A lot of my friends are visual artists and they tend to post warm-up sketches and other exercises online. I thought I might as well do the same with my writing. I write a lot, often in flurries, frequently on my iPhone while sitting in a Metro car. Most of what I write never gets published, it’s more for practice than anything else. These are my free writing exercises. They are based on real life, but will eventually make their way into fiction, hopefully where they will rely more on plot and character than rants. Also, since these are free writing pieces, there will likely be grammatical errors and typos. I’m keeping it real. Deal with it.
Somewhere in the depths of my long, yet unimpressive resume, there should be an entry that reads Popcorn Empress, United Artists Theaters.
Yes, I worked a movie theater concession stand. Job recruiters take note, I’m not only an experienced writer, editor and DJ, I am highly skilled at layering butter throughout the large tub of popcorn I upsold you. I can also scrape popcorn out of dried puddles of regular soda, but you can’t pay me enough to ever do that again.
It was sophomore year of college and I couldn’t get hired anywhere on campus after leaving the exciting world of soliciting donations from people who were still paying back student loans. Everyone was on my case about working, so I took the first job that came my way. Going back to my parents’ house every weekend to work at a movie theater couldn’t be that bad, right? At least I would get to see movies for free.
The goal was to work as a projectionist, but that takes time and I quit when I could not longer get the smell of popcorn out of my hair. I worked at the UA through winter break and most of the spring semester. During my time at the theater, I had the privilege of slinging popcorn for such openings as Beavis and Butt-head Do America, Space Jam and the re-release of the only Star Wars trilogy that matters. I also worked through the Oscar season runs of The English Patient and Shine, but the only people who saw those were the handful of PBS-watching older women in the neighborhood.
Regardless, that’s a lot of popcorn and a lot of Milk Duds.
Did you know that there are many people who will request that you pour the Milk Duds into their popcorn and shake it up a little? You learn a lot of things working at a movie theater. Like, there are people who will come to theater just to buy the popcorn. They don’t even watch the movies.
I also learned that people in the Northridge/Granada Hills area are a bunch of snobs who like to look at movie theater employees with scorn. “What are you doing working here?” was a question I heard on multiple occasions from people with terrible taste in cinema who knew me before college. Getting paid to watch Star Wars, that’s what I’m doing. My smart ass retorts stopped one step shy of “Do you want a loogie with your butter flavoring?”
I used to love working Mondays and Tuesdays at the theater because no one was ever there to mock us or leave their disgusting mess behind in the theater. Those were the days that were so slow that we could watch a good chunk of the movies that were screening. To this day, I prefer going to the movies on weeknights.
Things have changed since I worked in a movie theater. For one thing, butter is usually self-serve now, so layering is something of a lost art. For another, people do go to movies on Tuesday nights. Or, at least, they go see The Avengers on Tuesday nights.
We went to an Arclight theater where there was a line for tickets, all for that one movie, and a good crowd at the bar. I asked the guy who made my vodka tonic if they had been busier since the movie opened. He shook his head and said, “You don’t even know.” They were even busy on Monday, he said, adding that the movie was worth the crowds. He already saw it three times.
Our theater was over half-full, a bit astonishing given that we went to a 9:05 show on a weeknight in a venue where The Avengers was showing on (at least) four screens. I ran out to grab a drink and ask the girl if it had been busy all day. She sighed and answered in the affirmative. “And it’s my first day,” she added.
She seemed frazzled. I understood. I said something that I can’t remember and she asked how I knew that. “I worked at a movie theater in college,” I answered.
“I’m in college right now,” she said.
Maybe some things change, but others don’t, and the Popcorn Empress who has to deal with all your bizarre requests, soda disasters and haughty glares is just working her way towards something else.