Tuesday, July 20, 2010


No, not those black sox. This is another installment from my series of stories from the movie theater where I did a tour of duty. This episode: THE BLACK SOCKS.

The quickest way to move up the ladder in a McCorporate environment like a national theater chain is to be a snitch and a suck up. That's why most of the bosses are insecure sniveling rats with questionable moral fortitude. They've all schlepped their way to the middle. It's just a fact of life in fast food mentality companies. The regional and national management team of the theater did not have a lot of Wharton Business School graduates, let's just say. The bosses tended to be people that really couldn't do anything else, so they had sucked ass, ratted others out, and generally towed the company line in exchange for their souls. As a result, they were a defensive , paranoid bunch without an original thought in their heads. They would steal the credit if you did something well, and were quick to blame others to cover their own asses. I think they were all beaten badly as children and are now trying to exact their impotent revenge.
The absolute epitome of this style of management was the Northeast Regional manager at my theater. We called him the Walrus because of his jowly, stocky build. He looked like he would smell like low tide too, but instead you just got a wall of cheap Walgreen's cologne that a college freshman would wear.
I mean no disrespect to Walruses. I like them, and I'm sure that anyone of them would have done a better job than this blob of a micro-manager. When our inneffectual but much loved general manager moved on to a better job at a different chain, the Walrus stepped in and decided to exert his mighty will on us. He brought in his little pet general manager to whip our theater into shape. I think the Walrus thought of him as a pit bull, but in reality he looked like a chihuahua. All shaky and watery eyed. It didn't help the obvious comparison that he was tiny too. If he was the Taco Bell dog, he would say: "Yo quero Napoleon compleciones." But that's another story.....
During this management revolution, the Walrus was at the theater more often than his usual two visits per year. On one of his surprise visits, he spotted one of our new managers with white socks. The dress code for managers was dress shoes, black socks, dress pants, a belt, dress shirt, tie, sports jacket, clean shaven, and neat hair. I happen to agree about the black socks. White socks look ridiculous. When you see someone with dress shoes and white socks, you think "Is this guy going to try and sell me some aluminum siding, or did he just get out of prison?" It's usually one or the other. Aside from the aesthetics though, it was representative of the slavish enforcement of lengthy corporate minutiae versus results. The new manager was a great employee. He was in college, but working full time as a manager at the theater too. He was very competent and a real go-getter. He was not going to be working at the theater for the rest of his life and I think upper management resented that. He represented everything they despised: intelligence, independence, good sense of humor, and confidence. He was well-raised in an affluent family, and so even though he knew better, I think he wore white socks just to piss off the mucky-mucks.
On the day of the surprise visit, the new manager was heading up the escalator when the Walrus saw his white socks. He told the house manager to go grab him. The Walrus was beaming. He was gloating over the opportunity to exert his pathetic iron fist in the little goldfish pond he ruled. All the managers were summoned for a meeting in the lobby. The Walrus was going to make an example of the new guy.
We made awkward, meaningless small talk as we waited for the last couple of managers to show up. When the house manager finally returned with the new manager in tow, the Walrus was ready for his show. He gave us a little speech about the importance of the mission statement and following all the rules. He proceeded to give us the "it's all a matter of customer perception" speech, and then he was ready for the grand finale. He asked the new manager to lift up his pants' legs. The new guy reluctantly lifted his cuffs to reveal.........black socks! The Walrus' jowls hit the floor. He sputtered and turned red. We all patiently stared at him waiting for his next pearls of wisdom. Eventually he said "oh" or "ah" and then told us to carry on or something to that effect. We were all trying to keep from laughing because we were in on the joke. The new manager realized that the Walrus had spotted his socks, so he ran down the back fire escape stairwell and over to Macy's to buy some black socks and pull them on as he headed back to the lobby for our meeting. That's the kind of quick thinking and ingenuity which proved he didn't belong in McCorporateland. He went on to leave the theater a few months later to accept a coveted internship at a computer development company, and by now he's probably running a Fortune 500 business, but not before he provided us with a hilarious moment at the Walrus' expense.
It's the small victories that are sometimes the sweetest.

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