By James B. Harris
Giovanni Camillo, like all other grown-ups, enjoys the sight of Robert Taylor and Betty Grable on the screen. Passing the Aegeon the other night, the little rascal approached me with a “ Gie’s a lop, mister”.
Now at the best times, my finances do not allow of their being depleted by the indiscriminate bestowing of “Lops” on every importuner – youthful or otherwise.
But something in little Giovanni’s eye-perhaps the pathos inherited from his emotional Italian father – struck a sympathetic chord inside the pericardium, which induced me not only to produce the lop but, with unaccustomed benevolence, to ask Giovanni if he would accompany me to the best seats in the house.
“Aw, shucks, mister,” said he, with the verbiage becoming one with a thorough grounding in the mode of expression of the cinema’s second-rate heroes, “there’s no need for the best seats. We’d be more at home in the ‘Gods.’”
So, pocketing our pride, we bought two tickets for the “Gods” and strolled into the semi-dark interior of the Aegeon.
May the Lord forgive me, but i felt like St. Francis stripping himself of his finery to embrace the course habit of self-renunciation as I passed some of my friends, seated in the “best seats,” on my downward journey to the “Gods”-that seething, seat-jumping, tobacco-chewing, unwashed but withal human mass, silhouetted in ever-fluctuating outline against the ruddy glow which was the screen.
Heavens, I thought, how am i to get a seat here. But Giovanni, whom I had facilitated in making his entry, was quite at home. Sure-footed as a chamois on his mountains, he scaled that yelling mass of humanity and beckoned me to follow.
Throwing aside all thought of self-respect and with the added stimulus of a florid-faced usher’s threatening looks in my direction (not to mention cries of “He’ll take the crease out of his pants if he sits on these seats” “ C’mon, Mister, de’s a couple o’ seats here,” “ Go to it, lad, ‘tis no shame not having the price of the two shillings”— this from a blowzy matron smelling strongly of fish, tobacco and whisky) I took the plunge, or rather two rows at a time, leaving in my wake a trail of whining children, bunion-bemoaning men and vituperative women.
At last, seated between Giovanni and a rather aggressive-looking gentleman, I tried to draw my breath. “Thank God, I am out of view of Jim and the Boys,” thought I. But the fact of Jim and the Boys having me under observation would have been a very, very minor catastrophe when viewed in the light of the events which followed.
Having regained my respiratory powers, I decided to have a smoke. No sooner, however, had I produced my Players than the aggressive-looking gentleman very gentlemanly produced a grimy packet with the invitation to have one of his. I declined, stating that I had plenty, but wouldn’t he have some of mine.
With a merry “Thank’s Bud,” he helped himself to the box and, having selected a few cigarettes with a connoisseur-like gesture, proceeded to hand it around to his colleagues. A bit “thick” that, I mused. A fellow could carry things too far: in this case, my cigarettes were being carried a little too far for my liking.
The limits of my patience were reached when i saw the before-mentioned blowzy matron helping herself to one of them. Standing up, I asked her in the most commanding tone of voice I could muster to return me my cigarettes. The aggressive-looking man turned on me with a look of pained surprise like the look that Caesar gave to Brutus when he said “Et tu Brute.” But the aggressive-looking man did not say “Et tu Brute” or anything like it. He simple said, “Siddown” and implemented his command with a dig in the chest(mine, of course) that would have done credit to a gorilla.
Vaguely, I remember the nightmarish events which followed. After hitting the seat with a sickening thud that nearly dislodged my molars, I found that I had lost my hat. On one side, Giovanni, thoroughly enjoying the whole thing, was leering at me like one of the Notre Dame gargoyles.
On the other, through the gloom, I could see the florid-faced usher making towards the scene of disturbance with a murderous glint in his eye. All around me the villainous plebs hooted, cackled, whistled and in other diverse ways expressed their fiendish delight at my discomfiture.
Vainly, I endeavoured to stand again, but with the same drastic result as before, for the aggressive-looking man was now entering into the spirit of the thing and out-did himself by his efficient handling of my second rebellious effort to regain my equilibrium.
I remember seeing my hat being tossed about like flotsam on that seething sea of Bedlamites. Soon, however, the film started-a technicolour travel talk. At last, in spite of my humiliation, I settled down to enjoy the soothing vistas of South American scenery, enhanced a thousand-fold by the suave voice of the commentator. And to tell the truth, i did enjoy it, excepting one hectic moment, when the black form of a much-abused hat sailed across the gorgeous technicolourful panorama with jarring incongruity.
Coming home that night, I edged along through highways and bye-ways, fearful lest some of the “boys” might see me – for such is human vanity.
If ever again Giovanni asks me for a “lop” he’ll get it, but never again will I venture to accompany him to what, in his opinion, are the beat seats in the house.
Read readers’ memories every week in Ireland’s Own