Elvis is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.
There is no doubt that Elvis is dead these thirty years this very day. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
All that follows may or may not have happened. I’m not sure I can say anymore. That happens to fiction writers….
In that same seventh year of this my life, as the Anglo-Saxons would say, I had my first near miss with fame. I have had a number through the years, mostly because of my uncanny (as I reflect, I realize that both of my best friends from high school became famous and that the only two close friends I made in college became a rock star [Jay Breeze] and a major league baseball player [Chess Yonkers]) knack for being around people to whom fame accrued. I come by my own fame reflectively, as the moon does her light.
I have had my moments, howeverâ€”well, almost had them. One came later in the first grade. After my conquest of the written word (I went on to become one of the three best readers in the first grade), my initial year of education passed uneventfully until sometime in the spring. The weather had turned warm, so Iâ€™m guessing this happened after Easter, which would have put the event in late April or early May of 1959. I was blissfully unaware of the passing of time at sixâ€”a luxury I no longer possess.
Each class in the school was responsible for presenting a play (I do not remember whether our class alone did this or joined with other first grade classesâ€”there were three first grade classes in the elementary school where I spent that year). I do remember being in the auditorium (I think that school, Leaksville Elementary, had an auditorium and a gymâ€”a result of having been the town high school in another life) and watching sixth grade kids perform a skitâ€”as I remember based on the popular TV show Zorroâ€”and wondering how we â€œlittle kidsâ€ could ever get up on the stage and do anything that the other kids would want to watch.
When it came our turn to provide the class play, Mrs. Whitsun, ( and perhaps Mrs. Fox, and Mrs. Talbertâ€”I seem to remember a lot of kids on that stage) herded us up onto the stage. We were lined upâ€”more or lessâ€”in a long row and faced toward the rows of empty seats. We stood there fidgeting and giggling like any bunch of 1st graders would. Iâ€™m sure they had some plan of action, but as I looked around all I saw was a mass of kids poorly controlling a hell of a lot of energy.
Suddenly, for reasons still unknown to me, I stepped out of the line. I took one or two steps forward and began to perform a rousing rendition of Presleyâ€™s â€œHound Dogâ€ to the empty auditorium, including in my performance a pretty fair approximation of Elvisâ€™s hip swivels and leg waggles.
The kids erupted by the time I reached the end of the first stanza. Mrs. Whitsun attempted to quiet the class down, but nothing doing. Some clapped, some screamed (boys and girls, I think, and no, I donâ€™t know what that suggests) some hooted and yelled.
I kept right on. I have uncanny concentration at the oddest times.
I finished and bowed to the empty auditorium. The kids clapped and cheered. Then, as suddenly as Iâ€™d stepped out, I stepped back into the line of kids.
Mrs. Fox and Mrs. Talbert continued to shush their students. Mrs. Whitsun, musing, came over to me. â€œIâ€™d like to see you after rehearsal,â€ she said.
I was six and had only been in trouble onceâ€”for running in the hall. I didnâ€™t think anything of Mrs. Whitsunâ€™s pronouncement until Tony Keltner leaned over and said, â€œYouâ€™re in trouble, Elvis.â€
I looked at him and he nodded wisely. Jimmy Hollins, standing next to Tony, did the same. I looked past them at Glenda, my Redbird reading pal, she of Yertle the Turtle.
Glenda nodded, too.
Things did not look good for the king of rock and roll and me.
The bell rang, classes were dismissed and about 100 first graders began scrambling down the steps on either side of the stage to go back to their classrooms, grab their book satchels or knap sacks and head for parentsâ€™ cars or their school buses.
I made my way slowly, lagging as much as I thought I could. Kids jostled me and chaos swirled about me, then soon, too soon, was gone to either meet their parents, their buses, or to their assigned classrooms to await their busâ€™s dreaded â€œsecond load.â€
Mrs. Whitsun sat patiently in the end seat of the front row of the auditorium seats facing stage right.
I slowly made my way down the stairs leading from the stage and shuffled over to Mrs. Whitsun. When I reached her I studiously examined my shoe tops and waited for her to tell me what my punishment would be.
â€œYou sing very well, Charles,â€ she said quietly.
I have a habit that almost any of my friends has commented upon at one time or another. When I am faced with a dubious proposition or an enigma of any sort, I tend to look at the person/place/thing with slightly narrowed eyes and pull my lower lip up over my upper.
This was the face I turned up toward Mrs. Whitsun.
â€œItâ€™s true, Charlie. Youâ€™re a good singer. And you have stage presence, too.â€
I had no idea what she meant by â€œstage presence,â€ so I responded by pulling my lower lip even higher over my upper.
â€œYour song today gave me an idea. I asked you to stay after rehearsal to talk with me for a few minutes about my idea. Are you willing to talk?â€
Mrs. Whitsun patted the seat beside her. â€œSit, Charlie.â€
â€œNext Tuesday night, there will be a talent show. Do you know what a talent show is, Charlie?â€
I shook my head no.
â€œA talent show is a kind of contest. People sing, dance or perform in some other way and judges decide who is best. Then that person gets a prize. Understand?â€
I pulled my lower lip over my upper and thought for a moment. Then I nodded. Iâ€™m not sure, thinking back, if I understood or not. I suspect I agreed to move the interview along.
â€œWell, Charlie,â€ Mrs. Whitsun held out a folded piece of paper to me, â€œIâ€™ve written a note to your mother to let her know about the contest and to encourage her to let you perform. Iâ€™ve also included an application form for the contest.â€
I took the paper and held it in my hands turning it and wondering how my mom would respond to another note from Mrs. Whitsun.
Notes seemed to be like (I realize now) lottery tickets. Once in a great, great while they paid off for you. Most of the time you found yourself disappointed.
So it was with me. My mom and dad talked over the talent show idea and decided against letting me participate. There were too many logistical problems for them to manage for such a triviality as my chance at stardom.
Thus my 15 minutes of fame eluded me for the first time.
But I’ll always have Elvis.
Thank you. Thank you very much….
xpost: The Savoy Truffle