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Soundbites

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OF KISS, COPS, MOM AND CIGARETTES: A few weeks ago I went to see Kiss at the Tucson Convention Center.

My monumental obsession with the band began at age 6. They were, for lack of a child's understanding of the world, my true and honest personal gods. They were bigger than life, they were demons and lovers and spacemen and cats, they were superheroes for dorky kids who loved to rock.

And they did rock.

And I was a dork.

I once was such a voracious consumer of all-things-Kiss that I made my mom drive me to the Kroger at 11:30 p.m. on a school night, because she flippantly remarked that she thought she had seen a new magazine with Kiss on the cover that I didn't even know existed. She pointed it out when we got there, and it was actually a teen romance magazine called Kiss whose cover shot of a perky cheerleader was obscured by the magazines stacked in front of it. I was disappointed, but at the same time I realized that my mom had just driven me to Kroger -- close to midnight on a school night -- to buy something that she surely could never understand: a new Kiss magazine. I realized at that moment that my mom would have done anything in the world that she possibly could to make me happy.

For some reason, my mom always encouraged my Kiss obsession. She'd drive me to the record store periodically, just to make sure they hadn't snuck an album by me. And once in a while, it even paid off. I still have my limited-edition first-run copy of The Originals, which compiled the band's first three monumental albums along with bonuses -- always the Kiss way -- like trading cards, a Kiss Army sticker, and a beefy booklet to boot. I'm sure if I'd kept all of my Kiss stuff -- the posters, the puzzles, the model van, the temporary tattoos, the belt buckles, the decorative mirrors, the T-shirts, the Halloween costumes -- by God's grace and a healthy ebay rating, I could be very comfortably retired on an uninhabited island. But I digress.

I'm talking about Kiss. And my mom. And how I had waited literally 25 years to see all four original members of Kiss live in concert. (When I was in high school, I saw the version of Kiss that included Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, along with Eric Carr and Vinnie Vincent, but it just wasn't the same without Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, who was always my favorite, anyway).

The night of the Kiss show, in some sort of twisted tribute to my mom, I decided that since I didn't have a Kiss shirt that fit anymore, I would wear my Cheap Trick shirt to the show, the one that I hardly ever wear because it's the one I was wearing when she died.

It's a shirt for special nights. And this was one of them.

Having only one ticket, I went to the show alone. My seat ended up being next to a really nice girl, a writer from another local paper. We exchanged witty comments throughout the night, and I bought her a beer, and she bought me a beer, and I really enjoyed her company. And then I had to go to the bathroom.

And while I was in the bathroom I talked to a guy who was smoking a cigarette. Smokin' in the boy's room, as they say, and he actually said, "What're they gonna do, arrest ya?" And I thought, yeah I've seen tons of people smoking here tonight, not to mention the fact that I've smelled plenty of weed. What're they gonna do, arrest me?

So I lit up. And on my way out of the bathroom, about 40 feet from the door, I encountered four TPD officers. One of them stopped me, and said something I couldn't hear. After all, Kiss was playing. He repeated, and this time I heard, "Put your cigarette out."

Here's where I tie this all together. I'm a hardcore smoker. Let's face it, after watching your mom die from it, you have to be pretty goddamn addicted to continue, right? It's nothing I'm proud of. If anything, I'm downright ashamed. But what does any good smoker do in this situation? I took the last drag. Because I needed it. Because I knew that it would be another hour until I could have another. And after that drag, just as I was crushing the butt out, said police officer cried, "That's it! You're outta here!" He must have viewed that last drag as a personal affront to his power. Because when I said, "You've gotta be kidding me! You're throwing me out for smoking a cigarette?," he grabbed me by the throat and pushed me backwards, by the throat, until he had shoved me outside the Convention Center doors. Then he threw me, by the throat, down onto the ground, so that the entire weight of my body fell on my right elbow. As soon as I hit the ground I knew something was wrong. My arm ended up being swollen and sore for about 12 days.

In my shock, I yelled, "What the fuck was that all about?" or something to similar effect. "Just get up and walk away or we'll have to arrest you," was the response from the same officer. I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: "I have connections to the press!"

He looked at me and smirked and said, "Do you know how often I hear that one?" And he walked away as the doors shut in front of me.

Which is troublesome for several reasons, not the least of which is the perception that this particular officer affronts people's basic rights on a regular basis. And that "I have connections to the press!" is the universal battle cry of those affronted people, regardless of their access to the press. And that, given my position, I feel I have some sort of duty to tell this story on behalf of those people.

I'm not claiming immunity in this situation. If I had been tagged with a ticket and a fine for illegally smoking in a public place, I would have accepted and paid the fine without question. But is smoking a cigarette in a public place worthy of physical violence toward a wimpy little pacifist like myself? I mean, it's not like I threw a punch at the guy and he grabbed my throat. I was smoking a cigarette for God's sake! Does that warrant throwing me down on the ground by my throat?

Of course it doesn't. When I look back on that night, my confrontation with that particular police officer is what I will remember most strongly. And that makes me really sad. I went out to relive the salad days of my youth. It was a foolish notion, only something so silly and important as Kiss could lead me to the place where I was that night.

Exactly 25 years later.

And I couldn't even tell my mom about it.

I've really gotta quit smoking.

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