Liberty Theater part 2
by John Gilbert
John Gilbert “will be forever known as the man who saved the Bradley Theater”
I hadn’t been in the booth more than five minutes when I heard footsteps coming up the Liberty Theater balcony stairs. It was Mr. Brown. I expected a friendly greeting.
“This booth is a mess,” he complained.
I didn’t see any mess. Although I had a bad habit of dropping things where I finished with them, I just thought it gave the place that “lived in” look. I was used to decorating with empty pizza boxes, soft drink cups, and candy wrappers.
“Scott Whitley is sending over a new operator this afternoon for you to train,” Mr. Brown continued. “I don’t know why they always use my theater to train people.”
He turned to leave but not before telling me to turn the sound up. I turned the fader knob up a notch. This turning the sound up and down would soon become my pet peeve.
A couple of hours later I again heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I was at the rewind table and turned just in time to see a very familiar face enter the booth.
“Well, hi there!” I smiled as I dropped my work and walked across the booth with my hand extended.
“Well how the heck are you!” returned the new operator giving me an enthusiastic hand shake.
Then there was a moment of embarrassment. He looked very familiar but how did I know him?
“I’m James McCarty. Where do I know you from?” He asked.
“I don’t know. Did you go to Hardaway High?” I asked.
“No. I just moved here from Virginia last week. Have you ever been to Virginia?
“Nope. I’ve only been as far north as Tennessee.”
We both stood there for a long moment trying to figure out how we knew each other. We both named off several places we had visited but had never came up with any matches. It was very strange, the feeling that we had known each other, but we had both lived in different parts of the country. This went on for six months and we never could figure how we knew each other.
I showed James around the Liberty Theater booth and let him thread up the projectors. I let him make several changeovers just as Harold Bishop had let me do at the Edgewood. James came back the next day and I let him run the booth until I was confident that he do the job. Now I could have some off days. I had worked six days a week since coming to the Liberty. Now we would work a schedule of five days on one week and three days on the next. Now my buddy Tom and I could go camping and use all of my camping new gear.
With a few days off, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Tom had to work that weekend so we’d have to put off camping for a few weeks. Anyway, it was too hot. We seldom camped in the summer but I was anxious to try out my gear. I’d just have to be patient.
One night I dropped by the Edgewood to see my friend John McDonald. John and I had gone to Hardaway High and were good friends and when daddy needed to hire a carhop, I had suggested him. John’s girlfriend Lara had stopped by and she was leaving as I arrived.
“You know, Lara has a sister that you ought to meet,” John said after our usual schoolboy greeting.
“What’s her name?” I asked.
“Lisa. Lisa Franklin,” he answered. “I was telling her about you today.”
“Oh really? And just what did you tell her?”
“I just told her that she should meet my friend and that maybe we could go on a double date or something.”
“What does she look like?” I asked remembering some of the desperate girls he had tried to fix me up with.
“She’s really pretty,” he replied. “She likes to play the piano like you and she seems really sweet. She’ll be a senior at Columbus High this fall.”
I was intrigued. I had never had a lot of luck meeting girls. I was shy and clumsy around girls so I just played the part of the fool to cover my awkwardness.
“I guess a double date would be okay,” I stumbled.
I would meet Lisa sooner than I expected. The next day I was in my backyard working on my car when I heard a car stop in the street and a horn blow. I looked up to see John with Lara and someone in the back seat. I approached the car.
“Hi John,” came John’s familiar voice. Then pointing to the back seat, “This is Lisa.”
She WAS pretty. Though I could only see her through the back window of the car I could see that she had long dark hair and beautiful eyes.
“Hi,” she said.
“Oh, uh, hi. John was telling me about you last night,” was all I could think to say. I then asked John some trivial question just to get the spotlight off me for a moment. He then said that he had to get the girls home. I was relieved. I went back to my car but John returned in just a few minutes without the girls. I again met him in the street.
“Well, what did you think?” He asked.
“I dunno,” I answered. “She’s okay, I guess.”
“Well, she said that you were cute. Anyway, now you’ve broken the ice. Ask her out. Here’s her phone number,” John said shoving a piece of paper into my hand.
I was petrified! “What about that double date you mentioned?”
