Saturday, August 14, 2010


Firing somebody who is in a wheelchair is never easy.

Actually, I don't know that. It might get easy by the third or fourth time, but I wouldn't know because I've only done it once. I can tell you that the first time is definitely a bitch. It helped that I had caught him stealing red-handed. There was no grey area.

Let me give you a quick Theater Scams 101. The number one scam is returning ticket stubs for a refund. A lot of scammers gave it a shot since the theater had a no questions asked return policy up to half an hour after the movie started, and very minimal questions asked after that. Loud people in the theater? Here's your money back. Bad projection? Here's your money back. You got thrown out of the theater? Here's your money back. Yeah, that last one always boggled my mind, but Loews was so afraid of legal action, that they insisted on refunding troublemakers, that way they were no longer a paying customer, and could be issued trespassing notices. On the other hand, ticket scams were a major problem, so the theater wanted us to be very suspicious of all refunds. One of the many fun contradictions we had to deal with everyday at the theater.

Fortunately there were some security measures in place to catch scammers. Every ticket was marked with a small "C" for credit card or a "$" for cash purchases. When somebody came to the box office to return a ticket, we'd ask them if they bought the ticket with a credit card or cash. The rookie scammers would say cash when they had a stub with "C" on it. Pretty easy to catch that. Some crooks would steal a credit card, come into the theater, buy 20 tickets from the lobby machines, and then try to return the tickets for cash. Also, when a shady person bought a ticket, the teller could flag the ticket as suspicious. This was mostly for people buying R rated tickets for other people. If an employee found a young person in an R movie, or if somebody tried refunding a ticket stub with a little "F" on it, we could easily check with the employee who sold it to find out why they had flagged it. When the usher ripped the tickets there was a specific half for the customer, and half for the theater's records. Some enterprising scammers would rip their own ticket and try to return both halves. At the end of the night we would collect all the stubs from the usher boxes, and store them in marked boxes for 30 days. When the Loews auditor would come, they would pick a couple random days and count the stubs. If the number of stubs was not within 20 of the number of tickets sold that day, or if some of the tickets were from the wrong date, or if the usher had kept the wrong half of the ticket, then the theater would fail that section of the audit.

God I'm glad I don't work there any more.

While we were trying to catch cheating customers, we were always under suspicion ourselves. Inside stealing was a huge problem. Some employees would try to process refunds on found tickets. Every once and awhile you'd see a box office teller on break walking around the hallways scouring the floor for dropped ticket stubs they could process. Another scam was an usher would keep the whole ticket, or give back the wrong half, and then get a friend to go refund them. That's what I caught P doing. He was collecting tickets on the second floor, and when he saw a "$" on a ticket he would just fold the ticket over and point the people towards their theater. I'm a nut about keeping my stub, so that wouldn't have flown with me, but who's going to argue with a guy in a wheelchair? Once he got 4-6 tickets from the same show time, he'd give them to his nephew to take to guest services for a refund.

I was coming out of the bathroom when I saw P hand his nephew some tickets, so I followed him around the corner to guest services. When he tried to get a refund I stepped in. All the tickets were bought at different times, so it would have been suspicious anyway, but we had the kid dead to rights. Once the detail cop got involved the kid was scared shitless and quickly admitted that his uncle had put him up to it. My boss and I called P into the office and asked him what was going on. He denied everything. Even after I said I had seen the whole thing, he denied it. Even after we bluffed and said his nephew was going to jail unless he fessed up, he denied everything. My boss stepped in and asked P if I was lying, and P said yes. What a lowlife. Not only was he trying to make my boss think I was framing him for some reason, but he was willing to throw his 13 year old nephew under the bus.

That made canning him a lot easier.

A month or two later, P came back to the theater and apologized to me. He was living in the shelter around the corner, and even though technically he wasn't allowed in the theater, everyone started letting him use the handicapped bathroom on the first floor. No good deed goes unpunished. It turns out he was selling crack out of the bathroom. He would meet someone on the street and then go into the theater bathroom with them to make a deal away from the watchful eyes of the cops, who were all over the notorious crack bazaar of Boston's Theater District. That plan didn't work out for P, as he was arrested coming out of the bathroom one day by undercover cops right in the lobby. They cuffed his hands behind his back and propped them up on the back of his chair so that he was forced to lean all the way forward. They just kept him doubled over like that for a good ten minutes on display while they called a paddy wagon. They had been watching him for days. Fired and arrested at different times in the same building. Wow. The reason P was in a wheelchair was because he had been shot during a drug deal gone bad years ago. I guess some people are slow learners.

The guilt I had for firing a guy in a wheelchair had completely evaporated by now, but it was replaced by a sadness as I watched them wheel P away. Sadness for what P's life must be like. He was a charming guy when he wasn't, you know, lying and stealing. Anger that I was caught in the middle of this never-ending, petty, cat and mouse bullshit. And self loathing that part of me felt like a cripple guy was getting what he deserved.

I stood in the lobby watching them load P into the paddy wagon until my walkie-talkie crackled. Time to get back to work. Somebody needed a refund at the box office.

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