Powerful hums from the neon and xenon lights greeted my friends and me as we walked out of the Lobo Theater, and headed back where we parked hours earlier. My legs and arms ached from my indoctrination into the club, and I felt more giddy, and carefree than usual. I assumed that this was what it was like to be high, considering clouds of that familiar funk engulfed the theater for the length of the show. In that moment, I had never felt so free, nor so happy, in my short eighteen years of life thus far. Between exclamations of, “Dammit, Janet! I wanna screw,” and choruses of The Time Warp, and Sweet Transvestite, we meandered our way down Central Avenue, towards the University of New Mexico.
“John,” Shaddar interrupted the improvised duet Cylia and I had begun of Hot Patootie, “you know you’re mostly naked?”
I stopped singing and walking, and looked down. Very short, and very tight red shorts barely covered my crotch, and ass. I wore a pair of simple flip-flops, and no shirt. Before we arrived at the show, Cylia had asked me to stop by an hour earlier to that I could be properly dressed for the occasion. I had never seen Rocky Horror Picture Show, neither live or the movie, and there was protocol to follow. I was a virgin to the show, and all virgins had to be indoctrinated through zany, improvised rituals from those who organized the shows at the Lobo, which had been once a month, on a Saturday night during the early 90s. Not only did she approve of my outfit, I was the only one out of my friends who looked like Rocky; tall, blond, muscular, and mostly hairless. To signify my virginity, she used the reddest lipstick she had had, and marked my legs with lips, all over, along with a few on my chest and one on my cheek.
“Yup,” I lunged for Shaddar, and quickly got him into a headlock on my left side. “And I can still drag you back to your car,” and as I delivered on that promise, by starting to walk, everyone started laughing. Hell, I laughed so hard that Shaddar easily escaped the submissive hold, and shoved me, all the while laughing along with us. Cylia took us both, arm in arm on either side of her, and sung the TIme Warp. Matt, the fourth member of our troop, took the free spot on my right side, and we all sung, and skipped down the street, in the middle of the night, like no one was watching. Abruptly, the pop of the red and blue lights, with the whine of the siren, caught us off guard, and ended our fun in an instant, as the harsh white light exposed us.
Instantly, we froze, spooked by the unwelcome, unwanted attention. The police car came to a screeching halt feet from where we stood. A tall dark haired officer bolted out of the driver's seat, and made a beeline toward Shaddar with his hand on his gun. A short, blond haired officer quickly exited the passenger side and swiftly, calmly came up to me:
"Sir, are you okay?" The blond officer's question confused me.
"Get your hands on the hood, now!" The dark haired officer's command kept pulling my attention away from the one speaking to me.
"Hey, he didn't do anything." Without thinking I blurted out the words as an emphatic demand more than a plea. Everyone ignored me, except Shaddar. With his hands on the hood of the police cruiser, he looked at me with calm resignation and said softly:
"It'll be okay, John. Just relax."
How could have I relaxed? Here's one of my closest friends being blamed for something he hadn't done. If anything, I was the aggressor. I dragged him down the sidewalk. Couldn't they have seen my very white arm wrapped around a rather dark skinned African-American? It was obvious to eighteen year-old me. The blond officer's hand securely took a hold of my left arm and turned me around to face him.
"Don't worry about him. My partner will take care of it."
"But he didn't do anything, honest," and this time I pleaded him listen.
"Are you sure about that?"
"Maybe he did something or said something to you and you had to defend yourself?"
"What? That makes no sense. We were just messing around."
"Are you sure about that?"
"Ask my friends." I pointed to Matt and Cylia. "They saw."
"Just take a moment and calm down. Your safe," the blond officer said as he walked back to the cruiser where the dark haired officer sat in the driver's set, interacting with his computer. Shaddar was still on the hood, while Matt and Cylia stood back a ways, as though if they stayed out of sight, they'd be out of mind. The dark haired officer got out of the cruiser, and handed back Shaddar's ID.
"Alright," he said while looking at Shaddar only, "get home. Y'all shouldn't be hanging out on Central this late at night."
We walked back to my car, and none of us said a word.
I didn't understand what had happened that night until decades later. I knew the cops were harassing a bunch of kids late at night, but the level of insidious, systematic racism of APD on display was a nuance I couldn't see. Intrinsically the cop was being a racist pig, but the blond cop who offered the suggestion that Shaddar may have done, or have said something to incur my actions by dragging him a bit in a headlock was the thing that didn't make sense to eighteen year-old me, and after all that would come through the US Army, I not only had I seen even more, but I had begun to feel that I belong, and the pain of those who I had felt kinship with when they were the targets of that insidious, systematic racism.