Elvis at 50
by Arthur Byron Cover
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Elvis was partnered this week with a young black man named Skip. Skip was moody and had been in and out of trouble with the law. The only reason why he had a job with the city was because a local minister had pulled some strings for him. Elvis liked to say he didn’t understand the young man’s generation, but as every generation since the ’60s had confounded him, that wasn’t much of a distinction.
That morning, Elvis let Skip drive so he could throw the contents of the trash can into the dumpster himself, and thus work off a lot of excess energy.
“Elvis,” asked Skip while they had lunch at the McDonald’s on Union Avenue, “how come people make fun of your singing? I ain’t never heard you so much as whistle, much less sing.”
Elvis answered with his famous lopsided grin. And that was all.
There was an oldies station being piped into the speakers in the dining area. A great improvement over the easy listening they’d been playing the last time the two were here, which was yesterday, come to think of it. The song was Charlie Rich’s rendition of “Unchained Melody.”
“Good old Charlie,” said Elvis. “The poor guy was three sheets to the wind when he recorded that. You’d never know from listening to it, though.”
Skip began laughing. “Elvis, you slay me! Sometimes you talk about those old farts like you actually knew them, back in the day!”
Elvis shrugged. “Maybe I did.”
“You are funny. I have to say, the last thing I wanted to do was come to work today, but somehow with you, it doesn’t seem like work.”
“That’s ’cause you do all the driving.”
“Hey, you can drive this afternoon, if you want.”
Elvis felt the small of his back. It sure did smart. On the plus side, however, his pent-up energy was practically dissipated. “Maybe I will. Say, today’s my birthday. I’m 50 years old!”
Skip looked truly amazed. “You must be joking! 50? No way!”
Elvis snapped his fingers. “Way!”
“Say, Reverend Arije says you’ve been attending service at the church lately.”
“Yeah, and you haven’t.”
“What’s up with that? What’s a white man and his family doing going to a black church?”
“You say I’m not welcome?”
“Elvis, you’re welcome everywhere. It’s just that even in these enlightened times, when all men are created equal, blah-blah-blah, white folks still don’t consort with black folk on the weekend.”
“Well, the singing’s better for one.”
“You don’t do no singing there, do you?”
“Wife won’t let me. She wants to be able to come back the next week. She likes the sermons better.”
“She just wants to jump and down like a black girl.”
“That too.” Elvis hoped Skip would drop this particular line of conversation. While Elvis aspired not to see color, not even when he’d been the town drunk, or so he’d been told, truth was that any time the subject turned to his singing voice, he got a little nervous. He didn’t want his cover blown.
The change of venue had more to do with the subject of sermons at the white church he’d formerly attended. They’d struck Elvis as a mite intolerant, and he recognized code words which clued him in to the fact that his old preacher wasn’t as color-blind as he pretended to be.
Skip indeed changed the conversation, but not in a manner Elvis approved of. His eyes followed the rear end of a mixed-race group of country girls carrying their trays of fast food to a nearby table.
That was one thing. Elvis did exactly likewise. But then Skip whistled and briefly described in no uncertain terms the particular skills he might bring to bear upon their anatomy.
“Hey! Stop talking trash!” Elvis hissed.
“Why? I talk all the trash I want.”
“You’re going to have a wife someday. And maybe a daughter or three. You’re going to want randy young boys to treat your girls with respect. And you might as well start learning how to, right now.”
Skip was somewhat taken aback. “Brother, you got a burr up your behind. What’s with you?”
Elvis shook his head. “My apologies, son, I guess I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about it.”
Skip shook his head too. “Boy, you sure are prudish considering that song you told me about yesterday. What were those lyrics? ‘She calls me her lollipop man. She calls me her lollipop man.’ Her lollipop man? Sure don’t sound like a song about candy.”
“No, I guess not.”
“Why don’t you sing it for me?”
“No way. The last time I tried to sing, the wife forced me to watch Judgment at Nuremberg. Sorry I yelled at you, by the way.”
“That’s all right,” Skip said, standing up and gathering his trash. “Come on, let’s go, old man. I’ll even let you drive.”
* * *
On the way home from work, Elvis stopped by the Wherehouse to pick up some new CDs he’d had reserved for him. A huge Motley Crue poster graced the front window. They looked like a bunch of degenerates.
Their music was terrible too: just a bunch of screaming and gnashin’ guitars and songs whose subject matter ranged the gamut from getting high to getting laid. Clearly he’d reached a fuddy-duddy stage, when he felt about a hard rock act in exactly the same way Frank Sinatra’d felt about him, nearly threee decades ago.
Of course, he had to remind himself that the Frank Sinatra of today had never heard of Elvis Presley, King of rock ‘n’ roll. While he was indeed the same Elvis he’d always been, he wasn’t the same man his wife, friends, and family’d known all their lives. Not by a long shot.
They believed him another Elvis. Distinct and entirely different. That Elvis had once upon a time been a complete wastrel and roustabout, a man who’d gotten Lor pregnant out of wedlock, gotten her pregnant a second time when he’d taken her by force without protection, and in addition to spending all his money on women, drink, and any other vice he could think of, he spent as much of hers as he could get. She’d had to raise the first two kids practically all alone, on a teacher’s salary too.
Whereas he was the King, the instigator, the firestarter, a stick of dynamite thrown into the plastic vanilla culture of the ’50s. He’d sold millions of records and had 18 number ones in the US of A alone. He’d starred in a gazillion crappy movies that had all made money, each one more than the last. And he’d starred in a one-man special on TV seen by a billion and a half individuals.
He could meet with the President any time he wanted to, and he could sleep with practically any woman who struck his fancy. Movie star. Society girl. Model. And his favorite, the country girl, theoretically shy but definitely not.
Best of all, he’d performed before thousands, had them hanging on his every note, his every move. They listened to his voice, heard him play guitar with the band, watched him dance, and every single one of them, especially the woman, looked at his crotch and wondered what it was like to get up close and personal with it. A lucky few found out.
All right, that was being a pig; he admitted it, but it was one of the things he missed most about being the man he’d used to be. The thing he missed the absolute most, though, was the respect. The respect he got from not just being the most recognized individual on planet Earth, but because he was the King. The embodiment of who men wished they could be and women wished they could do.
On the other hand, toward the end of his reign, he couldn’t be sure anyone truly loved him for who he was really was, a good old country boy who’d made good. There was irony in it. Quite a bit. But it all came down to a simple equation: the King had respect but no love. Today he had love but no great respect.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Arthur Byron Cover