Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A COCKTAIL WITH THE KING

It was a Tuesday, along about 11 o’clock in the morning, and it was one of those iffy, Quincy, mid-winter days where it can’t decide if it’s raining or snowing or turning off nice.

I was in SavMor, comin’ around the corner by the ready cooked, chicken-in-a- bag stand, clutching my package of lil’ smokeys and a bag of frozen tater tots and I looked up and stopped dead in my tracks. There he was. It was him. Elvis. The King himself, I could not believe my peepers, but he appeared to be checking groceries at register 4.

Of course I was mistaken.

In reality he was in the shopper’s line and simply facing the other way for a moment. Clutching my meager purchases I hustled my butt over to the line at number 4 as he was watching the checker ring up his few items. There was a young mother ahead of me with a shopping cart piled high with diapers and generic cola. I would be forever behind her. But the rock & roll gods were smiling on me that day and, as I skidded to a stop just short of her Capri slacks, she suddenly remembered that she needed HoHo’s or Bisquick or something and swung her cart hard to the right and out of line. I sidled up to him as he was rustling through a handful of bills and coins and, in a voice that belied my knowledge that I was, indeed, in the presence of royalty, said softly, “Man, I love your stuff.”

I give him credit for not reacting. His eyes darted my way with a flash of horror and disgust but his composure was rock steady. He stared hard at the teenage cashier, willing her to put on the hustle, and already had his groceries bagged when she meticulously counted back his change. Turning my way he said, “You got the wrong guy I think. I gotta go.” My 15 minutes of fame was evaporating before my very eyes and so I blurted out the first thing that came to mind… “Can I buy you a drink?” I don’t know if he was expecting an autograph request or a demand for the opening bars of Heartbreak Hotel but my offer stopped him down by the paper bags. He looked my way again and, shrugging his shoulders and muttered, “What the hell, why not. You got wheels?”

It’s no pink, ’58 Caddy convertible, but we climbed into my trusty Subaru and with a short pull over Cemetery Hill we were sitting in Plumies, down at the far end, beneath the white plastic bucket hanging under the ceiling leak. It was early, the bar was dark, the bartender was bored and behind on prep so getting our drinks was uneventful… gin & tonic for me and a tequila driver for the King.

“Used to be I couldn’t buy bananas and peanut butter at the same time without some doublewide hausfrau putting two and two together and screaming, ‘Oh my God! It’s him, it’s him!’ and starting a chain reaction that cost me another studio apartment deposit in another town.” He sighed and took a long swallow of his drink. “Nowdays, not so much. I keep my nose clean and my hat down low and stay away from geriatric class reunions and my time is pretty much my own.”

“But” I said, “I spotted you right off.”

He gave a terse nod, “Oh sure, that happens now and again but it’s mostly near a Grateful Dead concert and it doesn’t take much to convince them it’s just a flashback or some bad pill combo… I gotta admit that sightings like yours are few and far between, thank god.”

A stiff pull on his drink and he elbowed me gently. “Hell, when was the last time you saw my name in the tabloids? They don’t even mention Michael Jackson anymore.”

Now there was an opening I simply could not ignore. “Um, yeah, Michael Jackson. How did you feel about him marrying your daughter?” Elvis sighed and dropped his shoulders a bit, “Ah, the poor bastard… who else was he gonna marry? All that hype eating him alive… at least Lisa Marie grew up in the life and knew what he was caught up in.” Elvis shook his head slowly from side to side and made a face. “So much talent and so much trouble.” He swiveled his head my way and grinned, “Maybe he pulled the same stunt that I did…”

It made me wonder, but I was here to talk about Elvis. “You ever miss the life?” I asked. “What are you doing with your time these days?” He caught the bartender’s eye and signaled for another round, “Oh, I’m driving truck again and writing a little bit… new stuff… kinda memphis reggae with sort of gospel toned ballad vocals. I’m just too old and fat to be swiveling and gyrating anymore and there is simply no way to stay out of the papers with a celebrity hip replacement surgery. Of course it’s pointless because I can never perform without getting sucked back in.” He paused for a breath, laughed a soft, deep-felt laugh and slapped me on the back, “Ah, hell, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been since my mother passed… don’t you worry about ol’ Elvis Aaron son.” With that he polished off his drink, slid off the stool and headed for the door. He never looked back, just gave a casual wave over his shoulder, pushed open the door and hung a left towards East Quincy.

Elvis had left the building.

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