I slammed the door in front of him causing him to run into it with his chocolate shake. He smashed the cup right into his jacket, and now the ice cream was running down into his pants. At first, when he looked down, he was sad. All that delicious treat… ruined, and now soaking into his clothes.
However, by the time he looked up at me, he had already turned his sad into mad. After all, he was on his way to sneaking into a free movie with his delicious chocolate beverage, when some person stepped in and fuckered it all up.
I was that person. I was Marius Gustaitis, hired representative of Black Knight Security, sub-contracted to Mann Theaters for twenty dollars an hour (ten of which I would keep before taxes) and your worst nightmare, Mr. Sneak-in-while-other patrons-exit-the-back.
I bet you never figured on running into a petty and pissed-off dry drunk in need of either a program of recovery or a case and a half of ice cold sweating bottles of Heineken. I bet you never thought when you saw that open door, that a man, strung tighter than a meth addict’s banjo, was watching it intensely, like an animal snare, just waiting for someone to trip it.
Well, you tripped it alright, and now you’re dangling upside down from a tree limb like a Piñata representing everything wrong with his picture. Is it time to rip your head off and bludgeon your sagging torso with it? Gosh, I hope so. That would be swell. What time is it?
“What the fuck, dude?!” he said, backing off and squaring his shoulders, then flipping his hands out in the universal sign for querying, ” Do you want some of this?” Ah, the old Come-and-Get-It stance, except his had a coating of cool chocolatey creaminess that took down the threat-level a peg or two. If he was going to come after me, he would’ve done it a long time ago. Myself, I wouldn’t be asking a bunch of questions. You food me, and I go into a red-out. Just another thing I have.
“No happy show for you. Only bad times,” I said, the adrenaline taking a toll on my eloquence. I sound like an angry, Chinatown merchant, I thought. Buck fever. You see them in the cross-hairs and the scope starts to shake. So close. Don’t scare him off. Don’t let him see The Crazy. Calm down. Goad him back in.
“You should be a good citizen ship,” I told him, “And sail straight, observing all bylaws.”
There I was, a middle-aged man in a suit and tie, with a thimbleful of authority, spouting off some some square do-gooder pablum. That would have me swinging. Do it. Please take a swing.
They never do. Not when you really want them to. It never happens. Never. He smelled it. His animal instincts were dialed in. No, this suit is stuffed with explosives.
“Chocolate shakes are bad for you,” I scolded,” You need sunshine and exercise.” I even managed my Happy Face with Bright Eyes, but to no avail. He turned and beat it down the alley.
Alright, that was still semi-okay. At least I ruined his night. That’s something. Nobody was going to have a good time on my watch.
Not if I’m not.
I walked back around to the front of the theater. Out on the promenade, some long-legged sex bomb clacked by in ice pick heels, swinging a vintage Whiting and Davis purse. I smiled. She smiled back. Dude, she totally wants you. Or, she will once she finds out you’re a 40 year-old, non-drinking alcoholic, working as a rent-a-cop for a movie theater.
You’ll get some leg tonight, for sure. That was a woman, right? I didn’t see any Laryngeal prominence, but her mitts looked a little ping-pong paddley.
I went back inside the theater and took my post towards the back, where I could keep an eye on the patrons coming in and any renegades trying to cross-pollinate theaters. Not that I cared about Mann Theaters losing out on money, or any kids seeing a movie with a higher rating. I just didn’t like the idea of anyone thinking they got over on me. Mine was an ego-based sense of justice. I was beginning to understand the mind-set of cops and prison guards.
How bleak. How utterly demoralizing. This was my reward for giving up beer. I don’t know if any reward would’ve seemed big enough at that point, ungrateful wretch that I was, but this job sure wasn’t it.
