The Cinema Dwellers 

At the sink behind the cinema’s bar there lives a nest of fruit flies. From time to time the manager remembers the buggers, and believing that they need more than a ZAP with the shocker or the spray, he goes in with his fists, grabbing handfuls of eggy goo. Just like the forgotten, rotten, fly infested half peeled orange behind the bar, the cinema plays host to a swarm of the gentrified unemployed. They’ve been nesting there, lost and lonely, day and night, brooding and breeding tragedy. The staff can’t zap them, or grab their slime with a fist, and they don’t feel too sorry for these dwellers, so they often forget that they’re there. Even a blast of Bowie at the end of the night doesn’t blow them out the door. So the staff turn off the lights and skip to the roof for a cig. But they’re still there, hiding at the back, noticing that yesterday’s newspapers haven’t been thrown away yet, straightening the menus and pretending that they’re part of the team. The manager checks the closedown: ‘ hey, you can’t just turn off the lights and leave. You may not think those guys count, but they do!’

The cinema is a great shelter for those trying to avoid their desert scape home lives. An escape! The flow and swell of all the customers, the dates, families and friends whose chatter and good mood wash around the bar, swilling out the residue of the dweller’s sadness. NOISE is fantastically distracting. From their sense of familiarity with the cinema grows a feeling of family. This ‘Family’ -> sprung from familiarity like the offshoot of a twisted nettle. The same background CD playing out in the bar has a beat – that beat, the one that they can hold on to. The journey of the cutlery from one mouth to the dishwasher, staff’s tea-towel, another mouth and back again. Until eventually the cycle will bring the same knife and fork back to their plates. It’s a chain of contact, retracted and returned from a smile, to a yawn, chipped front tooth, saliva, fairy liquid, and right back around to the banal beginning. 

For the dwellers, a trip to the cinema is the day to day; not a treat, a break, an escape, but a routine. They don’t love film, some dwellers don’t even watch them, but they love being at the cinema. If they’re not there for the silent 2ish hours of escape in the dark, I think it’s the company that they come for. Company/ companionship in the loosest sense- it just being around other bodies, rubbing up next to another’s good mood. So many opportunities for interrupting – the people in the line, couple at the kiosk, students on their laptops, and the other lonely dwellers all milling around. Same clothes, same drink order, same seat, same sadness. Day by day distractions from their discontent. They Like the familiarity of the place and the fact that the people who work there don’t just tell them to ‘fuck off’. But the staff are full of bitchy thoughts. They crouch down behind the bar, squatting on a blue roll and secretly take the piss. The squirts of steam from the coffee machine whip up a cloud of noise, diluting the sound of sniggering.  

Cinema Kisses

Skin so cracked and dry it would fuck up your finger prints. It’s the feel of Danny’s rough touch holding my hand (more like ‘holding onto my hand’). He anchors his groans and complaints onto my ear “ooh no, I’m so tired, eurgh I’m broken”. I want my nasty little thoughts to seep into the air and push away his bad mood.

Now I see him in his work uniform polo shirt, coffee stains and milk splashes. My mind’s memory eye latches onto his chest hair, strips his clothes and pulls him close. The slightly squidgy, blue boxered, horizontal Danny. He’s got a full bottom lip that bulges in between mine. Nothing like this withered, work Danny: huffing and puffing those ciggies up on the roof.  

But I still like the sound of his laugh, too much. I check the rota for his bright pink box next to my dark blue, and I get a little pleased. I make sure to bring my lipstick with me on those Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights, when pink box sits right next to dark blue.  

Danny in the darkness of the cinema- when we watch a film after work, hold hands and lean across for zingy kisses, the knee squeeze and a handful of popcorn. Slurp slurp! Impatient for another more intimate, natural night time darkness, the you + me wrapped up in bedtime darkness.  

But up on the roof it’s pigeons and ash and black uniform tops. We’re so formal in the daytime, (paid time). The sober sun sinks his mood and my conviction that this is something more than a played out scene. On my part, I’m playing a part. I can feel the lightness of my sincerity when I stroke his rough hand under the counter, and brush back his hair in the dark.

Cinema work is about providing the fantastical. My colleagues’ common interest revolves around how ‘convincing’ an actor was, the ‘meaningful camera work’ that is ‘thematically significant’. ‘The set’ ‘the angle’ ‘the 2d insincerity!’ I’m a popcorn professional ‘representing the line of the company’, representing my silly self. Shoot my good side would you, and kiss me quick before I go ‘PUFF!’ up in a cloud of popcorn dust. Work romances: another carefree game, another little subplot story of the cinema. “Oh hi Danny!” Just give me a little bit of honesty, up on that roof.  