“Okay. How about tomorrow night. We’ll go to that fancy English restaurant. That’ll impress her.”
I nodded my okay and John left. I was off work from the Liberty at 6:00 on Friday, the next night, and John and the two girls came by to pick me up. We went to the restaurant. My silliness this time was to be the perfect gentleman and speak with an English accent. The evening went very nicely and in a short time I felt comfortable with Lisa. I even asked her if she’d like to swimming with me at the Moose Lodge pool on Wednesday and she accepted.
For the next couple of days all I could think about was Lisa Franklin. Tuesday night I was at my usual place in the Liberty’s projection booth. The movie was “The Story of M.” It wasn’t very interesting but going swimming with Lisa kept my mind occupied.
As I sat daydreaming, I remembered that I hadn’t oiled the projectors. The right machine was running and the left projector sat ready with the next reel. I went to the gear side of the left projector and gave it a good oiling. I then went to the running projector. I wondered if I could oil it while it was operating I decided to give it a try. I opened the gearbox door, took my oil can and began to oil the spinning gears. The oil glistened on the whirling gears and shafts and would spin off onto the walls of the gearbox. I leaned down to oil the sound head gears when suddenly something hit my head with the force of a sledge hammer. The gears ground and squealed and the film broke. I was dazed but I could see that the screen was white. I staggered around to the other side of the projector, turned off the motor, and closed the fire shutter in the Liberty Theater lamp house. Instantly, I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. I re-threaded the projector and noticed something different on the shutter shaft. Super Simplex projectors had a shaft coming out of the front to the projection head. In the old days there was a front shutter but with the advent of CinemaScope, the shutter had been removed to accommodate the larger lens. On this shaft was a huge wad of hair! I had accidentally leaned into the spinning shaft and it had ripped a plug of hair out of my head by the roots! I got the movie going and stepped over to the mirror over the sink. A full square inch of hair was gone and my bloody scalp oozed blood into the surrounding hair.
“Gilbert!,” Came Freddy Brown’s voice from the doorway. “Why did the film stop? What’s going on?”
“Mr, Brown. My hair got caught in the projector,” I said still dazed and half in tears.
He stepped into the booth and examined my scalp.
“Are you alright?” he asked with a hint of concern in his voice.
“I’ll be okay in a minute,” I said as I sat in my recliner.
“Do you need to go home?” Mr. Brown asked.
“No. I’ll work the rest of the night.”
“I’ll call Scott Whitley,” he said as he left the booth.
As I sat there with my head spinning I had a thought.
“Oh my gosh! I’m going swimming with Lisa tomorrow. What am I going to do? I can’t let her see this huge spot on my head.”
The very idea was worse that the injury. She was just starting to like me. What would she think of me running around with a plug of hair missing? I must look like some kind of freak. Just then Freddy Brown was back at the door.
“I’ve got Scott on the phone. He wants to know if you need to someone to come and relieve you.’
“No, no. I’ll finish out my shift,” I said through tears and by now a throbbing scalp.
He left and I made another trip to the mirror. I must have made a dozen trips to that mirror that night. I couldn’t believe that I had been that stupid. What if the hair never grew back? Was I maimed for life?
At 11:00 I made my way to the lobby.
“Gilbert,” said Mr. Brown as I came down the stairs. “I called Aaron Coolie, Martin Theaters City Manager.”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He didn’t say anything. I told him what happened and then I didn’t hear a sound. I waited for a minute and then I heard a sudden roar of laughter. He had been laughing so hard that he wasn’t making a sound. It was several minutes before he could speak. All he could say was that he had told you to get a haircut. Gilbert, I don’t think that you realized that you could have broken your neck!”
I was a laughing stock! I told Mr. Brown that I would see him Saturday and left.
The next day I drove to Lisa’s house to pick her up. I had combed my hair and parted it to the other side of my head. I was also wearing a headband. I looked like a hippy but maybe it would hide my bald spot.
We spent a couple of hours at the Moose Lodge pool but I wouldn’t get my hair wet. She finally asked if I was afraid of going under water. I had to tell her. She was going to find out sooner or later so there was no need hiding my freakishness.
“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said after I rattled off an explanation in one long sentence. “It’ll grow back.”
All of my fears had been unfounded. Lisa still liked me in spite of my missing hair.