Sep 19, 2013

September 19, 2013: Last Rat Overboard, Clinging to the Wreckage, Set Adrift

The end of my tour of duty aboard the Good Ship Butterfield came toward the middle of March, 1985.  I had been made District Manager for the entire Michigan Kerasotes theatre chain which comprised the old Butterfield operations in Grand Rapids, Flint, Ann Arbor, Traverse City, Ludington, Big Rapids, Jackson, Kalamazoo and a few other towns.  Increasingly, however, I was being isolated.  Field reports were no longer being sent directly to me.  Instead I would get calls from the Home Office in Springfield quoting numbers relating to sales, shortages and overages, and the like that I had not seen nor would I be allowed to see.  Finally, one morning, I was informed that embezzlement must be going on at the Flint Cinema because the concession per capita numbers weren’t right.  We had always underperformed at that cinema, and it was an issue that we had previously addressed.  The numbers weren’t that far off, cause for concern but not a red flag.  In any case, I said that I would address the subject.  I was directed to go through the purse of the stand attendants and box office cashiers before the house opened and at close.  I told the office that it was illegal to do so in the state of Michigan.  I knew that Sam Plitt was behind this maneuver, and I wasn’t about to risk committing a felony.  I informed his secretary that it might be legal to do this in Capone’s Chicago, but not here and that if I were to do this, I wanted any such directions to violate state statutes in writing.  I didn’t hear from Sam’s office again.  Instead in the next call, this time from Robbie himself, I was instructed to fly down to Springfield so that I would “get with the program”.

I called Joe Sterling at the old Butterfield Offices and he invited me to come to Detroit and meet with Lyle Smith.  I went to the old Butterfield Offices for the last time and was ushered in to a meeting with Lyle and Joe.  Smith wanted me to stay on since I was the last of the Butterfield supervisory personnel still employed by Kerasotes and Smith wanted a connection to keep an eye on the operation until the company got all its money.  I understood this, but explained what was happening to me and how I was being sandbagged.

My problem, as I saw it, was that I was 300 miles from the Home Office, and Sam Plitt was right down the hall.  “You can understand the disadvantage”, I said.  “Yes” replied Lyle.

He understood.  There weren’t many viable options.

 I had seen all my colleagues fall, one, by one, feeling much like a sailor on a ship that had been raked by grapeshot.  I looked around and there was no one else left standing.  I was cut off from meaningful communications from the field seeing no weekly concession or box office reports, in effect, staggering blind.  Now I was called to go to Springfield and pay homage to the little Napoleon and his henchman.  It was too much.

I called the next day and tendered my resignation.  And so it was that, on a dark and grey March afternoon, I quietly slipped into the sea as I worked to distance myself from the sinking hulk of the grand old ship.  As I made my way into the water I turned to watch the hull slide downward as it was slowly swallowed by the turbulent sea.

 There were no lifeboats, no pensions, no 401K, no residual health insurance policies, no severance packages. I found myself swimming in a foreign and forbidding sea until, after what seemed like months I came across some of the wreckage of the old ship.  It was the old Ionia Theatre, a dark and dilapidated hulk that nevertheless would serve as a suitable raft offering some buoyancy as I drifted with the winds and currents in hopes of finding terra firma.






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