A Long Walk off a Short Pier

On any given day, the plank you’re forced to walk seems to always come up a couple of steps short.

“Manager to the valet stand.” Those seemingly innocuous five words combined in that precise order are usually enough to make any relatively sane supervisor duck for cover. That’s because the person at the end of that sentence is usually impatiently waiting to spew random entitlement like IED shrapnel that connects with whichever random unlucky warrior who just happens to be in the way at the time.

I walked toward the valet stand – we referred to ticket takers as Valet Associates – with the sort of enthusiasm usually found in someone who has just opened their mailbox and discovered a summons for jury duty. The lobby was full for a Monday night, occupied by hungry moviegoers purchasing tickets for the latest blockbuster sequel that Hollywood had uncreatively crapped out from its studio bowels.

The maitre d’ gave me his not-so-subtle get this crazy bitch out of my face glare. “This young lady would like to speak with you,” he said while forcing a smile through his clenched teeth.

She could sniff out a manager the same way a vulture anticipates an impending corpse, and she honed in on me like a liquor salesperson trying to meet an end-of-the-month quota on an unsuspecting rookie bar manager. “Are you the manager,” she asked with a tone that implied my day was potentially about to become as memorable as my last root canal. She, of course, already knew the answer but was waiting for my verbal verification so that we would all be on the same page about on whose shoulders the blame for whatever potentially world-ending problem she had encountered would squarely lie.

My official title was Unit Manager. I had accepted the position at a trendy dine-in movie cinema, which is essentially a movie theatre and restaurant rolled into one. Movie tickets were approximately three times what they normally cost, but the price included seating in an oversized electronically-operated La-Z-Boy reclining chair which was accompanied by a pillow and blanket should you wish to spend the next two hours napping instead of watching the movie you’d just paid for. To each recliner was attached a miniature table upon which sat a food and beverage menu and a magic button that, upon pressing, would summon your own personal service person – whom we referred to as Ninjas – who would anxiously take your order and deliver your requests in a stealthy manner so as to not interrupt you while you continued watching your movie. The food and drinks were as overpriced as the movie tickets, and it wasn’t uncommon for date night tabs to approach $200. Overall, though, what we were selling was a mostly affordable periodic luxury experience that people could pamper themselves with and come away feeling as if they’d immersed themselves in a unique few hours away from whatever daily realities they had temporarily escaped.

The theatre had six cinemas, movies ran from 9 AM until 2 AM daily, and for the amount of patrons we accommodated and the inherent diverse nature of the crowds that different genres of movies attracted complaints were relatively few and were usually snuffed out by handing out complimentary tickets to a future showing. But, as with any service environment, there’s always a small percentage of rancid-eyed snizzmountains who insist on too much never being enough.

“Yes, I’m the manager,” I confirmed with as much enthusiasm as a drunken driver creeping through a DUI checkpoint. “What can I do for you?”

She presented me with whatever latest version of the iPhone we were on that year. The glass front of it was thoroughly smashed and looked as if someone had vented their frustrations on it with a sledgehammer.

“I want you to look at this,” she exclaimed in an elevated volume so that everyone within earshot could also get in on the fun. “Your chair did this to my phone and you need to pay me for it!”

Our recliners were often accused of many things, mostly along the lines of them being so comfortable that people had difficulty staying awake in them for the duration of their movies. Periodically, electronics would fail and a chair wouldn’t recline. However, I’d yet to hear any accusations toward one of them intentionally going rogue on anyone’s cell phone. Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

“Can you tell me exactly what happened,” I inquired while pretending to care.

Her face began to turn a shade of red normally associated with either Pinot Noir or someone constipatedly sitting on a toilet struggling to make dreams come true. Suddenly, the explanation flowed out of her like a laxative-inspired diarrhetic diatribe. “My phone slipped out of my hand in the middle of the movie and fell between the cushions. When I put the seat out of recline mode I found it and now it’s destroyed! You owe me eight hundred dollars and I want it in cash NOW!”

The people who were in the lobby purchasing their tickets began to ear hustle while pretending they weren’t, the same way a bottlenecked motorist struggles to catch a glimpse of the traffic accident that just slowed down their day. After all, there’s nothing more entertaining than an unexpected complimentary front row seat to a random bloodbath you can pretend you aren’t sadistically enjoying while you secretly are.

“I’m sorry to hear about your phone, Miss,” I lied. I found her story suspicious but couldn’t disprove her version of it. In the typical the customer is always right mantra most corporations adhere to like crack addicts inhaling their next fix, I caved in the best I could. “Unfortunately, I’m not authorized to make cash reimbursements of that nature. Those types of things are handled through our home office. However, if you’ll leave me your information I’ll be happy to forward it to my general manager and she’ll contact you regarding a potential resolution first thing in the morning.”

As I suspected, that went over about as well as a patient recovering from surgery only to be told that a sponge had accidentally been left inside them. “That’s not even close to being acceptable,” she informed me while suddenly edging more of herself into my personal space. “I’m not leaving here without my eight hundred dollars! What kind of a manager are you, anyway? You’re going to pay me, and you’re going to pay me NOW!”

The movie theatre environment never seemed more apropos, as I prepared to flip the switch on a sequel. “Again, Miss, I’m not authorized to compensate you in cash at this time. If you’ll leave me your information someone will contact you tomorrow regarding your concerns.”

And so it went for the next several minutes, each of us returning the other’s volleys like a tennis point that never seems to end with the score perpetually stalled at deuce. All good things must come to an inevitable conclusion, however, and the time came for me to break the stalemate. “Miss, I’ve apologized and told you what I’m able to do for you and I have other things to attend to at this time. If you’ll kindly leave your information with the valet, I’ll be happy to see that you’re contacted tomorrow.” And with that I wished her a pleasant evening and turned to walk away.

“Don’t you walk away from me,” she demanded with the sort of tone that makes one want to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. “You get back here NOW and give me my eight hundred dollars or I swear I’m gonna sue you!”

As I continued my journey toward getting as far away from her as humanly possible, I suddenly felt the back of my head being pelted by what felt like small pebbles. When I looked down at my feet, I found myself standing in a collection of multi-colored M&M’s. I turned around just in time to see iPhone girl high-tailing it out the front door; the candy box whose contents she had just emptied on me resting on the floor like a discarded shell casing.

The ear-hustling lobby spectators looked at me in unison, apparently secretly hoping I’d chase after her to further enhance their voyeuristic adventure. Like a rock band that refuses to come out for an encore, though, I kept walking in the opposite direction while leaving them there wanting more and feeling slightly cheated – which seemed to be my destiny for the night.

Terry Everton is a cartoonist and “wage slave.” Read other articles by Terry, or visit Terry's website.