TITLE: Remember-When Girl
DATE: 3/25/2005 08:50:00 AM
Last Week's Remember-When Girl
When I was in college, I worked at a movie theater. I hated it. But I have to say I grew up a lot while working there. When I first got that job, my grandfather told me, "This is part of your education, too." And it was.
What I learned was what I took for granted. I was one of only a few females there who wasn't already a mother. I worked this job on my breaks from school--college was also something pretty much unique to my life. I was from the lily-white suburbs--everyone else there was from or lived in the highly multi-cultural city where the theater was located. It opened my eyes quite a bit.
There were two guys I befriended while working there, named Gerry and Patrick. People used to joke that Gerry was Patrick's mini-me, because they were both black and bald with goatees, but Gerry was substantially shorter. The following stories are about Gerry and Patrick.
Story the First: Kendall
Shortly after I first got there, Patrick was quietly arguing with Kendall, a concessionist, one morning. Patrick did everything quietly. He was a big, menacing-looking guy; he could afford to.
"You're gonna tell me you've never burned the popcorn," he said.
"No!" squawked Kendall, who was a rather gangly Napoleon Dynamite sort. They were discussing Kendall's record with the two massive industrial popcorn poppers that sat at the back of the main concession stand. I got to operate them once or twice, and it was the coolest thing I ever got to do at the theater.
"Come on, Kendall. I seen you burn the popcorn before. Stop lyin'."
"No, I'm tellin' ya. I've never burned the popcorn. I sweah."
Later on in my shift, I was cleaning a theater when all of a sudden strobe lights began flashing and a siren began screaming and a disembodied voice was saying "THERE IS A FIRE. IN THE THEATER. PLEASE EVACUATE THROUGH THE CLOSEST AVAILABLE EXIT DOORS." It was the scariest, most complex fire alarm ever. You'd think we were under nuclear attack. I ran out, only to see great clouds of billowing black smoke emerging from the concession stand near the poppers. A massive frenzied crowd of panicked customers was milling about in the lobby, most of them, of course, more interested in getting a comp ticket because they were so rudely awakened from their movie than whether or not they were in jeopardy.
Inside the stand, right next to the poppers, which were belching out that cloud of smoke, stood Kendall, dwarfed by at least four theater managers, who were shouting at him in unison and gesticulating wildly.
Patrick was standing just across the counter from them. "You lie, Kendall," he said softly. "I told you, man, you lie."
Story the Second: Chris
Good God, Chris was dumb. I mean, it's just the truth. Chris was a dumb fuckin' kid. He smoked weed all. the. time. All the time. And Christ, was he ever an imbecile.
Gerry couldn't stand him.
Gerry was a very physical person, whether he was showing affection or distaste. His way of expressing his annoyance with Chris would be to pick him up (even though Chris towered over him) and then drop him back down on the ground, often in front of gaping customers.
To be fair, Gerry always warned Chris first. "Chris," he'd say, as the dumb fuck kept arguing with him about something or another. "I will drop you right where you stand."
Chris would continue blathering.
"Chris," Gerry would say again in a low tone. "I will drop you right here, and I do not give a fuck who watchin'."
Would this stop Chris? Never. So, unceremoniously, Gerry would pick him up, broom and all, and then drop him on the ground. It never physically hurt the kid, and he let it happen so many times I guess he didn't mind.
Chris tended to wander around with the breast pocket of his uniform shirt bulging out to a comical degree. To be fair, the breast pocket of the uniform shirt was the only pocket we were allowed, but he carried an amount of crap it would take me a mid-size handbag to accomodate. Including a cigarette pack, his schedules, his time card, his keys, sometimes money. The sheer size of the breast pocket would cause it to bulge out beyond his vest (also part of our charming uniform), exposing its contents at least partially for the whole world to see.
Working in this type of job, as you might imagine, there were a lot of rules that were unwritten and unspoken. One of them was that if a substantial amount of cash was found in a theater--$5 or more--it would be taken to the box office to be broken down into change to be split among all the ushers who'd cleaned that theater.
Well, one day, Chris found a ten-dollar bill in Theater 14, and decided he'd keep it for himself.
Unfortunately, given his bulging breast pocket and utter stupidity, the tenner quickly announced itself.
Patrick and Gerry stood off a few feet from Chris, assessing the situation and planning their moves. Finally, Gerry sauntered casually over.
"Chris. Me and Patrick wanna order some food. Can I borrow five bucks off you?"
"Nah," Chris said. "I don't have no money, man. Sorry."
I couldn't believe it. I was like, honest to Christ, how stupid can you get?
"Come on, man, I know you have something! Help me out."
"Dude, I'm wicked sorry. I got no money."
Gerry got serious. "Chris, man," he said, moving very close to his face, looking directly in his eyes. "I'ma ask you one more time. Can I. borrow. five. bucks."
Chris stopped, eyes darting back and forth, stammering and stuttering.
And then he yelled, right in Gerry's face, "I TOLD YOU MAN I AIN'T GOT NO MUTHAFUCKIN' MONEY."
What happened next happened quickly. Gerry bent down and wrapped his arms around Chris' legs. Then he stood up again, hoisting Chris up until his arms were around his knees and waist, with Chris' feet sticking up in the air over his right shoulder and Chris' hair brushing the ground. Gerry gave Chris three brisk shakes, and all the crap fell out of his pockets--change, a jacknife, the cigarettes, keys, time cards, schedules, and the ten.
