In 2009, a client contracted me to write several historical fiction pieces for middle school readers. Even though I do not consider myself a good writer of fiction, I wrote ’em, submitted ’em, and cashed the checks. I never learned precisely how they were used (which is not all that unusual in my line of work), and I have no idea whether they’re still in print somewhere. Technically, they don’t belong to me anymore. But I’ve posted a couple such pieces in the past, and what follows is another one. If the client wants to cease-and-desist me, that’s fine. The piece was written for middle school students, so it requires some exposition, and it uses a couple of tropes that are a little shopworn. Despite all that, it ain’t bad, and I hope you like it.
You know the Beatles, right? The rock band from the 1960s? You can ask your mother and father, or maybe your grandparents, to tell you about them. Most people think they were the greatest group in music history. I’ll tell you this: On February 9, 1964, when they were on TV, on The Ed Sullivan Show, over 80 percent of the country watched them play. It was the first time most people had seen them.
Most people, but not everybody. Not me.
My pen pal in London, England, had sent me one of their records, “She Loves You,” for Christmas in 1963. I’d since heard other some Beatles songs on the radio, and I loved them. By luck, I had Friday, February 7, off from school. That was the day the Beatles were to land in New York, so my Uncle Aaron and I drove into the city to stake out the hotel where they were going to stay.
Uncle Aaron was more like an older brother than an uncle to me. He wasn’t about rules; he was just about fun. When I played my Beatles record for him, he liked it as much as I did. The stakeout was actually his idea.
When we arrived at the Plaza Hotel, a squadron of policemen was trying to hold back the hundreds of kids hoping to catch a look at John, Paul, George, and Ringo. There were people holding signs that said, “We love you” and “Beatles 4-Ever.” I thought that maybe we’d be able to sneak into the hotel through the crush of people, but there was no sneaking with those cops around.
Then Uncle Aaron said, “I’ve got an idea. Let’s tell them we’re guests at the hotel and we’re trying to get back into our room.”
“Do you think that’s going to work?”
“It might, if we do it right. When we get to the front, you tell the guard that we’re guests, and we just want to get back to our room. If you could manage to cry a little, that would be even better.” I hadn’t cried since I was eight, but I was willing to take my best shot.
We spent the next 20 minutes inching to the hotel door, but when we got there, a mountain of a security guard blocked our passage. He looked like six kinds of mean in a big, ugly bag. When I imagined him taking us to jail for trespassing, it was easy to squeeze out some tears. “Sir . . . we’re guests at the hotel, and we’ve been gone all day.” I sniffed loudly. “We just want to get back inside so my uncle can lie down and rest.” Sniff. “He hasn’t been well.”
I thought the bit about Uncle Aaron being sick would clinch the deal until the guard said, “Can I see your hotel key, kid?”
Thinking quickly, I said, “We lost it.”
The guard’s face creased with a sour, sarcastic grin. “Kid, do you know how many people have told me that today? Back off.”
Inching back into the crowd, I said, “At least we got an A for effort. Ringo’s mother wouldn’t have been able to get past that guy.”
“You aren’t giving up, are you?” I guess I probably was, but Aaron wasn’t. “They’re playing on the Sullivan Show Sunday night. Now, it’s just a guess, but I bet they’ll have to practice tomorrow sometime. Why don’t we stake out the theater?”
To learn what happens next, read the next installment, coming Friday.