Friday Challenge: Tales from the worst job I’ve ever had

For tonight’s post, I issued myself a challenge: Readers suggest and vote on topics, and I have 60 minutes to write on the winning suggestion. The winner was “Tales from the worst job you’ve ever had,” which came in with just a few minutes before the end of voting, so this is a true challenge. Prep time: nil.

You would think that having to clean up after the loose bowels of people who weren’t fully prepared for DEFCON 1 level scary movies would be the worst part, but it wasn’t. It was the math.

Oh, God, the fucking math.

I figured a movie theater would be an easy job. Free movies, free candy! Give the bodies their popcorn, close the theater door behind them, and the rest of your night is golden. Even landing the position was a piece of cake: A friend had been working there for years and was quitting in order to focus more on her college applications. Since I didn’t really care what college took me, provided that it was far, far away, I had no such concerns. “Sure, sounds awesome!” I said when she asked me if I wanted to take over for her. I was burned out on the deli where I’d been packaging meat and scooping potato salad for the last two years. Plus, I figured, even the worst possible night in a movie theater had to be better than a bad night in the deli, which, I’d learned, more often than not included the accidental removal of fingertips on industrial meat slicers.

“You won’t be allowed to work the ticket booth,” I learned on my first night. Turned out that my name, and the name of a friend of mine, were on the “NOT ALLOWED ENTRY” short list that was posted next to the telephone.

“Seriously?” I asked. We’d gotten booted out of shows a couple of times, but always over what I’d considered to be minor infractions. With the possible exception of the time I poured my soda into a boy’s lap. But to be fair, he had thrown popcorn at me first.

“Not just here,” said the shift manager, Michelle*. “At the Palace, too.” (*All names changed.)

Well, shit. The Palace was the sister theater to ours, a bigger version in the next town over. It had three whole screens that showed movies at times other than 7:30 pm, and a full-sized concessions counter that served nachos in addition to popcorn and candy. Now I had no options for nacho-ing my way through first-run movies at 3:00 in the afternoon.

“But I’m allowed to work here?”

“Well, they don’t really know. I don’t want to deal with applications, and Lori vouched for you. But I can’t have you behind the ticket counter, in case the owner comes in.” Michelle showed me the small concessions area. Beneath the glass-topped counter were rows of candy, priced between $.50 and $1.50. A large popcorn machine dominated the far wall; bookending the other end of the counter was a Coca-Cola fountain that served Pepsi products. “You’ll need to get here early every night, to make the popcorn. Before you leave at night, go over your inventory and make sure the cash adds up. Then re-stock so you’re set for the next day.”

“Okay,” I said, looking around. “Where’s the cash register?”

“There isn’t one.”

“What?” What?

Michelle pushed a small, gray cash box my way. I popped open the top. A coin tray held an assortment of change; underneath lounged a pile of wrinkled ones and fives. “Just add it up,” she said. “And make the change here.”

Oh, no.

This was a problem. This was a very serious fucking problem.

I cannot add. No joking. I mean, yes, I can put together 5+2 and, under the right conditions, even make some badass magic happen with craziness like 55+5 (SIXTY, muthafuckaaaaaas). But under stress? No. I once sold my entire collection of My Little Ponies at a garage sale for the ridiculous price of $4 because under the sun, with a weird old lady in a bedazzled sundress and plastic-flower straw bonnet staring at me, I was simply incapable of figuring out how much 20 ponies at 50 cents each should come to. No lie, INCAPABLE. A few years ago, when I was worried about my lack of degree impacting my prospects as a business writer and consultant, I had my IQ tested in an ill-conceived bid to join MENSA. I kicked ass in almost every section of the test. Then came two pages where I had to use standard American currency – which I had been using daily for TWENTY FIVE years – to figure out how many coins I would need in order to make amounts like 90 cents happen. Blew it. BLEW IT. Literally did not get a single question right. There was boob sweat and an itch on the arch of my foot and I swear to God, I rubbed by face so hard I actually pulled out half of the eyelashes on my right eye. And after all that, I was one IQ point too stupid to get into MENSA. Which was fine, just fine, because I decided I’d much rather be in the almost-smart club anyway, which we can call NEARSA and that will have as its mascot a giant MIMOSA. And that sounds way more fucking fun, anyway. Open enrollment, let me know if you want in. There are nachos and 3 pm movies and all the giant mimosas you want.

I have lost my place. Oh! Yes. The refreshments counter. Can’t add. Badness abounds.

Whatever movie was playing was generally a good indicator for just how horrible a night I was bound to have. Old-people snoozers were the best nights; I’d only sweat a little as a grand total of five geriatric attendees ordered diet soda and whatever was the softest candy we had in stock. They’d smile at me as I counted out loud while assembling their selections. “Fifty… and one… and fifty… is… $2?” When Bridges of Madison County went up on the marquis, I did the happy dance for days.

Then there was Independence Day – which, incidentally, was the first movie poster I ever saw that had a URL on it. “” I scoffed. “Who’s ever going to remember that? How stupid is this internet business?”

This is why I don’t invest.

Independence Day was flush with teens and young adults, the line snaking up the stairs and all the way out the door. Big rings dampened the sides of my shirt and not even copious amounts of Aqua Net could save my bangs from my anxiety tremors. “Uh… fifty… and one… and one… and seventy five… is… uh… $3. Ish.”

I always brought cash with me, so that at the end of the night, I could put money back into the till to cover all of my miscalculations. I probably paid the theater back half of what I received in pay during that year.

And I wasn’t even allowed to watch movies there.

Worst. Job. Ever.

9:00 on the dot, time to post! Thanks to everyone who participated in the Friday Challenge!



9 Responses to “Friday Challenge: Tales from the worst job I’ve ever had”

  1. Tara

    Seriously fucking awesome. I literally LOL’d through the whole second half of this! Please tell me this will be a regular feature.


      I think it might be. I’d been playing with the idea of doing a Fiction Friday, but I think we’d all much prefer this over reading any of my fiction.

  2. Nella

    Loved! Sounded exactly like Jaimie AND now I’ve found where I belong. NEARSA sounds perfect for me. Math is the worst.


      I am totally going to start a NEARSA club. There will be lots of board games.

  3. Lorriann

    Great post! I learned to count back change in a similar situation at the Burger King Drive-thru in the late 1980’s. There was no cash register at the drive thru window back then! Unthinkable! Before that I had no clue at all, and I would be hard pressed to do it correctly now. I have my mathematician husband handle all that for me. :)


      That’s crazy! They had the technology to build a drive-thru, but no cash register??? Teenagers + exhaust fumes + cash + no accountability = Possibly the best money-laundering scenario ever invented. :)

  4. Alana (@RamblinGarden)

    I have no math skills, even when I’m not under pressure. I worked in a donut shop once but at least I had a cash register. That movie theater job would have been a nightmare for me, too.


      Math is just one of those things, I think. I’m weird because I can work percentages like nobody’s business. And I love politics and can work Electoral College votes faster than I could type them into a calculator. But $1 plus $.50 plus $.75, and I’m done.

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