Thursday, March 24, 2011

TALES FROM THE THEATER: THE ANTOINETTE SAGA

One of the joys of being a manager at a movie theater was being involved in the hiring and firing process. Mostly firing. Every once and awhile, an employee comes along that is a nightmare from start to finish. A truly cursed experience, but very funny once it's over.
Let me start at the begginning though.....
A woman came in to apply for an usher/concession position (we were pretty much always hiring). The GM came into the office in the middle of the interview. He was in a bit of a panic. We called him Mr. Bill, not because that was his real name, but because he had a habit of panicking at any given moment just like the little clay guy from old Saturday Night Live shows. ("Sexual harrassment?!?? Ooooooh noooooooo!!!!!!) His fear of lawsuits was overwhelming. In his defense, fear, paranoia, and panic were basically company policy. They were so afraid of wrongful termination lawsuits, that you had to write a person up about 30 times for the same offense before firing them. Rude, obnoxious customers usually got whatever they wanted in the hope that they wouldn't make waves. The ridiculous slip and fall scammers usually just got a quick settlement to avoid court. The irony in all of that was that this corporate culture of fear was responsible for causing one of the messiest incidents during my tenure at the theater.
Mr. Bill was panicked because the woman he was interviewing revealed that she was a Jehovah's Witness, and couldn't wear the theater uniform of pants and a shirt because she was only allowed to wear skirts. Up until this point she was a horrible candidate. She could barely speak coherentely, she had nothing but bad things to say about her previous jobs, and she had the attention span of a gnat. Mr. Bill wasn't going to hire her in a million years, until he heard that she couldn't wear the required uniform because of religious reasons. Visions of lawsuits danced in his head. She was also black, which made her a double whammy of discrimination terror: race and religion. (At corporate training, they said we have to be sensitive to our "urban environment" which was PC code for lots of black customers and employees)
Mr. Bill panicked, and hired Antoinette on the spot, despite overwhelming evidence that she was going to be the worst employee ever. We had no idea how bad she was going to be though. Ironically, right after she was hired, Antoinette said "You know, it's OK. I'll wear the pants." Oh, the ironing is delicious!
Antoinette proceeded to be a horrible worker. Calling out sick, complaining constantly, lazy, argumentative, and full of excuses. Actually, I guess that made her a pretty average employee at the theater. Mr. Bill continued to worry about her, and was terrified of any disciplinary action against her. He had invited his worst nightmare into the fold. A religious discrimination threat viper in the nest. A few months went by and we were resigned to the fact that we were stuck with Antoinette forever.
Until one weird evening.
Periodically at the theater we would clean out the locker rooms. Turnover was at about 400% annually, so there were always a ton of abandoned lockers and junk left behind. Twice a year, we would go through and cut off all the old locks and clean out all the garbage. This was not a pleasant task. The locker rooms were disgusting, and the women's was the worst (anyone who has spent any time as a janitor can tell you that women are way messier than men). We posted notices a week ahead of time that on the scheduled night everyone needed to bring their lock and all their possesions home, and anything left would be thrown out. We put a notice in with the paychecks, we taped a big sign by the time clock, we announced it at a staff meeting, and we put about 25 signs in the locker rooms themselves. You can probably guess where this is going.
On the night of the clean out, Van D and Chris went around to everyone who was working and told them that they were going to cut the locks off, so everybody should bring their locks and stuff down to the station where they were working for the rest of the night. And then they proceeded with the thankless task of cutting off old locks and clearing out old dirty uniforms, rotten food, and assorted garbage. Halfway through the process, they found a locker with a coat and a purse in it, so they sent a supervisor to find the owner. Antoinette barges into the locker room. She had heard that they were cutting off locks!!! How she had missed the dozens of flyers, posters, notices, and being told directly to her face an hour before remains a mystery that can only be explained by her inattentiveness, illiteracy, not caring, and general oblivious stupidity.
She was in a rage. Her lock had been cut, but that was not main problem. She claimed that some things were missing from her locker, most notably $300 cash and.......wait for it....wait for it....... "a blunt and a 20 sack of weed." OK, where to start here? First of all, I wonder what the Jehovah's Witnesses policy is on blunts and 20 sacks. Secondly, her paycheck was still in her purse. I don't want to make any sweeping judgements about her lifestyle, but she did not strike me as the kind of person who would still have $300 left from the previous pay period, besides, why didn't the "thieves" take her paycheck too? And in another twist of ironing, the two managers cleaning out the lockers were probably the only two people at the theater who didn't smoke weed! Besides, they were extremely honest people who simply wouldn't do anything like that. I forget if Antoinette quit, or was actually fired for openly admitting that she had drugs on the theater property, but either way we never saw her again. That is until a few months later.
About three weeks after the incident, Mr. Bill got a certified letter that Antoinette was suing him and the two managers for the loss of her "property." I am not making this up. The corporate lawyer flew up for the court date, and it would have been much cheaper to have just given Antoinette the $324, but for once they did the right thing, especially because two very honorable people were personally accused of wrongdoing. It turns out that on the night of the incident, Antoinette had confided in another employee that she had lied about the $300 "just to get some money" but insisted that her weed was really missing. That employee made a very good witness in court. The judge was a little bit taken aback by the whole proceeding, and the case was quickly dismissed, but not before a funny moment. Antoinette had claimed that Mr. Bill had left a message on her voicemail saying that it was his fault and he would pay her the money. When the judge asked to hear the voicemail, Antoinette didn't have a phone, so Chris gladly lent her his phone to use! Even with the borrowed phone, she could not produce her key piece of evidence. After the "trial," Antoinette apologized to everybody, and said something to the effect of "no hard feelings?" The feeling was not mutual.
Antoinette became sort of a funny legend that we would talk about at work parties, and we thought we certainly would never see her again. Then, about a year and a half after the whole debacle, I was at guest services doing some paperwork when I heard a familiar voice.
"Ernaaiest?" Antoinette always managed to add a couple syllables to my name. "Remember me?"
I couldn't believe she had shown her face there. I think my jaw actually dropped and I laughed in disbelief. Nothing could prepare me for what she said next.
"Are you guys hiring?"
I just smiled. I was incredulous. I had no credul. I suppose I should have expected that kind of foolish nerve from somebody who sues over lost weed. Then she put the understatement-of-the-year cherry on the delusional sundae.
"You know, I was a good employee. Well.........except for that one thing."

1 comment:

  1. Great story but we need another one!

    ReplyDelete