A Story About Low-Key Policing and Corduroy

A couple of people have asked me to explain an odd corduroy reference I made on Twitter last night.

Yes, arguably corduroy references are inherently odd. But this one involved blood, and police officers, so it caused some inquiry.

The facts were these: one evening in the late 1980s I was at a friend's house in my home town. Were were on the low roof of his garage. Alcohol was present. We were singing. Neither of us had very good singing voices. That may be why I felt obligated to accompany us on my friend's mother's accordion. That is what we had back then, instead of autotune. If you want to be unpleasantly technical I am not familiar with how an accordion is operated, at least as narrowly defined by uncharitable social convention. However, I believe that unbridled enthusiasm can make up for lack of formal training in many pursuits. There is evidently a difference of popular opinion on this point as it pertains to playing the accordion on a roof at one in the morning.

Eventually a neighbor called the cops, and a police cruiser drove up the street. The officer directed his spotlight on us. We did not stop singing, and I did not stop playing the accordion. Wikipedia explains that intertia is the resistance of a physical object to a change in its state of motion; inertia applies to playing the accordion on a roof. I was committed to it is what I am trying to convey. I remember the officer stood there motionless for several moments, as if evaluating the course of his life that had brought him to this particular circumstance. Eventually he used his car-mounted loudspeaker to say, firmly and slowly,

PUT. THE ACCORDION. DOWN.

I did: not because I had lost inertia or enthusiasm, but because this struck me as so very funny at the time that I doubled over in laughter, dropped the accordion, and rolled off the low, sloped roof into a patch of cacti in my friend's yard. My friend's mother was well before her time with respect to sustainable, drought-resistant landscaping.

The police offer turned off his spotlight, climbed slowly into his car, and drove away. He had accomplished his mission — the neighbors were no longer bothered by someone on a roof playing the accordion — and no further exercise of law enforcement power was warranted.

It took a while for my friend to find me; he was somewhat confused when I abruptly vanished from view on the roof, and for a brief moment he was not certain whether I had fled or possibly been arrested. Eventually, though, he helped me into his kitchen. I was wearing corduroy pants. The cactus needles had driven many durable corduroy threads into my leg, and we sat in the dim light of the kitchen, me in my underwear, picking threads out of my leg, each leaving a disappointing trickle of blood and a puff of corduroy fuzz. This sounds more traumatic that it was; bear in mind that it was the 1980s.

In the years since, I have thought about the police officer. I'm pretty sure he's the same one who used to ticket my late mother occasionally as she veered down Descanso Drive, engine racing in second gear, bringing home take-out to an impatient family. These days, I would likely be arrested, or at least put in the back of the police car for a while. There are formalities to respect and care to be taken and safety to be enforced and there might be an inquiry or a lawsuit if a police officer doesn't fully investigate in such circumstances. But back then, the officer was content to stop the noise, and having stopped it, drive away into a cool evening scented of skunk and honeysuckle.

I have not played the accordion again, although I am not ruling it out.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. CJK Fossman says

    accordion = pony call

    Govern yourself accordi … hmm, what's next? Would it be an "n," or perhaps an "o?"

  2. Turk says

    I have not played the accordion again

    By the sound of the story, it doesn't seem that you played it the first time.

  3. says

    'I have not played the accordion again, although I am not ruling it out. "

    Rule. It. Out.

    Cops these days will shoot you.

    And the neighbors will cheer.

  4. lelnet says

    "I have not played the accordion again"

    Not that I'm asserting that the contrary position ought to be punishable under the criminal law, but I have to say that this is not merely _a_ wise decision, but the _only possible_ wise decision, vis a vis the question of playing the accordion.

  5. Phil Dawson says

    That reminds me of the corduroy condoms they made back in the 70's. They were referred to as "a groovy kind of love." [insert groaning noise]

  6. Clovis Sangrail says

    [insert groaning noise] I know I shall regret asking this, but, given the context, where exactly should I insert this groaning noise?

  7. Brad Hutchings (@BradHutchings) says

    You had momentum! Also, accordions are for closers. Also, AIDA: Accordion, Inertia. Decision. Accordion.

  8. Ryan says

    Ken, for the first time in a long time, you made me laugh out loud reading Popehat. Hilariously dry. Love it.

  9. Malc says

    (In the 4th para, there is a typo: "intertia" is NOT the resistance of a physical object to a change in its state of motion).

    I would suggest that bagpipes are another example of an instrument where enthusiasm fails to compensate for a lack of skill. Please do not consider this a challenge.

  10. MusicLover says

    Even more blessed is the person who CAN'T play the accordian. And doesn't.

    Likewise the pipes. ESPECIALLY the pipes.