Expiring Popcorn

 The usher stands outside the cinema screens holding a bin bag and a brush, collecting the rubbish and impressions of the audience who walk by. Swarms of ‘oh darling’ WASPy wannabe Ladies who clink their ‘dry white, 2 ice cubes’ glasses and cackle at jokes about things that are ‘such a bother’. Will I grow to want my nails painted professionally salmon pink? Maybe a designer bra will seem ‘a necessity’ to push my tits back up as they start to sag. I hope I don’t eat a packet of gourmet popcorn and ‘oops silly me!’ leave the dropped wrapper on the floor for someone else…to maintain me.

I watch the ‘silver screen’ pensioner customers and wonder if I will think much about how I am old when I am really really old. The props of age must clutter up your carefree mind: Sticks, and pills, 3 pairs of glasses, coughs and shakes… making you moody! Maybe it all doesn’t matter, if you’ve still got someone holding your wrinkly hand (and a weekly routine lil’ dose of escapism at the ‘silver screen’). Perhaps time feels different when you’re old, as it takes you so much longer for your body to do anything. When you have so many memories that are compressed and reworked in your mind, do you dream more of what you once did, rather than (like me) trying to picture what you could/ should do? Maybe spending your free time (and my paid time) at the cinema isn’t such a bad way to live hey.

‘What’s 50p Between Friends?’

  

Sylvie and Mary can’t dance, but they love to watch the ballet. They book up the whole season and always come together to see the shows. It’s important that they sit right at the back because they find the stairs ‘unforgiving’.  

Bright and young, at 21 they met in an art gallery. Time then sashayed, twirled and leaped forward into an embrace with their 89th year. Nowadays, Mary (who is the more robust of the two) cares for her friend. She repeats all the things that Sylvie cannot hear, sorts her 50ps from the 20ps, and holds her hand to guide her to a seat. Sylvie and Mary stage their own private, protective production, as they speak in the right direction, volume and proximity for the other one to hear.  

‘Tell me dear, do you have body and soul together?’ Sylvie asked me once. I’m not too sure if I do, but how can you either Sylvie? It’s seems that the stitching between the body and soul frays as you get older. When your hands shake and scatter the change onto the counter, and your stride slows to a shuffle. Hair pins used to cling together in groups to secure your thick brown hair, but now they fall, because it’s hard to hold onto faint wisps of cobweb grey. Then you ‘take a fall’, so shoes get more sensible. Your laugh gets chased by a cough, and you can ‘feel it in your bones’ that the fabric is fraying. “What did you say dear?”  

Staff on the Roof

Up on the roof you’ll spot some half smoked ciggies; pigeons, poets and kisses (secret smooching only when it’s dark). The staff lean, huddle, perch, and if someone’s feeling a little flirty they may sidle up next to the guy hogging the step. Beer barrels are bystanders, and fruit crates prop up the awkward lemon: a newbie who doesn’t smoke but is there ‘just coz’.

 Clouds do their cycle; white fluff to moody grey, disappear and back again. Just like us. Our collective feeling and tone of conversation changes like the weather pattern. The only constant is a crane: stooped in the near distance, bowing down to the hovering  sun/ moon.

 There’s a boom and slump of the cinema trade cycle throughout the day. We like the little patches of customer inactivity, when they’re all comfy and rustling in their red velvet seats. This lets us steal a few cheeky puffs of a ciggie, up on the roof.

A boy reads out his poem about the street cleaners in Japan, and a girl cackles at a joke that she’s heard before. At some point we all sigh when we think about the customers; their complaints, mess and malfunction all cranking away below.

A noisy fan extracts the air from the cinema and blows out the stuffiness into our private break space. There’s a handy poster of a cartoon blue blob monster, he’s the authority that tells us to ‘ put your litter in the bin’. But there ain’t no bin, so I’ll have to stick my gum to The Man, up on the roof.

 If there’s one, five or even the intimate two, someone will always be a little lost in their private phone world. They’re escaping this escape by texting and ‘liking’, but we’ve learnt to not feel that their semi- absence is awkward, when we’re up on the roof.

 It’s a real fantastical scene played out just above the unreal action on the screen. We’re all evaporated and floating in a situation where we don’t feel quite ourselves. Dried milk splashes and popcorn dust cling to our black uniform tops. We don’t look smart, but we’re all the same, so that looks alright I suppose.

  

 Ms Rods ‘n’ Cones (2)

  
Reappears in January …

She’s back. Rods ‘n’ cones lady comes in with two blue large handbags of equal size but different texture. Are her eye’s rods ‘ n’ cones powerful enough to tell that they’re slightly mismatched shades of blue, coming too close to a clash? But rods ‘n’ cones makes her own distinctive point. And maybe, I suspect, for her the point is not co- ordination, but boldness. She stands out in her crookedness . The impossibility of her as a continuous, surviving being is manifest in the way that her ragged trunk weighs down on a pin- thin sharp pointed kitten heel. The shoe is like a derelict casino, crushing down on its supporting slither of column. Like the relationship between body and shoe, Ms rods ‘n’cones’ whole being sways, teetering on the edge of chaos. 

