Published: November 26, 2006

NOT long after the night in question, the night of the Kinks, there was another visit to Madison Square Garden, to see the Knicks. Kinks. Knicks. Interesting to put the two words side by side. The two nights, like the meaning of the two words, had nothing in common. But as with the words, there were some odd overlaps. There was my presence, to start. There was the Garden, radically refitted for each occasion but unmistakably itself. And there was the police officer.

I saw him standing at the doorway to one of the levels, glancing at people's tickets to make sure they weren't sneaking into better seats for the game. My friend Steve and I had decent seats. I flashed my ticket. His eyes went from the ticket to my face. I was 15 and, in the spirit of a private detective, was wearing a fedora, but he recognized me anyway. Our eyes didn't meet so much as rake past one another. His face registered an apparently benign smile, colored only by a raised eyebrow. To anyone else it would have seemed a friendly smile.

''Oh, man,'' I muttered. ''That was him!''


Steve hadn't been with me at the Kinks concert, and I hadn't told him, or anyone, about it.

My problem was not that the cop had recognized me. I was sure he had. My problem was that I had recognized him, and he knew it. I had expected that I would never see him again, and here he was, a fat, turkeylike figure in his blue police officer's uniform. What should I do?

The answer was nothing, other than to proceed to my seat. It was early in the season, just as it is now, and I had been looking forward to this game. At some point during the first quarter, while Micheal Ray Richardson ran around trying to get the ball to Maurice Lucas and Marvin Webster, Steve reached into his pocket and produced a joint.

It was autumn 1981. The school year was less than a month old.

A few weeks before the Kinks concert, a kid goes shopping with his mother. The softness in the summer air has been replaced by something crisper. Time for a new jacket.

The mom is a thrifty shopper. Morris Brothers on the Upper West Side, the local standby for clothes, is being bypassed in favor of Alexander's, the huge emporium on the East Side. But the kid's expectation is mixed with guilt on account of his many other visits to Alexander's.

He has a scam going at the record department that works like this: You can pay for the records right there at the record department, or you can take them to the registers on the ground floor. He takes them downstairs. But instead of paying for them, he unwraps the plastic covering and approaches the security guard in his blue pseudo-cop outfit.

''Excuse me! Excuse me, sir?'' the kid calls out as loud as is reasonable, waving the record in front of the security guard. ''This record has a scratch! I just bought it, and it's scratched!''

The guard is about to refer the kid to the record department, but the kid continues: ''And I brought it back to exchange it for one that isn't. I came all the way from home and I forgot my receipt! So I have to go home and get it. All right?''

The kid would have acquired the new Kinks record, ''Give the People What They Want,'' in just such a manner, except that a few weeks earlier, he had been flagrant and lazy, unwrapping the plastic covering and dropping it on the down escalator, and he hadn't even made it to the guard standing at the door before two plainclothes store detectives grabbed him.

He spent a while in a small jail cell in a kind of backstage area. A man with a brown three-piece suit and a thin mustache made him produce all his money, which wasn't enough for the record. The man was threatening but kind. The kid apologized at length. The man in the suit let him go.

Now, with his mother, he was vaguely terrified that one of the guards or detectives would recognize him. Perhaps the man in the brown three-piece suit himself! The mood of deceit overlapping with the mood surrounding his mother was discomfiting. He had once been a boat docked firmly to her pier, but the ropes holding him there were going slack, and sometimes the ropes were thrown off altogether for unofficial nighttime journeys to nearby islands.

They looked at jackets. She used the word ''windbreaker'' and engaged the salespeople in the subject of quality. He modeled and put a hand in various pockets until they found something in navy that was a bit shiny, with no collar to speak of, and had zippers on the pockets and an alligator on the chest.

He did not own anything with an alligator on it and was pretty sure he didn't want to. But he couldn't get over how cool the jacket looked. And the zippers on the pockets! His mother liked it, too.

''You look very nice in navy blue,'' she said. She had been going on about how nice he looked in navy blue his entire life. It was exhausting, but for once, he forgave her for this.

When he got to school, the members of his grade did not seem to notice his new jacket, which was fine with him. He was still into it, and he wore it to the Kinks concert.

THE seats were down on the floor. Halfway through the first song, everyone charged up the center aisle. Which was how I came to be a part of that throng of people standing with their heads craned upward at Ray Davies singing into the microphone, playing his guitar. He wore a blazer, a button-down shirt and a bow tie. We leapt and jumped and waved our hands and marveled at how much spittle came flying out of his mouth as he sang. ''Destroyer,'' ''Give the People What They Want,'' ''Art Lover,'' ''Yo-Yo'' and ''Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo-Lola.''

Then it was over. The house lights came up. The place emptied. The four of us boys were walking amid the many empty seats whose colors were red and orange and yellow and green. The concert had exhausted and energized us, fed us and stoked an appetite that needed appeasing. Basically, we didn't want to leave.

Every entrance to every exit was now manned by a police officer. When we finally trudged toward one of the exits, the police officer there directed us to a different exit. When we came to the exit we had been instructed to leave through, the officer there said we had to go to yet another exit.

''But we were told we had to come here,'' one of us said.

''Well, now you're told you have to go over there,'' said the cop.

One of us said something, and the cop said something, and there was a reply, and maybe another go-round or maybe not. The cop then grabbed my arm and shoved me in the direction he wanted us to go. It was a weird combination of shoving me while also holding onto my arm, as if my insolence were a kind of fruit that, if he shook the tree hard enough, would simply fall away.

