Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Ideals Are Peaceful. History Is Violent"

Reel To Reel: Fury

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf
Rated: R (but should be NC-17)
Red Flags: Graphic and intense war violence and language with as many f-bombs as real bombs. Not for the squeamish or faint of conscience. For mature audiences.

While watching Fury, I thought back to the problems United Artists executives handled during the development of Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, as chronicled in Stephen Bach's book Final Cut. Bach described the film's scripts as "brutally depressing and depressingly brutal" and "violent and profane" making it a "serious commercial gamble." Eventually UA made that film -- now considered a classic -- because it goaded the production into framing its protagonist as something more than a "cockroach." I wonder if a similar dynamic took place during Fury's production, with studio heads demanding the picture evolve beyond a two-hour reminder that war is hell.

Fury largely exists to erase what latent gutsy warmth we had from World War II pictures like The Longest Day and The Guns Of Navarone. The movie finishes off a process begun by Saving Private Ryan. In fact, it borrows a key plot element: a rookie soldier who has never seen active combat lumped in with the battle-scarred veterans. This time around, the rookie is Norman (Logan Lerman), a typist suddenly assigned to replace the assistant driver of a tank named "Fury." The crew is led by Sgt. "Wardaddy," (Pitt) whose tough exterior hides his shell-shocked soul. "Bible" (LaBeouf) quotes verses and kills krauts. "Gordo" (Michael Peña) and Grady (Jon Bernthal) pretty much do the same with fewer verses. Everybody curses. A lot.

The movie opens in 1945, as the desperate Nazis throw everything they can into defending their homeland against the advancing Allies, whose tank forces are outgunned against superior German machines. The war will end, but everyone knows it will not end quietly. Wardaddy and company get orders to come to the aid of forces trapped by the Axis or at risk of getting cut off, against long odds and heavy fire. Along the way, they also have to make a soldier out of Norman. He is naive to the horrors of war, and his humanity keeps him from shooting Hitler Youth, potentially endangering an entire tank platoon.

Norman is an intensely sympathetic character juxtaposed against unlikeable heroes, although they remind us they are doing a necessarily evil job of exterminating Nazis. That the crew occasionally do so in ways of questionable morality isn't supposed to matter to us in the long run because the victory is what matters and what people remember. Still, the picture takes a breather to allow some display of conscience, when Wardaddy and Norman share a polite breakfast with a German woman and her daughter only to see it disintegrate into boorishness when the rest of the tank crew barges in. Ultimately, we come to the compulsory Big Battle At The End, where the Fury's crew must take a crucial stand.

Saving Private Ryan had a soul and a patriotic vibe. Fury has guts, grit, grime, GOD, and some semblance of conscience amid watery ethics. But will it go down as a Great War Movie in the vein of Apocalypse Now, whose DNA it shares? Audiences will answer that question. I will tell you intensity and greatness are two different beasts.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

All This And A Mercenary Raccoon, Too!

Reel To Reel: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, voice of Vin Diesel, voice of Bradley Cooper, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Sci-fi violence and blasters, mild language

A movie which opens with the ethereal multitracked harmonies of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" will get my attention from the opening frame. That's promising because it's going to take a lot to get me over the cognitive dissonance of a snarky, genetically-engineered raccoon. Fortunately, Guardians Of The Galaxy delivers. It doesn't dazzle or challenge us so much as team up oddballs and throw them through a series of plot twists, making this film more like Mel Brooks' Spaceballs than Star Wars.

The film follows Peter Quill (Pratt), a.k.a. Star-Lord, a galactic petty thief and hustler who could've been Han Solo before he met Chewbacca in another galaxy far, far away. He thinks he's in for a quick haul of cash after stealing a rare orb while rocking out to Redbone's "Come And Get Your Love." An analog Walkman is Quill's best friend after aliens sucked him up from somewhere in Missouri back in the 1980's. We're not supposed to worry about why the aliens chose an emotionally fragile boy who just lost his mother to cancer one scene ago.

Quill gets a bounty on his head with the orb everybody else wants, including an alien race led by a megalomanic dark lord known as Ronan (Lee Pace). He's Emperor Palpatine with a wardrobe change. Ronan sends the green -- in color, not in experience -- assassin Gamora (Saldana) after him. Along the way, the aforementioned raccoon bounty hunter Rocket (Cooper) spots Quill, backed by his living-tree, limited-vocabulary sidekick Groot (Diesel). The four end up in a fight and get thrown into a galactic Alcatraz, only to find they have to work together to bust out. Along the way, they pick up help from giant blue warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), who lost his family to Ronan. But they have a bigger problem: that orb contains an infinity stone, a super weapon capable of leveling entire planets with more power than 100 atomic bombs and Chuck Norris. The orb has gotta go to a safe place, but to whom... and where?

Notice I'm not diving deep into the names of the planets or the alien races, not merely because I don't want to try to spell or pronounce them for you, but because it really doesn't matter in what universe this film exists. It doesn't matter they're going after some orb. This motley crew could be shopping at Kmart for all we care because of their chemistry and dysfunctional exchanges, like this one:
Peter Quill: I have a plan.
Rocket Raccoon: You've got a plan?
Peter Quill: I have PART of a plan!
Drax the Destroyer: What percentage of a plan?
Drax the Destroyer: What percentage of a plan do you have?
Gamora: You don't get to ask questions after the nonsense you pulled on Knowhere!
Drax the Destroyer: I just saved Quill!
Peter Quill: We've already established that you destroying the ship I'm on is not saving me!
Drax the Destroyer: When did we establish that?
Peter Quill: Like three seconds ago?
Drax the Destroyer: I wasn't listening. I was thinking of something else...
Rocket Raccoon: She's right, you don't get an opinion... What percentage?
Peter Quill: I dunno... Twelve percent?
Rocket Raccoon: 12%?
[breaks into laughter]
Peter Quill: That's a fake laugh.
Rocket Raccoon: It's real!
Peter Quill: Totally fake!
Rocket Raccoon: That is the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh of my entire life because THAT IS NOT A PLAN!

Source: imdb.com
It also drops a hysterical reference to Kevin Bacon and Footloose I'll let you discover for yourself.

