What Would Elvis Do?

Monday, October 09, 2006

I saw Elvis today. He was changing a tire in the WalMart parking lot. I tried not to stare because that is such a dumb thing to do when you see a celebrity, but it was hard to turn away, so I didn’t, and when he returned my gaze, I spoke. It’s not every day you get to talk with The King, and besides, he’s a southern boy, and I’ve been wishing for someone to explain what people from down in those Red States are thinking.

I started with some chit-chat, hoping to break the ice in a friendly sort of way. “How’ve you been?” I asked. Elvis sneered a little, but it was a kindly sort of sneer, then he told me how hard it’s been to find a decent job. He’s worked the fast-food places and now WalMart (where his part-time shift had just ended). The problem was health insurance and retirement, but he said he prays it’ll all work out and he buys lottery tickets, and it is nice to work with other retirees who are also trying to make ends meet. Anyway, he thought we all should have to sacrifice when the country’s at war.

Emboldened, I asked what he thought about that war. “I’m all shook up,” he replied, “but we gotta take the war to the tarists or they’ll take it to us.” I handed him a lug nut. “Are you worried about North Korea testing a nuke?” I questioned. “Are they near Iraq?” he responded.

There was a bit of dust on his blue suede shoes, and his hip seemed to swivel half a turn as he stood up, sun glinting off his flag belt buckle. My focus shaken, I fumbled for words but finally blurted out, “Why’d you stop singing?” He stared me in the eye, this time the sneer a bit more menacing. “I’ve got family values now,” he snarled. “What do you think would happen if I got up in front of people today and did the moves I used to do? Gays’d be all over me. My mama didn’t raise up no fool. A-wella-wella-wella what would Jesus do? I’ll tell you: he’d get a job at WalMart and he’d be sayin’ God bless America.”

And with that, Elvis turned and got into his Chevy. He’d have roared away, but he forgot to lower the jack.

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The Gift of the Betty Crocker Magi

(a very short piece of fiction based on a number of actual events)

They arrived en masse late one afternoon. The kitchen was a mess, and a plumber was trying to coax water from the faucet into the sink full of yesterday’s dirty dishes. Dinner wasn’t showing any sign of materializing out of the clutter.

They had trouped into her house á la surprise party, carrying paper plates and a chocolate cake. “How nice!” she exclaimed with false enthusiasm. Their purpose was to spread the joy that Christians know, but as far as she was concerned, the only thing spreading was crumbs. She thought about how she liked cake with ice cream rather than piety.

She’d had some experience squashing rapture. Once many years ago, her first husband invited two Mormons to their house. It was the holiday season, and besides loathing proselytizers, she was busy. The three wise men sat in the living room discussing Jesus; she wrapped Christmas gifts on the dining room table, tolerating the visitors until one of them gave her husband a knowing, sympathetic smile.

“You have no idea who or what God is,” she announced loudly to the followers of Joseph Smith. It wasn’t as immediately effective as if she’d proposed to slip into something more comfortable and break out the martinis, but they soon headed for the door, convinced there was no likelihood of diverting her from the road to Hell. The thought of that evening always amuses her.

“I don’t really like your chocolate fucking cake,” she said sweetly. (Like them, she believed in the power of The Word).

The Betty Crocker Magi fled more hastily than the Mormons had, just as the plumber announced, “There!” and water began to flow into the sink.

While washing the dishes she decided to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. She wasn’t really very hungry, but she would say a prayer of thanks to her god for this food, and she would smile.

Amen.