. Every cast member wore a nametag, but when a customer
referred to you by name it was disorienting. Sometimes, we are not so lucky. I
had not yet been fully immersed in the art of customer service. Since I had
only been a cast member for a little over two weeks, I had not yet learned the
lesson of the constant smile. The constant smile is rule number two in the
business, right after the customer is always wrong. Right now it is time for
you the reader to forget the adage the customer is always right. The customer
is never right. In fact, the customer is more than just wrong, they are dumb
as well. When a potential customer walks up to the concession stand, a
friendly greeting and a statement regardless of their order greet them.
“Would you like to upgrade this order?” While phrased as a question,
this is anything but. As employees we are taught to always increase profits.
No theater, or any place that sells food makes money by the food; they make
money by the container. All costs are measured in paper products, not by the
food. For the Crown, overhead was based on a simple formula. One cup cost
about thirty-five cents to make, and we sold that cup for $4. Employees were
encouraged to sell combos because the corporate office had decided that this
was the way to make money.
Combo selling was written into the job description as well, right next
to the wage competitiveness and the fashionable uniform. Cast members
wore a blue shirt, khaki pants and black shoes. It made the environment
predictable, and also made employees invisible. This wasn’t to say that
customers couldn’t find us. The uniform stuck out in the crowd. It was as
visible as Mick Jagger, James Dean, Carmen Electra and Robocop all rolled
into one. But it also meant that we were invisible to them, the patron, even
when there was a broom and butler in our hands, sweeping up the popcorn
they left behind. The broom was short, with rope bristles that frequently fell
out, victims of a seal that left much to be desired. Several of their fellow
soldiers died on the battlefield of the lobby every time they were called for
Predictable was why the uniforms were the same, why the nametags
were the same, why the Crown had five people named Chris or Alex on staff.
The movie employee has to stay out of the way. Customers do not like
uncertainty. They have the normal human response of flight because
uncertainty is fear and fear is evil. This overarching theme played itself out
during many different unrelated events. Customers walked up to the counter
and flew back violently.
“Dude, they finally got new candy!” Dude was also observing this
phenomenon and after a second nod approvingly.
“About damn time, don’t you think? Milk Duds and movies go hand in
hand, the new M&M’s for a generation I think.” At about this point the
concessionist chimed in:
“Would you like to try a combo today?” The customer was still stupid.
For a while I tried to break the monotony of response to the customer.
During the down time between the movie runs, I would walk around to the
other side of the counter and ask John about why we were supposed to do
“Think about it, there’s no reason to get a combo. We make less money
off them because of the charity and there’s no discount to the customer.”
“That’s the whole point though. A combo is not about a discount to the
customer. Why do you think we don’t put our prices for them up on the
board? Individual bags of popcorn are there, our candy has a placard in front
of each box. The reason is that customers get fooled. When they walk up to
the counter, a customer sees the smiling employee and his mind goes blank.
That’s why you sell him a combo.”
Conversations with John usually ended at this junction. John was one
of the new team leaders at the multiplex and under his careful eye popcorn
got made and set out for the rushes. He didn’t do much else, besides
occasionally ask an unfortunate concessionist to go wash the side counters, or
clean the butter machine. He constructed his sentences, as thoughts within
themselves, not open to doubt, criticism, or additions. Conversation was a
guerilla war for his mind, fighting boredom and the haze of smoke that has
filtered from his lungs to his body. John was a chain smoker, and his break
always had a ten-minute allotment to feed the beast for that day.
Michael tried to pick up the pieces of crushed talk from the recently
wiped tile and begin again.
“I always try to sell the combos though, get more points for the team.” I
suppose I should add some background information here. Theaters are
competitive by nature. Literally speaking, a theater tries to attract customers
to come out and watch a movie for three hours. The business is cutthroat and
painful to those that fail. Gerard’s demise was the best example. For several
years the theater had been struggling, but still managing to scrape by. Then
all of a sudden it imploded on itself. One day no customer showed up. Jason,
the guy that usually worked door, used to work at Gerard’s and he told me all
“That first day, people were a little freaked out, and right they should
have been you know. Shit when no people come into a movie when its 95
some degrees outside and humidity so high you sweat just standing, then a
business has a problem. But the managers waived it off as a freak accident.
‘Maybe we forgot to take down the closed sign,’ bullshit like that. Then the
same thing happened again. There were no cars in the parking lot, people
were going to the WhataBurger across the street, but no one was coming to
see a movie. It went on for a week until I just left.”
Jason worked three jobs around town and was the father of two little
babies with two different women, so I trusted him to tell the truth about
matters such as these. Deep down, that fear was within all of us, that one
day, the managers would throw open the doors and no one would show up. All
of the employees would sit there all day and not a soul would enter. The
theater becomes a prison at times when no one is around, strapping us into
an isolated world with just the people around you, who I never made an effort
to know. That is fear. That is why we sold combos, because if we didn’t try to
get their business once, then that opportunity was gone. Matter destroyed
because of a failure to ask about a combo. The Crown was scared.
The Crown had received a message from on high. Our Moses had come
down from the Mount with the 10 commandments of concessions in his hands
and unlike the Jews the first time around, we accepted. Granted Jared, the
district manager, was to be followed no matter what he sent us, but still, we
accepted. The list was a framework of ideas designed to “continue,” success
for the Crown concession staff. Compiled from strategies across the country,
the document was cut and edited to five bullet points that for one weekend,
we were supposed to accomplish.
“Hello everyone,” Brad boomed as he walked into concessions. “I hope
everyone has read the memo so that we are all on the same page. It is very
important that all of you continue to try and sell combos and upsize.”
Part of the memorandum was the notion of suggestive selling or
upsizing. The Crown and management were attempting to prove that the
concept worked. Proof though seemed to be a bit of a stretch. In the history of
modern science, the American public, and our management have failed to
understand the history of proof. To them proof was that if all of us tried
really hard more people bought drinks that could allow Calcutta to never
suffer dehydration. I had a slightly different idea of the power of suggestive
selling. Take nachos for instance. Suggestive selling allowed a choice, small
or large nachos. If I felt like making a bigger profit, I cut out the small tray
option. No customer noticed.