Guardians Of The Galaxy comes from Marvel Comics' ever-expanding galaxy of superhero material padding the profits of Walt Disney, although I read a commenter on Nikki Finke's website compare it to the original Star Wars. If you're talking about viewer satisfaction, yes. Sequels? One's already on the way.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Forget The Right Turn, Clyde, Here's An AK-47

Reel To Reel: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Going Rate: Worth full price admission
Starring: Andy Serkis (motion captured), Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Judy Greer, Kodi Smit-McPhee
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Shootings, Apes going ape-you-know-what

This sequel to the 2011 pleasant-surprise hit Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes should carry a huge disclaimer: "No guys in gorilla suits were used in this film." I had to keep reminding myself of that as my eyes dug into this CGI masterwork that renders the 1960's Charlton Heston original even more dated and cheesy. With this film and Avatar, we have now reached the point where we can synthesize the exact characters and performances we need through the use of motion-capture technology, hardcore software engineering, and a heckuvalot of computer power. We have seen the future, and it's all on the screen.

But at the same time, this newest Planet wouldn't carry so much weight if it didn't have serious acting chops. Most of it's on Andy Serkis as Ceasar, the charismatic leader of an super-smart ape colony who must come to grips with humanity -- both his and what's out there. The movie succinctly explains what has happened in the ten-year gap since the first film, where a supervirus bred in the lab and carried by the apes has wiped out most humans. A rag-tag, heavily-armed group of survivors is living inside a tower in San Francisco, but they need power to survive, and their batteries are running out. They see hope in a small hydroelectric dam in ape territory, if they can get to it and survive.

Things don't go well from the beginning. A member of the group shoots and wounds an ape, Ash, provoking a confrontation that sends the humans scrambling back home and the apes out of the woods. Ceasar sets the ground rules: human home here, ape home there, do not come back. (Might I add it's impossible for me to hear the apes limited spoken dialogue without flashing back to old Tarzan movies I watched as a kid?) Yet one member of the human colony, Malcom (Clarke) thinks he's got the stuff to be a diplomat and he goes back, thinking Ceasar has something of a heart underneath all that hair. Good luck with that, given the influence of fellow ape leader Koba (Toby Kebbell, motion-captured), who holds a grudge against humans for all his suffering inside a lab. He'd rather get ahold of some human guns and just eliminate the problem. Also back is Maurice, that loveable huge former circus orangutan. We also get to see some ape family life: Cornelia, Ceasar's wife, and their oh-so-cute baby ape.

The film becomes a parable of trust and interspecies relationships, kicking paradigms we've seen with the famous Koko The Gorilla up a few notches. This is the kind of film Randy Garsee would've picked for a Reel Life Movie Review, provided he could have a primate specialist -- which he did for Ron Howard's largely-forgotten re-make of the original. He might've needed some more help, seeing as how this movie also flirts with the genres of war movie and western, giving us good and bad guys (or apes) to root for and against. We also have a big showdown at the end where it's on like, well, you know the cliche.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is better than it had to be, and it will do better than a lot of people expect it to be. The first film nicely exceeded our expectations. The second is doing it again while leaving plenty of room for a third and a fourth. This reboot of a classic film franchise has a lot left in the tank, and I can't wait to see where it goes.

Monday, June 30, 2014

So You Wanna Be A Foreman?

In my journal, I write down a few notes for things I need to watch during my foreman-training stint:
  • Make sure backroom boxes have numbers showing on the front when they're stacked
  • Cost Of Stand = number of prizes given out X prize cost for each prize
  • Percap = stand revenue / attendance
  • Stand Status - that sheet that tells you the number of prize stock for each stand and the description of it
  • Pick-ups - Cash Control will call, and you group bills into $100 units for pick-up
  • Call in absences and tardies
I can work on the little tasks, but personnel -- assigning people to stands, getting them on break, and getting people off -- is still that grating albatross. The usual headaches in Britannia consist of trying to accommodate stand requests, switches, rotating people out of Fishin' Hole, pulling people to get off work or on break. I have "Jackie" (name changed) as my trainer, and for a rare stretch I'm glad to have somebody who commands authority in my corner, even though she rubs more than half the section the wrong way.

A storm moves in and I'm pulling people to help get tarps up over some of the stands exposed to the elements until Jackie tells me not to do so until it actually starts raining. The logic of that escapes me when we hate the smell of soaked plush prizes. In the meantime, it's back to doing inventory, meaning counting every loose prize bracelet at Fishin' Hole. Is it 130 or 230? I forget. I'll get my best number and put it down, along with the count of the plush bears. Those bears. Those bad news bears that are probably going to get soaked with the storm moving in, the ones I have to set in a separate pile to count them properly. Only one actually gets soaked after I accidentally drop it in the pond water. In all, the Brit forepeople count six stands very night, and I got two of them.

At the end of my shift, I'm filling out a foreperson till sheet while two other forepeople count it. I have tried to sell as much change to lighten the load I have to drag back or count. The till is over by $18, but that's not out of line for a $3000+ bank worth of change.

Jackie grills me on the light switches after all my peasant brothers and sisters sign out for the night and meander home. As we walk through the blackness, the threatening downpour lingering all day finally falls from the sky, soaking my bag of cash and the rest of me all the way down to my underwear. Another rainy night in St. Louis, and it feels like it's raining all over the world.

Rinse and repeat: I fill out another comment form at the end of my shift, praising my trainer and cursing the lack of a personnel management section in the foreperson's manual. And somehow, through all this, I have a growing sense of control over my aspiring position.

The saga continues through the rest of the week as I journey to work Old Chicago and the Ninja games sections. Getting people to volunteer for stands consistently proves frustrating and fruitless. Stands need stocking. Areas need vacuuming. A regular worker with a nasty sense of humor tries to feel my behind. And then some wise guys decide to filch my personnel sheet -- along with two of the foreperson till boxes. The latter is a set-up, plotted by the other managers to make sure I lock up the cabinet when I'm away.

Arcades need change, and it's mainly a job of moving money from one locked box to another and keeping the change machines clean, stocked and happy. The remote-controlled boats need battery changes, and guess who gets to do it?

One week after journeying into the rabbit hole of upper management, it's all over, and I'm glad. In my final comment sheet to the superiors, I write, "So many people think they can do the job better -- will they still say that after they've learned the basics?"

I have 2001 percent more respect for my bosses now, even the irritating ones. I know my place, and I don't think I'm promotion material. I'm right. When promotions are announced later in the season, I'm not on the list, and I don't mind. I figure it's for the personnel grind and a few other things -- like the favoritism among managers. I gather I really should've started dating a forewoman if I wanted a promotion that badly.

