Popcorn, and Soda, and Sludge, Oh My

This memoir, written by Kristen Cuccoli, recounts a particularly troubling day of work at a movie theater concession stand

By Kristen Cuccoli


“I’ll have a small popcorn, a small Sprite, and a Kit Kat,” a man with short black hair ordered me hastily.

“Would you like a medium popcorn for a dollar more?” Man, I hated upselling, especially when it came to popcorn. I always felt guilty for trying to influence people to get a larger bag of three-day-old, salted puffballs that had a nutritional value similar to air. Maybe even polluted air. However, Mr. Kalick, one of the concession managers here at the movie theaters, was shoveling the old puffballs into puffball bags behind me. If I didn’t upsell, he would chastise me.  

“Sure, whatever,” the man snipped. Ignoring the man’s snippy attitude, I prepared his order. As soon as I was done, the man whipped out his Visa credit card and handed it to me without so much as looking at me. Hiding my relieved smile that I didn’t have to feel so guilty about upselling with the rude guy, I swiped his credit card with a slight flourish. Before I could say “enjoy your movie,” the man quickly walked away with his items.

“Next time, don’t forget to hand the customer their receipt and remember to say ‘Enjoy your movie’,” Mr. Kalick said to me, his tone deep and intimidating. My mind was saying that I should tell my narcissist of a manager that I didn’t forget and that the man just walked away too quickly. Instead, my head just nodded in obedience. Who was I kidding; I was just a goody two shoes, always obeying other people.

“Now, I need to go back to the office. Make sure you clean the counter and cabinets, guys,” Mr. Kalick said, now addressing me and my other co-worker, Patrick. Once again I nodded in obedience, and I watched Patrick do the same. After Mr. Kalick left the concessions stand and entered the manager’s’ office across the lobby, I heard Patrick sigh.

“I don’t know how you do it Kristen. That guy and Mr. Kalick were mean and you didn’t snap. I wish I was like you,” Patrick said, his black beard bristling as he smiled. I was very grateful to Patrick. Not only was he a great co-worker, but a great friend. He was always nice to me and he shared many of my interests.

“Thanks. I wish I could speak my mind sometimes like you, though,” I said, walking to the cabinet that had all the cleaning supplies.

“Yeah, but sometimes you can get into trouble when you speak your mind. Sometimes, it’s not even worth it,” Patrick remarked, grabbing the blue-checkered cloth that I handed to him. I nodded to show that I understood and began to spray the section of the counter closest to me with the orange spray bottle. I was about to hand the bottle over to Patrick when I began to hear a peculiar sound. It sounded like something was bubbling, like a witch’s cauldron in a scary movie.

“Do you hear that?” I asked Patrick.

“Yeah, what on Ear–” Patrick couldn’t complete his question.

All of a sudden, a gush of water started spewing from the drain on the floor in front of one of the popcorn warmers. My eyebrows shot up while Patrick’s mouth dropped so low that he could catch flies with it.

After I recovered from my confusion, I sprung into action. I bee-lined for the walkie-talkie, which was on another section of the counter on the opposite side of the puddle. I was thanking God that the puddle was still small enough for me to move around because it wasn’t just your standard, typical puddle. It was a puddle filled with black sludge.

As I passed the drain, I almost cursed out loud when the smell from it attacked me. A whiff of rotten fish hit my nose, which made my stomach turn. In a desperate attempt to prevent my stomach from making the black puddle green, I snatched up the walkie-talkie and put it to my lips.

“Uh, Mr. Kalick, water is bubbling up onto the floor from the drain behind the concessions stand.” As I waited for a response, I looked over to see Patrick roll a yellow mop bucket out from the back of the concession stand. He then grabbed one of the two mops that was sitting in the bucket and began to swipe back and forth at the black puddle. I could tell his attempts would be futile. The black water just kept bubbling out of the drain, like water from a fountain. A fountain of death.

When I heard no response on the walkie-talkie, I decided to help Patrick. I knew it would also be futile, but I thought that maybe we could keep one spot dry for a while. I jumped over the puddle, my heel landing on the outermost edge of the sticky puddle. At that point, I almost did turn the puddle green. Once I reached Patrick, I then slid the other mop out of the bucket and began to swipe at the puddle. It took two seconds before the grey threads of the crappy old mop, which was probably used since the age of the dinosaurs, swelled with the black water. It was then that I heard the door to the manager’s office open, and Mr. Kalick walked out.

About time, I thought.

