Elvis Has Left the Building


IMG_3016People think I’m playing when I tell them about my up-close and personal relationship with Elvis. Its tiresome, but I press on, because Elvis is a true anthropological event, and for reasons unclear to me, I live in a state of deep, cheerful immersion in the zeitgeist. I breathe the popular culture, fascinated by all of it, particularly the soundtrack, and having survived the breakup of the Beatles in my very formative years, that’s saying something.

Elvis was in the building, and so was I, July 1975, the New Haven Coliseum. While it wasn’t my idea exactly, it seemed sort of kitschy cool to go see him, so we did. I was in a uniquely superior moment of my life, 17, just graduated from high school and pretty certain about pretty much everything. I knew way more then than I ever have since. And Elvis, he was all white-spangled jump suit and sweat-drenched red silk scarves, and women as old as my Grandma Sally were fainting in his presence. He was lean and loose-limbed and swivel-sexy, wearing crazy-ass white reptilian cowboy boots and that sublimely chiseled face. Elvis of the pouty lower lip, the dimpled grin, the hard line of man-chin and, of course, that voice. Smoking hot honey, molten, and I am serious when I say so. He was impossibly old–40– but I felt him straightaway, and though we were in the $10 seats, I was sure he felt me, too. That was one of Elvis’s gifts, his ability to emit a personal, pheromone-driven connection so strong that every girl-child and woman in the house was certain his gaze was laser pointing directly at her. It was really something. Most unexpected, but it is the truth.

Elvis was in that same building again, July1976, and while it wasn’t my idea exactly to repeat the adventure, I was definitely down for another spin of that album. A lot can happen in a year. I had just completed a wretched first year of college, and came home depressed and anxious and utterly unable to locate myself. Elvis sounded like a good place to start. And he was all blue-spangled jump suit and sweaty white silk scarves, and bloated to excess like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A terrible parody of himself, that in some weird way mirrored my own bewilderment in a world that, just a year prior, had been resting securely in the palm of my dominant left hand. And he was stoned as fuck, careening around the stage, mumbling that he couldn’t help falling in burning love with me, endlessly elevating his buzz till he couldn’t remember any of the words. It was horrible to watch, and I am serious when I say so. Even from the $12.50 seats it was extravagantly evident that the magic had departed.

I came home ruined and sobbed for both of us. My Elvis was gone, and I could feel his confusion, watching him stumble around in a stupor, in a world where one short year prior he was The King. It was humbling yet strangely inspiring. Somehow, I emerged from that summer almost whole, found a path, and took a tentative first step in understanding that I, at 18, knew next to nothing.

Elvis left the building soon after. He died. And I mourned, because something epic had exhausted its nine lives in just 42 years. It would not come round again. And though I knew very little, I knew it was a tragedy that would pain me always, and it has.

I would brush up against Elvis once more, March 1997, now 39, and starting to know a little bit about a couple of things. Through no achievement of my own, I found myself in LA at the Academy Awards. At the Governor’s Ball, which is an obscene glut of excess, I found myself seated next to a woman who was reportedly among Elvis’ last loves. An elegant blonde, she was cool and warm and remote all at once. It was said she was living with Elvis shortly before he checked out of Graceland, and who knows? Maybe she escorted him out of the building herself. No one mentioned Elvis; no one dared. He was so present, so absent, and it was so reminiscent of the shit show I had witnessed back in the day. Having learned a few things by then, I slipped away to a gilded bathroom stall and wept.



The Sahara Affair


It was a good deal easier when I reviled you. I can’t remember that so much now, since you have crossed the vast desert of my heart yet again, that barren wasteland born of decades of unmet desires. You caught me off guard this time when you appeared by smart phone, your number blocked, your face a billion sandy pixels, a digital mirage. I felt woozy from the sudden heat of you. By the time you arrived in real time, blazing for me beneath a Saharan sun, I was already feeling wavy. You set me spinning like a child’s toy top: fast and faster still, until all my stripes blend blue and I approach lift-off.

It is always like that with you and me. I am forever at tilt where you are concerned, and it is safe to say that you know just how to play me.

A desert heart is strange and mysterious, the glassy sands of feelings and memories rearranging themselves, over and again, at the slightest hint of a desert breeze. You traverse this sandscape without pausing to consider the thirsts that will ensue. This time, the voyage was long, but you pressed on, magnificently, sandbank-by-sandbank, in urgent need of something you believe that only I can provide. When you found me, as you always do, I was dipping deep into an oasis of Margaritas, top shelf, three tequilas required to anaesthetize me against the illusion I knew we were about to create. Your ancient powers are impressive where I am concerned. You appeared, and in that scorching moment I forgot, as I am want to do, the many nights I have spent filling that same desert pool with the briny tears of a woman febrile with longing.

We set up a tent of soft Egyptian cotton with an obscene thread count, a billowing tent for two the color of an inky night sky. We drank the Moscato you know I like, straight from the canteen that is its bottle. We imagined ourselves nomads braced against the shifting sands, and we pretended it meant nothing, and that time had stopped, and that it was meaningful and necessary, and that if no one bore witness, it had not really happened.

The reviling is really much simpler, you know.   It is not hard to conduct a symphony of anger inside your soul, and turn it up so loud that you hear nothing but the sound of your own heart begging you to stop. I ruined your life, you said, by reminding you of the true connection that lives beyond the boundaries of lust and desire and the conventions of commitment. Bullshit, I said, there is nothing lofty about this. You take what you want, my charming conqueror, and you always have. Do you think I haven’t noticed that you cc yourself on every email you send me? Calculated, I said. I will always love you, you said. Always.

It is easy to revile a man like that; a premeditated man who believes he can outwit me with no effort at all. You plead not guilty where I am concerned, every time, and you argue your case in the interest of winning, not justice. And even sunblind and Margarita-hazy, I can see clearly that this does not resemble love. I am a temporary tattoo upon your heart, but you have marked mine indelibly, row after row of hatch marks drawn in permanent marker.

So you have returned once more, shimmering in the heat, to send me into the stratosphere above the infinite desert sky. You came and pillaged me. When you left a sudden sandstorm erupted in your wake, obscuring your departure and leaving me gasping, my silt-filled lungs unable to find my breath. You left me here, tangled in the gritty bedclothes, wondering what the hell just happened and how long it will take me to recover this time.

There is no regret, you know, quite like the regret of I-did-it-again.

Now you will disappear once more, indefinitely, into the thorny wilds. You will hide for a time in the damp and murky underbelly of a city I have always hated, leaving me to wonder what terrible desert wind erupted and carried all reason and judgment away. But before you left you ran me a hot shower just the way you know I like it. I rinsed you away, baptized myself clean. You left no trace but for a vague and arid memory, the memory of that reviling, for me to resurrect once more.

The desert is a wasteland, but I suppose you will find me there when you return.