It didn't hurt, but I looked down to see his hairy fist clenching the shiny sleeve of my new jacket, and this offended me.

''Hey!'' I said. ''Let go of my jacket!''

I tried to yank my arm free. But he was not a letting-go kind of cop. Now we were in a tug of war in which the item being tugged at was my arm -- or, more specifically, the sleeve of my jacket with my arm in it.

Somewhere in the process of trying to yank my arm away, I had the idea to punch the guy in the face. I am not good at throwing punches. I still vividly remember throwing a punch when I was about 8 and someone cut in front of me in the cookies-and-juice line. It was a soft, almost apologetic gesture to my classmate's chin, and its only effect was to enrage him.

When I look back at those years, especially the bad junior high school years, I wish I had thrown punches, let off steam, tried to make a stand. But I never threw a punch through those years. This was a kind of debut.

My fist reached a face, the softness of a cheek. He flinched. Then he shoved me against the low wall behind me, and all over the Garden, the little dots of blue that had been positioned next to the exits began to converge in my direction while I screamed ''Get off my jacket!'' Finally I went slack. I was quiet. My three friends stood off to the side, silent. The dots got closer and became visible as men with faces and hands. One of them put one of my arms behind my back, while another pushed my head down so I was doubled over at the waist. In this position, I was marched forward, down some stairs, while I began to ready my apology.

What comes next provokes in me a kind of sick delight. I want to say to that kid: ''You stupid idiot!'' I want to reach into the memory and smack the kid myself, if only so he would have some frame of reference for what was to come. After a few steps, me in this doubled-over position, several bodies around me, something like a thunderclap occurred -- first a low rumbling, then a scary darkness and finally a sharp cracking sound that reverberated through my head and my whole body.

I HAD no idea what had happened. I was still moving down the flight of stairs. Then it happened again, and I understood that a knee, someone's knee, had just crashed into the side of my head. Then there was a sharp jabbing to the ribs and a punch in the lower back.

I could vaguely make out the shrill cries of outrage and fear coming from my three friends. But they were far away. I was still moving. At the bottom of the stairs, I was turned left. I walked some more. I had forgotten all about my jacket.

Now I was back in some restricted area, and my first thought was that this is where they must keep the elephants when the circus comes to town. The memory of what followed seems so outlandish, I am sure I am embellishing. And yet I do recall the bare light bulb hanging down from a very high ceiling, and also fluorescent lights, and a table, like a kind of picnic bench, where some cops gathered, taking off their jackets, while a couple of other cops stood on either side of me and held my arms out. It can't be that this happened, because it is too neat. I felt as if I were being crucified. So it can't be that I was actually made to stand with arms outstretched. It is too convenient an image.

But that is what I remember, me being held arms out while the cop I had punched leisurely took off his jacket, folded it on the bench, and rolled up his sleeves. He came up to me and smacked me on the side of the head. He did that for a while, and there was some conversation with the other cops. Cigarettes were smoked. I was not without things to say. What I said, over and over while I was being smacked around, was: This is America! I am a citizen! I have my rights!

I said it all in a grand soliloquy of sobs, total wetness, blubbering civics. My discourse on America and my role in it, and the police's role in it, went into hysterical fever pitch at the sight of the baseball bat. I was sobbing heavily now in fearful, helpless anger.

They poked me in the side with the bat, until eventually they lost interest. Then they all sat around smoking while I stood there sniffling.

The amazing thing about it all was that before the torture scene commenced, my jacket was removed. I can't imagine it was neatly folded on a chair, but in the end I was allowed to pick it up, and it was completely fine.

Eventually, I was pointed toward an exit, and after a while I found myself on the street. My friend Peter was there. He put his arm around my shoulders and told me the other guys were waiting in front. I broke out into sobs, and he made some comforting noises and kept his arm around my shoulders. By the time we met up with the others, I had calmed down. We all agreed none of us would tell our parents.

While my face swelled a bit, there were no bruises, and I later was told that the beating I got might have been a kind of ''police special'' whose purpose was to leave no marks. That's why they kept hitting me in the side of the head and poking my ribs. No one at school noticed and, more important, neither did my mother. How that happened I have no idea. She was very attentive. I must have gone into a deep Sunday hibernation in my room, is my only guess.

A FEW weeks later, I went to the Knicks game with Steve, and saw the same cop whom I had punched and who had then beaten the hell out of me. After the initial sickening adrenaline rush subsided and we took our seats, we got around to taking a very surreptitious hit of Steve's joint.

I exhaled a plume of smoke into the Garden's basketball ether, and sat back, feeling comforted by our stillness in our seats amid the big open space of the Garden with the men exerting themselves on the bright floor down below. I tipped the fedora lower over my brow, going under cover in that fine tradition of teenagers whose gestures toward anonymity are, in fact, incredibly conspicuous. I wasn't hiding from the cop, I was just being invisible.

In the next few minutes, I was filled with good feeling and comfort. At a certain point, I lifted my head up toward the Garden's rafters. I remember this moment with peculiar clarity. It sits right beside the memory of Ray Davies's pale, spotlighted face all clenched up as he sings, his bow tie so tight it's as if a hand is strangling him as he belts out a high note, spittle flying.

Just then, sitting at the Garden, I felt like an alien, the rush of the drug filling my upturned head. But I also felt very much at home.


Thomas Beller is the author of ''The Sleep-Over Artist'' and ''How to Be a Man.'' This essay is adapted from ''The Show I'll Never Forget: Fifty Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concert-Going Experience,'' to be published in January by Da Capo Press.