Saturday, May 13, 2006

Kiddie Mats

Last night I found myself telling an old friend about a recent work dream I had. She and I used to work at a movie theater when we were in college, back in the day. We shared the same shame of donning those awful, itchy polyester suits with stripes up the sides and matching bowties while we served popcorn and nachos to the masses.

We were a stunning sight-- dripping with the stench of greasy popcorn and imitation butter flavor. We spent hours sweeping up stray Milk Duds and popcorn kernels, empty boxes of Junior Mints and Sweet Tarts, filling soda after soda after soda, and scrubbing the popcorn kettle until our fingers ached and we gagged on cleaning fumes. Those were the good times.

The bad times, aside from drunks, vomit, bathrooms, and one particularly degrading manager, were relegated to a few choice shows in the summertime, known to the insiders as "kiddie mats." One day a week in the summer we would open for an early matinee showing of old kid's shows-- animated films like American Tail and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and we'd reduce our admission to a buck. On top of that, we'd bring out these tiny soda and popcorn containers and charge the kids a buck a piece for the pair, soda AND popcorn. It was a win, win situation for the customers... but for us, the lowly servers, it was a nightmare!

First of all, we had to be at work at 8 am... which is not horrible unless we were one of the unlucky souls to have worked until midnight the night before, which was usually the case. We had to clock in, hurry up and throw last night's popcorn into a warming bin, dump the icy cold nacho cheese into the machines, and then start filling and capping a ton of those teeny tiny sodas and prepping box after box of popcorn. At 8 am!

We'd open the doors and it would be a mad rush. Inevitably, most of the crowd would consist of daycare kids... not just a group or two, but dozens upon dozens of excited, screaming, little folks who completely outnumbered their hired caregivers at least 15 to 1. And they all wanted popcorn and soda, of course. And at least half of them spilled a good portion of each on the floors. Talk about mess! And the caregivers always wanted nachos, which were never, ever quite hot enough at that hour of the morning. And then we'd get chewed out, because a woman with 15 screaming kids needs to feel heard by someone, anyone. "Yes lady, you and your need for hot cheese in the morning are important."

Inevitably, at least one kid would get his fat little forearm stuck in a cupholder and be hollering like mad while we greased him like a pig to get it out. More than one kid would pee in the seats or on the floor. Good times, indeed.

After kiddie mats we'd have bits of popcorn crushed into the carpet all over the lobby and have to clean the theaters with blowers and tackle the soda spills with mops. Kiddie mats were like tornados, come to think of it: Loud, frantic, and messy.

And they haunt me still today, apparently. I dreamed my superviser was calling me to let me know I was scheduled to be there at 7 am. From Texas, no less. Nevermind that I don't even live in Texas anymore, my dreamself doesn't remember about that. My dreamself was just horrified at the idea of kiddie mats. My dreamself wanted to sleep in, have a quiet morning to myself, maybe have a read over a leisurely cup of gourmet coffee and NOT under ANY circumstances, grease, wipe, mop, blow, sweep, or serve ANYBODY.

My dreamself apparently doesn't remember that I'm a mom now, either.

It has been 15 years since I worked at that theater. Why would I dream about kiddie mats NOW? After all these years? Then it dawned on me, my life is like kiddie mats. No sleep, get up early, make food, screaming kids ---noise, noise and more noise, and always something underfoot. Everytime I clean one mess up, there is some new disaster, like we're living in a minefield. Kiddie mats. My life has been downgraded to kiddie mats.

Hmph. Well, at least we don't have any cupholders.

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