* * *

The place is so much different now. I think about it, and I think back to a passage in Nicholas Pileggi's Casino as he describes Las Vegas after the feds ran the mob out. For one thing, the place is now called Six Flags St. Louis -- no more "Mid-America." Time Warner sold the entire chain to another company years after I left. Since then, they've gone through executive drama and bankruptcy. And when it came time to rebuild the lands of coasters and cotton candy, the suits weren't worried about finding enough flags to represent the regions of America where they settled.

I take a look around Britannia on Google Street View. Gone is the quaintness of Skilchester Village, as the sign used to say outside. Now glaring signs pollute what was a polite Tudor look, practically begging you to play something.


View Larger Map

After three years in Games, I would transfer into Six Flags' in-house TV system, which showed cartoons and commercials to people waiting in line for rides. I would get to spend much of my day in an air-conditioned studio, alone, changing tapes and monitoring levels. I would run into my Games cohorts every so often... and think about what mischief they were up to...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Have You Never Been Yellow?

Once a season, the Six Flags Over Mid-America Games department gives regular workers a chance to audition for a shot at becoming assistant forepeople. It's called the "Yellow Tag" program. You apply for the job, get to try it out for a week, and if you don't blow it -- or if you happen to be dating one of the forepeople -- you'll usually move up.

On July 1, 1991, I fill out the paperwork, including the section on what I would do to improve things. I suggest:

  • Improve morale and relationships with forepeople
  • Post earnings per stand in the Britannia section
  • Minimalize change/stock headaches
  • Shoot for a more equitable distribution of stands to personnel

Three days later, on the 4th of July, I see my name on the list of 17 Yellow Tag trainees and set off my own fireworks.

"YEAAAAHHHH!" I explode.

A supervisor on the backroom phone and a foreperson at the desk skip a heartbeat.

"That really says something," an assistant foreman friend says later on.

"I guess it does," I grin back.

The day before I officially start training, I get a crack at the basics: "Chris, would you like to be a foreman for a couple of hours?"

The section bosses had a meeting to attend, and they needed somebody to cover their duties. All I had to do was sell change to stands and keep them stocked with prizes. It sounds simple, and it is. I just have grab some change rolls from the backroom cabinet. It doesn't matter how many I take out, just as the cash equivalent comes back in. All the stands have stock. We're golden.

Then comes Monday.

We start at 9am, one hour before the park opens, and at least half an hour before the regular stand workers shuffle in. Lori, my trainer, shows me where to get the keys and the A&R (absentee and replacement) logs. I learn where all the light switches are in Britannia, and we turn everything on. We check prize stock deliveries against yellow sheets.

Now we get wet and dirty. I fill up the Fishin' Hole game with fresh water and follow that by dragging the stock to the back.

"Make sure you don't drag stock in front of the guests," she reminds me. I'd already violated that rule last week.

Now I have to deal with the change machines. Open it up and pull the hoppers forward. Unlock the bar in front of them. Fill them up nice and even and straighten them out. Open the bottom with the lever, reach underneath and hold the bottom button while pressing each of the three hopper buttons in turn, letting the change spill up and cycle through the works. Lock it all back up. If it goes down, open it up and press the white button to make it reset.

Next comes a lesson in personnel management. Write everybody's name down as they arrive in the backroom, and then start getting people into stands. Here's the fun part: everybody wants something you can't give them. Lori is there to help kickstart me in the right direction through everybodys ego and morning crabiness. I put people down in the time/cost sheets -- our equivalent of timecards.

It's back to the back to straighten out stock and break down empty boxes. I learn how to stock the crane game. I have to call in "breakdowns" once an hour to Maintenance -- the number of games or parts of games that aren't working, even if they haven't been working all day, or all week.

When Day shift comes in about an hour later, I nearly go crazy trying to get breaks straight and people in stands. Only so many people -- 5 to 6 -- can go on break at once. The rest you have to work into the stands. Lori has to guide me as I figure out how to move people around. Certain stands have limits, which I write down to remember:

  • Ring-A-Thing: 2
  • Skee-Ball: 2 (one person behind the redemptions counter, the other walking a beat looking for problems)
  • Spot Pitch: 2
  • Highland Hoops: 2
  • Wacky Wire: 3
  • Putt-Putt (aka St. Andrew's Green): 2
  • Horse Race (aka Churchill Downs): 2
  • Bedrock Bedlam: 2
  • Queen's Dairy: 3
  • Golden Grail: 3
  • Fishin' Hole: 4!

Night shift personnel turns into another mess, as I try to figure out who's going on break while trying to handle specific stand requests. When the smoke clears, I think I've really loused things up, but my only damage is one extra person in Queen's Dairy and Golden Grail, with one short in Ring-A-Thing. It doesn't take much to fix, and finally I get to sell change -- the part of the job I'm used to seeing and thinking I can easily master.

Lori runs down some other things with me on her list that we don't have a chance to get to in depth: "last calls" for stock and how to order more prizes. We do a till audit on an underling -- he's $1 over. I go another round with the personnel, with better results.

All through the day, my keys get passed around. People grab them to open the lock bags containing their till money they bring up from Cash Control and not give them back. Lori's words bounce through my head: "Never leave your keys unattended." For my sake, some other forepeople were around to make sure I got them.

At 3:00, my shift is over, but my head is spinning. I have to fill out a comment form on this first day. I praise Lori and her being there to back me up. I wish I'd gotten the foreman manual yesterday instead of halfway through my shift today. Personnel is a drag. This job is harder than it looks...

I sum it all up in my mind, and I consider I did pretty well. I know I can smooth out the rough spots with more time... tomorrow.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The People Vs. Jackie

Many forepeople at Six Flags Over Mid-America cop an attitude. Most of us put up with it, but in 1991, a forewoman who rubbed multiple people in multiple wrong directions got knocked down a notch.

"Jackie" (name changed) had a pushy, witchy, overbearing reputation, something she apparently treasured. When selling change to her underlings, she would walk up to somebody and stick out her hand without saying a word -- hand it over. She could chew on people, yell at others, and slack off in the backroom without sanction. Someone in upper management backed her, likely the same person who promoted her to forewoman in the first place. Forepeople and supervisors had a habit of moving up people they were dating.

On July 4th, 1991, as fireworks exploded over St. Louis, a group of Jackie's victims got together at the Taco Bell down the road after getting off shift. They signed a petition against her, and although it's not clear if they wanted her fired or just demoted, they wanted something done about her. Some people scribbled down page-long grievances. The petition even made its way into some stands back in the Games section, although Jackie never noticed.