“Hey, Mr. Kalick, all of sudden water started gushing out of the drain. It doesn’t look like sewer water, just some decaying popcorn and soda. Are we going to close down concessions?” Patrick asked. My heart leaped at the thought of concessions closing down early and me driving away in my car. Away from this fountain of death that was spurting rotten popcorn and soda.

My heart then froze when I looked up at Mr. Kalick’s face. His dark brown eyes stared at us blankly and his mouth remained in a stiff, straight line. It then moved just enough to get his next words out.

“Just keep mopping until it stops.”

I didn’t know what to say. I knew though that even if I did have something to say, my complaints would just be as annoying as the buzzing noises that mosquitoes made and would be swatted away by Mr. Kalick.

All of a sudden, a voice came through Mr. Kalick’s walkie-talkie. Mr. Kalick sighed and walked away, mumbling something into his walkie-talkie. Another problem that would be left unsolved due to Mr. Kalick.

“‘Just keep mopping until it stops’ Yeah right. Look, it’s almost spreading along the entire concession stand floor,” Patrick said. He was right. Fortunately, the water coming out of the drain started turning clear, but there was still black sludge everywhere. I nodded to Patrick and was just about to squeeze out my prehistoric mop when I saw a young lady approach my register. An idea popped into my head then. We workers were like mosquitoes if we complained to Mr. Kalick, but the complaints of a customer were more sacred than God’s Ten Commandments. I placed the mop back in the bucket, and after pushing all my skived feelings down, I treaded through the sludge water to my register.  As soon as I reached my register, I gave my best customer-friendly smile.

“Sorry, we are having a bit of a drain problem.” I said, moving my foot back and forth in the sticky water to make a point. I kept smiling like an idiot as I imagined the lady saying that was gross, ask why Patrick and I were still working in the slop, and find a manager to close down concessions. My smile disappeared as I saw the lady stare blankly at me.

“Oh. Well, I’ll have a small popcorn with butter and a small Diet Coke,” the lady ordered. Did she not hear me? Did she not smell the awful rotten fish odor?

“Oh, well, what I’m trying to say is, that gross water is bubbling out from our drain back here. I’m not sure, if you want your food,” I stuttered. The lady then cocked her head to the side, staring at me as if I just spoke in Japanese.

“Well it’s not touching the popcorn or candy or drinks, right, since everything is high up?”

“Uh, you’re right,” I responded softly.

“Good. Now, I’ll have my small popcorn and small Diet Coke,” she ordered, handing me a crisp, green $20 bill. I was speechless. How did this lady not care about the rotten fish smell coming from the drain? How did she not care that there was black sludge everywhere? How did she not care about someone who was standing in a fountain of death?

All of a sudden, a small, yellow bag of popcorn appeared in my peripheral vision. I turned to see Patrick, grinning like the Grinch. I then watched as he placed the bag on the corner, slowly, like a shooter pointing a gun at a target. He then whacked it just enough that the popcorn at the top, which always had the most butter, hit the lady’s crisp, white shirt. The lady stepped back as if she was peed on, looking down at her now yellow-speckled shirt. In actuality, it kind of did look like someone peed on her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Patrick said, his voice bordering on sarcasm. I swore I saw a blue vein start to pop on the woman’s head as she glared at him.

Patrick paid no attention to her as he focused on scooping the popcorn that spilled onto the counter into his hand. Not wanting the lady to yell at Patrick, or worse, complain to Mr. Kalick, I quickly got another bag of popcorn, put the disgusting (so-called) butter on it, and picked out a water bottle from the mini-fridge. I then flung the items onto the counter.

“That would be $11.50 please,” I said a little too quickly. The lady then had her dark eyes pierce into mine. Instead of averting my eyes, I looked back at her. At that point, all I could feel was pity for this woman who had no emotions except anger. She huffed in defeat and once again handed me the $20 bill. I quickly took it and gave back her change. The lady then gathered up the items on the counter, and walked, or more stomped, away.

As soon as she entered one of the theaters, Patrick and I both looked at each other. After a few moments, we burst out laughing.

“Oh man, that was great! Thanks for the save Patrick,” I exclaimed.

“Thank you for keeping her calm at the end. I think we make a pretty good team,” Patrick said.

“I agree.” I then watched as Patrick picked up his prehistoric mop and turned towards me.

“I know it’s pointless, but shall we get back to it?” Patrick asked. I then smiled, walked over to the mop bucket, and picked up my mop.

“Nah. I challenge you to a singing competition!”

In between customers, we sang songs like “It’s Raining Men,” “Water Under the Bridge” and “Smoke on the Water” while using our mops like microphone stands. Although the fountain of death continued to bubble, we splashed all around it as we sang.

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