"The Rat In the Popcorn"

(From the forthcoming book Secrets of Movie Theaters)

by Dennis Nyback

It was in the late 70's at Seattle's Moore-Egyptian Theater, home of the Seattle International Film Festival, that the incident of the dead rat happened. When the theater was built in 1907 it was just called "The Moore" but when a couple of young bon vivants from Canada in 1974 decided to turn its' two balconies, six stage boxes, 1500 seats and an orchestra pit into a movie theater, they thought calling it the "Egyptian" would give it that air of an old-time movie palace. The fact that most of the old-timemovie palaces in Seattle had already been razed, or soon would be, didn't seem to bother them, but then drug use can have that effect on one's perceptions. It took a large staff to run the old barn and with the drug use, romantic attachments, and just plain sexual licentiousness, not everyone got along. This story concerns four of them: Three candy girls and a janitor.

Two of the candy girls had been working there for a while when the third one was hired. Needless to say, for no tangible reasons, they hated her. The janitor had been there longer and he didn't like anybody, but then nobody liked him either. One day he found a dead rat in the auditorium and instead of giving it a decent burial, or just throwing it out with the trash, he decided it would be fun to put it in some conspicuous place behind the candy counter where the girls would happen upon it and scream. Whether or not they screamed when they found it I do not know, all I know is that the new girl wasn't around when the other two discovered it and they decided it was the perfect thing to use to put the new girl in her place. They kept it hidden, waiting patiently for the perfect moment, and eventually there was one. The new girl, not smart enough to pour sodas, was in charge of popcorn. While her back was to the machine, one of the girls quickly brought out the dead rat and adroitly dropped it into an empty popcorn cup. The plan was that the new girl would turn, pick up the cup, look inside, scream and walk off the job never to return again.

The plan worked perfectly, up to a point. The only problem was that after picking up the cup she didn't look inside, didn't see the dead rat, didn't scream, and didn't walk off the job. What she did do was fill the cup with popcorn, covering the dead rat, and served it to an unsuspecting customer who had no idea of the movie palace intrigues behind the scenes. Roughly ten minutes later, the scream was finally heard and shortly thereafter a very upset man came charging out of the auditorium, vomitus dripping from his chin, holding the popcorn cup as far away from his body as his arms could reach. He had spent ten minutes eating the unbeknownst-to-him-rat-contaminated popcorn and put it in his mouth and then, at the bottom of the cup, his hand found the dead rat. No one knows if he mistook the rat for a large clump of popcorn and put it in his mouth, but even without that, he had every right to be upset.

The only people in the cavernous lobby were the three candy girls, so he charged across to them and thrust the dead rat under their noses and demanded to know how it got into his popcorn. The new girl was understandably amazed and the other two were quick enough on their feet to imitate her. About this time, the word "lawsuit" first entered the discourse, and other than a flat denial, the candy girls couldn't think up a plausible story. By this time, the manager on duty had wandered by and sizing up the situation, more accurately than most people would give him credit for, said "It must have been delivered in the pre-pop." His quick thinking cleverly shifted the specter of a lawsuit away from the theater and directed it at a company called Harlan Fairbanks, supplier of most of the Pre-Popped Popcorn sold in the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area. As ridiculous as it may seem to suppose that a dead rat could be delivered in a clear plastic bag, emptied into the popcorn machine and scooped into an individual cup without anyone noticing, the guilty candy girls immediately seized on it as the gospel truth.

The damaged patron, faced with the blanket denials of everyone present, finally wrote down all of their names and left the building. He took the popcorn cup nad the dead rat with him. After a couple of months, the brouhaha died down and I suppose that the customer finally gave up his plans of instant wealth when confronted with the righteous stonewalling from everyone at the Moore-Egyptian and at the Harlan Fairbanks company.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The new candy girl survived the nefarious plot and eventually became good friends with the other girls. The janitor had to clean up the vomit and never did become well liked, but I suppose that was a result of his questionable sense of humor.

(Editor's Note: You can visit the official website for the Moore-Egyptian theatre at http://www.themoore.com/main.html)