    As for the police officer: were the umm… musicians in question of legal age to be consuming alcoholic beverages? Just how much extra paperwork would that cop have incurred had he not just driven away. What kind of a mess would have occurred in several families had he taken official notice?

    Besides, cacti might have been considered a more appropriate response than the drunk tank.

    Finally, did you actually learn something from this life-lesson?

  11. philosopherva says

    When I was a child, oh, so long ago, growing up in a sleepy southern city — my best friend and I manufactured our own gunpowder, enriched by filings of magnesium, from a large block of the metal given us by his father (who was a plumber) and colored by different chemicals from our combined chemistry sets. We packed these into pill bottles we purchased in bulk at Grossman's Drug Store and made fuses of thin soda straws packed with the gunpowder. These made wonderful "bombs" – fireworks, actually — which we would set off after dark, behind the neighbor's houses. No one, as I recall, was ever alarmed by this. Certainly, law enforcement was never summonsed.

    This line of work came to an end on one expedition when an explosive went off prematurely and burned all of the skin on Tommy’s right arm from wrist to elbow. There were no repercussions from either family, just a typical childhood accident to be coped with. “Lawd, boys is a torment!”

    He is now a successful professor of Geology and has educated multiple generations of scientists. It would have been a shame to have cut that career short with a federal trial.

  12. Deathpony says

    Ken, you really need to get back to it. After all, the only way to stop a bad man with an accordion is a good man with an accordion. Or a hungry pony.

    Corduroy optional, but highly recommended.

  13. Carl 'SAI' Mitchell says

    I have never played the accordion after dark, or in the day for that matter.
    I have played the bagpipes after dark, but it was at a funeral at sunset, and no one complained. Sadly, I had to play "Amazing Grace." I hate that tune. I hate it with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Funerals suck, weddings are a lot more fun to play for.

  14. Sami says

    I can't help but wonder if the police officer's attitude was shaped there, in part, by the prospect of paperwork.

    If he got out of the car and went to deal with you, he'd have to write a report on it, I assume.

    Perhaps while he was sitting there, he was contemplating getting out to check on you, and then contemplating what the hell he would put in his report.

    "I proceeded to the house, where the miscreant was sitting on the roof. He appeared to be playing an accordion, and while the match was ongoing the accordion was definitely well ahead on points. I offered the miscreant a verbal instruction, whereupon he fell into a cactus patch."

    Followed by the interview with his sergeant where he plaintively insists that he absolutely didn't rough you up, you fell off a roof into a cactus patch, he SWEARS…

  15. Woff says

    My brother told me a story about cactus, and beer. He was in the RNR (a wet version of the US Nat Guard) in the 80's. He was in Amsterdam relaxing after a NATO excercise. One of the ships was based in Glasgow (Scotland), Glaswegians have a reputation, perhaps unfairly, for 1) borderline alcoholism and 2) indulging in fist fights.

    There were two fairly drunk Glaswegians sailors in the bar who were indulging in a increasingly loud argument about which of them was the "hardest". One decided to demonstrate this by eating a cactus, the other being utterly unimpressed decided to up the ante by headbutting and breaking a plate glass window.

    They both ended up in hospital, one needing surgery to remove the needles from his mouth, throat and stomach ,the other with concussion, some spectacular cuts to his head and a broken nose.
    The best thing was they were brothers.

  16. C. S. P. Schofield says

    "On the unfunny side there's anyone who has ever played the accordion professionally."

    from MY FAVORITE YEAR.

    As to bagpipes, an enthusiastic but unskilled player of such runs the risk of attracting an amorous moose. I suppose an accordion might attract an amorous Wurlitzer organ, but those don't move very fast.

  17. Geek Chick says

    I actually DO play accordion. At least I did until puberty showed me why the lady accordion players on TV (dating myself I know) all wore aprons.

  18. Brett Middleton says

    Poor, stupid cop, walking away from a gold mine: early retirement and life-long disability payments due to accordion-related PTSD.

  19. David says

    The accordion player went to a party in a rough neighborhood and parked his car on the street. After a few beers he remembered he'd left his accordion on the back seat.
    He ran down to the street in a panic. Unfortunately he was too late.
    The rear windshield of his car was smashed in. Someone had left ANOTHER accordion on the beck seat.

  20. Innocent Bystander says

    Of the many great lines you've written on this blog, I may adopt "unbridled enthusiasm can make up for lack of formal training in many pursuits" as my new philosophy of life.

  21. mh2 says

    You know the definition of perfect pitch, right?

    When you pitch the accordion into the dumpster and it doesn't touch the sides.

  22. Matt says

    This sounds more traumatic that it was; bear in mind that it was the 1980s.