"She was probably slacking," another worker told me.

On top of this, I learned Jackie had concocted a story to get a girl off early from her shift. She lied and said the girl had a sick grandmother, but the girl's story and Jackie's story didn't match when a supervisor heard from both of them.

Five days later, Jackie found herself reduced in rank from forewoman to assistant forewoman -- from red tag down to orange tag -- but only for 30 days. I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall when one of the full-time Games specialists laid it out, but I can imagine the conversation went something like this:

"I'm taking you down to orange tag."

"Oh, come on!"

"I can't ignore this, Jackie. I got pages and signatures here in front of me."

"You know those people will sign anything somebody puts in front of them!"

"Well do they write full-page comments, too, saying how much you [bleep]?"

"I push people hard because we got a lot of people who slack!"

"They can't all be slackers, Jackie. And you've got a problem dealing with people."

"The problem I have is that I got people slacking and stealing and not serving the guests."

"Yeah, well, maybe. But you got a problem, too. We both got a problem here, because if I don't handle this, they're gonna go to [redacted]. And then he's gonna ask why I didn't handle it, and then we're both hosed. Look, this is only for a month. You be cool, and you get your red tag back."

"This is such [bleep]."

"That's not the issue. The issue is how do I save your job, and save my job, and keep this from getting bigger."

Jackie's attitude improved -- slightly. She began saying "please." She began saying, "May I see your till?" But she did only as much as she needed. Thirty days later her red tag returned along with her attitude.

One season later, when I was working a stand by myself and giving a guest directions to a ride, Jackie cut in right after I finished my conversation.

"Would you like to help them out?"

She meant another guest standing at the stand, the one I was about to help had she not assumed I was blowing them off. Then she stuck out her hand.

"Lemme see your bills."

Now she wanted to sell me change. The demotion hadn't done a darn thing except make her invincible. I later learned she tried to quit, putting in her two weeks' notice and hoping it would goad somebody into backing off. Her cadre of supervisors and full-time specialists, those ones who had her back, decided to back her again.

Getting Jackie fired would be a hundred times simpler today. Back in 1991, we didn't have YouTube, Facebook or hidden pen cameras. The combination of those three could've been devastating.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sticky Fingers

Guests will try to steal from us. Try. And if they don't get away with the prizes, they may try to steal directly from employees.

It happens twice in a single day: May 18, 1991.

In the first incident, a guest walks up to "Fool The Guesser" and lifts two Jack Daniels' wall hangings. The stand is not technically part of the Games section, but an independently-run operation that employs people to guess guests' age and weight within a given range, using a standard list of spiels over a microphone for all to hear -- "Let's see if that extra Coke did it." People usually fool the guy on the microphone, but one woman decides she'll improve her odds.

"Ma'am, Ma'am!"

The voice booms all over Britannia. An assistant moves in and grabs the pilfered prizes but cuts the thief loose. Minutes later, four Security people are all over the scene. I don't know if they went back after the guest.

About 100 feet away at "Queens' Dairy," your humble Games host is confronted by a pack of girls looking for trouble, with one of them eyeing my wrist.

"Can I see your watch?"

I hold out my arm, and instantly she's pawing my Rolex. My fake Rolex. The gift from Grandfather Francis, who bought it in New York City for $40 off a street hustler, along with some other knock-off watches for himself and others. It actually keeps good time, but it won't for much longer if I don't shove my hand back in my pocket.

"Do you have the time?" a colleague in the stand asks.

"I had to take off my watch to keep it away from HER!"

And still, she keeps asking to see it. I would call Security on her if she's not so young, not older than 13. I think of a variant on that line uttered by Ray Charles in The Blues Brothers: "Breaks my heart to see a girl that young, going bad."

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Coming Up Short

Tills come up short. Attendance comes up short. Guests try to win and come up short. All those problems are easily managed. But when personnel comes up short, the docile foreperson loses sanity and hair. When the Attractions shifts for the Ninja section run short on people, I'm in for an adventure.

August 17th, 1992: In one day, I work skeeball at one section, then the Great Escape arcade, then to the remote-controlled boats and cars for another three hours in the hot sun while the forepeople figure out how to manage staff, shifts, and breaks.

One foreman -- coincidentally named Chris -- and I work together at the Great Escape, both behind the counter while guests wave redemption-game tickets in our faces. Video games eat quarters. Tickets jam in the machines. Boom-ball games misfire or shoot blanks. Changers balk. The phone rings.

Chris steals from three change machines to keep another one running. I keep running out of quarters myself, much to the displeasure of the guests. Chris runs out of change to fill the machines. He calls another foreman for help, but that other foreman -- likely swamped himself -- doesn't show. Finally, Chris decides to go and get the change himself, leaving the entire arcade, with its guests, tickets, quarters, and problems in my hands.

"Anything I need to know before you leave?" I ask.

"Just don't kill any guests," Chris instructs me.

"I'll try not to."

"I've been trying not to all day."

While he's fetching the change, I get a call from one of the full-time specialists.

"Hey, Christopher!" she sings. "Is [she named another foreperson] there?"

"No, I'm the only one here," I say calmly. "We have no foreman, we have three changers down, I'm out of quarters, and we only have one person at Pac-N-Inn (the other arcade). We're in dire straits."

"Do you need a foreman?"

At this moment, I probably should've said, "No, I need Boy George." But I was too tired to be snarky. "We need something," I replied.

"Okay, I'll talk to [the same foreman who didn't bring the change]."

Good luck with that.

Finally, the delayed foreman makes it, shortly after the change does. Chris returns and avoids committing any felonies. For awhile, all is right with the Games universe.

Then a guest insists on redeeming 23 tickets for 23 cheap plastic rulers. Another guest brings up tickets and asks for 20 more, and I have to draw the line because it's going to clean us out. Again, we're coming up short.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Taken For A Ride

Getting out to Six Flags Over Mid-America means a 20-minute road trip for your humble servant, often at the hands of my parents because I don't have my own ride yet. Often I bum a ride with Michael, even if it means I have to go in an hour earlier because of differences in our start times.

Stephanie is in dire straights on one night in July 1992. She doesn't have a ride home after her shift ends at 7, and if she doesn't get home by 8:30, her mother will make her quit the job. The two of them have been fighting because Steph has gone out a little often -- and a little too late -- with her Six Flags friends.

