Wednesday, July 14, 2004

PART 9 - Love is blind. Well, nearsighted anyway.

I would be remiss if I didn't herald today's post in with the classic Champaign song, How Bout Us. I can't hear it without going right back to April 1982.

Some people are made for each other
Some people can love one another for life
How 'bout us?
Some people can hold it together
Last through all kind of weather
Can we?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In the Spring of 1982, I was 14, and I had quit the ice cream shop for a job in a small movie theater.

Part of the reason I took the job was because I needed quiet time in between shows to study in the ticket booth, and part of it was because working in a theater seemed glamorous to me - my mother had worked in a beautiful movie theater in Anniston when she was growing up, and she always spoke so fondly of it; she said the romance and action movies swept her away from her world to other places. Plus, the movie job paid a dollar an hour higher than the ice cream shop, so that sealed it.

There was one fly in the ointment: the manager seemed like a complete asshole, and he went on and on about how every kid that ever worked there had stolen the theater blind, and that he would be watching me carefully. I presented the bootleg copy of my birth certificate, and a reference from Artie, and I was in. Done deal.

My weeknight job was to sell tickets from the front window. Easy. On Friday nights and weekends, I worked the concession stand. The only way of determining profits in that theater, concession-wise, was through a laborious nightly exercise of counting cups, popcorn buckets, and candy. Inventory was taken each night, compared to the night before, and if all was well, the money in the register equalled the purchase price of the difference of the two tallies.

Sounds straightforward, right? It never was.

The manager of the theater was a huge, sweaty, classless, stupid oaf. Surprisingly, he was married with a couple of oaflets. I had no idea how in the world a family could survive on what he made, which had to be just about nothing. The theater was small potatoes - it only had 2 screens, and it ran second-run dollar movies. I found out soon enough what made the job a ripe plum.

Every night at closing, while the concession kid was counting cups, etc., Oaf took the cash drawer upstairs to the manager's office and counted it - alone. Despite the most careful concession counts, the drawer was ALWAYS short, by about 20-30 bucks. Always.

I watched this little dance for a few nights, while I was in the ticket window. When the Oaf came down to get the counts, he would announce the shortage, and the concession kid would be scared to death in the face of the screaming oaf, dodging his spittle-laden tantrum. Oaf would scream about all the kids being thieves, and he fired one or two in the first week I was there. It took me about half a second to catch on to this game.

When my first Friday night came, I was the concession kid. I ran the counter until 11:00 pm, and sure enough, old Oafie came waddling out to collect the money and told me to start counting cups and candy. Back then, I didn't give a shit what anybody thought, and I just came out with it. "If you think you are going to take this cash drawer up to your office and lift cash and blame it on me, you can pucker up and kiss my ass. Ain't happening."

We had a staring contest there for a minute - me cool and unblinking, Oaf all sweaty with an eye twitch. He stammered and clenched his hands and came out with something stupid like "Oh yeah? You calling me a thief?" I never took my eyes off of him and said "Not yet . . ." I followed him to the office, carrying the cash drawer. I counted the money first, and he counted it again, and I watched him fill out the deposit and seal the bank bag. He acted shocked that the cash drawer balanced - I didn't.

Once I clued the other theater workers in, they started escorting the cash drawer upstairs. Oaf quit in about 3 weeks. Then the theater turned into a pretty cool place to work.

One Saturday evening, I was running the concession stand. It was kind of quiet, and I noticed that some guy was talking and laughing with my friend Barry up at the ticket taker podium. I couldn't really make out who it was, I had terrible eyesight and refused to wear my glasses - they bothered me. All I could really see was a figure that appeared to be wearing bright neon green shorts. Other than that, I really couldn't tell much about the person. After about a half hour, Green Shorts left, and the night went on.

The following Monday night, I went rollerskating with my friend Donna. We always went skating on Dollar Night - it was a campy, tongue-in-cheek weekly excursion, and we loved to go "slumming" at the Rink. Sometimes we went iceskating, but rollerscating was our favorite - hands down. We were both quite good skaters, and it was always a hoot to go out with her anway. As usual, Donna was the center of attention, and I was her tag-along friend. She was beautiful, tiny and curvaceous and she was the sum total of all the things that young boy's dreams are made of. Every boy there vied for her attention, and I got a kick out of watching her turn throngs of boys into drooling idiots.

At some point during that night, I was sitting on one of the big carpeted mushrooms (do ALL skating rinks have those?) kind of just staring off into space waiting out a couples-only skate when a guy skated to a stop right in front of me and extended his hand. I was shocked. I smiled, looked down and shook my head "no", but he insisted, asking me again, and I accepted. It was the first time I had ever been asked.

I could tell he was a little older than me, and he was a bit taller, very muscular, and I was shocked at how much he remided me of Jack. They could have been brothers. I was speechless as we glided around and around the rink. He was a great skater, and he deftly guided us through the pairs of skaters, him skating backward, glancing back only a time or two, and looking at me the rest of the time. He put one hand around my waist, and pulled me closer to him, and held my other hand gently, pulling it close to his chest. We fit together, effortlessly skating. In that smalltown rink, under a mirrored disco ball, in the cheesiest of settings, I was deliriously happy.

After the song, we sat together, sharing a Coke. He asked me if I was still in school, and I was a little confused by such an obvious question, but said yes, I was. He told me he was from North Georgia, but had moved closer to the city the year before. He was friends with the owners of the rink, and he helped out for extra cash when they needed an extra hand. He then asked me "How long have you been working at the Miracle Theater?" and I was shocked. I knew I hadn't mentioned anything about it, how could he have known. He smiled and said "Don't you remember me? I was in the theater last Saturday, talking to Barry. I smiled at you a time or two."

A look of recognition crossed my face, and wide eyed with surprise, I asked him "Were you wearing bright green shorts?" He laughed and said, yes, he was . . . they were his soccer shorts, and he had just finished a game. I tried to explain that I didn't have my glasses on, and, well, I really couldn't see that well. He laughed it off, and said "I just thought you were stuck up!" With that, he stood, extended his hand, and asked me to skate with him again.

The lights dimmed, and we were one of the few couples on the floor, the evening was winding down. Once again, he pulled me close to him, so close I was sure he could feel my heart pounding. As the strains of the Champaigns played, I could feel him looking at me. I couldn't seem to make myself meet his gaze. He gently tilted my chin up with his hand, looked into my eyes and slowly pulled me in close for a kiss. I was trembling, scared to death, but completely willing to jump in. I closed my eyes and relaxed.

It was perfect . . .slow, sweet and completely natural. I melted there in his embrace. My first kiss. He smiled, holding me close, guiding us around the rink, and leaned in to me and whispered "I'm glad you liked my shorts . . ." Giggling and ducking while I half-heartedly tried to slap him, he kissed my forehead and held me close. I savored the feeling of his arms around me - his affection was like a cool, sprinking rain in a parched desert. I fought back the tears that were filling my eyes, and silently said a prayer of thanks for the dim lighting.

All too soon, it was time to go. Donna was more than a little pissed off, she had spent the night on her own. She was not used to waiting for me; it didn't agree with her at all. "Come ON Rita, my mom is here and we have to go NOW!" I was running out the door, and it dawned on me that I had never given him my phone number, nor had he asked for it.

As Donna's mom's car pulled away, I looked out the back to see him waving to me. Riding home, trying desperately to burn every image of the evening into my memory, touching my lips that had just moments before been caressed by his, I wondered if I would ever see him again.

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