(Editor’s Note: This Valentine’s Day essay features the top 50 classic rock songs of all time. Author Gianetta Palmer has italicized the song titles. Instead of using the title Sultans of Swing, she used the band’s name — Dire Straits. Special thanks to Gina Barreca for the punch line.)
“Is that cocaine?” Officer Roxanne asked the quiet young man.
“I imagine so?” he replied.
“You’re fortunate, son, that I don’t arrest you now. What’s your name?” she asked.
“Thomas Sawyer. But folks call me Tom.”
“Hmm. This photograph doesn’t look like you. Where you headed?” asked the officer.
He thought for a moment before answering, “I’m going to LA, woman!” he said sharply pounding his hands on the steering wheel.
“Calm down, son. LA? You better get on a rocket, man, because I’ve got more than a feeling that you aren’t headed for LA.”
“Haven’t you ever wanted to go your own way?” Tom asked.
“All right now,” she said. I know school’s out for summer, but I wasn’t born to run around like you youngsters do these days. This job has a stranglehold on me. I know that I’m an African American woman and I carry a lot of sweet emotion around with me, but my heart got broke this morning. My son, that sweet child o’ mine told me point blank this morning that he wanted to move back to sweet home Alabama. Why would he want to do that?”
“Sometimes, you have to turn the page,” he said simply.
They were quiet for a moment, and Tom stroked the package lying on the front seat of the car. “What’s that?” asked the officer.
“It’s a Kashmir sweater for my girlfriend, Layla,” he said.
“Layla? Is that why you’re leaving La Grange? Is she in LA?”
“I think so. My home boys were back in town last week and said they saw her in some dive called Baba O’Riley’s singing after midnight. She was supposed to head home that day after her audition, but now I’m paranoid that’s she decided to stay,” Tom said.
Well, kid, don’t stop believing, you gotta live and let die and keep on like a rolling stone,” said Officer Roxanne.
That sounds like a day in the life of a rock star,” said the young man.
Nope. Just the daily crazy train I ride every day running after folks like you,” she said with a tight smile.
“I’m sorry, Officer. But, this Valentine’s Day sucks. Layla has me freefalling so hard that I feel I’m like smoke on the water. Just ready to float away…
They were quiet for a moment.
She’s a damn barracuda! I need some help,” he said with tears in his eyes.
“Is that why you had the cocaine?” she asked. “Were you going to sell it? Or get comfortably numb?”
“I was going to sell it,” he said. I figured everybody wants some.”
“Sorry, son. You’re too young. Hell, you’re not even old enough to be back in black. You’ve got your whole life to rock and roll all night. Maybe you just need to forget about Layla?
“She was the first person to tell me I feel like makin’ love. She fills this space, oddly enough, that no one has been able to fill. I want you to want me is our favorite song. She liked Bohemian Rhapsody, but we heard it so often that it got on our nerves.”
“Now you’re rambling. Man, we have got to find you someone new. And closer.” She watched him yawn again for the hundredth time. “When was the last time you closed your blue eyes and let the black water of sleep flow over your troubled mind?”
“I don’t know,” said the young man.
“You’ve got to enter the Sandman,” she said. “And at my age, you can’t fear the reaper, either,” she said with a laugh.
“I’ve no place to go,” he said. “Can you give me shelter?”
“You see up along the watchtower back by the prison gate?” she asked pointing to the far side of his car.
“No. Can you show me the way?” he asked looking in that direction.
“Are you sure, son? It is Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Realization began to sink in for the young man; he was in dire straits. He wouldn’t be rocking in the free world for a very long time. To hell with Layla, he knew he wasn’t going to the Hotel California. She definitely wasn’t the sunshine of his love.
“I’m ready, Officer. This is just what I needed. I’m sorry about your son.”
Officer Roxanne smiled at him as she placed the cuffs on him. “That’s okay, son. I think the both of us needed this conversation today. As a wise old friend told me, it might not be the Hotel California, but at least you tried, and didn’t end up in Heartbreak Hotel.”
— Gianetta Palmer
Gianetta Palmer is an author and blogger living in the North Georgia Mountains. She is the author of two collections of humorous essays and blogs regularly at her popular website www.middleagedfatwoman.com. Her upcoming novels introduce the reader to a fantasy adventure that offers the possibility for a do-over of the last 25 years. Jaguars, mood rings, cook books and horn-rimmed glasses are the key elements to new beginnings. But will they survive the journey? She can be reached at email@example.com.