Tuesday, March 4, 2008

How Long Until My Head Explodes?

A long time ago (in a town far, far away), I worked at a movie theater which had two screens. It was quaint compared to the mega-plex down the street from my present home, yet it was constantly busy. It was plopped squarely into the middle of a little burg on the outskirts of a much bigger city.

It was by far the best "minimum wage" job I ever had, sitting in the windowed box, selling tickets that were little more fancy than the tickets they hand you at school carnivals. Red or grey in color, these tickets shot up out of a slot in the top of a stainless steel counter. They were numbered, and at the beginning of the day, I painstakingly logged the opening number in the series into a log book. At the end of the day, I did the same thing. If a young upstart was suspected of trying to reuse a ticket, we checked the suspect's ticket against the log book.

With each new week, because our movies generally changed on Fridays -- nothing has changed there -- the male ushers would go out with the box of letters and the long mechanical arm to change the marquee. I would change the times and movies on the small board inside the box office. Though it sounds very low tech now, we felt we were on the cutting edge. Our theater was clean and neat. Our many light bulbs were regularly checked and changed, if necessary. We had the best pinball machines, and we were one of the first theaters to get an "Asteroids" game. We (mostly) took pride in our work; I know that I did. There was something very Zen about the routine. After a long day at school, I could look forward to an evening running the box office, seeing movies for free on my days off.

I spent a good deal of my youth in that theater, working first for a wonderful Canadian ex-pat who was laid back and very granola. (I later also worked for her and her husband, driving one of their ice cream trucks over a summer). Later, she left and was replaced by a twitchy New Yorker whose hands shook and whose greatest fear was a visit from the district manager. He said he had once wanted to be a brain surgeon. I couldn't help looking at his hands and noticing the way papers flew up into the air when he entered the box office. He was insufferable in his incompetence. When we were expecting company royalty, he would repeatedly run into the men's room and would come back out with his hair dripping onto his shirt, wringing his hands.

All of this occurs to me now when I go to the movies -- not every time, but often. I see the slouchy teenagers working there who couldn't care less about their jobs. I see the managers rushing about, trying to make up for the lackadaisical attitudes of their employees when in fact they are being paid only slightly more to care. I notice that the popcorn is no longer made fresh right behind the counter, popping over the top of the kettle and releasing that delicious aroma (it's okay, though, because I can no longer eat it). I notice that the floors need to be swept. The bathrooms need to be cleaned. The movie theater experience has dulled. It was always a wonderful treat when I was growing up. Then it became my job. And now it is my sometime pleasure.

Technology has certainly changed the way things work at the theater. I can choose to buy my ticket in advance, online, and retrieve it from a kiosk or the counter. Or I can purchase the ticket at the kiosk. Or, quaintly, I can purchase the ticket from a live human being who is behind thick glass and never looks me in the eye. A ticket is printed onto thin cardstock at the time of purchase. I hand over my frequent movie-goer card and it is swiped. I hand over my credit card and it is swiped. Data is sent and received. Approved appears on the register screen. There are no log books. The data is downloaded into a report at the end of the day and can be forwarded on to corporate so that the bean counters will know how profitable the theater has been.

When I recently saw The Other Boleyn Girl, I was grateful that everyone in the theater was respectful enough to keep quiet and not talk on their cell phones. I was delighted by this fact, because I have too often been distracted and interrupted in my viewing experience by other (rude) human beings.

The experience was a good one. The movie was good. The costumes were amazing. Another couple who sat next to us got two seats together only out of the good graces of the group next to us, who moved down a seat (we were on the end already). The woman and I chatted briefly. We agreed that we just had to see this movie on the big screen because of the costumes and sets. Our husbands just looked at each other and shrugged. I allowed that I had built up some chick-flick points by seeing action films with my husband and son previously. We all chuckled at the truth of that, and then we settled back to enjoy our movie. For nearly 2 hours, I was transported out of the modern age of data streams and into pre-Elizabethan England.

As I was sitting down to write this tonight, my head was pounding just a little. A little bit of stress. A little bit of business at work. You know the drill. I was reminded of a movie I saw when I was working at the little theater in my old hometown: "Scanners." Remember that movie? In the previews, this guy appeared to be having some sort of rapid increase in blood pressure, some sort of aneurysm. His head was turning red. He was shaking all over. And then, his head exploded.

I wonder if he had just seen into the future, into the land in which his identity could be stolen if some careless minimum wage worker did something wrong as he or she swiped here, swiped there, swiped everywhere. Or (as recently happened to a couple of friends of mine) they don't even look at the signature to make sure it's you.

If that was the case, I wonder how long until my head explodes.

G'night - D


highlander1463 said...

I once worked in a movie theater. I think I remember the girl who used to work in the box office. She was a cute blonde with with bedroom eyes and she was all attitude.

Actually, that girl is you.

Listen everyone, she was a zealot about counting those ticket numbers. And she still makes fun of me for singing the closing song to "Urban Cowboy" while I was cleaning the popcorn and drink cups from the theater.

The best nights where when we would close up shop and play pinball till all hours of the morning. Occasionally there were a few beers available. Those were the days though, and she is still just as cute.


MamaGeek said...

If I were to answer that question it would be: yesterday!

Casdok said...

Yes the attitudes of teenagers these day.
I love going to the cinema on my own for a bit of me time.

Momma said...

Thanks for the comments, all!

I've learned to save the raucous humor comedies (if indeed I watch them at all) for video rentals. Otherwise I'm stuck in the theater with little brats trying to impress their friends by shouting out during the movie or texting their friends. Urgh.

- D

Shrinky said...

Awww, what a wonderful post! I'm of the same generation. You reminded me of a Summer job I once held as an usherrette, seeing folk by torch to their seats, shushing the kids to be quiet during the film, and balancing the heavy ice-cream tray as I walked up and down the aisle during the intermission.

I can never see a re-run of "Herbie Rides Again", without mouthing the words to it! Smile.

Celebration of Life said...

Hello from Wyoming!

This post reminds me of my first job working at the one and only movie theatre within a hundred miles of nowhere. I sold candy, pop and popcorn. I was queen of the booth because there was only room enough for one! The movie only ran Friday and Saturday nights so it was always crowded. My lady boss only allowed me to chew one piece of gum nightly for free. It was a good job for me because it helped me put gas in my 57 Chevy station wagon. LOL

Thanks for visiting my blog; come back anytime!

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

God, I LOVED our little one-screen theater in my West Virginia hometown. Wow, I miss that little place.

And head explosions? I think mine went off yesterday.