Let’s Talk Rock ‘n’ Roll
by Kyle Gordon
My oldest friend, Harley, spends more of his nights in a cell than he does in his own bed. I call him Mr. Misdemeanor. Yet, he’s not a bad person, or even really a criminal in my eyes. Harley just hates cops, begrudges their existence, their code and methods, their horseshitery. Yes, hates, as you and I might hate cancer or murderers.
And here I am again, driving to Roanoke County Jail to pick him up.
If you’re antagonizing the police, you won’t leave jail looking tip-top. Harley was always injured when he came out. This time it was his nose, cracked over the bridge.
Tapping it with his finger, he said, “Lord did this one.” Officer Lord was Harley’s new focus, his current target.
“Again, huh?” I said.
“No, he never hit me before. Just jacked up my arm a little. But I’m getting to him now—he’s getting personal, starting to boil. I’m hungry. How do you feel about stopping at the Pig and Lamb?”
It was a 20-minute drive to get to the jail from town, and the Pig and Lamb Diner was the only other business around. The doors were open to cops and criminals alike, but it was a cop spot, to be sure.
“I feel nervous about it. But I’m hungry.” We pulled away from the jail in my white 1978 Cadillac. Harley had his window down, his head back, his black hair matted with grease, eye’s closed, nose red and crooked, and his mouth grinning. On the way, we were cut off by a police car. We saw it pull into the Pig and Lamb where it ducked in with about six other police vehicles. When we parked, Harley identified Lord’s ride by the cracked siren. “Big boy’s gotta eat!” he said.
Inside, it was a sea of the blue brotherhood, the red diner booths, the polished black leather of boots and weapon utility belts. Harley and I, along with the staff, were the only non-authority around, and out of everyone it was Harley and I that lacked uniforms. An older, dumpy woman named Roxanne, dressed in black pants and a white blouse, took us to our booth. A few buzz cut and bald white heads turned and watched us. Our hostess planted us back-to-back with Officer Bert Lord. Bert was one of the big, bald cops, with a perfectly round head, but the flesh was so transparent that his whole skull seemed like a bowling ball with a condom stretched over it. Harley sat in the seat against Lord’s, so I had the best view of this bulbous man. Harley leaned back, his body square with Lord’s, his dark hair a whole head below the fleshy full moon behind him.
He said, “Darin, we should talk rock ‘n’ roll.”
“Jesus,” I said, “You just got out. Did you call me out here for a lunch break? You really want more trouble?”
“Trouble?” he said, “I just want to talk a little music with you.”
“No” I said.
“Come on Dar, just a little rock ‘n’ roll.”
“No, man. You’re ridiculous. You’ll just stir up shit.” Harley looked down at his lap. There was a minute of silence between us, I could tell he was trying to think of something else he could do. But then, a miracle came through the radio waves. Sting’s “Desert Rose” came on. We looked at each other, but all we could do was laugh. I noticed Officer Bert, his head seemed to be changing colors. Not red, just less transparent, more opaque, like he was warming up. I think he liked the song.
Now, I was ready to talk music.
“Well old Neil sang it: rock ‘n’ roll will never die,” said Harley.
“Amen,” I said, raising my hands to the sky in worship.
“But,” Harley lightly rubbed his nose, “It can surely take a beating. Took it’s worst beating ever in the ’80s, don‘t you agree?”
“Oh, sure,” I said. I was supposed to continue the dialogue. I looked up at Lord. “But surely every generation has its beautiful music, and poets.”
“Like who?” Harvey theatrically demanded. It seemed like Lord was listening, was keen to our performance.
“Like who?” he repeated.
“Well, like… Phil Collins.”
“Phil Collins’ whole library of music should be confined only to the elevator.” We could feel Lord listening in.
“All right,” I said, “U2.”
“You’re harsh, my friend. But what do you say about Sting? Don’t you like him?”
“Man, no one does.”
“Okay.” I paused. Harley nodded his head. “What about the Police? You have to admit they’re a worthy band.”
“The Police?” said Harley. Bert Lord lit up, flushed red, his head blotched. Harley turned, pursed his lips near Lord’s left ear. He said, “Fuck the Police.”
Sometimes a man overshoots his mark. I couldn‘t say what made Lord snap. Everyone had heard us. When Lord grabbed Harley, I was amazed, first at the anger and complete flushness of his face, then at how high he was able to lift Harley. Lord plucked him from the booth as if Harley were only made of straw, then slammed him back down on the table, breaking the coffee mug with Harley’s body. I barely made it out of the booth when a herd of black and blue and white overtook me. The cop mob had both of us now on the ground. Harley yelled over Lord’s punches, “We hurt their feelings!” Then we became their punching bags. Through the heap of tangled and twirling limbs, I could see Roxanne, our waitress, taking away our menus and cleaning the broken shards.