Patrick darted in and snatched the tenner, leaving everything else untouched. Gerry dumped Chris on the ground. Both of them turned and walked away, businesslike, but they didn't get too far before both of them burst out laughing. They high-fived.
"Fuckin' black man's pinata!" Gerry yelled.
Story the Third: Arlington Road
Arlington Road was a definite white-people movie, and I say that as a white person. And the kind attracted to this movie, for whatever reason, were the worst kind of white people, the kind that wore alligator shirts and J.Crew sweaters tied around their shoulders and khakis with seams pressed into them and deck shoes and charged their tickets and popcorn to a platinum Visa, all with a straight face.
These were also the kind of people who were afraid upon encountering Gerry and Patrick. They saw Gerry and Patrick, they saw black, they saw bald, they saw male, they saw goatees, and it must have all added up to robbery in their minds.
So, Arlington Road is playing in Theater 7. We've just cleaned Theater 7 and are standing outside it, leaning against the wall, waiting for the movie across the hall to be over so we can clean that too. It was just after the first rush of the night--half the theaters getting out within the same ten minutes--and we were doing what ushers normally did when they got a chance--catching our breath. Often the work was so hectic and physically demanding that when we stopped for a moment, all we did was stand still and stare off into space. At the end of a long shift some nights, Gerry and I would sit in the middle of an empty theater, trash bags taller than the tops of our heads next to us in the aisle, and just stare at the blank screen, saying nothing, doing nothing, thinking nothing, for fifteen minutes or more.
One of the alligator-shirt types and his peroxide wife come mincing up to us. "Erm." says the alligator shirt person. "Is this...ehhh...?"
Sorry, pal, I thought, maybe your butler can read your mind, but we aren't going to the effort.
"Excuse me," he said a little louder. "Is this where Arlington Road is playing?"
"Yep," Patrick said.
The man didn't move.
"Erm...can...err...? Can we go in?" Ms. Peroxide was, by now, clutching his arm and looking at me, standing casually right next to a black man as if I was putting my head in the mouth of the MGM lion.
Patrick decided to play with them a little bit. The theater was open, but he said, "Nah, man, not yet." Just to see how long the guy would wait.
Turns out it was a long-ass time. Long enough that the previews were starting before the man, now at the front of a crowd of people much like himself, all standing and glancing nervously at Gerry and Patrick and me, finally spoke up again.
"Can we go in now?" he asked, anxiously peering through the window. The fucking guy was right in front of the door. No one was stopping him from opening it and just walking in. We were just standing there, but it was like we formed a barrier he couldn't bring himself to cross.
"Yeah, you can go in now," Patrick said.
The man stood there, looking from Patrick to the door handle and back again.
Finally, Gerry broke the silence. "Man, this black man ain't gonna open no door for you!" he shouted at alligator shirt man. "Open it your damn self!"
Without another word, the man flung the door open and scurried into the theater, leading the charge of his cohorts inside.
Story the Fourth: Chicken Broccoli Alfredo
Gerry used to bug me, jokingly, all the time for a date.
"Come on, let's go out. I'll take you to dinner," he'd say.
"Nahhh..." I'd attempt to be casual.
"You only date white guys, huh."
I'd look at him. Hard. "No." Truth was, I had my eye on Patrick at least part of the time. I had become strongly attracted to him, his mysteriousness; I wanted to see what was behind all that quiet. We had been sort of circling each other for weeks by the time I finally left the theater to go to Oxford for the summer, and then back to college and then on with my life somewhere where picking up people's trash in a movie theater wasn't going to be how I made my living.
"You only date white guys. Tall white guys."
"Aw, who am I kiddin'," Gerry would bark laughter. "I couldn't take you 'cross the street, yo!"
I would roll my eyes at him.
This is usually where the conversation would end. Maybe there'd be a little more harrassment, but that was usually it. Except once. After the "couldn't take you across the street" line, Gerry finally said, "Yo Pat! I got an idea, check this out. You and I will take this white girl here out for a date. Take two brothers to date a white girl. We'll pool our resources."
I stood back, somewhat shocked. Patrick just shook his head and kept cleaning.
Gerry turned to me, grinning wickedly. "We'll take you to the 99 Restaurant," he said. "Get you some of that um..." he snapped his fingers, trying to remember. "Um...chicken broccoli alfredo shit."
That's actually one of my all-time favorite restaurant meals. Brightening, I asked Gerry, "How did you--"
"ALL WHITE PEOPLE LIKE THAT SHIT!" he roared, doubling over in laughter, slapping his knee. Patrick, behind him, began to snicker, too.
Patrick actually seriously asked me out once, at least, I think so. I said yes. We never went on a date. But he started walking me out to my car after a night shift the last few weeks I was there, and we'd talk for a little while, and then the last week or so, we'd hug after we talked, but time was running out, and it was too little, too late. I saw Gerry a couple of times after I stopped working there, but I never saw Patrick again after the last time I hugged him on my last day of work.
I've heard that he drives a cab now, not sure where. I've heard he's now the father of twin girls. I've wondered sometimes what might have happened if we'd been able to cross certain bridges, but most of the time, I don't trouble myself about it.
That type of thing only happens in movies.