“And In The Darkness Line Them”

[Mike attends opening night of Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings movie in 1979.]

By Mike Glyer

Broxon Street was nothing but a name to me, so I found Lord of The Rings by looking for the longest line in Westwood. The night before Charles Curley had told me at LASFS that he was buying tickets for a lot of people going to the Friday 8:00 P.M. showing, and that he would get one for me if I liked. I would trade $4, and a fifty-cent commission, for a ticket and the time saved standing in line. This was agreeable. Not so much because I loathe standing in lines, but because many fans would be going and I generally will not go to see these things by myself however interesting they promise to be.

I walked up and down the crowded sidewalk looking for Charles. Two lines extended to the north and south of the Regent Theater: one for ticket purchase, one waiting for admission to the program. He did not appear in either, nor did I recognize anyone. However, there was the promised group of Mythopoeics in costume at the head of the line. One I vaguely remembered for the half hour that he spent on a slow Thursday night at LASFS explaining how he wanted to cast Warner Bros, cartoon characters in an animated version of Star Wars.

It was an hour before showtime. I decided to take a place in the ever-growing admission line. That was a big theory in Robert Sheckley’s Mindswap on how to find a missing person. The odds against two bodies encountering each other increase, if both are moving: therefore, stop moving and you will be more likely to find your quarry. Besides, a few minutes later people came down the line with tickets for the 10:00 p.m. showing so if Charles didn’t come by with my ticket I wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

I stopped waiting for Charles — and started taking in the strangeness of Westwood Friday night.

“I will come within a tenth of a second of being killed for your amusement!” announced the wimpy looking youth in a reedy voice. He stepped out into the street promising astounding gymnastic feats — and ducked back to the curb as three more cars rolled down Broxon. He dashed out again, checked both ways, and set himself. He did three backflips on the cracked concrete. The people in line cheered.

“While I’m waiting for the next break in traffic, let me remind you that this is my living. I am a college graduate…”

He dld four backflips, stood up and set himself to do another four before the light in the next block changed to pass more cars. We applauded enthusiastically.

“Now the most dangerous stunt of all — my grand finale! I will do seven, count them, seven backflips before the next group of cars catches up to me!”

In the northbound lane he started tumbling head over heels — completed his series of seven and stumbled dizzily back towards our side of the street to pass the hat. By the time he got down to my place in line the Dodger cap was half full of dimes and quarters, and there were at least fifty people in line behind me.

A few minutes after he disappeared down the line came two cops from LAPD in their Galactic Patrol black and silver uniforms. One tipped open the lid on a street musician’s guitar case. Of course the show had just started and nothing was inside — perhaps if loose change had been inside he’d have been chased off or ticketed for some obscure offense. The cops ambled along the sidewalk with jaunty smiles and a kind word, until they paused by a silver BMW with a “For Sale – $7600” sign on its back window.

Like an artist examining his draughtsmanship, one cop stepped out from the gutter to see how the car lined up with a red strip on the curb intended to provide a gap between metered parking spaces. The front bumper transgressed, so out flipped the ticket pad and the cop settled in to write up the bad news. His partner strolled around the car, perhaps examining the stitching on the upholstery, or just nonchalantly ignoring the line of college youth who now silently stared.

When the police had gone, a well-dressed woman in her 50s who seemed cast for the part of expensive-car-owner stepped out around the car, lifted the windshield wiper, removed the ticket and read it. But she replaced the slip in its mailer envelope, stuck it back on the car and walked off. A few minutes later a couple of women strolling down the street came up short. They stepped out in the gutter and gaped closely at the ticket. Then they wandered away. Almost as if a museum display, every ten or fifteen minutes (while I was there) some stranger would give the ticket a once-over and walk away.

Line behaviour is sort of fascinating. Or at least it seems fascinating at the time. In the first place lines are very fannish. Fannish by existential right if not by design — when I think how the ticket lines at IGGY queued up. If you can get three fans in a row anywhere two hundred more will stand behind them lest they miss anything valuable. Elst and I considered recruiting a third fan to form our own line at IGGY — we’d just yell out “line forms here!” and see what happened. But tremendous fear held us back. I related to Elst the reason why breeders of turkeys never leave a barrel open in the yard. Turkeys will leap into it, one after another, and be crushed to death. Since our stunt would require Elst and I to be at the beginning of the line, the logic was transparent…

Two other things fascinate me about lines. First, people are loathe to be caught making eye contact with one another — while standing together in close proximity that would never occur except during intimate conversation, lovemaking, or a fistfight. Second, when a petition-passer or market-research questioner works down the line, people who would normally knock such a person down if accosted on the way into a market greet the person with a warm smile. I wonder if this has more to do with relief from boredom, or the relief of making personal contact with some part of this impersonal crush of bodies.

Charles finally wandered by with my ticket — he was going in with the Mythopoeic Society members, in costume, who had saved a spot at the head of the line. Consequently, he hadn’t been in any great rush to arrive. Bernie Zuber, also in costume, came by to survey his handiwork. Bernie acted as fan publicist for Bakshi’s picture in the months before release, showing art and slides from the work in progress at conventions.

There was a growing jangle and rhythmic beat down the sidewalk as I said hello to Bernie. After he went up to the front of the line the sound became quite loud. People started turning around to see what was up. One woman with acute eyesight looked, and cringed back against the wall muttering, “Oh no…”

Hare Krishna was out on night patrol. A troop of some forty in robes, street clothes, even ski jackets, was working the streets. Cymbals, big drums, chanting, all sounded lively and exotic while they, with their stubbly shaved scalps and designs applied between their eyes had the most lost and jaded expressions in contrast. One carried a box of saffron in baggies, for sale. One had a carton of Back To Godhead. A platoon of women was relegated to the back of the formation that wound along the crowded sidewalk and into the next block. A few minutes later I could see them silhouetted, standing in front of another theater leaping and dancing — the theater was showing Death On The Nile. Before long came 8 o’clock and it was time to go in and see Lord Of The Rings. Everybody will review that. But most will have forgotten the floor show that preceded it.

[Originally published in Holier Than Thou #1 (1979).]