GILBERTINE & THE EXCHANGE (Volume One): Chapter 9, Part 3 — War, a Pyrrhic Victory and a Hasty Retreat (12 August 1964)

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We all reentered the balcony, carefully descending the steps to the balcony rail.

The screaming below continued unabated.We waited, timing our attack for maximum effect. Sixteen bars into I Should Have Known Better, as the screaming approached mass hysteria, we made them scream in quite a different way, as we carpet bombed the seats below with a glacier-like avalanche of lemon-lime soda.

“What was that about soaking your head?” Seven words – Charlie was getting positively loquacious, He grinned like a maniac as a universal cheer broke out in the balcony.

Listening to the indignant yelps from the girls below and watching them bound, almost as one, from their seats, in fits of outraged pique, was priceless. We could see ushers sniggering behind their hands, or turning away, trying to make the laughter appear like coughing. But, we knew they could only buy us a minute or two’s delay. The girls were already demanding they take instant and dire reprisals.

Despite our precautions, they’d be here soon. It was time to –

“Scatterville!” Surfer Boy cried out. We scampered up the stairs, heading for the upstairs lobby. He got to the door ahead of the rest of us, bolting out only to bolt back in again a second later. “They’re almost at the landing,” he yelled, “heading this way.”

“Behindt the curtain,” Angles yelled back. “It’s our only chance.”

In the next two seconds, we bounded like six antelopes across the rear balcony corridor and down the steps of a side aisle, before darting behind the balcony drapes

We stood flat against the wall like prisoners before a firing squad, barely daring to breathe, much less move, hoping against hope no bulge or flutter in the drape – but inches from our noses – would give us away.

“Where are they?!?” The Head Usher burst through a set of double doors as he entered the balcony.

He was about 20 and apparently had had his sense of humor surgically removed, making him the sole usher to be genuinely cheesed off by the incident.

Luckily, the drapes had stopped moving just before he arrived. The silence was overwhelming. Even the soundtrack seemed light years away.

The balcony populace distrusted head ushers – this one in particularon general principles . Most had cheered us on, already on our side. Even the few who weren’t felt constrained by the unwritten laws of kid-dom, including that of never, ever grassing fellow kids out to adults – or their collaborators and stooges.

“I think they shot out the door, just before you guys came in,” one of our devious allies amongst the kids disingenuously suggested.

“Ha!” scoffed the Fox’s Illustrious Lord High Obsessive Imperial Inquisitor. “We’d have seen them leave as we came up the stairs.”

“Not if they went behind the big trash bin, ducked behind the snack bar a sec then took off for the upstairs restroom,” the same disingenuous kid noted. “You guys’ve been in here so long they’ve probably taken off and run downstairs again.”

“We’ll see about that,” the latter day Inspector Javert snarled, out of the balcony with a bang seconds later.

“Not a badt exit plan, that,” Angles whispered.

“Yeh, glad we didn’ think of it” I whispered back.

“Well, we’re stuck here now,” Angles groused.

Even in our dire straights – or maybe because of them – I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. Like most people who’ve lived in LA a fair few years, Angles now sounded like a cat every time he said the word “now.” I invariably found it comical; at that moment, I found it hysterically funny.[1]

“That’s fer shoorrr,” murmured Surfer Boy. “They’ll be sending in different pairs of ushers every ten minutes or so, looking for us.”

But, as chaos subsided below, and we went on standing behind the drapes, we noticed that, after we doused the “banshees.” sending them home drenched, any perceptible screaming had diminished considerably.

Even better, the very same wall hangings that hid us were also filtered out much of the remaining screaming, whilst the music and dialog from the speakers continued, relatively unimpeded.

For those of us there to hear the music and dialog from the best sound system available, this had turned out to be paradise. We leaned against the wall, enjoying the next half hour of A Hard Day’s Night on a level few could boast of for another 10 years.

Angles and I quietly sang along with If I Fell, with me doing the melody, him the harmony. One of Surfer Boy’s cohorts gestured us to quiet down, and we hesitated to sing a moment, but Surfer Boy, who was by the edge of the drape, signaled the coast was clear and we continued. We did the same with I’m Happy Just to Dance with You, with me singing harmony, Angles melody. Surfer Boy looked impressed. But the southern California smog had only exacerbated my already severe asthma.


And though I had an inhaler to help me, taking more hits than I was allowed for the day, the area behind the hangings was too dusty for me to sing anything else.

Still, at least we heard And I Love Her, Tell Me Why and Can’t Buy Me Love – unimpeded by screaming – the sound crashing down upon us, inundating our beings like a sonic tsunami.

[1] These days, after living here nearly 12 years, I’m obliged to include myself among the “California moggies.” But I still find it funny


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