So at odds with herself, she holds a mismatched half moon and sun high on her face. Here is another impossibility that rods ‘n’ cones rises above: Her day/ night eyes beam out across the cinema foyer. She’s enlightening everyone with some pointless facts and questionings; “can you believe it that she’s never been here before?! It’s only down the road from the library where we spend all day. You must have seen this woman before?!” 

Rods ‘n’ cones is pointing to her new found companion from the library : a short , plump, draggy dressed Indian woman. I do believe that this woman has not been to this cinema before because she’s on a photo taking frenzy. Even the grubby fake plants and menu holders are being snapped at and stored by this woman’s camera. So Intense with her photo action I thought; ‘is this the old blind friend?! Could she have been given the gift of rods’ n’ cones and newly entered the world of the seeing?!’ 

Desperate to preserve all of her visual ‘moments’, Rods n Cones’ friend valued the look of that menu holder, the beer mat, potted plant, and plate of chips more than any other customer did. Possessing an instant awe and fondness for things that she could see held magnificence, where others would disregard them for their dullness. 

To be a friend of Ms Rods n Cones, I believe you don’t need to be blind. Just numb to ‘the normal’, with a dulled sensitivity for the absurd. 

Messy Popcorn 

Customers are messy creatures with slimy habits; they love to litter. Amongst the weirdest and most horrible of the discarded belongings are: half a boiled egg, a piles cushion, toffees chewed and spat out, and a poo! A festering turd, a frikkin poo!! Someone took a dump in their seat and just left it for the usher to find. It was a secret shitter scandal! Who is this outlaw? A podgy, pongy woman with shark eyes and a jellyfish body was discussing ‘whether just to leave it?’with her sidekick friend as she skulked off to the NO EXIT.

It’s funny what people choose to do in that big dark room full of silent strangers. If it’s not totally silent we sometimes get complaints:

 “why do you sell that God awful popcorn??! People crunching to my left, munching to my right … I couldn’t concentrate on the film! It’s ridiculous that you sell tickets for a show and then also something that will completely ruin the experience you twits!”

This was an old man customer, ranting and all in a rage. Some people are all chewed up and ugly. When customers are spitting and heaving and clenching their fists and tut –tut- tutting their vicious tongues at me, I start to pop inside. ‘I’m a human being too!!’ I think. “I’m sorry you feel like that Sir/ Madame” I say.

I enjoy a moment alone in the dark of the cinema. I weave in and out of the rows of red velvet chairs, sweeping up the popcorn and picking up the coffee cups and empty glasses that have been left after a show. ‘Eurgh Apple core!’ When the credits are rolling and the customers have gone; it’s my time to be entertained. Now that it’s as quiet as it is dark; I can sing out the catchy theme tune of ‘A Bigger Splash’ (It’s ‘Emotional Rescue’ by the Rolling Stones). This song gives me that shimmery super star rush of good feeling! Ten minutes later when I go to clean the other screen, the melancholic soundtrack of ‘Youth’ is haunting the room. I’m ‘la la la – ing’ along, but oops! I’m not alone: A lady sits in the back corner, she pops up to help me pick up wrappers and crushed cans.

Customer : “I don’t know why people don’t stay to watch the credits anymore. In arts cinemas they always used to stay and watch all the names, right until the very end.”

Me: “yes I suppose people nowadays are all too hectic and in a rush.”

Customer: “No it was more that they would stay and read all of the names out of respect for everyone who was involved in the making of the film.”

As this stranger helps me to pick up the discarded bits of rubbish, I think; hey, here’s a heap of junk that doesn’t belong anywhere… ‘Where are your belongings Mr. customer?’

 I suppose the 10 wasabi peas that missed your mouth – their dispersal is not really your responsibility. Wine glasses: those that look maybe more than half empty rather than half full must no longer be yours. Ice cream mini tubs and mini spoons, dropped on purpose now that you’ve licked up all the cold deliciousness, and let that ‘ginger spice’ ‘ choc chip’ delight drip onto the floor. 

You abandon your disposable belongings by wedging them down the armrest or kicking them under a cushion. Please just put them in my hand and meet me in the eye. When a licked wrapper falls on the floor it seems to instantly fall out of your possession. Its an MC wasteland.

 With all this rubbish deliberately dumped at my feet; and the conversation with the kind customer at the back of my mind, I think: yes, it’s respect that has been crunched up and strewn across the floor.

Ms F6

Ms F6 ‘has a system’ when she comes to the cinema. This system is a kind of self- organisation, a preparation for the two hours of inactivity ahead. Using the bench in the corridor as a handy prop, she first removes and then folds her lilac overcoat. Always sleeves, halves, quarters…. Repeating this method for her two jumpers. She then stacks the coats so they form a kind of soft tray to rest her 3 plastic bags on. These bags lose an edge of their purely practical identity; because they only carry one small item each, they are collectively superfluous. 

