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Mall hair


Do you want butter topping on your popcorn?

This my 1978 version of “you want fries with that?”  I’m hard at work behind the concession counter at the Salem Mall Cinemas.  My first real job and I’m totally jazzed up about it.  Gettin’ paid by a corporate printed check and everything. We gotcher first run movies that I can see as many times as I want! For free! Mmm, surrounded by the aromas of cola syrup and warm popcorn. Rows upon rows of colorful candy boxes aglow under the fluorescent lights in the glass display case. Minimum wage in 1978? A cool $2.65 an hour. You don’t get this kind of payola babysitting the neighbor’s kid, I gotta tell ya.

This heady buzz actually lasted nearly an hour before I was able to check off this concession job as a solid 8 on the Suck Scale.

A mere few minutes after donning the stylish brown 70’s era polyester uniform, some power hungry jerky usher hands me a rag mop dripping gray water. With an aura of all the authority a part-time usher can manage, he tells me the newest employee gets to clean up after the clogged john in the ladies room. Seeing me blanch at the prospect, I was saved by the smell by a compassionate co-worker who calls his bluff and sends him on his merry usher way. But my relief was short-lived as during concession training, I discover that there are no cash registers. No calculators and not even a scratch pad allowed. All concession sales are to be added in the noggin, the total snack dollar investment shared with the hapless popcorn eating public, then accurate change made. Augh, math! My high school nemesis.

We did not cover this in the interview process.

Which by the way, was not much more than, are you a cute 16-year old female, what’s your social security number and can you start on Friday? Not a single warning about doing math in your head. The mop is starting to look more approachable.

Things just go south from there. The popcorn, as I soon discover, is delivered already popped in huge yellow plastic bags. That’s right, pre-popped from some prior date in time and tossed from a panel truck by a guy with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. And that yummy butter topping is a coronary-to-be packaged in a hefty day-glo orange brick of shortening. We’d thunk the lard loaf in a warmer for about an hour until it melted into an aromatic imposter of slick buttery goodness. So you want a Diet Pepsi with your butter-topped popcorn? Chick, I wanted to say, going diet cola ain’t gonna save ya from that bad decision. 

I’ll tell you another thing. Luke didn’t have abs like that.

But 1978 is coming of age time for my teenage geek selfness.  The cinema is celebrating the one-year anniversary of Star Wars. This is is Episode IV – a New Hope, people. Where it all begins and I could watch it pretty much anytime I wasn’t working concession. Oh yes, do envy me y’all. Over the summer months of 1978 I do believe I clocked in about a thousand and two viewings.  I’m kind of a a fan of the Star Wars franchise, you might say.  The question to ponder, what did geeks talk about  before 1978?

So, with all the authority a concession girl can manage, I will tell you this.  Greedo did not shoot first.

Good or bad, that job only lasted the summer. I moved onto another genre of mall employment at Spencer Gifts, the split personality of mall retail. The red shag carpeted purveyor of adult-themed accessories awkwardly in the same line of sight as the innocent plush toys for kids. Oh, but stories for another day. Like how we dealt with the fella back in the blacklight area interacting with the Farrah poster [shudder].  Ah, memories.

So anyway, my intent is to convince you that I have some experience in the world that is shopping malls. Been around that block, so to speak. I’ve gone from wage slave to shopper of family material goods.  As a mother, I’ve marched that solitary walk of ten paces behind a young teenager (don’t walk with me, Mom) just to observe with an odd mix of horror and pride that my young son is turning the heads of teenage girls. But as I’ve aged grown, malls have changed as well.  We now see stores marketing to the youth of today of pretty princesses, custom-made teddy bears and t-shirt shops suggesting anarchy is truly the way of the future.

Yax processes this new place in his noggin.

And because a shopping mall is just one more place that people enjoy, a service dog should be comfortable in the environment as well. As a CCI puppy raiser, I understand that the pup in my care must have a been there-done that attitude with the all around sensory experience that that is mall shopping.  So our local puppy raising group arranged a training session at the nearby Tuttle Mall. 

We meet in the food court, dogs and puppy raisers, for a quick intro. We count fourteen pups, some as young as six months. But we’re geared up and ready, training capes and gentle leaders on.  Let’s do this thing.

Yaxley, I say, Let’s go.

And off we go, riding in the glass elevators and walking through various and sundry shops. We practice Ups, Unders and appropriate greetings with shoppers. Fourteen dogs march through the indoor kiddie playground to experience the spongy cork flooring under the paws and the distraction of kidlets playing. We emerge from the playground with several kids in tow. Not a problem, let’s put the pups in a Down and allow some quality time to encourage calm greetings with their young fan base.

Little boys smell like french fries

Build-a-Bear has potential doggie distractions with a gazillion stuffed toys watching you with their black button eyes and that freaky machine that has bear gut stuffing tossed about. Yaxley did a fine job keeping focus, while I was distracted by the discovery of tiny Build-a-Bear underwear briefs. Teddy bears wear tidy whities now? With flys?  My, times have changed.

Recovering from the tidy whitie trauma.

A handler swap is always helpful in pup training. Same commands, a different voice giving it.  We’re reminded of the pickle test.  Does the dog react to the command word or the situation?

Think about this . . . I open the car door and say “Yaxley, Car.” He jumps in every time.

How about if I open the car door and say “Yaxley, Pickle” and he jumps in, well, what does that mean?  That he’s reacting to the situation, not the command word. Time to mix things up then. We’d try training using a different car. Or give a series of other behaviors while the car door is open, before giving the Car command.

Same philosophy for changing handlers. How does the dog react to a Sit or Down given by someone not so familiar?

Yax working with another puppy raiser and doing a stellar job (middle of shot).

And yet another handler.  Good dog. Yax.  Do me proud, yellow one.

The dog toy store could be a powerful mind bender for a young and playful pup. Think of the analogy of a kid in a candy shop. But our working dogs managed it all with finesse. And here’s Yaxley being all professional and looking pretty darn comfortable.

[yawn] I gotta Jager squeak toy at home.

Back in the food court, we’re done. Training mission accomplished. Time for a celebratory dog biscuit and good ear ruffle for all.

Well done, yeller feller.

About Donna Black-Sword

Lover of all things Dog.

6 responses »

  1. Adorable black lab in second picture looks horrified, like he just saw a leprechaun being run over. Thankfully he recovered in later shots. 🙂

    And Yaxley just looks lovely. I liked reading the description of the training, too, when I wasn't oohing and aahing over the doggy pics.


  2. I was also a movie concessions gal… so I was cracking up when I started reading your post!

    I loved reading about the training as well.


  3. Sounds like a fun trip! 🙂


  4. He does looks overly concerned about something doesn't he? I don't recall what was going on at that particular moment, but it appears the pup is processing it pretty well.
    Thanks for the compliment for Yaxley. He's coming along rather nicely in his training. Keep your fingers crossed that he continues to do a good job.


  5. Thanks, Pup Fan. Betting you could share some great stories about the dark side of concession work, too. Downtime is not a good thing for teenage workers. At least not at our cinema anyway.


  6. I do love the training time with other puppy raisers. This is my third time through with raising a CCI pup, but I still feel so new at this. Each dog is different, the handler is the one that needs to adapt to the right training style. I learn something new every time I hang with these folk.



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