Let me back up. After rehab, my buddy, Spike, invited me to stay with him in Redondo Beach. What the hell. It was hard knocking around Santa Fe sober. I felt like some alien had invaded my body and was now making me live someone else’s life, somebody who doesn’t stop in at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame for a few pints of Guinness and a frozen Margarita kicker before hitting the liquor store on his way home from work. It was just too disconcerting.
I took Spike up on his offer and loaded up my internally bleeding Ford Bronco II, and pointed it’s overheating radiator West. I stretched a cumulus cloud of white smoke across two state lines and stopped when I hit ocean.
Spike was a good bro. He let me sleep on his couch rent-free until I could afford to pay towards a larger apartment. He really wanted to see me make it. Looking back, probably more than I did.
My first job was working for a florist named Gary. I saw the help wanted sign and walked in. I told him the whole truth: almost 30 years of drinking, destroying my life, crashing and burning, rehab, now trying to live sober, and looking for a job while surfing a buddy’s couch down the street. A Fortune 500 resume if he ever heard one. It turned out that this charming little bald, gay man, was 20 years sober, and I had just aced my interview.
I got along with Gary and the ladies that worked for him. Because my mom had always been into floral arrangement, I pretty much grew up around it. I knew how to put together a Japanese Ikibana arrangement by the time I was eleven. I know. Pretty gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with gay. I just wasn’t, and would’ve rather learned to shoot skeet or drive a tractor by eleven instead.
Now however, being able to spike some pussy willows into a shallow vase, taking care to divide the branches to represent Heaven, Earth, and Man according to Japanese tradition, was winning me big points with my new boss, and his harem of female workers. Big thanks, Mom. The ladies and Gary liked my stories and would laugh as I recounted my drunken misadventures while we sat around assembling wedding centerpieces. They didn’t seem to think less of me because of my past. At least they didn’t show it, and I really appreciated that.
I wound up picking up another job as well. I got a job as a bouncer at a strip club in Gardena. So, during the day I played with flowers with a bunch of giggling gals, and at night, I tussled with drunk and drug-crazed degenerates, and hung out with strippers, at a ghetto flesh joint. It was a full life to be sure. I was enjoying the novelty of sobriety. Stuff like having my boss walk up to me and not having to bend at a 45 degree angle at the ankles to avoid him smelling my breath. I thought that all my problems were over now that alcohol was out of the picture.
The problem was that the alcoholic was still in the picture, and this one not doing anything to fix what was troubling him so much in the first place. The novelty of not being drunk eventually wore off, and things began to bug me like before. But now, I had no release. So I just gutted it all up and tried to hold my mud as best I could. If you pressed your ear to the lapel of my suit, you would hear the ticking of the time bomb.
I became a raging square. I morphed into some kind of uptight Jack Webb, an angry middle-aged white man, resentful of anyone I suspected might be happier or having more fun than me, which when you’re that miserable, is everyone.
I remember when C.C., one of the dancers from the club, took me to Venice Beach one afternoon for lunch. Instead of enjoying the company of a pretty stripper on a beach full of freaks, I spent the date sneering at the colorful populace and mumbling epitaphs under my breath. All the free-wheeling wierditry irritated me. We’d pass by some rollerskating cosmic troubadour trying to hustle his next forty ounce, and I’d just hate on him.
“Good for you, Ding-Dong Daddy. Wave your freeloading freak flag high, you bongo-beating, rainbow dong thong-wearing parasite. Go ahead, use up all the freedom and fun under the warm California sun. Some of us have to work for a living.” Yeah, basically jealous. and when you’re jealous of a lunatic panhandler, your way of life isn’t working for you. More coffee. More cigarettes. More anger.
One of the other bouncers at the club, an ex- Marine named Joe Washington, had gotten a side job with a security company. He told me this company provided executive security, something I was not entirely unqualified for, since my work credits in Central America would transfer. Far out. A jaw-clenching reactionary providing a little muscle to escort self-important paranoidals seemed like a perfect fit. A God shot. But there was a catch.
