Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why Movie Theaters Are Disgusting

I love movies, I really do. I love the big screen, and I love the big dark room where you and 200 of your best strangers hang out and watch in rapt silence as Harry meets Voldemort or whatever. (Why do I even try to make references when I don't know how to spell the names of the characters?) But lately I've been thinking a lot about my years of employment at a movie theater here in The South, and it sort of grosses me out that people go to see movies.

I was 17 when I began my first job as a uniformed movie theater employee behind a concession stand. After making the humiliating mistake of wearing a black bra under a white t-shirt on my first day of work (nicely planned!), I learned the first and most important task a consessionista will ever know: how to make the popcorn.

The popcorn machine was a double kettle monster that held at least 5 tall kitchen trash bags of popcorn at a time, and cranked it out at an alarming rate. It was also one of the most dangerous things I ever worked around. The popcorn would come pouring out all on it's own, but when it slowed down the whole top of the popper had to be dumped so that the bottom wouldn't turn into a scorched mass of peanut oil and seeds. The thing weighed around 30 lbs, and the only part you could grab without giving yourself 2nd degree burns was a badly placed lever with a plastic handle. Hot oil and popping seeds would coming flying out, and I swear that eye protection should have been a requirement of that job, for obvious reasons. It was not. The employees had an average age of 17 and made around $4.25 an hour. We were in highschool and never even heard of OSHA.

The other really horrible thing about the popcorn maker was cleaning it. It was all clear plastic and stainless steel, and usually everything was hosed down with a good coat of degreaser and left alone. But the kettle was a different story. Usually 2 people were put on cleanup for the entire contraption: one on the kettle, and the other on everything else.

This should give you some idea of what a bitch that thing was to clean.

The process would usually start with a good dousing of Easy-Off. Yes, the oven cleaner. Then, without gloves or breathing masks you would take an SOS pad and srub at the scorched oily mess, the metal still hot enough to burn. Think about that: metal hot enough to burn human flesh, and Easy-Off. What a great combination. What happened was that the cleaner would evaporate straight into the air and go straight into your lungs. And probably your eyes. You couldn't really breathe. And some sadistic manager would come along and tell you that you needed to get going, your shift was ending soon and they didn't want to pay overtime.

I'm not even going to get into the cleansing of the "butter" machines, drink machines, and storage room. Or how many days the hotdogs and nachos sat in their warmers. Or the pickles in a bag. That's another layer of grossness. Only part I remember hating when I actually did the job was the floor. You had to wear non-slip shoes for a reason, that reason being the oil from the popcorn that would get all over the floor to the point where after a month I would just slide from the register to the popcorn machine to the drink dispenser.

So, go to the movies and don't eat. Check. But what about the theaters themselves? YUCK. Typically girls weren't allowed to be ticket takers or theater cleaners, partly because guys were more threatening to the middle-schoolers trying to sneak in, and partly because of the horrors that had to be cleaned up (again, without gloves or anything) after NC-17 movies. Eeeeew!

Eventually I got promoted to the best job in the place, other than projectionist. I was the chick in the box office, who just took money, handed out tickets, talked to customers through an inch of bullet proof glass, and stayed in a locked room for hours. It was GREAT. I could bring my homework to work for the hour and a half between crowds. I was too niave at the time to care about the fact that it was just me between potential criminals and anywhere up to, oh, say $6,000, but so what? Nothing bad ever happened to me working in the box office. I really loved that job. Free movies (and Easy-Off laden popcorn, if I wanted it) and the power to decide which teenagers got to see the R-rated ones? The POWER!!!!

My favorite story about ticket sales was when a couple came up to the box office to get tickets to something R-rated, probably Scream. They were on a date and being all cute and luvvy-duvvy and it was getting on my nerves. I asked to see their ID. She was 18. He non-chalantly handed his over.
"Hmmm, you're 15. You can't get in to see this movie."
"WHAAAT!??" screamed the girl, "You told me you're in COLLEGE!"
"Baby! Wait! I can explain!"

Yes, the POWER!


Heather Meadows said...


I love the movie experience, too. Typically only with something that has a huge audience, like Harry Potter (your guess on the spelling of Voldemort was correct!) or Spider-Man or Lord of the Rings or somesuch. It's the collective experience that makes going to the movies what it is.

If I want to watch a film in silence, which I also enjoy, I do that at home (unlike a guy I know who simply refuses to go to the movies with friends, for fear that they will say something to him during the show).

I thought about working at a movie theater, but never did. And now I'm not sorry!

Yet Another Heather said...

Yeah, the job was so much fun but so gross. Like you, I love going when it's a huge audience and a fantastic movie- I saw Lord of the Rings with the NC Webring which was great. (I wasn't part of the Webring, I just happened to be there... it was when they released the trailer to The Two Towers, and I thought they were going to collectively have a fit.)

If I want to really watch something I watch it at home, mostly because I'm spoiled by the power to rewind and pause and fix whatever snacks I want.

This weekend I'm going to go see Stranger Than Fiction. I think it'll be good to see Will Ferrell play the serious one. ACTING!

Melissa said...

It has to be a pretty special movie for me to see it at the theater. That's what Netflix is for.

Yet Another Heather said...

Netflix is like a gift from God. When I have more time I will be re-subscribing....