working in a coal mine

Saturday, mar. 15, 2008   |   0 comments
ince time immemorial, every employee had to wear one of the three available uniforms.

There was one small, one medium, and one large.

If you arrived early for your shift, you had to wait for someone to change out of their uniform before you could get suited up. The large uniform was in great demand because you wore your regular clothes underneath. It didn't matter that we all looked like badly stuffed county fair animals, because it was of the utmost importance that those uniforms never, ever directly touched your skin; the poly-fabric was not only itchy and flammable, but terrifyingly filthy-dirty. Since they were always in use, there was rarely an opportunity to take the uniforms to the laundromat. And you'd be amazed at what a dirt-magnet butter flavoring is.

Basically, our uniforms screamed "auto mechanic."

The orange zip-up, darted top was a true fright, streaked with brown mystery sludge. Your slacks, which started out brown, were somehow even scarier, since you couldn't see the dirt. You just sensed the shmutzy odor cresting off them.

Insult to injury, lack of washing tends to rot fabric (yes! even polyester, under the correct circumstances, can move on to the next level), so everything was held together with safety pins.

It was off the charts.

Not every theater was run this way. Other Pacific theaters were spic and span, run by managers who were out to make a positive impact on the movie patron's life (making those theaters scary to work for different reasons). But our manager was such a wheeler-dealer man of the eighties, that he did whatever it took to avoid anything that didn't involve snorting coke, degrading women or avoiding phone calls from his mother.

Maintainance was never done, our inventories were always off, money missing, tickets unaccounted for. Thus, the district manager was always making surprise visits, trying to catch Paul-the-manager doing something fireable. The big, black, american mafiamobile would pull up in the red zone out front and whoever was working tickets would yell "Hal's here!" And we'd all jump into our act. One of us would go get the ice bucket and would hold it in front of our grime, someone else would keep their (relatively) clean back to the door and would make circular, dusting motions, and another would disappear into the dark dirt of the theater itself where they would remain until the all clear was sounded.

Once you got used to it, though, living in filth became liberating. So you reek of years worth of teen sweat. You squirt special sauce all down your front. Just let it sit there. For days. It just doesn't matter.

It was the most existentialism you could get in that particular piece of homogeneous prime real estate. And, for a sixteen-year-old who liked The Cure and hated everything else, it was pretty fuckin' good.

Amy, circa 1986


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