Joe explained, that the only openings the owner had were for providing suit-and-tie security for a few Mann movie theaters in L.A., including the one in Westwood where they held all the big openings. But, as real body-guarding positions opened up, we’d be first pick.
I met with the owner and told him a little about my qualifying work experience, leaving out the couch-surfing-alcoholic-trying-to-stay-sober stuff. He hired me and gave me a black t-shirt with a logo of a stylized knight chess piece. “Dark Knight Security,” it said, “Knows Your Next Move.” I remember he gave it to me almost ceremonially, like he was handing me an ancestral samurai sword. I mean it was a quality t-shirt, you know, one of those Beefy Tees, but it was still just a t-shirt. And a presumptuous one at that .
Regardless, I got a third job in as many months, was building up some savings, and soon enough, would be body-guarding the rich and famous. That wouldn’t have happened if I was drinking. I decided to drop the florist gig, so that I could dedicate more time to becoming the baddest sober bad-ass I could.
I ran the beach, biked to Marina Del Rey and back, worked out on my bag, and lifted weights like a convict. The exercise did me good. I shed the last of my beer muscles and leaned out. I got back to my fighting weight. I looked good in my suit again. It would only be a matter of time before I was shepherding some rich sheep safely through this wilderness of pain known as Los Angeles, California, a pair of .40 caliber pistols strapped across my bullet proof. I just had to wait it out at these stupid movie theater posts in the meantime.
What I didn’t know then, was that the meantime, would be the only time. There were no body-guarding positions with this company. It was all bullshit. The owner was an ex-L.A.P.D. cop that had to suddenly resign from the force. We could never piece together his story why, but Joe and I had our suspicions. After a while though we did piece together that he was just stringing us along. The only jobs he had for us were as rent-a-porkers, but in suits and ties instead of the standard Boy Scout/Crossing Guard uniform.
My first night was at the theater over on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I stood in the lobby, trying to front all Secret Service sinister while watching families and couples spill popcorn across the carpet, when it hit me like a bolt. Oh fuck. I’ve done this before. When I was eighteen I got a job working as an usher at a Mann Theater. It was now over twenty years later, and here I am again back at Mann Theaters, basically doing the same thing, and adjusting for inflation, getting paid the same.
Sure, my suit was better than the polyester, Mid-Western realtor’s jacket and tie they made me wear back then. But, if that’s all you have to show for twenty years of evolution, a better monkey suit, you’re not setting the world on fire with your ascent up the social ladder, Rocket Boy. I was right back where I was before my drinking took off. Back at square Go. The irony of it all stained my lips and teeth black with it’s bitter berry juice.
I was usually shuffled between two theaters, the one at Third Street Promenade playground of the well-to-do in Santa Monica, and a more run-down one in Culver City, with a lower-income, higher-gang member demographic. At which one do you suppose I had all the problems? Think about it. You got it.
I never had any problems at the Culver City one. I’m not kidding. There they would be, Bloods and Crips, watching the same movie together, behaving like good little boys and girls. I suspect there was a general truce regarding theaters, neither side wanting to fuck up being able to go to the movies in peace. Sure, there were the usual sneak-in attempts and theater jumpings, but they never gave me a hard time when I caught them. It was understood we were playing a cat and mouse game and there were no hard feelings.
I even had to empty the whole place one night, in the middle of everyone’s movies, because of a fire alarm. There was some grouching and irritated questions, but nobody went ballistic.
Meanwhile, back in Santa Monica, I’m squared off and ready to start trading hooks with some dad, wearing a sweater tied around his shoulders and soft leather driving loafers. He insists on bringing in his leftover spaghetti dinner against the no outside food policy. He didn’t want to go put it away in his car because…he didn’t want to miss the previews to this Disney movie he was taking his family to. I swear to you. I’m not making this up just to create great literature.
I’m thinking, “It’s spaghetti with meat sauce, dude.” This guy looks like he owns an Audi dealership, and he’s blowing a shit fit over 77 cents worth of food. If those previews are so precious, I would take the foil tray outside and drop kick it over the sunglasses kiosk across the way. This guy was willing to risk getting his ass kicked in front of his family over it.
