Daily Archives: July 24, 2008

Movies & My First Job

I saw Dark Knight last night and I could go on about the interminable slowness of the movie, the three endings, the poor acting by the minor characters, the tropes and going against the tropes (in the sense that they’re new tropes) but I’m sure there are better and numerable reviews already.

But it did get me thinking about my first real job as a teenager, after the babysitting and selling Regal cards door to door. I worked in a movie theater in Calgary called the Plaza Theatre, on Kensington Rd. Stomboli’s restaurant was next door and they made awesome pizzas. Sometimes, my girlfriend Marie (who had also got a job there) and I would order a piece of pizza and then when we were down to the puffy and chewy crust we’d pour some butter from the butter machine into a cup and dip our crusts in.

Our job was to stock the concession stand, make the popcorn, serve the customers and balance the cash at the end of the night. We would cart large (50 gallon?) buckets of coconut oil for using in the popcorn machine. It gave the nice golden tone to the popcorn that we know and love. In would go the cup of oil and a spoonful of fine grain salt. When it popped fresh and warm, we would pick out all the yellowest kernels because they tasted better and saltier, and put them in a paper towel-lined, chocolate bar box lid. Of course we added butter. With the butter machine we had to pour off the butter milk that would form once it melted. If we poured it on the popcorn, it would melt it into a gooey mess, just like putting water on it. It tended to be saltier and a few of the girls liked to dip the popcorn into that.

At other times we would count through the ju jube bags, the Nutty Club brand, and find the bags with the most red and black ones, and then buy them. We did the same with the bags of red licorice, looking for the ones that had 39 instead of 38, or even a whole two more than the usual bags. Those were our favorites.

The Plaza went from being part of Cineplex (or its equivalent then) to being sold off as a repertory cinema. This meant that we didn’t always show first run movies but ran special or themed films. These included matiness of Godzilla and other kiddy fest delights. This was an old theater that held about 400. Imagine that many unruly, screaming kids on the weekend who would do such wonderful things as smearing Fudgsicles over the walls, leave the taps running in the bathrooms, and turning around in their seats to talk to their friends, hence getting their knees jammed between the back and the seat.

We ran Hindu movies, where all 400 people would come out at once during the intermission (yes, remember them?) and push as one mass toward the concession stand, all waving money at you. Having been to India I know this is a cultural thing where people often do not wait in line but push push push forward. I guess when you have a billion people it might be the only way to get served.

We also showed other eclectic delights, such as The Last Tango in Paris and 2001: A Space Odyssey. My boss, Dorothy, wouldn’t let us watch Last Tango because we weren’t old enough (fifteen when I started). We often got to sneak into the theater in between shows to watch snippets of what was playing. One time, there was a comedy on and a man came out saying he’d laughed so hard, that his dentures had snapped and dropped out of his mouth. We said we’d look once the movie was over. But he came back a bit later and said that he’d found them when he sat down and they bit him.

For the matinees, we ended up getting an usher, a young boy named Rodney who was probably about thirteen. He was tall and gangly, as most boys are at that age, with light blonde hair and a penchant for eating his weight in beef jerky and drinking megacups of pop. One day, we told Rodney that all that beef jerky was dried meat and with all the pop it was causing the meat to expand in his stomach. If he didn’t watch it, he would bloat up and explode. He turned decidedly green at that point. We kept that up for the full day.  

The projectionist, an honest to god person who ran the films and spliced them when they snapped, would sometimes let us up in his garret to peer out at the people below, watch what he did and chat.  I’m so grateful that was my first job and not having to serve at McDonald’s. We were teenagers concerned about ju jubes and licorice and sneaking in to movies. It was a fun time, and I missed the episode where Marie was robbed at gunpoint for the evenings ticket sales. Dorothy had treated us like daughters. She was stern but fair and years later Marie and I visited her a couple of times. It was a good first job, giving me a confidence to join the work force.

That great old theater, the Plaza, with its large screen and 400 seats still exists and is still a repertory cinema. If I still lived in Calgary, I’m sure I’d be frequenting it, for nostalgia if not for the films.


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