“No problem Brad. I have already informed everyone about the memo
and also the plan to counter our theft issue.” John spoke carefully, choosing
his words for maximum comprehension. They came out with a measured
delivery that rivaled molasses in speed.
Theft was a large problem at the Crown. It was part of the reason that
the management had introduced security measures into the process. Of
course, no one should have been surprised that theft was an issue. Less than
a year ago, five employees had been caught taking candy and selling it
outside of work for 50 cents per box. The scam was brilliant. They did not
have to pay for the product and all of the money for the candy was profit.
Beyond that, they were also able to undercut any other price in the area. All
of them got greedy though. It started simply, just take a box here and there,
because no one misses one box. They just go through a restock and properly
spaced out, the theft goes unnoticed. As crimes go, embezzlement in small
doses carries both the maximum amount of profit and a minimal chance of
being apprehended. The system failed because one box became two and then
two boxes became four. Management became suspicious and finally caught
one of them in the act. I wasn’t around but I heard that he gave up the rest in
less than fifteen minutes. We used to have three managers, but the third was
so crushed by the problem, she was a friend that she quit the same day. Since
then the Crown had been stringent on enforcement of possible theft.
This did not mean that crime had ceased. For the past month, the
theater had been short between ten and fifty dollars on the total take each
week and there were several discrepancies between the product sold and the
product itself. That was partly why the memo existed in the first place.
“Very good then. Everyone that has yet to read the memo please do so
when you have a break today so that everyone has an understanding of
company policy and our goals. Let’s try to exceed them.” Brad ended his
statement on a positive and left through the left swivel door, almost
slamming into Jason who had just walked in. I turned and walked over to the
back counter to read the memo. It was two pages long and written in bullets.
The font was slightly smaller than usual and there was a noticeable coffee
stain on the top left corner. I picked it up and glanced down.
The theater business is becoming even more cutthroat recently and
because of this; the Crown Corporation has redoubled its efforts to maximize
profit in various concession sectors by increasing the amount of product sold.
To measure this efficiency, it is suggested that management compare any of
the two following items sold (popcorn, nachos, or medium drinks) with last
I stopped reading. Sometimes technical writing hurts my eyes so I
skim instead. I looked down farther.
To ensure maximum efficiency, all employees should fill the registers
to an optimal level and management and shift leaders should fill in on the
I suppose that to reach upper management in a theater it isn’t
required that you write well, though my knowledge of company policy was
not at all increase. I went back to the registers.
State law mandates that all corporations allow their workers a break
every five hours they work. This break needs to be at least twenty minutes in
length and usually longer. Working more than five hours at a time is likely to
get a company sued. The Crown followed this policy to the letter. I generally
walked across the street to the grocery store and picked up some food. I was
too lazy to make food at home and usually was willing to part with four
dollars if it meant that I got a large lunch or dinner. Breaks happened on a
strict schedule to ensure that the Crown continued to function. It could be
expressed as a mathematical law where X is the number of employees.
X<4 behind concessions=The Crown is fucked.
Thanks to this detailed mathematical law, shift leaders wrote out the
break schedule at the beginning of the day for all employees. I usually
volunteered for the early break because I could read in peace. The Crown
break room was well suited for reading. I had been trying to read more
improving books and being alone with some turkey was well suited. Today I
wasn’t so lucky. Jason had already volunteered because he needed a smoke
break. I had been foiled by nicotine.
“Everyone listen up!” John yelled from over the popping kettle. “Each
one of you has an assigned register today. Do not leave that register. Do not
go on someone else’s register. Any money that is short in that register comes
out of the logged in employee’s paycheck. Understood? Good. The
assignments are right here.” He pointed to a small piece of paper in his hand,
which smelled of cigarettes. On it was a spreadsheet with each register
labeled. I was assigned to register four. The concession stand numbered the
registers from left to right in a way to make the whole system easy to
understand. Register four only got business when there were rushes. I was
happy with my assignment.
Next to me was Katie. I liked Katie because Katie was funny. She was
a blonde with a great figure that she flaunted continually. Her khakis were
always tight to accentuate the fact that she had good legs. Those khakis were
a good metaphor for Katie. She always accentuated the good parts of the
people she liked. Frequently she commented on the great thoughts of her
boyfriends and their ability to play sports. Also, she was wrapped around
their hips very tightly very frequently. We went bowling once with some
mutual friends. She bowled in socks and with a red ball because “It’s so much
luckier than the rest of them.” She came with three of her friends and left
with my ride. I was stranded but apparently he had a good night. I still liked
“Hey, it’s really hot back here.” She generally had a problem with the
heat. I thought it was because they made her tuck in her shirt.
“It’s not too bad today I suppose, did you work yesterday?”
“No. Was it bad?”
“Terrible, we didn’t even have to mop because of the sweat.”
“Really?” Katie was rather gullible. She went back to helping a
customer making sure to ask for a combo. That was bullet point number
seven. The memo explained the reason.
Customers are always willing to accept an authoritative voice for their
specific order. Therefore all cast members (they always used cast members in
memos) should ask if they would like a large combo because this will both
give the customer a satisfying experience and give the Crown a winning sale.
Bullet point seven was being enforced with the threat of being written
up if a combo was not asked for every customer. This became a bit of a
challenge because customers are always in a hurry to see their movie. I had
to sneak the words “Would you like a combo,” into the transaction in creative
“Hey, do you have a car here today?” Katie had turned back to me.
