Elvis at Christmas

Elvis doesn’t go to the mall much anymore, but before Christmas he enjoys taking a cab over to Westfield Southgate on the Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, to pick up a gift or two. He sings with friends at an after-hours club on Siesta Key and when the holiday season rolls around, he likes to give the serving staff a little something for their hard work and discretion all year.

He was at the mall yesterday, in fact, browsing in Pottery Barn, when a teenager named Agnes recognized him. She told him that her grandmother thought the world of him. She said that her grandmother had gone to an Elvis concert in Biloxi, back in the 50s, and that Elvis had given the young girl a hug and she never forgot it.

Elvis thanked Agnes for sharing. Agnes told him that he looked great. He said that he’d be seventy-seven in less than a month and that he had turned into a superannuated geezer. Or words to that affect. He spoke not with rue, but with that Southern sense of a lost past that is so common in the region. He also complimented Agnes on her quick eye.

He’s the thin Elvis now, has been for years. He lost a lot of weight after he went missing, and kept it off. Agnes told him that she was sort of surprised at how he could walk around in public without anyone bothering him. Except for her, that is, for which she apologized. Elvis waved off her sudden discomfort and reminded her that a cruise for Elvis imitators had just sailed out of Sarasota Bay. There are Elvises all over Florida these days, he observed. They abound.

In any case, young folks don’t care about The King anymore, and Elvis knows it. He’s no more than a fading urban legend these days. Folks used to think that Anastasia was still alive, back when Elvis and Agnes’ grandmother were in high school. Who knows or cares about Anastasia now? You get old, you become invisible, except where your family and other geezers are concerned. The King is ok with that. He didn’t step out of the limelight only to grieve over the anonymity sure to visit itself upon him in the end.

Agnes asked him if she could run find her grandmother and bring her back. The woman would be tickled pink. Elvis told her that he didn’t mind and that he’d be over in Banana Republic if she didn’t find him in Pottery Barn when she returned.

Presently she reappeared with an older woman in tow and found Elvis in Men’s Shirts.

Myrtle, the grandmother, was thunderstruck.  She told Elvis that she was his biggest fan. She’d just been listening to Blue Christmas that morning.

Elvis thanked her and Agnes thought for a moment that the woman would swoon. Elvis possesses a charisma that is hard to explain. Has always had it. When he turns on the charm, it’s a force. Used for good, in his case.

The three of them heard the mutter of others, of bustling, and turned to see a crowd of older women, with a few older men sprinkled in, edging into the store. Many grandchildren were attached to the oldsters by hand. As it happened, Myrtle and Agnes were at the mall on an outing with a large percentage of the residents of Sunshine Harbor. A friend heard Agnes talking to Myrtle and word spread and a bunch of them, along with other shoppers who heard the news, surged over to BR to take a look.

Elvis had the lot of them in thrall in a blink. The man has the patience, the soul of a saint. I have never seen another case like it. The heart reaches out to him. It’s atavistic. The song requests started up and Elvis agreed to oblige with a number or two – after a nudge from Myrtle and Agnes – over at Saks in the showing room in back, if the store manager, Mr. Gold, agreed, which Mr. Gold did forthwith, knowing that the matrons, once in the store, would react to the serenade with a delight that would translate, after Elvis left the building, into a sudden desire to buy something romantic for themselves or their spouses. Mr. Gold happened to know The King personally. He dispatched one of his salesmen to fetch a guitar from the nearby MusicLand.

As the crowd translated itself from one store to the other, Agnes had a moment to ask Elvis the big question, the Why question. Why had he dropped out like he had? Elvis told her that it was all about the music, nothing more, nothing less.

The showing room filled and then some, and outside its open doors, in back and on the north side, shoppers accumulated. They settled in and the music commenced.

Myrtle sat in a place of honor, right up on the little stage, palpitating, with Elvis singing directly to her. The mood was two steps out of the usual, the way the world changes when you’re standing next to a celebrity who matters. Through the door on the north side, listening shoppers could be seen filling the spaces beyond the room all the way back to the fountains. After a couple of tunes, an angry Santa and his elves elbowed through the crowd.

This particular Santa worked on commission. He received a cut of the kids-on-Santa’s-lap picture money. He wanted to know what the ding dong was going on. Where were all those children who were supposed to be lining up at his throne over next to Dillards? What were they doing in here? Santa  shouted. He was facing a really, really bad day, compensation-wise, he said. Who was it, picking his pocket like this? He said that nobody had warned him that he’d be competing for his money with some musical act. Santa pushed through the crowd with the help of his elves and mounted the stage, prepared to set matters right.

