Some chores as an usher had a weekly rhythm. The day before a billing change meant you had a lot to do. You had to wait until after the last showing had started (of the film that was departing), then you’d take down its posters, and put the new ones up. Then you tended to the marquees. There was one marquee out front of the theater, and another in back set up on a structure that was viewable from I-405, a bit of an high wire act to service. You got what you needed from the “marquee room” down at the front of Cinema 1. If you were smart you knew what was already up on the boards, and you only took what extra letters were needed to spell out the new title or titles. The mental crossword puzzle type exercise aside, it was still an onerous chore.
Hands down, the all time favorite weekly chore was popping popcorn. Popping day was usually on Friday, as a preparation for the weekend. You clocked in early and went down to the front of Cinema 2. There in a dedicated room to the left of the screen, the huge Cretor’s popping machine was housed. It was about eight or nine feet long, consisting mainly of a stainless steel bed upon which the popcorn was poured from the cooking kettle positioned at the head. It had a slight downward angle. Plastic bags were fitted out at the lower end and the popped corn was stuffed into them.
First you got out the giant tub of coconut oil, and scooped out two servings and placed them in the kettle. When it had melted down to hot oil, you added some seasoning salt, poured in the corn and shut the lid. About a minute later the corn commenced to explode. Little by little at first, but then crescendoing into a maelstrom, the power of which would eventually lift up the lid and the golden kernels would pour out in a torrent. There is nothing like the smell and taste of hot, freshly popped popcorn. And we got to have some from each batch – quality control as it were – no muzzling the ox while he was threshing this grain.
Karen often accompanied me for this chore. She would take the bags up to the concession stand and there fill up hundreds of little boxes with the popcorn (which sold for 15 cents) to have it ready for the hords of rugrats that would descend upon the theater for the Saturday matinee.
A not so fun chore was the weekly inventory. But it became interesting when Karen left me notes among the candy boxes, which I came across while counting. It did not go unnoticed in other quarters, for Dad (the manager) as was his habit now had another reason to tease her. And answering a challenge he put forth, she wrote out another note – a promissory note – to the tune of million dollars that she would give him in exchange for me.
He still has the note and tries to collect from time to time.