A postcard from Ribka’s bedroom: My Barbenheimer trauma

“A postcard from Ribka’s bedroom” delivers truths — harsh and kind. “Can a truth even be harsh, kind, subjective or objective?” Ribka Desta asks.

As she pens in her postcards, perhaps it is impossible to view things as they are — maybe you can only view things as you are.

I’ve always been aware that there are plenty of walking-talking dummies in the world. I wasn’t aware that thousands of them lived in my hometown and would decide to hit up my local movie theater in the summer of 2023. I honestly remember it in fragments and flashbacks. One whiff of buttered popcorn, and I’m out for the count. If I see too many people wearing pink at once, I need to lie down.

Honestly, I loved working as a crew leader at AMC Theaters — particularly because I abused my “free tickets” and 50% discount. It’s so much easier to enjoy things when corporate handles the cost — which is why my friends and I watched an insane number of films we would have otherwise never loved (or subjected ourselves too) — “Asteroid City,” “Evil Dead Rise”…. Before the waived price, I would have never imagined seeing a movie about an AI doll murderer four times in theaters or downloading Letterboxd. For the most part, I believe the benefits outweigh the hard labor.

This excludes the July days when putting on my uniform felt like taping a “kick me!” poster to my chest. This excludes the August days when I kept redrafting, deleting and redrafting “two week notices.”  

Depicted: My coworker and me before and after the premiere of “Barbenheimer.” (Photo: RIBKA DESTA/The Stanford Daily)

As a converted cinephile, I wanted to be very excited for the day that “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were both set to premiere. I had been scheduled 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day — which for a few ironic moments felt like a double-win. I used to always put my paycheck above my mental health. (Do not take this advice! DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Please read this article as a big beware sign!)

Then, merchandise shipments and ticket pre-sales started coming in – and wouldn’t stop. I trembled. I cried. I lost sleep. My anxieties were a massive understatement. The stress I anticipated was a dream in comparison to the 500-headed, 1,000-legged nightmare that became reality.

When the 15,000 people scheduled began opening that morning, one of the managers on shift gave everyone a pep talk and advised us to stock up as much as humanly possible. We had experienced high numbers the night before because of preview showings and ran through far too many of the hot food items we had pre-packaged.

Because we were naive, we thought there was no need to prepare more — who would eat curly fries in the morning? Because we were naive, we thought that there would be enough time in between movie times to fix all that had been broken, emptied or battered — including us. Because we were naive, we thought customers would understand that if they waited in a 10-minute line to order, their chicken tenders would take more than two seconds to come out. I don’t think they understood how close I was to serving them raw and calling it a day. 

There was a great irony in the idea of people lining up to watch a movie about kindness and fun just to ruin the days (and lives) of teenagers behind the counter making minimum wage. (Maybe it’s fitting to watch a bomb movie and explode at someone for the prices they do not control! Anyway.)

I couldn’t have gotten through it without the friends I made (or potentially trauma-bonded with) while working. I also appreciate the stories I have to tell from the adventure. Most of all, I am grateful to have learned first-hand, up-close-and-personal, the hardest way, by a humbling process, the true value of a dollar. I now see food as one hour and 14 tears of my time. I now see jeans as two hours and five bruises. Was it worth it? No clue. But I sure hope so.