I originally don't want to do it, because she lives out in Arnold, adding at least another half-hour to my journey home, and I've never been out there in the first place. My borrowed family car is running low on gas. But when I heard about the "or else" part from a foreperson, I step up to help.

She has to stop at Taco Bell for munchies. I have to stop at Texaco for gas. But I get her back home by 8:30, right on the mark. I make the trip from I-44 to 141 to 55 to Robertson Road and back without a hitch. I just hope she doesn't think of me as a total git in the car. I'm not good at small talk, especially around girls. Mike tells me he's taken her home several times.

The next day, rumors are going all through the backroom about the night trip and your humble servant making a move or this or that. Then another rumor goes around that Steph's mother is making her quit -- not because I didn't get her home on time, but because she came home an hour past her curfew on another night, skunk drunk.

However, Steph hasn't really quit, the rumor goes on. She's continuing to go to work, just telling Mom she's "out."

One morning, the phone rings at 7am, and my mother answers. It's a collect call from Stephanie. Mom says she doesn't know anybody by that name, at which time the girl overrides the operator on the line and asks for Michael. He takes the call.

Stephanie wants Mike to give her a ride to Six Flags, which he either can't or won't give her. When she hears this, she chokes up, but Mike holds firm. He's getting tired of running her around on her run-around. And she isn't helping with the gas money, either.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Care And Feeding Of Arcade Games

Six Flags Over Mid-America has two video arcades: "The Great Escape" and "Pac-M-Inn" (later, "Grant's Gallery" to better fit the Missouri theme of that section of the park). Games oversees their operations, but we're mostly there to change dollars into quarters for guests and give refunds for erratic machines.

For the first year of my Six Flags career, arcade personnel are dispatched from a small backroom on the Spanish backstreet, halfway across the park. The operation later moves to a backroom behind the games next to the Ninja coaster. But wherever you're dispatched from, you end up largely on your own to walk a beat through the beeping and buzzing of the games with a key to get into their coin box for refunds or give free plays.

One of the foremen sets some ground rules, posted in a small backroom at each arcade above the cash box where we keep dollar bills guests turn in for change.
  • Smile, walk around, enjoy your job.
  • Don't let people dance in front of the jukebox!
  • You will immediately call for more change when you get down to $50 worth of quarters.
  • Don't let people bring in food and drinks.
Many of the games are at least two to three years out of date. People haven't yet developed an affinity for retro gaming, so it's not unusual to see some consoles sit and gather dust. In my second year, Six Flags turns to an outside company to lease better games, but they bolt up the coin boxes. Instead of digging out quarters, I have to write up refund slips for guests, which is a pain for both of us.

Up at "The Great Escape," we bring in a slew of ticket-dispensing games similar to what you now see at Peter Piper Pizza or Dave and Buster's. The prizes require an obscenely high amount of tickets, as you would expect.

"We were going to get Virtual Reality," somebody tells me, "but the company wanted 70 percent of the revenue."

At least twice a summer, we would have Games parties at the Great Escape, where somebody would be able to get into the coin boxes and put the games on free play. This would be Babylon, if we didn't have so many games riffing on Mortal Kombat.

Whatever happened to Pac-Man and Donkey Kong?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hide The Children, It's The Till Monsters!

From time to time, we let groups who need to raise money quickly come in and try their hand at the Games sections. Six Flags Over Mid-America calls them "Boosters." We call them "Till Monsters."

They come in wearing dark blue uniforms with paper nametags, usually half a dozen or more at time. A regular employee will be at their side, making sure they get the hang of the dropping procedures -- which they usually don't. And when they're on the job for only one day, they have little incentive to learn. Their tills end up wildly over or under.

But where there's problems, there's also opportunity. "Bones," one of the Britannia foremen, finds a way to scrape off their excess bills into a slush fund to buy lunch and sodas for the staff. I'm not sure the supervisors know about it.

On Fourth of July weekend in 1992, Six Flags brings in loads of boosters to alleviate staffing shortages in expectation of a 20,000+ crowd and a concert by Color Me Badd. Either we're firing too many people, or not hiring enough people, because it's the only time I recall us turning to a temporary employment agency for help in the Games stands. One of the supervisors says he doesn't want them in his section because he doesn't want to have to deal with them. He gets them anyway.

I'm working with one booster at a mini-golf stand in Old Chicago when a forewoman comes around to sell her change.

"Are you dropping every time?" she asks.

Yes, she responds. But when the forewoman sells her three SBA rolls, her mouth drops wide open as the booster pulls out more bills plus a roll of quarters and who knows how much more.

"Are you sure you're dropping every time?"

I don't know what the foreperson does with the excess. I can only hope she gets a slush fund going in Old Chicago.

Till theft? Maybe. Inexperience around wads of money makes for a good cover story. I have to think people have come in for one day, skimmed a nice sum, and committed the perfect crime. I don't know the wage that Boosters get, but while they're working for their organization, some of them probably want a little for themselves.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stuff Our Guests Say

A few incidents involving actual Six Flags Over Mid-America guests:

SMELLS LIKE TROLL SPIRIT. Guests will return stuffed-animal prizes because they have holes, loose strings, stains, scuffs, ugly-looking seams, water-absorbent interiors, the wrong color hair, no eyes, no nose, no tail, no doo-hickeys on top of the feelers, or simply no class. But I never had a guest tell me a prize reeked until my second season on the job.

She's a woman who just keeps on playing Whack-A-Troll, stacking up stuffed troll prizes. On her first victory, she immediately puts the little plush creature up to her nose and snorts it like a dog getting acquainted with a new toy.

"Do you have another one?" she asks. "This one smells bad."

I take a whiff and find no foul odors. But I play along, handing her trolls and letting her smell them until she finds one that satisfies her nose. I have to bite my tongue to keep from cracking up.

"They smell like sawdust," she tells another guest. She wants to give them to some new babies in her family. I wonder if she'll ask them to smell them, too.

FULL FRONTAL? Guests walk into the Britannia games section after a soaking on Thunder River, and the ones who don't think about multiple layers of clothing unknowingly find they're putting on a wet t-shirt contest right in front of dozens of teenage boys -- and other guests.

Most people never say anything, including the Games workers, although some keep a joke tally on a prize-giveaway sheet in each stand, right next to the count of "Fat Men Wearing Spandex." Yet one day, a man and a lady walk up to a game, and the man issues a command as he hands three balls to her.

"And don't show your bloody breasts!"

No, he's not British. She isn't, either. But she's not wearing a bra. And at least she has the sense to keep her posture proper.