Elvis found himself looking into the almond eyes of Loose Johnny Booker, behind a white beard. As the fat man in red opened his mouth to speak, Elvis thumped his guitar.

Ain’t but one thing
Give me the blues

The eyes of the fat man twitched wider at the sound of B. B. King’s tune. The elves pricked up their ears.

When I’ve worn a hole
In my last pair of shoes

The guitar went blue. The crowd fell silent.

Oh but someday, baby
I ain’t gonna worry my life any more

The elves began a soft clap. Their toes tapped. Loose Johnny shook his old gray head and answered back.

Don’t care when you go
How long you stay

Elvis backed him up with the guitar. The clapping picked up.

Good time treatments
Bring you back someday

Both men were into this. Two voices carved deep by time.

Oh but someday, baby
I ain’t gonna worry my life anymore

Mall management and Security pushed into the room. The siphoning-off of shoppers and kids from the stores and the Santa concession, and the disappearance of Santa himself, were apt to cause a shopping-day profits meltdown apocalypse if allowed to continue. But love enveloped the suits and the uniforms in a musical cloud and the new arrivals were transmogrified into audience members before they could make any progress through the throng.

On stage, Elvis hugged Myrtle during a break. Agnes saw that a fire had been lit between the two. She knew that later on, when she was a grandmother herself, she would look back on this moment and feel about it just as her grandmother felt about her own teenage night with Elvis back in Biloxi in the 50s.

(True story.)

Advertisements

PHOTO: Giant Man Spotted At Kim Jong Il Funeral

[Headline, Huffington Post, 12/30/11)

I was at Abe Goldschmidt’s funeral, the indoor part, and there was a lady with a big hat sitting in front of me. I couldn’t see a thing. If I were this giant man, I could have looked over the hat. Overlooked the hat. Or, being a giant, I could have asked her in a nice way to remove the hat and she would probably have done it. But as it is, she would have just laughed at me.

Let me make this clear. At 4′ 10″ I am by no means a midget. You never saw a headline, “Midget Spotted at Kim Jong Il’s Funeral.” I’m not saying the malnourished North Koreans are midgets. They compete in international soccer and badminton, and they’ve got all those nukes.

The thing is, if you study the picture, it appears that the giant man is actually a woman, and she is giant. I’m trying to text or tweet her with a contract from Hollywood. Nobody wants delicate Asian beauties anymore. They want Asian women who kick butt, pardon my French. Grace Park of BSG fame? 5′ 9″ Not bad. She was a tough cookie in that show. Several tough cookie clones, actually. But this woman at the funeral? She could step on Grace.

The guys at MGM claim that this giantess is “spotted” and that I’m nuts to throw money at her. So typical. What if she is, well, marred, complectionwise? The studio is going to get her to the plastic surgeon first thing anyway. She can get de-spotted while they’re building up her cheekbones, making those eyes just a little less Korean – there is a limit – and taking stock of that momumental chest area of hers.

There will be giants. And I will be their agent. I will stand on their shoulders. I will take a giant step for Mankind, or at least those who go to the movies. I see a Giant remake, with this babe taking the Rock Hudson role. I see her appearing at the funerals of all the world leaders. What a stunt! Have they buried that Arab in Libya yet? How tall is Big Bird? Is Big Bird a guy or a gal? These days, it don’t matter!

I see a movie with Tom Cruise. They shoot it right, the shrimp looks taller than she is. They can do that.

Unexpected New Cheerios Flavor

[Headline in The Huffington Post, 12/27/11]

The unexpected can be a good thing or a bad thing. A flavor can be pleasant, unpleasant, or just plain strange.

I remember putting something in my mouth once – I had to think about it first. I had to decide, is this something I want to do? Is this something that I’m going to regret? So forth. – and the flavor was, like, whoa, what the…?  Is that…?

I couldn’t put my finger on it. The flavor, I mean. This could be a metaphor for life. You think? Suddenly you’re doing something you never figured you’d do. You’re encountering new sensations, but your mind is preoccupied. That’s the variety of life and the confusion of past and present. You’re doing it, but it might not work out the way you expect.

