Before there was Home Theater, there was the Springfield Mall Six, a run-down s-hole that was home to my very first paying job. Also the first (of nearly every other job) to fire me. Wanted to share the experience as part of my on-going therapy. The year was 1988, and nothing could be cooler for a Film Fan like myself than actually working at a movie theater, even if the place was on the brink of closure for health and building code violations. (Rat turds in the popcorn? We got 'em! That sticky stuff on the floors of our theaters? Ain't cola, my friend! (And no, this wasn't a porn multiplex.) This theater was inside the mall, split between a two-screen house and a four-screen, on the lower level (just 'cross the River Styx). The two-screen was Paradise compared to its larger partner, which smelled like 32 Flavors of Funk and literally had lichen growing on the backs of its screens; I was pleased, therefore, to have been hired as Theater 1 & 2's part-time Concessions Clerk, Second Register. I mean come on, the job came with its own navy blue polyester vest and tie! Theater 1 & 2 sat directly across the hall from a Chinese restaurant that would have looked more at home off an alley in Kowloon, surrounded by snake vendors and black market stalls selling still-pulsating human organs from hand-woven rice steamers. Its entrance was a terrifying circular maw painted bright red, carved in the shape of a dragon eating its own tail, and came equipped with its own pair of leather-jacketed drug dealers that would heckle me on my way in and out of work every day in Cantonese. Not the best neighbors. (There's a Bennigan's there now. I don't know which is worse.) The manager of both theater complexes was a gruff, rail-thin old bastard whose name I'll be discreet enough not to mention (Mr. Hodges). He chain-smoked Camels and wore the same beige shirt every day and had this amazing shock of gray-white hair that probably needed a gallon of Penzoil to stay coifed like it did, in a sort of blazing exclamation mark. Hodges hated everything to do with the movie industry -- everything to do with life, really -- and took it out on his loving employees by generally being the biggest prick in Fairfax County. He must also have had a special hatred for Fat Kids in Polyester Vests, because this guy drilled me like a Black & Decker cordless; he couldn't stand me, and I was utterly terrified of this old man. Even though I had six inches and probably a hundred pounds on him, he looked like the kind of scrappy old fart that could whoop your ass without breaking a sweat. If it weren't for Bob -- the Theater 1 & 2 manager and the guy that had actually hired me -- I would have crapped my (matching polyester navy blue) Sans-A-Belts after the first day of work and gone home crying, plagued for years by nightmares of Hodges's nicotene-stained tyranny. But Bob (not his real name, out of respect; Hodges IS Hodges's real name, HODGES!!) was a wonderful guy, funny and easy-going, a movie and video game buff that would join us 'corn jockeys down in the arcade for an hour's worth of GALAGA on our half-hour breaks. Bob was just fun. The job itself, however, sucked. I quickly learned that there was nothing more annoying than moviegoers when viewed from the other side of the concessions counter. And this was no place for a bright, delicate (pudgy, greasy) young man to work; ankle-deep in stray popcorn, crazy-glued to the floor with leaking syrup from the pressurized fountain soda cannisters (these were always ticking ominously like surplus torpedos, waiting for an excuse to spray me with Pepsi-flavored shrapnel), nearly glowing in the dark from a sheen of finely-spattered Hot Butter-Flavored Goop (ask for it by name!) that we dispensed from a machine that had been built -- based on the paleolithic slabs of Old Hot Butter-Flavored Goop that clung to its insides -- around the time Talkies were coming to town. Being yelled at by pinheads late for their fifteenth showing of POLICE ACADEMY 5 because I was too slow squeegying toe-cheese-smelling 'nacho' sludge on chips you could paint red and white and play poker with. Constant rashes from the Concessions Monkey uniform, which included its own shirt worn so paper-thin from previous Fat Guys that I had to wear several layers underneath to prevent embarassing nipple exposure. But nothing -- nothing -- about that job sucked more than the Diet Pepsi Machine on Icy Cold Beverage Dispenser Station #2. This thing was my White Whale. My Quixotic windmill. The bane of my short, itchy, butter-flavored employment at the Springfield Mall Six. Station 2's Diet Pepsi dispenser, you see, had a wire loose somewhere in its syrup-crusted innards. In this modern day and age, full of shiny polymers and plastics, this wouldn't have been a problem; but this unit had surely been manufactured somewhere behind the Iron Curtain by syphilitc communists and was made mostly of hammered aluminum, a material that conducts electricity with fascinating aggression. So well, in fact, that one Saturday afternoon during the veritable invasion of children and their hateful parents that descended on Theaters 1 & 2 for the opening matinee of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, this particular Carbonated Beverage Dispensing Unit decided it would try to electrocute me. We opened our doors early that fateful morning, eager to cram as many Ritalin-starved Twizzler addicts into the house as we could before nap-nap time. And oh how the children came. They came in groups of ten and twelve, typically herded by a single red-faced chaperone unaware scant minutes before of the kind of terror they had volunteered themselves for and looking for another human being older than 8 to take it out on. That poor soul, on a miserably hot summer day beneath layers of polyester, was me. And Evil came to the Springfield Six in the form of a big fat load named Connie Puttle. ...more to follow.