She’s Skinny and Scottish, and always alone. An old blue bucket hat attempts to contain a  frizzy fountain of hair. The hat flaps up at the front so grey spurts shoot out across her eyes. She’s alert! With a springy step and brisk rhythmic hand gesture, Ms f6 conducts her own conversation. She’s “Sylvia! One of Shakespeare’s girls”. A Scottish purr and a whisker moustache : Does she feel or think about those bristles?

F6 is Sylvia’s favourite seat; “ it was made for me” she believes, even though in each screen F6 is at a completely different angle and distance to the action. The day that Sylvia came to watch ‘The Lady in the Van’ I tore her ticket at the entrance. She told me “oh can you believe that I was in bed half an hour ago? But I suddenly decided that I must see this film today, so I jumped up, and here I am on time! And this must be my lucky day, because I have my favourite seat: F6!”

Sylvia is like an old grandfather clock. She is fragile, but not frail. she ticks on through the day in the same rhythm and routine, because it has worked so far that the tick should always be followed by a tock. The cinema has always preceded a trip to sainsburys, and sitting in F6 has always been followed by a sense of stability. Sylvia has a round faded clock face, with a murky sheen. All of the features are laid out in the uniform, practical way; so when you glance down at her, she can be read quite clearly. Sylvia must be some family’s inherited relic, but maybe they have no need for an old clock in their digital life.

Sylvia ‘f6′ easily winds back time with her memory. When I went to clean the auditorium after ‘The Lady in the Van’ I found her organising herself in her favourite seat . “How was the film?” I asked . “Oh Maggie Smith is a wonderful actress. I read the book when I was snuggled up in bed on the 8th January 2003. As I was reading, a flat in the same block as me had their Japanese parcels stolen by thieves. Parcels that had been delivered and were waiting in the hall from the Christmas period. So yes, I always remember ‘The Lady in the Van’ with mixed feelings.”

Ms F6 ‘keeps a low profile’ at Christmas. She told me that “your values change as you get older. I used to put a lot of effort in but now it’s all too materialistic for me. I celebrate advent more. I like the lights, the shop window displays, and I went to a Christmas concert last week. I had a big family gathering in 2005 when I announced that I wouldn’t be doing any more of these gatherings. All this present hunting that I used to do, well, I can’t be bothered with that anymore.’

I once complained to Sylvia about the repetitive nature of the job at the cinema; tearing tickets, directing people to the toilet, standing at the ushering station waiting for customers to come etc.. Sylvia said that she had a quote for me that had stayed with her for years: “He (or she) also serves those who stand and wait”. (My dad later explained that this was Milton, writing about soldiers who were enlisted in the First World War as watchmen, who waited to be called up to fight. These soldiers would also be watched over and ‘served’ by the Angels / God because their patience and will was significant, even though they were not doing too much.) 

Months later I passed by Sylvia on my bicycle. She was standing by the war memorial on the main road. stooped over reading the inscriptions, here she was giving her attention to the names of all the people who served, and suffered in the war. The restlessness of the street seems to be irrelevant to her. Unlike most of us who pass by, Sylvia stands, she observes (and serves) the significance of this statue.

Sylvia F6 and I always chat, but she’s never asked me my name. Once She let me check her ticket without even hinting in her expression that’s she recognised me. After completing her folding routine Sylvia came back up the corridor, bringing one of her plastic bagged items for me. It was a box of ‘Dean’s mini shortbread bites- history in the baking’. It came With a a note ‘ a taste of Scotland to wish you good luck in 2016’. Ah this made me smile! So she does remember me from one cinema trip to the next.

On a Wednesday afternoon in January, after watching ‘Sunset Song’ ( a romantic film set in Scotland) Sylvia makes her way to exit the cinema. But here comes a fat swell of video gaming employees carrying their beers and the smell of sweat up the stairs. (They’re here for their company’s Christmas treat: a private screening of ‘Star Wars’.) Sylvia grabs the bannister with one hand, leaving the other to rest in her comfort position: she tucks it in through the gap between the buttons of her lilac coat, pressing her palm flat against her heart. I go over and lead Sylvia F6 to the other staircase. She leaves and then returns to tell me ‘wow! The stairs used to be so shabby. Now it’s like walking down the red carpet!’ This is another hint that Sylvia F6 has a very unique view of the world. She sees rich luxury , she sees colour, when everyone else sees crumbly dank grey. We see ‘given up’ where she sees ‘glamour’. We complain where she compliments. “Merry Christmas!” She chimes, and then like the cuckoo of an old grandfather clock; she retreats, as is her set routine, and disappears.