THE KIDS AREN'T ALLRIGHT. About 15 minutes before closing time, a couple of young hotshots wander up to my stand. One of them wants 50 cents to get something to eat. I tell them I can't do that, even though the kid claims he has a season pass, lives five minutes from the park, and will pay be back tomorrow.

"C'mon, you got billions coming into this place every day," he pleads.

"Not exactly billions," I correct.

"Millions."

"Not that much."

"Well, with everything put together, you do."

"Not that much," I repeat.

"This place bites," the other kid says.

"Then why did you get a season pass?" I query.

"Well," he stalls, "we didn't know until today that they raised the price of everything."

STICKY FINGERS. A guest walks up to me with the tag from a stuffed basketball wrapped around his finger. He'd been carrying it that way, and now he can't get it off. He asks if I have some scissors. I don't, but I know where to get some.

I turn to a co-worker and ask if she had any cutting devices. She starts cutting up into laughter when I tell her why I need it.

"Don't laugh!" I scold. "This is serious!" The man's finger is turning purple.

She and a supervisor hunt down some scissors in the backroom while I wait for this guy to collapse in front of me. Eventually the ball slips off before the scissors comes. His finger regains its normal hue, and all is right with the world.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Walk Like A Man, Sing Like A Girl

Reel To Reel: Jersey Boys

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Christopher Walken
Rated: R
Red Flags: Some mild sexuality, tough-guy Jersey language

"Tight underwear," my Queen Mother replied long ago, when we were sitting in the car as a young family and wondering how Frankie Valli could hit all those high falsetto notes. Jersey Boys doesn't offer us any secrets beyond hints of practice and exercise. Maybe it should've, especially in the first half hour, where this story of The Four Seasons needs a kick start.

It's clear this is not going to be the Broadway smash that is now on tour (and playing in Tucson as I write this) from the opening credits. Put this in the hands of Bill Condon, who directed Dreamgirls and Chicago, and he would've gotten things moving from frame one. Director Clint Eastwood prefers to play this as a dark drama with musical interludes rather than a musical. We see young Frankie (Young, from the original musical cast) hanging around his aspiring-wiseguy pal Tommy (Piazza) in the 1950's as they pal with a Jersey mob boss (Walken) and dabble in crime between gigs with Tommy's band. With Tommy's into-the-camera narration, the movie nearly turns into something resembling GoodFellas: The Musical, and a very slow one at that.

Tommy's group changes lineups and names, but it can't get beyond playing clubs until their friend Joe Pesci (yes, that Joe Pesci, played by Joey Russo) introduces them to promising keyboard player and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bergen). He has the songs Frankie wants, but his terms make him a reluctant hire for Tommy and his I-take-care-of-everythin' style. Bob and Frankie land a recording deal with flamboyant producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), but only as backup singers until the band comes up with three songs -- "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," and "Walk Like A Man" -- that propel them to the top of the charts, anchored by Valli's trademark falsetto. Success would be sweet if it wasn't for Tommy's management practices, where money comes in and out, but only Tommy knows how or where. Eventually a loan shark comes looking for Tommy, leaving the possibility the Four Seasons could end up singing with the fishes.

This version of Jersey Boys might've worked better as a dark-tinged straight rockudrama in the mode of What's Love Got To Do With It without the breaking of the fourth wall borrowed from the stage production. Only at the end do we get a hint of the energy that could've lifted this film. Ultimately, what makes this film worth a look is John Lloyd Young's vocals and all those Four Seasons' hits.

It's A Family Affair

For two seasons at Six Flags Over Mid-America, my brother Michael (four years my junior) also did a tour of duty in the Games section. Sibling rivalry chugged along at that time, meaning I'd find ways not to end up in the same section with him. But I couldn't beat the odds all the time.

May 29, 1992: We end up co-spieling Churchill Downs. I came up with a system where I would call half the race, and he would pick it up at the halfway point. One of the forewomen caught a glimpse of us.

"It's family entertainment!" she cried, calling it nearly "heartbreaking" to see us working together.

Oh, brother.

About a month later, two foremen conspired to get us back together again, this time having us start the day together at a different racing game involving water pistols. I'm sure they weren't thinking we'd turn the guns on each other -- which we didn't do, by the way. When your kid brother annoys you as a teenager, work is supposed to be an escape from home life.

"He's not that bad," one of the foremen snickered.

"You don't have to live with him," I replied. "He's got an ego the size of New York."

"Look, out here you're just co-workers, not brothers."

Mike was going on break anyway, so it didn't last long, to my relief. When I heard my brother opening announce to guests that they may squirt me -- joke or not -- I think we're headed for trouble.

We'd end up working a few other stands in the same section, but his hours and my hours didn't usually line up. I would often grab early shifts, and he would get nightside gigs, or the reverse. The way things worked out, we didn't see as much of each other as you would think. And graciously, he kept me out of the gossip loop and vice-versa.

Or does he?

One time when I'm walking into the backroom, he's talking about kicking somebody's butt later on. When he turns around and sees me standing right behind him, his face pales and he leaves the room.

On a busy Sunday, one girl asks why Mike isn't there.

"It's his day off," I reply.

"How did he manage to get Sunday off?"

"I dunno," I explain.

"[Bleep]."

"I'll tell him you said that." (I didn't.)

But I had to give him the business near the end of the summer, when we were writing down our addresses on a wall poster for people who actually wanted to pick up a pen and dash off a letter in the days before widespread email and Facebook. He misspelled a word in a comment below our location.

"Learn to spell, Dan," I snarked in a note beside it, alluding to the famous Quayle Potato(e).

Sibling rivalry, in full effect.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Don't Lose That Number

Six Flags Over Mid-America is an extention of high school in many ways, having its own employee sports leagues, pep rallies and the occasional overnight trip. But when Games employees run free, the outcomes range from mildly hilarious to criminally actionable.

On one trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, three employees, including at least one foreman, end up with theft charges for stealing letters from a portable arrow sign. We know it's more than a rumor because the bail bond forms are posted in the Britannia backroom for all to see. They make plea deals.

Another float trip rolls around. This time, nobody's sober.

Another girl fills me in on the alcoholic details. One black tag downs three-fifths of a peach Schnapps bottle. A foreman gets so skunked he has to be carried onto the raft the next day. Another co-worker smokes five cigars in 20 minutes. Shacking-up abounds. One forewoman surnamed King earns a title of "The Shacker Queen."