“Ya I always do.” The suburbs do not have the option of bus travel and
I lived far enough away that a car was a viable option. My car was nothing to
brag about. Peter talked about his constantly because he was into hot
rodding. He had a Civic that he had modified to increase the speed,
something about the transmission and moving wires. When he started
talking about it, I mentally checked out. I have a 1994 Taurus, green in color
and that’s the biggest selling point of the car. There is no air conditioning
that makes hot days almost unbearable. It also does not have an effective
heating system so in the winter the car is miserable to drive in. The
windshield wipers take almost thirty seconds to respond which means that
rain can be very hazardous. I hadn’t changed the tires since I bought the car
for $600 because after depreciation, a tire change was worth more than the
“Cool. Do you want to go get lunch together? I kind of want to go to
“Sure.” I liked Katie so going to lunch wasn’t a bad idea. I also liked
Subway. We left on break at around noon after a brief search to find her
purse and in my car to find some change.
Subway was generally crowded at lunch hour because it was situated
at the half waypoint between Town Center and the Business Plaza. Both
areas sent masses of people toward the chain, making it very profitable. The
store had several plaques that proudly displayed this fact. Katie and I
walked in and were greeted with a line of thirty people. In front of us was
Kristen. Kristen was an usher and a poor employee. That was an
accomplishment at the Crown because most of us were slackers to begin with.
Being a bad employee at the Crown was like failing summer school, it was so
hard to do that those who did wore it as a badge of honor. Kristen knew that
she was a terrible employee, and did nothing to change that fact. Today
though she seemed rather distressed. I thought it was because she left her
cigarettes at home again. Kristen was a chain smoker. On days that she
couldn’t have more than four cigarettes she was a pain to work with. That
was why she was usually an ushers, she stayed away from the rest of the
“Hey guys.” She greeted us warily.
“What’s up? Did you forget your cigarettes again?” Katie inquired.
“No. They’re in my pocket. Why?”
“You seem agitated.”
“Ha-ha.” She laughed bitterly and then looked around the Subway,
scouring each table until she was satisfied that no one important was around.
“I’m really pissed guys. You know Peter and Ryan. Ok so I was doing a
normal theater check today in 12 and Ryan was just sitting in a chair in the
back looking at me. So I had some Skittles and I put one of them in my mouth
and my walkie was on line six because I had just finished talking to Sarah
and I hear Ryan’s voice. He said ‘Kristen just ate a Skittle.’ I mean ever since
last week they’ve been acting a bit shady to everyone you know but now I
know why. They’re spying on us to the managers.”
“You aren’t serious?” Katie and I were shocked. Brad was a dick but
this was crossing the line. Katie spoke up again,
“You don’t…” She looked around Subway again and continued, “You
don’t think they’re paying them.”
“I bet they are. I mean Jason would you spy on someone?”
“Hell no. That’s not ok. But I don’t think it’s not possible. A lot of
companies do this. It’s probably because of the theft.”
“Still,” Kristen continued now completely oblivious to the fact that
other people were around. “I bet they are getting paid. That’s not right.”
“Can you believe that? They’re getting paid to spy on us. Peter is my
friend. What the hell?” Katie was not even touching her ham sandwich. My
turkey was also growing stale; something about the situation certainly wasn’t
“Now Kristen could be wrong about the whole thing.”
“She heard it on the walkie. God I can’t believe this.”
We walked into the break room and were greeted with five other cast
“Dude what are you guys doing here?” Aaron said from his position on
the floor. He had a Wendy’s hamburger in his hand.
“Where did you get Wendy’s? I didn’t know there was one around
there.” I asked.
“It’s just down the road man, over by Canyon.”
“Guys.” Katie spoke up again. “We were just talking to Kristen and she
said that some bad shit is going down.”
“What?” Jason had just walked in to the room.
“I don’t even want to talk about. Jason was there too, no not you, Jason
S. tell him”
“Ok. So Kristen was cleaning 12 and she ate a Skittle and she heard
Ryan tell Brad that she had eaten one. He was checking up on her and it
seems that Peter is in on it too.”
“Spying. Are you serious?” Aaron stopped eating his hamburger.
“That’s not cool man.” Terrence got up out of his chair to throw away a
taco wrapper. “Spying on the employees.”
“I’m going to text Peter about this.” Katie was in full flow now, her
anger matching her red laces.
“Are you sure though? They could just have been checking up after
Kristen.” Tom had spoken up from the table. He had been at the Crown for
about a year and had just been promoted to shift leader. It was widely known
that if you could score weed for Tom, then you were exempted from tasks. I
had no desire to score weed.
“We should test it man. Just walk by Peter and be like, ‘Hey I’m going
to go eat some popcorn.”
Aaron laughed. “Ya dude. Turn the walkie to line 6.” He made a
pantomime of flipping stations. “Hello, anyone there? Is that you Ryan? Ya
I’m just going to have some Skittles now. Keep it on the down low.”
“He just texted back. Peter said, ‘I already told you about this and I
don’t want to talk about this.”
“What man? That doesn’t even make sense Katie.”
“I’m texting him again. Really blatant this time so he gets it.”
“If it’s true though, I’m quitting dudes. That’s not ok that they have
moles in the system.” Aaron had grown really serious. Usually he was always
smiling, but that expression had left the building completely.
Jason spoke up, “I guess if this was like Communist China, then I’d be
ok with it. But this isn’t Communist China.”
“Well of course man,” said Terrence, “If we were in Communist China
this kind of behavior would be totally legit.” He was also dejected. The “man”
came out with noticeably less vigor and force than usual. The entire room had
grown quiet and a gloom had fallen like fog and was enveloping all who
walked in. Nine employees had heard the news and were gathered in a circle,
making small conversation with their minds, contemplating the prospects of
“We should all just quit together. Not even put in two weeks notice,
just quit. Oh he’s texted again.” Katie opened up her buzzing phone and read,
“I already told you about this so I don’t get why you have this reaction
and I don’t want to talk about this now. Fuck that. I’m calling him.” She
pressed a key to access her phonebook and pressed his number.
“Hello? Peter? Hey what’s up with this whole spying thing? Don’t play
dumb? No I'm not talking about the driveway. No this isn’t about the time in
your car in the driveway, what?” We all burst out laughing. It was a deep
laugh, united together more in alleviating the gloom we all felt than anything
Sarah walked into the room to grab something out of her locker. The
break room also had four rows of lockers for employees to use. There was a
sign in sheet on the door but it was an unwritten rule that managers always
had access to the middle four lockers. The laugh ended abruptly and
awkwardly with most of the staff looking at the shoes trying in vain to find
the meaning of life in their laces.
