Recently I heard Bryan Adams whining, “Everything I do, I do it for you”. It instantly brought me back to 1991, watching the end credits of Kevin Costner’s craptacular Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for the thousandth time. It was a memory heady with the rush of money, new friends, odd responsibilities, and the realities of labor: my first job.
Back before Global Tetrahedron owned every single movie theater chain, smaller chains were allowed to exist. I worked at one in suburban Maryland, KB Theaters, a chain with four or five locations. A friend of mine in junior high had a job there and said I should apply. It would be fun! It would be like playing except we would be paid! So, at 14 years old, what would be near retirement for many child laborers around the world, I got a job with the movie theater. My pay was $4 per hour. It was the only time in my life I had more money than ideas on what it could be spent on. At first I thought the work would consist mostly in running around with my friends, drinking straight from the Icee machine, and watching free movies.
Then reality hit. I learned that the women’s bathroom is much, much messier than men’s. There was no glamour in there, no potential skin-viewing, only lots of toilet paper and trash on the floor. I also learned that standing at the top of the aisle in the theater and holding a trash bag for departing patrons was the most dehumanizing thing ever. Especially when schoolmates were in the theater and got to dump greasy popcorn tubs and full large drinks into the sagging plastic bags with a smirk as they went by. I learned that if you gave the popcorn machine three shots of oil rather than the industry-standard one, the popcorn came out lime green and you could step on a piece and make a two foot long skid mark on the chipped tile behind the concession stand. I learned that spray cans of carbon dioxide, ostensibly for removing gum from carpets, were excellent at freezing all manner of things, including the sensitive places on a coworker’s neck or ear. While I worked there, ticket prices rose while somehow our revenue dropped. One night the power shut off in the whole building while we were still open and the manager, only half kidding, asked, “Who forgot to pay the electric bill?”
I also learned about infatuation. Being a straight teenage boy, I was obsessed with anything that had two x chromosomes. One girl was the “popular girl” who worked there, a half-Chinese bombshell with teased up hair and tons of ‘tude. I finally got up the nerve to give her a present at our annual Christmas party. It was a necklace or some piece of jewelry, way more expensive than was appropriate, and probably the only thing I actually spent my money on. I don’t remember her response, or any interaction afterward. But I remember the agonizing weeks before the party, carrying around the necklace and waiting for Just the Right Moment.
Of course I eventually decided to get a different job, since I was tired of coming home at 11 pm smelling like popcorn oil and soda syrup. Not too long after I left, the entire chain folded. I suspect it was from all the nachos, Icees, and sodas that I drank. But I never ate the popcorn. Chasing cockroaches out of the bin disabused me of that idea.