Take Cheerios. You go into Trader Joe’s and there they are, but now they’re Trader Joe O’s. It’s a metaphor for life again. There are twenty-six letters, but one company picks the O and do you see other companies going with As or Bs or what have you? No. It’s all Os. And that’s just in English. The situation in China is much more complex, because you’re not turning a letter into breakfast cereal, you’re doing it to a whole word. It’s like when you pick a major in college, and are then confronted with its corpus, instead of just goofing off watching movies in your dorm room.

So to continue the metaphor, you can savor the taste or you can spew it from without your mouth onto the barren ground. I don’t recommend or not recommend this. Take the ground into account. Take into account the proximity of others and whether you’re at a funeral or a wedding or watching a pole dancer. Like that.

So to continue the metaphor some more, to buy in or not to buy in? You’ve encountered the flavor. Was it a one-off, so to speak? Do you revisit? Do you tweak the situation to change the flavor a little bit, this way or that, but preserve its basic nuances?

Rely on your gut. That’s what I do. Remember, if you pinch your nose shut, it affects your taste.

Ten-Second Game Summaries

[My 65 entries in a “Worth1000” contest]

Cootie – I was going to play Cootie but my sister messed with my game and got her cooties on it.

Dreidel – I had a little dreidel. I made it out of clay. God made me out of clay. Therefore I am a dreidel.

Skeeball – Practice hard at this game of skill and in a year or two you’ll be able to win all the kewpie dolls you could possibly desire.

Blind Man’s Bluff – We had a deaf kid in the neighborhood and when the blindfold went on, he couldn’t tag anybody!

Belling the Cat – You would sneak up behind this big lout in school and stick a Kick Me Hard sign on his back. It would take him a few times to catch on and we would always make this little scaredy cat go last. He would get caught every time, and thrashed. We loved this game!

Scavenger Hunt – Prehistoric version: (1) Find wheel (hard to do!), (2) Find cute babe from other tribe and drag her home by hair (also hard to do!), (3) Bring home mammoth leg for dinner (make sure mammoth leg not still on mammoth).

Chicken – Not so popular in these wimpy times. Teens races their cars at each other and see who swerves first. We had a million laughs with this until one really crazy dude got killed.

Cardboard Box – Ultimate game for three- and four-year olds? Put down a large, empty cardboard box in the living room. Have pillows, flashlights, costume clothes, whatever, handy. Let the kids play in, on, and around the box.

Horseshoes – First, take the shoes off the horse. Then clean up after the horse. Now you’re ready to play!

Croquet – Living on a steep hill, we’ve given up the game. All our balls roll away.

Twenty Questions – Are the New York Yankees animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Marbles – Losing all your marbles used to mean something.

Tinker Toys – Kids should tinker.

Caber Toss – An Irish game that uses a virtual telephone pole. It’s not how far you toss it, but how straight. Good luck picking the thing up in the first place.

Donkey Kong – The repetition feels good at first, but if you never take it to the next level – add some variety – it eventually becomes boring.(metaphor)

Paint Ball – Get ready to start. Wear old pants and shirt. Play with much heart. Then the balls start to hurt. (metaphor)

Russian Roulette – Sadly, our family tradition regarding this game died out recently.

Mumblety-peg – A kids game played with knives, so yeah, a little old-fashioned.

Jacks – Bounce the ball and snatch up those little three-dimensional asterisks. In my house, the best place to play is the kitchen floor.

Lionel Trains – Ideal setup is two big trains and a figure-eight track.

Red Light Green Light – Every time you go Red Light and turn around, they’re closer. Creepy… Green Light… Red Light! Shriek!

Chess – The computer will beat you unless you cheat, but if you do cheat, the computer won’t get mad and usually won’t tell on you. So go ahead.

Mother May I – Ok, now you go… Oops! You forgot to say Mother, may I!

Leap Frog – Play it today. Frogs are going extinct and so is this game.

Ping Pong – At camp, remove leaves from warped table. In dorm basement, remove empty beer cans and bottles from dinged table. At home, remove old magazines, Christmas ornaments, and cat from dusty table. Search for missing net.

Madden Football – Madden tried it once. He couldn’t get the center to snap the ball.

Red Rover – A kid will run across and try to bust through your line. Your team is pretty good except when you call over that big lout on the other team who has been held back several years, and he scatters you like ten pins.

The Olympic Games – A lot of games but nobody playing them seems to be having much fun.

