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Feb 23, 2023

Written for 'Is This Working?', a short fiction and memoir collection like no other.

"We're looking for writing that fictionalises your own weird experiences of work, retells them in uncanny ways, or anything in-between. Be the fly on the office wall, eying the corporate corpse. Are you Brisbane's 'Convenience Store Woman'? Tell us about what goes bump in the middle of the night... shift.

Don't Eat the Hotdogs: Work


Welcome to the wonderful world of cinema. The Cineplex, where dreams unfold amidst the hordes of soft drink-guzzling, popcorn-munching people escaping reality.

You’ll notice movie stars staring from their framed posters in lightboxes. You’ll see the chipped, purple walls lining the patchwork of wild carpet patterns, hiding the stains of countless misadventures – from frozen slushies to projectile vomit. A lack of funding ensures the building is frozen in time, so it’s eternally 1995.

There’s a lot to take in, but if you ignore every other piece of advice, remember this one.

No matter how hungry you are, don’t eat the hotdogs. They’re responsible for 90% of the sawdust piles scattered across the carpet. Maybe it’s not solely the hotdogs but the combination with the yellow plastic goop from the Doctor Cheese machine. 

You’ve got three options here. Ticket sales, ushering, or the candy bar. I’m an usher, mostly, but I’ve done it all. 

The only thing you need to know at the box office is that people en masse are big dumb animals, so you have to be patient. They’ll forget the movie’s name, buy tickets to the wrong session and blame it on you, ask whether we have popcorn or bathrooms, and they’ll probably lose their kids. 

The sessions never really sell out. We always keep ten seats free in case there’s a fire or emergency. Some fire marshall must have decided this constitutes a safety plan.

Let’s head to the candy bar, where the real money’s made.

Popcorn is the lifeblood of the cinema. It’s popped gold that costs 20 cents a box and sells for $8-10. The cinema buys it in bulk, and it’s the same corn kernels they feed cattle. Like I said, big dumb animals.

Sorry to ruin the illusion, but that’s not butter on the popcorn. It’s addictive, radioactive yellow chemical dust. Delicious. Manning the popcorn maker is a cinch. Two scoops of kernels, a scoop of yellow powder, and a single spurt of oil. Feel free to try variations, but be careful not to kill yourself.

When there’s nothing to do, we pop a tonne of it. Once you’ve popped a batch, you chuck it in a big yellow bag and tie it with a twist tie. Then you jam the big bag in the popcorn warmer with the others, where it’s still edible for up to three days. I discovered recently that in Korea they lace their popcorn with dried cuttlefish. To be honest, it probably tastes better than the ice cream and dill pickle flavoured popcorn mix they sell to pregnant women at the drive-in.

Making choc tops is easy; take a scoop of vanilla and dip it in the warm brown goo. Of course, if you want one for later, the cones are cheap and brittle, so an errant thumb will poke a nice hole. Like the laminated sign says, ‘Broken cone? Take it home.’

Stocking the bulk lolly containers is easy. The lollies come in huge boxes, and get loaded from the back of the displays, where you’ll have front row seats to watch dozens of hyperactive, drooling children preparing to gorge themselves.

A cup of tap water costs $1. People will complain, but only once they see the alternative is bottled water at $7. When you restock the bar, you can sneak a couple of shots, but don’t refill the bottles with water because the alcoholics notice. Also, you’re missing out if you haven’t poured vodka into a multicoloured frozen Coke.

We’ve got coffee, too, the kind made from the cherries jungle cats poop out. Very exclusive, very pretentious, particularly for a cinema. The patrons seem to like it.

Onto ushering, which I prefer because you get to watch the films and be lazy.

Ripping tickets is a piece of cake. Cinema 8, first on your right, cinema 4 at the end on your left-hand side, that sorta thing. Read a book at the podium if you want.  

Then there’s emptying the bins, cleaning after each session, and building standees.

What’s a standee? You ask.

It’s a made-up bullshit name for those cardboard displays advertising the movies. We make them when there’s nothing else to do. If you want to keep one, you can write your name in the book downstairs. You’ll have to be quick though, because Darryn has an unhealthy obsession with them. I think he’s up to seven Jennifer Anistons in his living room.

Don’t let people smuggle in hot food that isn’t ours; it stinks out the joint. Someone brought in a bucket of crabs from Stinky’s Clam Shack today, and we’ve had to close Cinema 3 for the night.

Once the movies start, the next job is cinema checks. 

Grab your torch, check the temperature, sound, vision, no feet on the seats, people recording the film, or teenagers having sex in view of the disturbing number of paedophiles we seem to attract. 

If the film stops halfway through, it’s usually because the temperature ran too high in the projection booth, and the operator accidentally got hammered on cellulose nitrate from the baked film stock and passed out. If this happens, just race up there and poke them with a broom.

If the lights flicker on during the film, it’s usually because one of the ushers leant against the wall to watch the movie and forgot about the light switch behind the curtain. We’ve all done it, but be prepared to get yelled at for ruining the film, especially if it’s those DC or Marvel lunatics.

There’s a five-minute interval between screenings to allow for twenty-minute previews, so cleaning time is tight. Sweep the popcorn and drink cups under the seats with a feather duster, like a maniacal Olympic curler brushing their way to gold. If you’re cleaning the late session, you’re guaranteed to find a day’s worth of popcorn and detritus, but that’s not your problem.

You’ll need gloves for the weird stuff people leave behind. Expect the odd cucumber or zucchini after 50 Shades of Grey. Also, a lady died here once. At first I thought someone had left behind a Wicked Witch of the West mannequin. Turns out it was actually this middle-aged woman who’d dressed up for the Halloween movie marathon. We found out later she’d had a heart attack during Nightmare on Elm Street. If you ask me, it was the hotdogs. 

After we’ve cleaned, we go on break. You can get food if you want, but I usually duck across to Dicey Riley’s and pound a couple of pints before the late session. Be careful though of vegan Janet, the shift manager. She can smell hops from the office if the wind’s blowing the right way.

There’s more fights here than you’d think. Two guys got into it during Chopper last week. One tried to gouge the other’s eye out and instead, stuck his thumb in the dude’s mouth and got the end of his thumb bitten off. Last year, there was a Star Wars Wedding in Cinema 5, and two of the groomsmen got into a drunken argument about whether Han Solo shot first, then wailed on each with lightsabers. 

Of course, patrons manage to sustain injuries all by themselves too. A woman was so terrified by a jump scare in The Exorcist she slammed her face into the chair and broke her jaw. There’s not much you can do about that. But in case of emergency, the phone’s here, first aid kit’s there, and don’t get caught recording or posting the action on YouTube. 

To conclude, do the bare minimum, show up thirty seconds before your shift starts, let your mates in, whatever. Just don’t eat the hotdogs.

Don't Eat the Hotdogs: Text
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