“What’s wrong with you guys? She asked taking out a pack of Camel
lights. The gray box projected a desert oasis, but I did not feel like escaping
on the camel. Terrence spoke up,
“We heard some weird stuff Sarah. Is it true that you have moles
looking at the employees? Is this because of the theft stuff?”
“What are you talking about Terrence?”
“We heard that you were paying some people extra to report on
employees actions.” Katie forcefully interjected. “Is it true? Are there people
spying on us?”
“No, why would we do that? Management can see everything
I didn’t believe her. She was moving the box back and forth. The camel
was disappearing on each pass and I thought that an ostrich was more
appropriate for the situation. Her weight shifted with each throw.
“Do I have to get Brad to tell you this? Management is not paying off
employees to spy on other employees. End of discussion.” She walked out
immediately, in her mind stopping the conversation. Thoughts though are not
destroyed just because authority commands them to be extinguished. It raged
through the Crown like a desert fire, no employee could escape its path and
finally by the end of the hour, every employee was angered by the prospect.
Ryan was oblivious as usual to others thoughts of him and he continued to
walk around the theater, only increasing suspicion. At around four Brad
“Hello everyone. I have heard that there is a rumor going around that
the Crown is paying certain employees to watch over others. This, while a fun
scenario to think about is simply fiction. We have no reason to pay extra for
employees to do a job we are very capable to of doing ourselves. So remember
this rumor is simply wrong.” He turned and walked away, pleased with the
misguided notion that he had ended the rumor. I knew better. Peter and
Ryan had been acting a bit strange. John put perspective on it.
“Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. If they are though, than Brad
and I will have some words and those words will be expletives.”
“Ya it seems shady as hell and if it’s true than Peter and I will have
issues. Ryan is a tool so I can see him being a mole. At the same time though,
spying and making sure we are actually doing our jobs seems sort of ok. I
mean we are getting paid to do them correctly.” No one much cared for Tom’s
spin. The rumor did not end there, but the rest of the day we paid special
attention to where Peter and Ryan were at all times. Sometimes you can’t be
too careful, especially when you are being honest.
It is important that all cast members do their jobs to the fullest extent
possible so that every part of the theater can work in perfect order. Hopefully
all cast members will complete their roles on their own, but if not some
incentive should be provided and supervision for supportive reasons should
The movies are all about how you interpret them.
“…No system is perfect after all when they are cheaters to screw it up.
Look at America. Everybody hates us around the world. We have the third
lowest approval rating. Do you know who’s beating us? Sudan and Zimbabwe.
That’s it. Why because America portrays a life that simply is at odds with
reality. Blonde movie stars and cowboys (who know are gay to add diversity)
come together with ghetto culture personified on MTV to create our culture
and for what? Culture is a cesspool where all of our thoughts go to die.
Culture becomes pop culture that ceases into nothingness. How does that
work? We are the richest country in the world and we can’t even buy good
music.” Ryan was talking again. This was by no means a new occurrence.
Ryan always talked. He loved the sound of his own voice, the deep syllables
and the blending of consonants and vowels together. Unlike the other
employees though, Ryan did not hold the same reverence for words. He was
careless with them, throwing them onto the lobby tiles as if they were just a
used paper napkin, something to sweep into a butler and whisk away. Ryan
was not the only one throwing away words, but he was the only one who
didn’t treasure them. Ryan's lack of modesty towards conversation led him to
breed unnecessary familiarity with everyone around him, even to those who
had no interest in the conversation. He was ranting again. No one was paying
attention. The concession stand was concerned with restocking.
Product does not magically appear out of tubes in the floor, nor is it
pumped towards the concession stand. The Crown had an entire room for
extra food. Boxes of all different sizes congregated behind a purple gray door
labeled “Private.” They were a shining example of diversity, chips next to
Skittles, popcorn tubs in line with five-gallon bags of Coca-Cola and Sprite.
Few were allowed back behind the door, as employees had to reach shift
leader before they were granted access. Shift leaders were themselves a
diverse crowd. Their attitudes toward the theater differed greatly, though
only a minority actually appreciated their jobs. The real difference was in the
little areas. In the Restock Room, cup lids of different sizes stacked in a
corner, their labels out on the left breast, shiny as a military medal.
“See I was watching television yesterday and they played some jazz
music on one of the classic channels. Some saxophone guy?”
“Who?” Sometimes it’s best to let the uninformed develop ignorant
“Whatever Jason,” Ryan continued his animated assault on the
brainwashers and culture destroyers of America. “It was a documentary
about him and he played a song which was brilliant and short. I don’t know
anywhere where that happens now, where songs are either brilliant or short.
Clear Channel owns every single radio station in the country, except for
“K130 sucks.” Beth had walked into concessions nametag in hand
trying to pin the small item on a shirt that was as nervous as a three-year old
getting his haircut for the first time. Her hair was up in a tired ponytail and
she seemed disheveled for some reasons. My sister, who’s two years older
than I am, told me once that women put up their hair when they either
haven’t showered or didn’t care enough to make it look pretty.
“K130 is the last beacon of real music in this country. No one else plays
music that has any relevance anymore. Instead we’re force-fed rap music and
Christina Aguilera with a little pop country thrown in on occasion. That is
not music. That is destroying the culture that we live in.”
“Ryan, you watch Star Trek, don’t tell me you know about culture or
“Of course I do. Star Trek is real culture, the writing is great, and the
writers fleshed out characters to make them real. It has its own language.”
“The acting is terrible, the show is a poor excuse for science fiction that
bastardizes the great tradition of Asimov and Huxley and is not culture.
K130 plays the same tired play list of the “hit indie” band of the moment that
has been on a major for two years and doesn’t delve deeply into the album.
Beyond that, since you are not in concessions, why the fuck are you back
“I’m on break.”