I Spy with My Little Eye – Best not played alone outside the girls dorm.

Sack Race – Picnic managers report that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find serviceable sacks.

Three-legged Race – No team of three one-legged people has ever won.

Spin the Bottle -The good thing is you get to kiss three girls, say. The bad thing is, if you really like one of them, you have to watch a couple of other guys kiss her too.

Spin the Bottle – Early training for throwing your keys into the bowl.

Tug of War – How we settle disputes in the neighborhood. Mud pit at the community park. Some families are awesomely buffed up.

Dodgeball – Don’t play this game with a bully. He could put your eye out!

The Most Dangerous Game – Hunting humans. Don’t try this at home.

Solitaire – Playing this game in traffic – even in boring stop-and-go traffic –  is illegal in 49 states.

Playing House -One of you is Daddy, the other is Mommy. Not to be confused with “playing doctor.”

Cowboys and Indians – If you’re an Indian, no casinos! You’re here to take scalps.

Double Dutch – Girls are way better than boys at this. Braids seem to help.

Games of Chance – Luck never be’d a lady tonight for me.

War – Card game which, like real war, doesn’t always produce a winner but does pass the time.

The Great Game – Russia/Britain, 1813-1907. Central Asia. No one won.

Go – Common question when beginners play each other: “Did I win?”

Hide and Seek – I played this with my date the other night. She couldn’t find me, so I guess she went home.

Kick the Can – You kick it down the road. That’s the whole point.

Craps – Baby needs a new pair of shoes. I lost the other ones last week.

Mousetrap – No mouse need worry.

Pong – Coolest video game of the year. 1972.

Bridge – A bid of three diamonds means my wife expects me to ruff her voided suit, or no, was it to finesse her spades and clubs, or…?

Canasta – You meld, but not like Spock.

Chutes and Ladders – At a certain age, your child will play both sides, and you can sit back for a well-deserved, one-minute rest.

Scrabble – You make words out of letters and some wise guy tells you  that aa means lava.

Old Maid – If one card is sticking way up, your four-year-old wants you to pick  it.

Dominos – Fitting numbers together, but forget that. Set up a few hundred and tip over the one at the end.

Poker – Fun card game until you bet your wife or girlfriend.

Parcheesi – Don’t know the rules but do know the name rules.

Legos – You can build a city or a rocket ship but most likely you will build a little square house or a very short wall.

Chinese Checkers – Watch out or you’ll be picking marbles out of your toddler’s diapers.

Monopoly – The houses and hotels used to be made of wood but now they’re made of plastic.

Chess – A game where you take my pieces one by one with a smirk on your puss.

Checkers – Old men down used to play checkers next to the stove, but now they all have their angry birds.

Pick Up Stix – My six year old can beat me but my Mac can’t.

Somolia Part 2

Somolia Part 1

I was out in the cold and dark last night and a homeless fellow asked me for fifty cents for a cup of coffee. I told him, automatically, that all I had was plastic. I lied. I thought about that on the way home and felt a change.

Subway Buskers Corner: Holiday Hint #53

Put up a little table and next to your tip hat situate a big bowl of figgy pudding with a ladle, paper plates, and plastic spoons. You can obtain ample dried figs, in their original wrapping, from the Trader Joe’s dumpsters. Happy holidays!

50/50 Word Challenge

Saving Janie

The County came for Janie on her second birthday. Her party started well but ended badly. Someone called the police and Protective Services arrived, packed a bag for the child, and took her away. Her mom and dad were too drunk by then to know or care what was happening. They woke up later to find themselves alone in the house.

The notice left by the County lay on a pile of unopened presents. John and Susan read it, and Susan began screaming, in spite of her headache and nausea. John sat on the sofa and watched her as she ran around the house and out the front door onto their dead lawn, and then through the gate into the street. She ran up and down the block shrieking, while the neighbors watched from their windows. The drink still talking. She dropped to the pavement in the middle of the road and lay on her back, weeping.

John found the County’s phone number on the notice but was still on hold when Susan cycled back inside. A shouting match broke out between the two of them, stopped, started, and stopped with John still holding the phone to his ear. Susan ran out of the house again, ran back in. John never got through to anyone on the phone. Neither he nor Susan could think straight.

They agreed to have one small drink apiece to help settle them down. They needed to focus. Presently they were both drunk again and John joined Susan in alternating sobs and fury. John knew that Susan loved Janie. He supposed that he loved Janie too, but the strength of his sorrow and remorse surprised him, even if most of it was supplied by the alcohol.