He’s up in my face, seething with rage, white hot spittle foaming in the corners of his mouth.
“It’s the principal! The principal!” he keeps sputtering.
Everybody in the lobby has stopped to look. The manager, Mike, is hanging back watching. I didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved at this point. A guy like this one is usually well-lawyered. They don’t get this bold without knowing they can hang you with a juicy law suit. Is this his game? Is he trying to bait me into taking the first shot? Interesting role-reversal. Maybe he thinks a shot is the chops is worth a three week vacation in Vanuatu, including the jet-ski rental, on-call masseur and helicopter tours.
All this going through my head as he’s screaming at me. His wife has got the kids, but she’s not trying to pull him back or calm him down. She must be in on it. The kids don’t seem to be too freaked out either. Have you seen Daddy do this before?
“I am going to bring this dinner in with me,” he announces, “I am walking in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
That’s where he was wrong, of course. I’m mentally spinning a Lazy Susan of choices. I recognized that his assholeness should have consequences, but how painful those should be was now being mitigated by the presence of his family, and the possibility of legal repercussions. This was not stuff I worried about when I was drinking. But what would be an appropriate response to punish this impudent and petulant little turd? Just the right amount of pain sprinkled over a generous portion of shame.
That’s when I realized my old behavior wouldn’t serve me. Sure I could kick out his knees and rub his snout into the rug like a bad doggy, forever scarring his kid’s image of him as Daddy Hero. And while that would be deeply satisfying and personally gratifying, I might eventually regret it. Why not play his game instead?
I decided that if he so much as brushed against me on his way to the Disney previews, I would go down like an NFL punter. Totally take a dive, making sure to hit my head hard on the floor, so hard that I might night be able to recognize relatives or pronounce words with more than once consonant. “I can’t feel my penis. What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”
We’ll see who winds up jet-skiing in Vanuatu, bitch balls.
“Please don’t make impotent threats. I command you to halt,” I said, holding my hand up, but splaying the fingers slightly to suggest a weak defensive gesture, my wrist bent almost effeminately. I also used “impotent” on a hunch. Hot button? Hoped so.
Unfortunately, I have a bad poker face. People can read the thoughts going through my head with the ease of a teleprompter. As soon as I decided I would hit him where it hurt most, namely his Audi dealership, dry-cleaning franchise, or whatever enterprise had shod his hoofs with such elegant supple leather slippers, he started to balk. His animal instincts were dialed in.
Instead, he looked up. His rage was gone. He was now weighing things in his head. Meanwhile, I’m trying to telepathically implant crazy violent ideas, trying to stave off the sanity I saw leaking in. C’mon, bust a move motherfucker! Just shove the flunky theater security lug out of the way on your march towards victory. Run for the roses. Trample those that deny you your spaghetti leftovers underfoot, in the fierce day of your pride.
He turned to his wife.
“I’m going to take this out to the car.”
I watched him walk out of the theater, and with him, my hopes for getting out of this stupid job. They never go for it when you really want them to. They never do. Never.
There would be no quick fix to my situation. Alcoholics prefer their fixes quick. Deus ex Machina, descend upon our wretchedness! No, I was going to have to learn how to wait. Maybe things were unfolding at just the right pace. How could you ever really know? Except maybe in retrospect. I resigned myself to think so, if only to delude myself into not being so uptight. What the hell, right? You can believe whatever you want. You might as well believe something that helps you make it through another day with out taking a drink. Unless, you don’t want to make it through another day without taking a drink.
In that case, carry on. You know what you have to do.
I went back to my post and checked my watch. Two and a half more hours to go. I looked up and saw two teenagers jump the ropes and run for theater 4. They looked back at me. I waved. Fuck it. Enjoy yourself, kids. I’ll do my best, too.