    Also bear in mind, "alcohol was present" :p

  23. ZarroTsu says

    They had to replace accordions with walkie-talkies in previous movie remakes due to them being too threatening to younger audiences.

  24. I was Anonymous says

    @Claude Akins:

    Blessed is the man who can play the accordion, and doesn't.

    Even MORE blessed is the man who can NOT play the accordion, and doesn't.

  25. Bob Relyea says

    "However, I believe that unbridled enthusiasm can make up for lack of formal training in many pursuits."

    So does the pro se defendent:).

  26. mcinsand says

    What's the difference between an onion and an accordion?

    Nobody cries when you cut up an accordion.

  27. En Passant says

    The facts were these: one evening in the late 1980s I was at a friend's house in my home town. Were were on the low roof of his garage. Alcohol was present. We were singing. Neither of us had very good singing voices. That may be why I felt obligated to accompany us on my friend's mother's accordion. …

    This ended much better than I thought it would:

    Cellmate: So what are you here for, punk?

    Ken: Uh, playing an accordion.

    Cellmate: You punk kids all think you're so tough. They got me on a aggravated bagpipe rap.

  28. JWH says

    Nowdays? Forget arrested, they would have just shot you off the roof.

    If the neighbors didn't first.

  29. Randall says

    Ya know, "Weird" Al Yankovic plays the accordion. Surely you fine folks aren't dissing that particular musical genius. To do so would require that steps be taken.

  30. Jared says

    "I have not played the accordion again, although I am not ruling it out."

    This is a good example of a statement that is unprotected by the First Amendment due to the true threat doctrine.

  31. TomB says

    I used the term "Govern yourselves accordionly" on this site long ago.

    It's mine. I'm insightful that way.

    Now go away….

  32. Matt says

    En Passant:

    This ended much better than I thought it would:

    Cellmate: So what are you here for, punk?

    Ken: Uh, playing an accordion.

    I thought you'd go for:

    "And they all moved away from me on the bench, there, and the hairy eyeball, and all kinds of mean nasty things, 'til I said 'And creating a nuisance', and they all came back, shook my hand, and we had a great time on the bench, talkin' about crime, mother stabbing, father raping, all kinds of groovy things that we was talking about on the bench."

    :D

  33. I was Anonymous says

    @En Passant, And both Ken and the cellmate would have to sit on the Group W bench.

  34. Joe says

    I find this post to ironic not to comment. Here's a entry by an attorney complaining about how today's police would most likely handle an encounter with an individual who's intoxicated. However I believe he failed to realize that modern policy is most likely driven by lawsuits from his brethren. How much do you think an attorney would ask for if a police officer left two drunken men on a roof and one of those idiots fell off into a bunch of cacti? Enough that the next two drunken idiots would be taken into custody for their own protection.

  35. Allen says

    I am reminded of an incident revolving around an electrical cable, the idea of a zipline, and what a cool way to get out of the treehouse. I am further reminded that an electrical cable of insufficient strength, no matter how taut or well secured, might not be the best way to go.

    Plans versus results.

  36. gramps says

    @Sami: "I can't help but wonder if the police officer's attitude was shaped there, in part, by the prospect of paperwork."

    You are almost certainly correct. Don't ask me how I might know that, just believe it.

    And all this, wonderful story and all, to illustrate that someplace between "the 1980s" and today, our society has lost its sense of humor. Actually, its very sad.

  37. CJK Fossman says

    Q: How do you get the accordion player off the porch?

    A: Pay him for the pizza.

    Q: What do you call an accordion player who split up with his girl friend?

    A: Homeless.

  38. dave says

    Your story has warmed my heart. Thank you very much for helping me reminisce about the particularly pungent skunk odors.. they say smell is one of the strongest senses to bring on old memories, and now I am thinking of my dad's '70 Ford station wagon all soaked in skunk odor and debris.

  39. J.S.Bridges says

    Usually attributed to General George Patton: "Going to war without the French is like going to war without an accordion – all you leave behind is a lot of very bad, loud noise."

    I think that says quite a lot rather truthfully, really…

  40. markm says

    "And here's a photo of John Lennon playing accordion."

    Was this his response to the assertion that Yoko Ono's album contained the worst sounds ever heard?

  41. markm says

    Joe: "However I believe he failed to realize that modern policy is most likely driven by lawsuits from his brethren. How much do you think an attorney would ask for if a police officer left two drunken men on a roof and one of those idiots fell off into a bunch of cacti? Enough that the next two drunken idiots would be taken into custody for their own protection."

    yes, nowadays the cop would get the other drunken young man off the roof, using a taser, while stupidly standing right where the convulsing young man would land. Then he would arrest him for assault on a police officer, that is, falling on the cop.

Trackbacks