They slept and when they awoke, they were too sick to drink or argue, save for a nip each and some mild sniping. They showered, made coffee, and drove down to County Health and Welfare. An AFDC intake worker passed them along to a social worker, who listened to them until Susan began to get strident. The woman left them in an interview room and came back fifteen minutes later with a hearing date.  She advised them to engage legal representation. They were escorted out of the building after Susan started the screaming again. This time, it wasn’t the drink’s fault.

The legal department in John’s company recommended a lawyer. The lawyer shocked them with his rates, considering that he was situated near the bottom of his profession’s  food chain. He called them later, after looking into the matter, and told them to stay clean and sober for the thirty days before their hearing and he’d get their child back. He guaranteed this.

Susan and John swore an oath to each other. No drinking. Not one drink for a month, for either of them. Their family depended upon it. Their child depended upon it. Tears followed.

A tough first week crawled by. The couple woke up each morning facing a day with nothing in it to look forward to. They chose separate AA groups and each attended two meetings a day. Neither liked their sponsor. Both lost weight, developed the shakes, alternated between depression and anger, and skipped some work. Their managers and John’s union rep were glad to see the two finally in a program.

The couple tried prayer. That seemed to help. They attended church on Sunday for the first time in years. They signed up at a gym. Began to feel better, physically.

John came home one night and found Susan sitting on the couch with an open bottle and a glass in front of her. The glass had not been used. The bottle was full. John sat down next to her. Susan put the lid back on the bottle. There followed a long, agonizing fight between them that featured blame. They went to bed mad.

The second week was better. At times, the two of them felt almost giddy. They talked about their health. They talked about the future. They talked about Janie and how it wasn’t too late to erase any bad memories that she might have had, any insecurities caused by their behavior.  They congratulated themselves.

The weather warmed a little. Both sponsors, knowing how important the couple’s sobriety was, stopped by often. John and Susan assured each other, and the sponsors, and their coworkers, over and over again, that this was real, this was for life, not just for a month. At the same time, each had the thought, without sharing it, that moderate drinking, a drink every once in a while, once the baby was back , would be OK.

John’s brother stopped by the house for the first time since Christmas and Susan’s parents called her several times from Minnesota, all of them offering encouragement.

In week three, John and Susan both felt as if they had come to their senses. Routine took over. The two of them sometimes went for hours without thinking about taking a drink. They liked their sponsors. They made plans. They researched preschools. They made an album of baby pictures. They gave the house a thorough cleaning, in case a social worker dropped by unannounced.

In week four, they both experienced surges of sudden excitement and anxiety. John was invited out for a drink after work by a friend who knew better but wasn’t thinking. John told himself that he’d just have a coke, that maintaining work relationships was important. He found himself inside the bar before he knew it, realizing that a coke would not be enough. He managed to turn himself around and walk out on trembling legs,  sweating through his shirt. On the way home, he pulled into the parking lot of the liquor  store nearest his house. He sat in the car with the motor running and pounded the steering wheel. Three days left before the hearing. He could hold on. He had to. He pulled out of the lot.

When he got home, he found Susan sitting in the dark. He checked her breath with a quick kiss. She had not been drinking. They sat side by side, and then argued. Bitterly. After the anger died down, they went into the bedroom and made love for the first time in months, and for the first time sober in a year.

On the day of the hearing, they took care dressing. At the County building, in the hearing room, their lawyer sat waiting for them. No sign of Janie. John and Susan craned around, asked their lawyer, demanded. No child. The County presented reports from a pediatrician and a psychiatrist. The child Janie, in their opinion, had been damaged by her two years spent with an alcoholic mother and father. A month of parental sobriety proved nothing. The child remained at risk.

The judge suggested to the couple’s lawyer that he have both John and Susan evaluated by a competent therapist. He scheduled another hearing. Everyone stood up. Members of another broken family filed into the room. Out in the echoing hall, their lawyer again promised John and Susan that he would get their child back, if they kept clean and sober. His heels tapped on the wood as he walked away.

The couple drove home, to change for work. They argued on the way, but without energy. Familiar accusations, recriminations, soon fading into silence. Both of them had an AA meeting that evening. They agreed to meet afterwards at a local cafe for a late dinner. And then home for a little TV before bed.