As the girl pours out every dirty secret, little and big, co-workers on break at a nearby table observe her talking and your humble servant casually cross-examining. They think we're flirting.

"So did you get her number?" one guy asks me later.

"No," I reply. "But I sure got all of yours."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Leggo The Ego

Some forepeople sponge up power, and when one of them made it to the level of full-time Games department head, his monarchal ego radiated outward like a bad smell. "Jack" (name changed) needed regular ego feedings, and he wasn't afraid to vent in all directions.

One Saturday, Jack shows up in the Britannia backroom about 15 minutes before my day shift begins. He immediately starts heaving weight as soon as a foreman starts clowning with a fellow orange tag's sizable till.

"Let's see how many of these we can break," he jokes, eyeing stacks of quarter rolls.

"Hey bucko!" Jack bellows. "Don't mess with people's tills!" He launches into a rundown of what he wants the other supervisors and forepeople to get done today, including improvements to the prize displays. While he's ticking off his list, the foreman he just scolded slinks into a chair.

Jack throws him a dirty eye. "Are you slacking?"

"Yeah."

"Get out there -- this is Saturday."

"So Saturday's slacker day."

Jack turns his attention to another foreman with attitude problems, griping about the "flashing" -- prize display on the walls, in Six Flags terminology -- redone at the long-range basketball. He walks around the back of several stands griping about a "major skunk invasion" and ragging on the backroom's cleanliness.

"This place looks like a hole!"

"It's not so bad," replies the slacking foreman.

I'm surprised the foreman doesn't get axed on the spot given what has just happened in the past week or so. We're hearing how he canned a girl in her stand for not showing him the proper respect. The topic comes up during a break, and several of us trade rumors.

"I'd like to clear her name," spits another guy sitting nearby, taking it all in.

He gives us the real story, saying this girl bought it for getting into an argument with Jack in front of a guest and two other black tags. Fair enough. But I gather it's mostly because of Jack's ego and not the argument.

Another girl tells me about a time where she was cleaning mildew from the pond where we keep the remote-controlled boats. Jack tells her she has to wear gloves and goggles while using Lime-A-Way. She tells him she doesn't have either, and Jack says, "We'll get you some." He doesn't. So this girl and a co-worker go on a long journey to find the necessities... in pouring rain.

Some time later, the aforementioned foreman with attitude gets a promotion to supervisor, but only after threatening to quit after being repeatedly passed over. No doubt Jack has a hand in it. What's that saying about birds and flocking?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Challenger

My undisputed title as number-one spieler faces a serious challenger in the summer of 1992. "Robert" (name changed) joins the Games crew in the Old Chicago section. We work a shift together in the long-range basketball toss and he relentlessly pitches the game to every passerby.

"Hello, sir, would you like to try your luck?"

How can he run with that much energy for so long? He tells me he loves people, and this gig beats his previous jobs at Shoney's and McDonald's. I understand, but I want to see if a theorem from a foreman holds up: "After the first two weeks, your enthusiasm just dies."

A few days later, we work a racing game together. In a rare change of duties, I don't have to call the races because Robert is blowing everybody away with his relentless power spieling. A supervisor tells me I better start running if I don't want to get beaten for Spieler of the Year. I'm a bit envious. Robert finally lets me in on his secret to perpetual energy: one hour of sleep and one hour of sitting meditation. If somebody can get that pumped after only two hours of down time, he deserves some kind of award.

I step up my own game the next day, power spieling at Whack-A-Troll in Britannia and turning red in the face.

"Remember to breathe," a co-worker tells me.

"Take it easy," a foreman says. "You got eight hours to go."

About a week after Robert's debut, I hear scuttlebutt about a supervisor trying to set up a Spielers' Challenge. Robert and I would both work a double shift in Old Chicago on the same day, taking turns calling racing games and seeing who could make the most money for their stands. Nobody officially comes to me with the challenge, but I find Robert and we shake on it. Now we just have to set a date for the showdown.

But neither of us gets to rock the mic. Days later, Robert's sacked for being $10 over on his till, a day after ending $16 over. And I see some of his final hours.

It starts when I take a 15-minute break, authorized by one of the foremen late in the evening. I walk into the Old Chicago backroom, where a forewoman and a supervisor are talking business.

"Could you do me a favor?" the forewoman says immediately. "Could you go back into the section for a few minutes?"

"I'm taking my 15-minute break now," I reply as I fiddle with the lock on the slide-out basket where I'm storing my till.

"Oh, okay," she replies. "Here, I'll lock that up for you. Go ahead. Go on out."

Strange. I go down the path to one of the restaurants and grab a Mr. Pibb. I return to the backroom with it, so as not to sip in front of the guests -- one of the directives of Good Six Flags Guest Service. This time I see the supervisor taping together a ripped-up till audit sheet. As I sit in the room, I quietly hear the forewoman and her talking about where they are going to meet outside the Games office, that another worker is "out of his stand again," and something about a write-up. The worker they're talking about enters the backroom and the forewoman sends him down to Long Range, where Robert is working.

"I thought we closed Long Range," the worker puzzles.

"No," the forewoman replies. "We'll be down in a half-hour to close it."

Not soon after, the forewoman has some words for all the black tags in the backroom, including me. "Could you all wander around the section for awhile?"

"The only reason I'm here is because I don't want to sip in front of the guests," I say.

"Oh, well," the forewoman replies. "As long as you're on a bench, it doesn't matter."

I go to a smaller backroom behind one of the stands and sip there. When my break ends, I return to the main backroom and fetch my till apron. The foreman who had sent me on break is the only one in the room besides me, and I tell him the whole story.

"Sounds like you were about to hear something you weren't supposed to," he says.

"That's what I thought."

When I see Robert in Wardrobe at the end of my shift, he clarifies everything.

"Goodbye," he tells me. "I'm not going to be seeing you anymore."

"Huh?"

"I got fired today."

"For what?"

"Being $10 over."

He tells me the Games department head dropped the ax himself. But he doesn't tell me everything. I later learn he's dipping his hand in the till, just like so many black tags who think they can steal without getting caught. A co-worker who borrowed money from Robert tells me he saw no money in his wallet at the beginning of one shift. Afterward, he had $30.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stephanie's Joy

If you've never had to deal with the sudden death of a co-worker, consider yourself extremely blessed.

