I had the occasion, recently, to have an unusual experience. As I am a collector of unusual experiences (I have a first edition of Get Stuck in an Elevator With a Ventriloquist and His Hermaphrodite Dummy still wrapped in plastic, but that’s a tale for another day) I didn’t hesitate when I received the bizarre invitation. A friend of mine had lost her elderly uncle (great-uncle, actually) and had called me up and asked if I’d like to come to the wake with her. A strange request, perhaps, but then, as you may have already gathered, I’m a strange person. I have been accused of being an unreliable narrator, and I have never denied that, and I have been charged with outright fabrication, and while I do not take offense at that, I maintain that going through life with a highly attuned sense for the surreal has benefited me greatly, darlings, and if you have the means of picking one up, I highly recommend it. I believe that if you scour eBay, you may be able to find one for a good price.
So it is that I, on occasion, find myself in situations that lend themselves with great ease to — not satire — satire’s not the right word — but rather, illumination. Such was the case when I found myself at the wake of my friend’s uncle, who was, in the later years of his life, a professional Elvis impersonator.
Was it Jean Paul Sartre, or Bruce Wayne who once said: “The things we do define us, darlings”?
If that is true, then, by definition, my friend’s uncle was a king among men. And, as is befitting of a king, his wake was an opulent event filled with singing, dancing, and rhinestones. Lots and lots of rhinestones.
As I walked into the hall with my friend on my arm, I was assaulted by a barrage of sequins, sideburns, and wraparound sunglasses.
There were Elvises of all ages and races. There was an Elvis in a wheelchair decked out in a blue jumpsuit, while his nurse pushed him around so he could dance to Jailhouse Rock. There was an Elvis dressed up all in black leather, looking like ’68 Comeback Elvis, doing karate kicks and talking about his little Lisa Marie. There was even a Sikh Elvis, who incorporated his turban into Aloha from Hawaii Elvis, complete with white sequined jumpsuit, which he had apparently Bedazzled himself, complete with that famous gold eagle. He sang something with such a heavy Indian accent that it was either A Little Less Conversation or else In The Ghetto — I’m still not sure.
There was a young Elvis, who got up and sang Heartbreak Hotel, and there was gospel Elvis who gave a heartfelt rendition of Just a Closer Walk With Thee, and in the corner of the hall that they’d decked out as The Jungle Room, a freshly Leid Elvis sang Blue Hawaii for a group of older ladies who looked as if they’d like nothing better than to pluck his ukulele, if you know what I mean.
I marveled in the utter lack of irony in the performances, and found myself a little humbled and ashamed at my own cynicism as one by one, friends and loved ones paid sincere tribute to the man they knew in the best way that they knew how. In life, he had loved Elvis, they said, but he loved his family, his friends, and his Lord even more. (This coming from gospel Elvis, of course, right before launching into How Great Thou Art, the song that won Elvis his last Grammy.)
But the highlight of the afternoon was when a female impersonating Elvis impersonator got up with tears in his/her eyes and sang Love Me Tender, dressed as old, fat, white sequined jumpsuit 1977 Elvis.
I’d never seen a man dressed as a woman dressed as Elvis before, but I have to say, darlings, it was not something I’ll soon forget.