Saturday night. Most of my Saturday nights for close to 20 years have been spent working at a movie theater. As we tell new applicants seeking a job in the movie theater business: “When you want to see a movie, is when we need you to work.” We are the busiest the nights people hit the town. That’s never changed.
So the Saturday night a few weeks ago wasn’t any different. As I picked up a few popcorn bags from the floor in one of our cinemas, the ushers were marveling that I, in fact, was helping them out. I asked when they were born. “1994” To which I responded, with shame and heartache, “I’ve been cleaning theaters since before you were born.”
1993, to be exact. My first weekend of employment had our theater, The Milford Fourplex, opening In the Line of Fire and Interview with a Vampire. We were mobbed. The Fourplex was never a “patron busy” friendly building. The small lobby made sure of that. So when the theater received a movie that was popular, which was less and less as the years progressed, the lobby could barely contain the lines and on this big opening weekend, the throngs of people were forced to wait in lines that exceeded the entrance doors.
My first Saturday night had me walking The Fourplex’s driveway, flashlight in hand, telling people in the line when their movie would start. Up and down. Up and down the line I would walk. (Yes, there were some people dressed like vampires before everyone was doing it for the Twilight premieres.)
This was my first Saturday night at the theater. For close to 20 years, I’d venture a guess that 80% of my Saturdays for that time have been spent at a theater. When you work the weekends consistently, something strange happens. The notion of time-off and weekends of relaxation go out the window. Picnics are something to do for two hours before you have to get to work. Parties are missed. Hanging out with friends are relegated to weekday nights. These are concessions (pun intended) you make when you enter the movie theater business. It’s not good or bad. It’s just how it is. Some people are cool with it. Others are not.
Back to that cinema and me helping the ushers pick up trash. After bringing up my opening weekend memory, I get the response of “You remember that?!” How could they not remember their first weekend? I have the worst memory, especially when it comes to people and faces. I don’t know what it is, but my facial recognition software is not updated because I can’t place anyone.
But I do remember my time in the theater business. I remember seeing The Matrix and Fight Club for late night screenings and reveling in their awesomeness. Popping popcorn in a room no bigger than a closet for eight hours straight. People not knowing how to pronounce the title of the movie Corrina, Corrina. The old guy who fell asleep in our lobby while eating a cheeseburger. The homeless man who flipped off the Con-Air standee. My boss tossing his Laserdiscs against the wall, smashing them into pieces, because they were doubles. My fellow employee and friend walking across the mall parking lot with 50lb containers of GNC Power Fuel in each hand. The awful failure of selling giant-sized gummi rats and marshmallow twists. The way one of the front doors at the Fourplex would slam on your ankle if you didn’t push it all the way open. The small heaters at the foot of the box office providing the only solace on a cold, winter night. Climbing the marquee, covered in ice, to get the new movies up for the next day. I could go on and on and on…
As much I currently complain about the job and my position in my professional career right now, I cannot ignore that back in the day, I had fun. I worked with some cool people. I met my best friend at the theater and screwed up his life by talking him out of going to graduate school so we could make movies. (He’s a better cinematographer than a History professor) I discovered what I wanted to do with my life at the movie theater. I was dumped by my High School girlfriend in a movie theater parking lot. My life revolved around the theater business.
To ignore that is to ignore my life to this point. I cannot do that. Always remember where you came from. Always remember the people and situations that shaped you. Even if you’re unhappy with your current place in life, it’s not the fault of those memories.
Seriously, how can those ushers not remember their opening weekend? It hasn’t even been a year!