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.)