“Ryan your shirt is still on which denotes you as a worker. Now finish
filling up your drink and get out of here. Jason let’s go grab Sarah and do
Ryan finished draining pop out of one of the beasts in front of
concessions and stomped off, knowing that he had been beaten in an odd
battle of wills. Beth and Ryan were two polarizing personalities, but Beth
managed to make people like her. There was a distinct dichotomy of both
good and evil and right and wrong in the minds of cast members. Ryan was
bad and evil, not because of anything inherently wrong with him, but because
of how he carried himself. Beth didn’t do what Ryan did and so was good and
right, proof by negation as it were.
We left out the left door from the back of concessions, pausing only to
wait until Michael moved out of the way from where he was cleaning. The
doors and cabinets were the task of the day. Each day, the shift leaders
designated one task to be completed. Usually the tasks were more complex on
the slower days, when the concessions stand was barren and employees were
just standing around. The theater had adopted the policy that paying
workers minimum wage meant that the workers had an obligation to always
be busy. Brad enforced this rule with glee. He took pleasure out of finding
disgusting tasks to occupy the stray cast member who had become
complacent and stood in the middle of the stand with nothing to do. Kristen
“What’s up Mike?”
“Beth, I thought you quit, your card was turned upside down.”
“I know John was being a dick.”
“Oh.” There had been rumors that Beth had gotten a better job
somewhere else. The movie theater had a fairly high turnover rate and this
wasn’t out of the question. Usually employees put in two-week notices, but
sometimes they simply forgot or more likely purposely didn’t. The latter left
management in a precarious position. It upset the order and forced them to
call in people to cover shifts. When I quit I don’t think I’ll put in a two-week
He moved out of our way with a flourish, bowing perilously low to the
floor as Beth walked past, a courtesy that a servant bestows a master, or a
subject bestows a queen. Beth hit him on the shoulder.
Leaving the back alley, I was ambushed by a wave of cool air. The
Crown had an air conditioning system designed by the same people who
created VCR manuals. Air conditioning was an unpredictable beast. On hot
days, the shock created by sudden exposure threw patron backwards to their
cars, returning with blankets and sweatshirts. Air emitted from the ceiling
into each theater, but no theater was ever at the same temperature.
Supposedly, the system cut down on the cost of air conditioning and heating,
but I suspected more sinister motives.
I followed Beth to the restock room as Sarah strolled up to us. She was
relaxed and confident; I suspected a recent experience with nicotine. Sarah
rarely strolled; usually she had a short, brisk walk. Her feet stayed on the
ground while her legs moved as if magnetized. A person’s walk tells a lot
about their state of mind at the time. Sarah’s tight walk was a performance
of angst for the entire world as well as apathy. She could not be bothered to
exert energy to actually move her legs across the room. Today though, her
stride was full, letting her entire body move rhythmically onto the
multicolored carpet that is normally found in hotel lobbies. The arms that
normally hung unused and forgotten at her side were now first chair violins
in her philharmonic stroll.
“Do you have the list?” She motioned to Beth in the middle of her
sentence as her hands opened up to reveal a weathered palm that was
streaked with black pen. Her eyes had small markings on the edges
indicating deep concentration. Sarah played Sudoko in the mornings and was
pretty good. I watched her play once. The object of the game is simple. There
are nine boxes within one box, a magic trick concealed as a game. Each of the
nine boxes had nine more boxes for numbers. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes
allowed you to fully concentrate because each new box had a discovery of
more boxes. Inside each small box, the player placed a number one through
nine so that each box was filled with all of these numbers. But it was not that
simple, no fad is. The numbers had to be placed so that the big box had each
number only once in every horizontal and vertical column. The game was
easy to play, difficult to master and to me, boring to learn. Sarah had been
awakened from a difficult game.
“What are you doing?” Sarah’s voice penetrated through me, stopping
me with a Skittle Box in my hand. I did not bother to finish the transfer from
one hand to the next and the box fell to earth. It crashed into the floor with a
satisfying thud. Skittles sprayed out of the box like Special Forces hitting the
desert, ready to face off against potential attackers.
“Sorry.” I said.
“Only managers and shift leaders can touch the boxes. Brad’s orders.”
“But I touch the boxes in concessions.”
“That’s wonderful. I don’t care. Since last week, only managers and
shift leaders can touch the boxes.”
“Is this part of the new campaign against theft?” Beth replied while
picking up the crushed box and assessing the damage to the three Skittles
that had left their old home.
“Yes. Management is just increasing accountability. Did you send Ryan
out of concessions.”
“Yes he was distracting employees who were trying to work and he
said he was on break. I was under the impression that employees were not
allowed to wear their shirts or be behind concessions on break or has that
changed with the new theft policy as well.” Her tone was biting, but was
blunted somewhat by her facial expression. Beth did not like Ryan and that
fact was well known to the management. They were generally placed on
opposite sides of the theater whenever possible.
“Both Ryan and Peter have volunteered to test out the possibility of
twenty minute breaks. For the last several months, it seems that employees
have been increasing the breaks by five to ten minutes and I think we know
why?” Sarah looked into Beth’s front pocket where the Marlboro logo was
clearly visible. Beth adjusted the pack so that the title disappeared into her
“Beth,” continued Sarah, “It is important that every system we put in
place is actually followed to the letter.”
“Yes Sarah I understand, John says that we need some more Twix bars
and a few more packages of M&M’s. We also need cups and lids.”
“Beth. I have the list, I passed first grade, which means I know how to
“True, but you are also lazy, so I’m double checking that you got all the
“Well the list is complicated.”
“Exactly, and I didn’t want you to get confused because it’s only about
“10:36, and you are thirty-five minutes late today. This is the second
time you have been late in the last month. We need everyone here on time to
effectively serve customers.”
“Are you going to tell Brad?”
“Haven’t decided yet” No system is perfect.
