Originally uploaded by eman59.
The photo to the side isn’t mine. It’s by Eman59, whose photography I’m following at Flickr right now. I love the photo, which is universal (for all who’ve interacted with a box office window), but it also reminded me of a job I once had.
Post pop-psychedelia, a movie theater opened in Augusta that was designed to please lovers of Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” and “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”. The walls were glossy white with bold stripes in neon pinks and oranges. The scattered seating that sparely ran along the walls from the minor bow to a lobby to the rear refreshment area was all crayola colored, velveteen ottomans wanting bongs and Nehru jackets retrieved from moth balls. And appropriately, in probably record setting time, post pop-mod theater went from fresh, lemony, strawberry new to greasy seedy.
When the theater had just opened, which must have been about 1974, and was still hopeful, eager as a Freshman college student, Marty and I went to a film there, which is the only time I remember going to see a film there (though we went to see a few others, I’m sure). I don’t recollect what the film was. I only recollect that Steve Morse (Dixie Grit, Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band, Deep Purple, Kansas) was there with a date, and I decided I didn’t like him. But then I’ve usually not cared much for lead singers and guitarists and he struck me as already succumbing to starry mentality. Marty had gone to school with Steve and had played with him a little early on, whereas I was in high school with one of Steve’s brothers, who was a fine musician in his own right, and always struck me as an awfully nice guy. So Marty knew them both (and Steve’s older brother, a percussionist), whereas I’d only known Steve’s younger brother. Marty had told me all about how great Steve was and a nice person but when I met him I intuited Ego from ten paces and immediately sensing it I pretty much veered around and walked in the other direction.
For all I know he was just like me, in as, eventual friends divulging, “At first, I thought you were scary/always angry/hostile! But you’re not like that at all.”
In other words, I don’t mean to be ragging on Steve here. I don’t know him. I’m just giving what *I* felt at the time, which was a gut feeling that he could happily do without meeting me, and that not-much-of-a-meeting is the one memory I retain of Post Pop Theater Palace in its prime, most likely because I heard about Steve Morse for years, Marty knowing different people who played with him. Plus, in Augusta, Steve was already a music legend. We still have a couple copies of the way early Dixie Grit demo LP.
A year later, when I was eighteen, I found myself in one of those jobs that college kids tend to pick up, which would last only for several days and had me back at Post Pop Theater Palace, not working at it but hired by the chain or something to sit in at the theater and examine how it was run, and be present every night when receipts were counted up, and recount and sign for them and take them to the bank.
How I got the job, I don’t remember, and didn’t have any clue really what to do, armed with only a daily record sheet with different items I was supposed to check off, things like how clean were the lobby and bathrooms.
By now, Post Pop Theater Palace had gone to total seed, its dreams of hip dashed. Its aura was rotted Disco, when Disco was still big. One could feel the heady monetary draw of triple X rated features in a not-so-distant future that would never be reached only because of lack of initiative. Sporting two then-medium-size screens, on one of them was probably a PG feature, while running on the other was an R. Lynn Redgrave in “The Happy Hooker”, a Cannon Film, which to me was so off-puttingly lowbrow that I only ducked in once, for less than five minutes.
I tried to do my job. I sat in the ticket booth while the ticket collector collected tickets, and I could tell the ticket collector didn’t want me there, and the ticket collector kept telling me I really didn’t have to do that part of my job. But I did it anyway. And though I was sitting in the booth with the ticket collector, the ticket collector made me feel like Eman’s photo, like I had dared to attempt to infiltrate the rear workings of the carnival, and that it wasn’t appreciated. The ticket collector wanted me outside, on the other side of the glass.
I wandered the theater during the films, looking over the projectionist (I was supposed to make sure he wasn’t sleeping) and checking on general cleanliness.
And at night I sat in the office and at first I counted the money, like I was supposed to, each night the manager telling me I really didn’t have to do that part of my job, that it wasn’t expected of me to do that part of my job. And I took the money to the bank drop-off, though the manager kept telling me I didn’t have to do that part of my job, that it wasn’t expected of me to do that part of my job.
For some reason I had the idea this was one of THE reasons for my being there, to oversee the receipts at the end of the day. I don’t recollect why I had that impression but I must have talked to someone over the phone and been told something about the job. There had been no personal interview. I had been hired cold based on recommendations made by others.
I had a check sheet to go by. Had I sat in the ticket booth and monitored ticket sales? Check. Had I watched the counting of the money at the end of the night? Had I then counted the money myself? Had I placed the money, myself, in its deposit bag? Had I dropped off the money myself? Check, check, check.
By the weekend, though, I’d given up. As I figured it, I didn’t have much choice.
“You really don’t have to do this part of the job. They don’t expect you to do this,” the manager had said, planting himself between me and the deposit bag, come Friday night. And as he was decidedly decisive about it not being part of my job, and as I was eighteen and not much inclined to tussle with him over the deposit bag, I backed off and let him make the deposit on Friday. I didn’t sign for having made the deposit myself.
Weekdays, the theaters had been nearly empty. Weeknights had been a bit better. The real business was, of course, had Friday and Saturday.
On Saturday night the manager wouldn’t even let me count the money. “It’s going to be a long, long night,” he said when the theater had shut down. “There’s no point in your staying. We’re just fine here.”
I sat down in the office anyway, to watch the counting of the receipts.
“I told you, It’s going to be a long, long night,” the manager said again.
“It’s all right, it’s my job,” I said, and remained seated.
The manager stood, pleasantly smiling. “It’s going to be several hours before I count the money, and I can’t ensure your safety with that amount of money that late at night.”
I remained seated but by now didn’t know what to say. Finally, I reiterated, “It’s my job.”
The manager stopped smiling.
“It’s not your job. I keep telling you, they don’t expect you to do this, all they ever expected you to do was make sure the movies start on schedule. Now, I’m not going to get around to counting the receipts for several hours. That will put you leaving very late. You never know what might happen, and I’m not going to be responsible for your safety.”
The manager then smiled again.
Though I felt like I was irresponsibly abandoning my job, I decided to leave rather than press the matter. It just seemed like the thing to do.
“Now if you’ll sign…”
I declined to sign the sheet.
My memories are fuzzy about it all, and I’m paraphrasing, but then it was a fuzzy place and I felt like it wanted to keep me as fuzzy as possible.
It had not been a pleasant job.
The one memory that has stayed securely with me, kind of like how oatmeal is supposed to stick with you when a cold cereal won’t, was my 9th grade science teacher purchasing a ticket for “The Happy Hooker”. I’d liked him when I was school, because he’d put up with me, was what I considered to be fair, and so I never had a reason to give him a hard time. He didn’t recognize me and I didn’t run out of the ticket booth exclaiming, “Hi, Mr. So-and-so! Remember me? You taught me in 9th grade!” He was buying, after all, a ticket to “The Happy Hooker”, and though he didn’t look embarrassed, he also didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was wanting conversation. He looked tired and like he wanted to be left alone. It was a weekday afternoon and I wondered why he was there, if he was no longer teaching.
While Ms. Redgrave was performing a mild striptease on top of a table or desk, I slipped into the back of the theater and sat for a moment to watch my teacher and make sure it was really him.
It was. He was several rows in front of me. There were about three people in the theater, counting me.
He had fallen asleep and was snoring.
I went and sat out in the lobby. It was a bright, sunny day. A big poster for Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon” was on display. The film was made in 1972 but Anger’s book was rereleased in 1975 and I suppose that’s why the film was set to play again in the theater. I sat and stared at the poster, and didn’t even consider returning to see it, because it wasn’t the kind of film I’d be interested in seeing.
I also knew that I would never go to that theater again.