Most of us have been lucky enough to have had that one magically clichéd summer job that, looking back on it now, probably could’ve been the basis for a coming-of-age teen comedy some years later if we had made the right connections instead of just fucking off at work.
For me, it was the AMC Memorial Square 8 Theatres, long since destroyed to make way for a Super Target, I believe. A classically partitioned eight-screen movie-house, it was surrounded by a Black Eyed Pea and a Christian book store; it was also my first job since quitting the Belle Isle Library as a wanton high-school senior. I mean, going into college soon, I felt like I needed a job with a bit more of a future—after all, eight-plex movie theaters weren’t going anywhere anytime soon, right?
That first weekend on the job, I was thrown directly into the muck and mire of the blockbuster-hopefulness of Godzilla, sponsored by Taco Bell. While many in the movie business will tell you that the Matthew Broderick-actioner was a total bomb, that weekend, we had multiple auditoriums sell-out, with managers trying to negotiate the ever-increasing lines on their walkie-talkies like Secret Services agents.
Even though newbies like me were supposed to start at the bottom—concession—I was immediately pulled out and throw right into ushering, which I learned is so much more than just cleaning up the ragged and run-down theaters in-between shows—it also means sweeping the popcorn-stained halls and making sure the equally-stained bathrooms are in check, too, among other things.
From getting to third base with a high school girl on a couple of bags of popcorn seed in the storeroom to sitting in the back of the theater and watching Jerry Springer’s Ringmaster for an entire eight-hour shift, this is how most of my summer vacation played out work-wise, one big-budgeted movie after another.
What made the job at the AMC Memorial Square 8 Theatres such a memorable one, however, was what happened when the last patron scuttled out and the doors finally closed. Whether it was sitting outside until three in the morning, smoking cigarettes and munching on stolen hot dog meat or locked inside, where we would screen the new releases late on Thursday night, smoking cigarettes and downing a case of cheap brews—all against company policy, mind you—it was the stuff of teenage dreams.
And then there were the house parties, where even the most stiff-upper lipped employees would get down and dirty in a way you knew they wouldn’t remember tomorrow; with managers having lascivious relations with their taut underlings, or the box-office girl so regularly drunk you learned what being an alcoholic truly was, or even the lonely, brooding kid who people weren’t sure what act of violence he’d inspire next, these were all fascinatingly human people that I’d doubt I’d get as close to at my next job, or really any job, down the line.
I’m still friends with many of them too.
It was a beautiful repetition of brain-cell murdering delights at the AMC Memorial Square 8 Theatres, wherein you’d show up for work the next day and do it all over again, rinse and repeat. During those scant few months of Technicolor duty, you could fill a stolen book of free movie passes—used to trade with Black Eyed Pea, natch—each employee’s slovenly tale of dropped morals, dirty pranks and three-month engagements built on teen-lust that never ended well.
As you could probably guess, once autumn approached, the AMC corporate chickens from Kansas City came home to roost, declaring they were going to blissfully tear the AMC Memorial Square 8 Theatres down and build a brand-new AMC Quail Springs 24 Megaplex, right down the road. Even though rebellious talk of what shit we were going to do in defense of our old eight-screen littered the broom-closets and break-rooms, none of it mattered: once corporate found out about the consistent dalliances and never-ending soirees, multiple employees—including myself—were fired just as we came in for our shifts one chilly early evening.
A few of the redundant thought the firings were mostly unjust and actually tried to file with the ACLU for wrongful dismissal or something to that effect. And for a while, I was as upset as anyone else; but the truth is we did smoke—a lot—and we did drink—a lot—and we did everything else possible—a lot—to make it the most fun McJob any company could bestow upon a once-sequestered kid from Oklahoma City. That was enough of a resume-builder for me.
Besides, within a couple of days, I already had a great job lined up at the Blockbuster on N.W. 36th and N. May. You just knew those guys were going to be around even longer than some dumb megaplex, right?