I looked down at my hand and noticed that it was bleeding where the
box had slid through. The blood was coming out in a tiny stream that created
a boundary throughout my palm, dividing the lower half from the upper like
some peace agreement. The blood was red but stained with sweat to produce
a brown hue when the stream moved farther along, water picking up the
properties of what it swallows. The contrast was striking, blood and water,
the breath of life and the Holy Spirit, the salvation of our world and a symbol
of destruction. Even through the differences were noticeable, both substances
came from the same source. Blood normally made me squeamish, but I was
curious today. I stared at my hand in more depth, making out the small
square building blocks of skin that stretched and contracted as one, the first
assembly line, each one only as strong as the other. The blood had shattered
the world around them, violently forcing a new set of challenges to deal with.
Beth eyed my hand as well.
“It’s blood. You’ve seen it before. Get a Band-Aid when we get back to
concessions and wash that out.”
“Is it actually a Band-Aid?” Sarah asked Beth.
“I think so. You do know what I’m talking about right? The thing that
goes over cuts.”
“That’s a bandage Beth, a Band-Aid is a brand of bandage that became
popular so culture stole the name and changed its meaning. A Band-Aid is
now a symbol of healing, but not of a corporation.”
“Thanks for the history lesson. Can I go smoke when we finish this?”
“Not if you get snippy again.” She closed the door as Beth exited
pushing a cart loaded with various boxes that mixed intermittingly. The
labels were all the same though, purifying the different boxes so that there
was some commonality between them. Sarah strolled off.
“They’re spying on us.” I said.
“Who are?” Beth was confused. I understood because she had been
gone the day before.
“Ryan and Peter. Sarah said that they weren’t but I am pretty sure
“No they aren’t. If they were than all of us would be. Brad doesn’t
single out the shift leaders. Besides, Ryan may be a tool, but if he were a spy
the management would have to talk to him and they don’t want to.” Beth had
a way of easing fears through her voice. It crackled at the end of long streams
of words like an antique radio. The crackling was more a sign that she
smoked than anything else, but it had a calming feeling to me.
“You’re sure about this?”
“Yes. Grab the cups and put them away now, I’m heading off for a
“I thought you had to bring them back to concessions.”
“Are you going to steal anything?”
“Good. I’m going to smoke.” No system is perfect, especially when there
are honest people like Beth to screw it up.
“It’s hot as the Devil’s armpit back here man.” Terrence had walked in
to the stand and was realizing what those of us who had been there since
opening already understood. It was hot. We are used to hot at the Crown, but
this was ridiculous. For three days in a row, the thermometer had read a
number well above 90 degrees and reasonable living standards. The popcorn
was sweating to think nothing of the people. If one looked hard enough, it
was possible to see suspended particles of popcorn salt that had been trapped
“No shit man.” Jason responded from behind the kettle. “If you think it
is hot over there, you should trying making and bagging some popcorn.”
The kettle itself was actually two different kettles. To be exact, one
should call the place the “Kettle area,” but not many of us were specific
during the summer. Summer heat does that to a person. It makes the most
intelligent, coherent, and engaging individuals turn into gibbering idiots,
because their vocabulary had shrunk to just four words: like, um, and you
know. One kettle cooked at a higher temperature than the other. The
problem with this was that popcorn became a guessing game. In customer
service, guessing is simply not an option. Let a batch out too soon and all
popcorn turns into mush, soggy and overflowing with vegetable oil. But woe
to he who dumps a batch too late, for then the entire 20 oz of popcorn seed is
ruined, its scarred shells bearing remnants of burns and the bubonic plague.
Jason was finding it difficult to concentrate because of the heat. The
kettles were sending of wave after wave of blistering warmth in a five-foot
circle around the kettle. I had positioned myself in the far corner of the
concession stand where the heat was not as painful. Pain was really the only
expression. Several employees had left to help the ushers or trade off taking
and ripping tickets to avoid it, but to no avail. The heat permeated
throughout the theater like a fine perfume, and when Terrence arrived at six
o’clock, it had ensconced itself in every crack of the Crown. Peter was on
break from door and the lobby was experiencing little traffic. Since Peter was
on break box office was ripping the tickets to keep records. The Crown always
kept records of the number of tickets sold. Brad supposedly counted them too.
A customer with dark brown hair and a gray shirt walked down the
end of the counter as I began to count the bills in my register. The theater
mandated that every bill have its face to the left of the register. At any one
time, there were at least fifteen to twenty different bills that were not in my
register. Managers usually were not pleased but had recently become very
irate. They were known to do this, Ben especially.
Managers were generally very friendly people. I liked them because
they usually had a couple of decent jokes or put themselves in humorous
situations. One time Ben was the check off manager for close and was in a
very bad mood, though he was wearing his best suit. I had always found this
odd because suits, especially good ones, make people happy. They are sign of
power and of self-confidence. The suit was blue with white stripes that were
reminiscent of a 1930s gangster.
Ben had on a power tie as well; something straight out of a Land’s End
catalog that he usually wore when the district manager came. When we first
saw it, the entire staff became one single cleaning machine. There was not a
hint of dust anywhere in the concession stand. He had fooled us and since
then wore it a variety of times to the point where we always had to be a bit on
When Ben got angry, he pursed his lips constantly. They made a
smacking sound each time he began a sentence. I hated that noise; a gun shot
that flew right through your brain, leaving a person in an utter state of
paralysis. He walked into concessions and began yelling immediately.
“There are several counters that haven’t been wiped in at least an
hour. Can someone please answer a stupid question? Anyone? Anyone?” We
stood in silence, waiting for the next move. Actually making a move to
answer him was out of the question. That would have only led to further
“People. I guess this will be a question for the general staff then as
opposed to a specific person. Here it is. Please be advised it is stupid.” He
began smacking vigorously; making a percussive pause between each word as
his volume began to rise as well.
“Why. Has. No. One. Been. Doing.” He took a step forward for greater
emphasis. “Any.” There was pile of salt on the ground that was supposed to
be covering water that Ben completely ignored.