At Six Flags Over Mid-America, the Britannia section of Games abruptly lost 16-year-old Stephanie Jolly in the summer of 1991. She had just gotten rid of her despised brown tag and was excited about getting a driver's license. She won several Mystery Guest awards, living up to her name, and she was a natural to make Service Superstar. I would've nominated her, if I could've found a way to keep that nomination out of the rumor machine.

One day, in the backroom, she told us she was going in for surgery. We knew she had something wrong with her brain, but she brushed it off as if it were a trip to the dentist. I heard she had a tumor, but later, I heard it was something a lot more precarious -- swelling of certain blood vessels in her head. It didn't cause her much pain, but she once had a seizure during a break.

During surgery, her brain swelled so much that it crushed her skull. She was gone.

The Games supervisors got the word first, and they had the biggest problem: how to break the news to everybody without plunging the entire section into grief. They decided to tell people once they got off shifts, but the news trickled back to people still working.

"We almost had to shut the section down," one co-worker recalled.

This same person had been going out with Stephanie for some time, and worse, the relationship had soured in the last few days. The co-worker was at one of the arcades when another worker with him got a call from management. A boss gave the word to her first with instructions not to tell her floormate until a replacement could arrive. But the news being what it was, her facial expressions gave away dire news.

"What's wrong?"

"I can't tell you."

"What's wrong?"

"I can't tell you until Jim (the supervisor) gets here. He told me not to tell."

"[Bleep] that. What's so [bleep]ing wrong?"

"Steph didn't make it!"

Instantly, the co-worker lost control of the rational forces within him. A guest walked up to him saying he'd just lost a quarter in a machine. The co-worker hurled the keys in his hand at him. "Fix it your [bleep]ing self!"

At that moment, Jim arrived with a replacement. He told the co-worker to take off his till and go up to the Games office, where some other sups were in mourning.

The co-worker declined an offer to be a pallbearer at Stephanie's funeral, noting he was still messed up. Jim took his place.

This all happened while I was away on vacation, and I'm glad I didn't have to see Brit reduced to grief.

"You gotta smile," Stephanie once said to me. "It's Saturday!"

She was born to work this job. Why her? In my scoundrel youth, it reinforced my flawed theory, adapted from Billy Joel, that only the good die young. If I had a relationship with GOD back then, I would've been able to explain it to people. I don't think I would've made a big dent in their grief, but at least I would've kept them from blaming THE LORD.

Monday, June 16, 2014

An Outcast Is In Our Presence

On break, I sit down with some girls from day shift. I instantly detect an uneasy silence accompanied by looks that signal, "There is an outcast in our presence." For what, I don't know. Yet those looks -- they're penetrating.

I play it cool. "Something tells me something isn't right," I say.

A few of them laugh. Psych-out move? Nah... too much cooperation for that.

Your humble servant doesn't date on the job. All right, I'll own it: I don't date, period. I have good reasons besides the obvious of being the square. I see too many relationships go bad on the job at Six Flags. But the park all but promotes on-the-job fraternization, holding socials every so often like it's an extension of high school.

A girl named "Tina" (name changed) asks me out to a "Turnabout" dance. Then I find I'm her second choice. She had asked some other guy first, who turned her down but changed his mind. Now she's engineering a way to go out with two men.

"Sounds kinda kinky," I tell her. I back out, not wanting to be the third wheel. I really didn't feel like going anyway, even stag.

Later in the summer of 1991, the Games department runs a "Data Match" dating game. It's a pencil-and-paper precursor to eHarmony.com, where people fill out a standardized survey of their interests and a computer matches them up to best matches from the opposite gender.

Here's my results. Click for a larger view:

Well, almost my results. (Finding decent scanning software and drivers for my old hardware for free is a vicious circle.)

Note my highest compatibility is 67 percent. I don't know if that's positive relationship material. I don't follow up on the results. Remember, I'm not dating.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

They Nail Cheaters, Don't They?

I will give you the Standard Six Flags Guest Service Disclaimer: most of our patrons play honorably and responsibly. The one percent that don't are a pain for two reasons. First, it's hard to catch them in the act. Second, when you do, they'll find a way to claim that you didn't, and in the name of guest service, you'll have to politely give them a pass.

"Ring-A-Thing" is the easiest for cheaters. The perpetrator doesn't have to lean over very far to secretly plant a ring on top of a soda bottle employee and claim a gargantuan plush animal. It only takes a second.

A little kid tries it one day. He flags me down from another part of the stand, indicating he's a winner. But it doesn't feel right. He's done it with his very last ring, and it's on the front row.

I turn to a woman who has just walked over and ask, "Did he lay this ring on there?"

She nods yes.

"This woman says you laid this ring on there," I addressed.

The kid gives me a cute smile. "I did."

"Don't do that! We nail cheaters!"

He and his buddy run off after the tactful but first dress-down.

Another guest wins the grand prize at Highland Hoops. So far, no problem. But then he comes back later and tries to play again, violating our policy of one grand prize per guest per day. That's when he claims he's not the guy who won, but actually the guy's twin cousin. In the name of Guest Service, I can't call him out on it.

The foul line is supposed to keep some order in the universe. But if I enforce it, guests complain. At one of the ball-tossing games, I calmly remind him, "Make sure your hand doesn't go over the foul line."

"Man, gimme my money back."

"Because I told you can't go over the foul line?" I query.

"Because I can tell you aren't cool."

Aren't cool -- that's a code term for, "I'll turn my head the other way while you cheat." I give him his money back.

He later comes back and starts leaning again. When I call him on it, he hurls all the balls away in a huff.

"I'm only doing my job," I explain.

"Why don't you go on the other side?" he gripes, pointing to some guests standing in another line at the same stand.

I do, and a co-worker lets him play again. He wins and collects his prize. I find out he was leaning again, but the co-worker -- a green tag -- doesn't want to cause trouble. And we both think this guy's a jerk.

One guy isn't content to cheat; he just flat-out steals. We find him sitting on the counter at Highland Hoops and politely tell him to get up, because we don't allow people to sit on the game counters. Later, we learn he has been reaching behind him to grab stuffed bears out of the stand and pass them to his buddies. It took another guest to tip us off, long after the fact.

Occasionally, some people think we're the ones cheating. At "Spot Pitch," we require a tossed quarter to get completely inside one of the small circles on our game board to win a prize. One guest thinks he's entitled to something for making it half-way. We have the forepeople and supervisors eyeball it, but they won't give in.

The steamed patron goes down to Guest Relations to complain. They call us and tell us to send down a prize. We send him a gigantic plush Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle -- with a rip in it.