“Work.” His left foot came into contact with the puddle and buckled,
sending him to the floor. Tiles released their own concoctions of popcorn and
water onto his best suit. The stripes changed from white to a soggy gray and
the suit itself had gone limp from the shock of water. Ben’s hair was full of
different particles. There was not a sound among the employees. All of us
were deadly still waiting for next outburst of fury from Ben. A voice broke the
“Would you like a combo with that today?”
“Clean the fucking side counters.” Ben said getting up to wash off his
suit, “They better not be like this when I get back.”
The lady at the end of the counter broke the daydream.
“I just put four dollars on this at the box office. It should take the
money.” Her voice was calm and patient, like a mother explaining to her son
why he can’t have a cookie. It was mildly condescending. Terrence responded,
“I’m sorry ma’am. It is telling me that there is no money on this card.”
He was a little distressed by how the conversation was beginning to turn out.
Customer service was Terrence’s specialty when they were happy. He could
laugh and joke and “cool man,” anyone who came in. The problem was when
they were not thrilled to begin with.
“You don’t have the money? Are you sure? Because I just put four
dollars there at the box office.” It is always interesting how when a situation
is not going well people seem to repeat themselves. Perhaps the reaction is
one that is comforting to a person, reinforcing what they already knew and
keeping them calm, like counting to ten and taking a deep breath. They go
through the motions on the road to normalcy, and much like driving, going
through the motions usually leads to a traffic accident.
“No ma’am, this card has no money on it right now. I can call a
manager if you like.”
“That would be a good idea because I just put four dollars on the card
at the box office.” I wonder if Neville Chamberlain kept repeating “peace in
our time,” after that collapsed?
Ben came over from the service desk to the stand.
“Yes? Is there something I can do for you?”
“Yes there is. This card is not reading on the machine but I just put
four dollars onto it.”
“Ma’am if the card isn’t being read by the machine then it probably is
the fault of the card.”
“It’s the card’s fault that the machine isn’t reading my money?” She
was beginning to grow agitated and while it was hot, the sweat lines down
the side of her face were not from the heat.
“Are you telling me that there is nothing you can do for me here?
That's it the card won’t read. This is bullshit.” In the hallway behind
concessions is a sign about dealing with unruly customers. Basically there
are four rules. Rule number 1: Always remain calm so there is a constant
presence throughout the conversation. Ben was following rule number 1.
“I can call box office and see how the transaction worked.”
“But that is not going to get my money back is it? No calling the box
office won’t matter. Do you expect those idiots up there to understand this
problem? They sold me the wrong ticket twice, first for the wrong movie and
then the wrong time and they’re going to remember a transaction that
happened ten minutes ago? They couldn’t remember information two seconds
after it was given to them!”
Rule number 2. Always remember the customer is right, no matter
what they say to the contrary. The goal of mitigating any crisis is to
understand where the other party is coming from. I was taught that in peer
mediation. That strategy didn’t work then and did not work here.
“I understand your concern. I can call over the general manager.”
“Is this really what a problem is to you people. It is just a hot potato
that you can pass among the various levels of bureaucracy? I just want my
four dollars back.”
“No. Your problem is important to us and I will call the general
manager to see if he can rectify the situation.”
“Are you incapable of doing so yourself? Is that not part of your job
description? Does the general manager have some great power that you as a
simple grasshopper have not yet learned?” Sometimes rule number 2 can be
very hard to follow. Ben bit his lip.
“No, but he is able to access the transaction statements.” He spoke into
the walkie-talkie, “Hey Brad. There’s a customer who needs attention about
an irregularity with her card.”
Rule number 3. Always smile when dealing with a customer because it
shows that you are interested and engaged but calm. Calm is very important
with anger. It is a cold shower, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
“Hello. How are you doing today?” Brad had already begun radiating
his used car salesman persona before he and the customer had made eye
contact. The entire concession stand had now paused to watch the stand off. I
half expected tumbleweed to whisk by in the interval.
“How am I doing today? How do you think I am doing? You would not
have to be here if I was doing great. I’d be watching my movie.” Brad smiled
in a failed attempt to defuse the situation.
“What are you smiling for? There’s nothing to smile about here. I came
to your movie theater to watch a movie and spend a nice afternoon. Instead,
the box office could not get my ticket right, the concession stand won’t read
my card and I have four dollars that has just disappeared or been kidnapped
on the way to my card because apparently it does not exist.”
Brad tried to bring the situation back under control.
“I can give you a refund ma’am on your ticket and movie pass for any
date and time if that will suit you.”
“What will suit me is making sure that my four dollars comes back
onto this card.”
“Let’s go to the service desk and try to work this out?”
“Try? I thought that you have been trying for the last five minutes.”
They walked over to the service desk with Brad in the lead and the woman
following. I got a better look than I had the first time. To me, having a second
look is always an opportunity for learning that is not normally given. God’s
way of giving you a second chance I guess. A lot of the times, we don’t even
realize what a momentous achievement it is. She was wearing black sweat
pants that were cut off like capris just below the knee. They had “HOTT”
written in cursive on the seat, which was ironic. Her hair was split and
parted down the middle, held back by her ears and several hair clips. Even
though she had moved to the service desk, the conversation was no different.
“I was in here just about four minutes ago. Are you not going to do
anything about this?” Brad had appeared to open up box office records from
the last hour.
“Ten minutes ago?”
“Yes it was ten minutes ago.”
“Can you come point out the employee that issued you your ticket?”
They walked out to the box office. The Crown was set up so that the
box office was set up a faux front. There was the building itself and then
inside the doors was another building. The architects thought the idea
contributed to the perceived nostalgia of the building. Separating the cast
members from the customers was a thin sheet of Plexiglas. Employees in box
spoke through microphones that had constant distortion of various degrees.
During the winter, the microphones would be almost completely useless
because the cold seemed to freeze the wires, preventing sound from traveling
across them, like an avalanche over a highway.
James came out to the service from the hidden door in the wall. The
architects’ thought this helped make the walls consistent, we thought it was
cool that the wall opened up. Brad and the customer came back around.
“Did you put money on this woman’s card?”
“No sir. I don’t remember anyone asking to put money on the card.”
“Did you give her the ticket to the wrong movie?”
“No sir. “
“Ma’am can I see your ticket?” The customer had begun to shift her
weight from side to side nervously.
“I threw it away.”
“Well ma’am I cannot give you a refund unless you can show proof of
purchase. Did you keep the receipt?”
“He did not give me receipt.”
“Then he couldn’t have sold you a ticket.” Brad had become visibly
annoyed by the customer’s behavior. While we disliked him intensely,
employees in the concession relished their front row seats at what was fast
becoming the best show in the theater.
“I don’t believe that you bought a ticket ma’am. To be honest I think
that you were trying to get a free movie and concessions for free and I do not
appreciate this type of behavior”
The customer was dumbfounded. She feigned anger.
“I can not believe you would accuse me of trying to rip off your theater
because it is poorly managed so that these situations occur.”
“Ma’am these situations do not occur unless one of my employees does
something wrong or a person is trying to skirt the system. None of my
employees did anything wrong which leaves the latter. I would appreciate it
if you would leave the theater and not return. The door is that way.”
Rule number 4. When finished resolving the conflict extend a hand to
show appreciation for a customer’s business and patience.
“It’s as hot as the devil’s ass back here.”
“You’ve changed the phrase already Terrence.”
“It’s gotten hotter.”
(RIGHT HERE I NEED A CONFLICT BETWEEN MANAGEMENT AND
CUSTOMER PROBABLY BECAUSE THE PICTURE DIDN’T WORK. OR
MAYBE THE GUY WHO WAS COLD AND ASKED FOR A SWEATER.)
It must have been a Friday afternoon in late June. The concession
stand was radiating heat to the rest of the building. We had two fans going
on both sides trying to cool off the shift leaders behind the kettle. As hot as it
was by the registers, there was no comparison to being behind the kettle. The
theater had decided that to save on money air conditioning only was pumped
into the actual theaters. Everywhere else had to deal with the normal air. To
me it seemed like a sly way to get people into the seats faster than normal
and to keep the lobby clear for the next rush. Around 2:30, we were scheduled
to receive an onslaught, or at least a steady trickle of customers looking to be
shaded from the dry summer heat.
Beth was ushering at that point and she was working with Ryan. Ryan
was the Crown's very own annoyance. He was knowledgeable about every
part of the theater and that was the problem. Ryan upset the hierarchy of
employees on a constant basis. His basic attitude towards other cast
members was a mixture of patronizing and scorn at every decisions. All the
shift leaders hated them, and informed new employees to disregard any order
he might give. Beth particularly disliked him. Even though she had been
working less than a month, Beth had learned a deep-seated resentment of
people like Ryan.
Ryan had spent the morning in concessions and only because an
employee scheduled to usher had called in sick were we able to seek relief. He
immediately began giving orders to Beth, which she made a point to tell
“I've cleaned the lobby twice today. Twice man. What is his problem?”
We had the same question she did. The rush had just died down and the
theater was empty, save for a few kids messing around the arcade machine
with the claw that drops down into a pit of stuffed animals and always comes
up empty. I had watched them for three minutes drop several quarters that
could have gone into charity into that game, hoping that the odds may one-
day change. For now though, the house was collecting their change left and
right, leaving them cursing and fishing in pockets for several more portraits
of George Washington. Feeling thirsty, I pressed the Logout button on the
register and made my way to the hallway behind concessions, where we hid
the refrigerator that contained hot dogs and our drinks. The Crown allowed
us to have as much pop as we wanted if we brought our own container and
most employees made use of this.
I threw open the door and turned and caught the end of a rant that
Beth was throwing at Ryan. Every word was an icicle and most seemed to be
piercing his protective bubble. He appeared to have been taking this for about
a minute and some words flew back at me. Lobby, cleaned, and various
expletives came out clearly while the rest of them seemed to evaporate as
soon as they left her mouth. Ryan finally snapped.
“Back Off!” he said, and came at her, with rage that had never been
seen by us before. Some part of him had snapped for no reason and every
decision that he made brutally reflected that. The scene became a blur. I
remember that he swung his left hand back and brought it down violently to
her shoulder. She collapsed backwards into the boxes of Diet Coke, which
were stacked in rows by date to use in the towers. Several cases fell to the
sticky tile floor, making a screeching sound as the five-gallon containers
flopped around inside the boxes. Nick, another employee, had walked out
right as Ryan reared back and grabbed him immediately. I rushed over to
Beth, who had gotten up and shot fire and brimstone at Ryan. She made a
run at him, but I held her back. Words became a fog around the combatants
as both of them attacked each other with the only projectiles that they
possessed. Then it was over. The managers were back and had sent both
away. Statements had to be filled out as each eyewitness gave his own
version of the story.
Ryan shuffled around the lobby, nervous as a five year old before the first day
of kindergarten. At the end of the day though his job was safe. Beth was not
as lucky. She left just over a month after she came leaving behind cigarette
butts and customers. The employees learned something though. As Ryan
walked around fearing unemployment, I knew that the Crown was the only
thing he had, the only thing that was real. His life, his heroes, even his
friends were fantasy, but the Crown was his job. He was scared.
Beth wasn't. She walked out of the theater and marched to her car, leaving
only to strike up a Marlboro with her lighter. She understood her role and the
job, even if she was no longer being paid to do it. The pain in her shoulder
was all she needed to show us as proof. It was the only thing that could prove
she had been here. It was our own connection to her. They clean up the
cigarette butts, but that shoulder proved that she was real. Even though she
was leaving and collecting her last paycheck, it seemed like a victory. She
beat the job, and she beat Ryan, and she beat the Crown. Wouldn’t we all like
to be so lucky?
POPCORN MACHINE BREAKING
CLEANING THE PARKING LOT
POT AS ECONOMIC TOOL
CONTINUE THE POSSIBILITY OF A SPY IN THE ORGANIZATION
FIVE PROJECTORS BREAKING DOWN IN ONE DAY AND THE HELL