Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The King is Dead and Buried in the Back Yard

All this month, the radio has been playing Elvis music, in recognition of the anniversary of his death. I don't know why Elvis's death anniversary doesn't stick in my head. I'm going to make a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich and ponder this.

The music does remind me of the three weeks I spent in Memphis. Let me tell you, there is more to Memphis than Elvis. There's Beale Street, with lots of blues clubs, including B.B. King's place. I spent many a night investigating everything that Beale Street had to offer,  carousing up and down more often than a whore's drawers.

But, really, Elvlis is the heart of Memphis. Even though I'm not a big Elvis fan, I had to see Graceland. Just had to. The first thing about Graceland is that its not set in some bucolic surroundings; it's right there, in the middle of sub shops, shoe stores and car dealerships. Seriously, imagine Graceland right smack in the middle of Pulaski Highway and you get an idea of what I mean. 

The other surprising thing about Graceland is the size. It's not some big ol' Tara type of  mansion, its just an average size house that would fit right in Middle River or Hamilton or Parkville. But nobody who loved Elvis really cares about that. To his faithful fans, Graceland is the Mecca in the Church of Elvis.  

The tours won't let visitors upstairs to Elvis's bedroom or bathroom, where he died, ingloriously, on the toilet. But I did see the infamous Jungle Room. 

Oh my. 

There was emerald green carpeting...on the floor and the ceiling...and lots of brown furniture and orange decoration against a wood-paneled wall. There were also lots of posted signs that said, "Please DO NOT Touch The Furniture." Which I, of course, interpreted as a dare. I did touch the furniture, and a lot of it, I'm sorry to say, was cheap plastic. Not even vinyl, but plastic. The tour guide said that Elvis himself had gone  into a local furniture store and selected every piece of furniture in only 30 minutes. I just stared at the room, thinking,"Yeah, 30 minutes. That would have been my guess, too."

Oh, and Elvis is buried right out back. [Uh-oh. Hey, guys, Elvis is dead. Real dead. Okay, Junior, Bubba, Vance, let's me and y'all get out the shovels and start digging. How about that real nice place behind the septic drain?} Actually, I think Elvis had a good idea about that. When I'm gone, just bury me in the back yard, near the four o'clocks. I'll go to my maker with flowers in my hair.

The one thing that really touched me at Graceland wasn't Elvis' decorative taste, or all of his gold records, which were on display, or even his burial place in the back yard of Graceland...it was the faces of the faithful.  For many of the other tourists, this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip to pay homage to a man who's music was as much a part of them as their blood or bones. Elvis is the ultimate American Icon...a man who started with nothing, worked his way up to something, and died from ingesting everything. The quiet reverence that his fans showed moved me to wonder if I had been missing something. I have to admit, I still don't quite get it, but there's no doubt that hordes of people still love him tender. 

All I know is, if I ever get to Memphis again, I'm going back to visit Graceland. Maybe I'll see you there. Let's make a pact to meet at the Heartbreak Hotel with the rest of the hound dogs.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Divided Loyalties

I've traveled up and down the East Coast quite a bit, and there is always one consistency: people above the Mason-Dixon line comment on my "southern" accent, and folks below it call me "Yankee."

I admit it, I like southern culture for the most part. I love southern food, the slower pace of life, and the friendliness of southerners. On the other hand, I don't like NASCAR, only use white sheets for bed linen, and have never slept with my brother.

I lived.....very, very briefly...in the south a couple of years ago. The very day I had moved into my new home, two elderly sisters just waltzed through my front door to welcome me to the neighborhood. After introductions, Miss Erlene, I believe it was, asked me "Honey, have you found a church yet?" Honestly, I haven't had time to find the bathroom yet. Then she and Miss Eulala sat on my sofa for two hours while Miss Erlene related her whole life story, including her childhood crush on Huey Long.

Southerners might be a  bit chatty, but Northerners are absolute masters of articulate brevity. True  exchange between  me and a store merchant in Stowe,  Vermont:

Me: "This label says that the blueberry jam is home-made. Is that true?"

Merchant: "A-yep."

Me: "Like, made by  your family?"

Merchant: "A-yep."

Me: " So you have a farm, or something?"

Merchant: "A-yep."

A looooong silence followed.

Me: "Can you change a 20?"

Merchant: "A-yep."

Honestly, if I wanted to talk with someone who only answered in monosyllabic grunts, I'd get married again.

So am I a Yankee or a Reb? 

Probably a little of both and a whole lot of neither. Call me what you want, just don't call me late for the corn bread. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah

, February, 1964

I'm sprawled on the living room floor, playing a cut- throat game of Candy Land with cousin Patty. Patty's sister, 14-year old Vicky,  was glued to the "Ed Sullivan" show. Our television had Ed on every single Sunday night. Not to watch Ed was un-American.

I had just moved my game piece three spaces down Lollipop Lane, when cousin Vicky emitted this loud, feral scream.

"Paul. Paul. I love you, Paul!" she chanted, all the while shimmying and shaking like that one time at Christmas when Grandmom had too much eggnog and danced the 'Charleston' until she passed out under the tree.

I stared at my parents black and white RCA television set, trying to determine what was driving Vicky absolutely  mental.  All I saw were four young men, dressed alike in gray suits,with the shaggiest hair I'd ever seen on a man. In my whole five years on Earth, I'd only seen men with no hair, short hair, or crew cuts like my Dad, the ex-Marine, always wore.

I immediately started to scream along with Vicky, because screaming was fun. These young men,  it seemed to me, had some mysterious ability to get girls to do naughty things, like use their outside voice in the living room. These were bad boys

I liked them.

Thus began my life long love affair with The Beatles.

The Beatles, it seemed, had a knack for getting me in trouble. Once, in the seventh grade at St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School, I asked sister if I could bring a Beatles album into school to play the next time it rained and we were stuck inside for recess. She agreed, much to her regret. 

When it rained a few days later, I  put "Abbey Road," on the classroom record player, and started to get down. or, least, getting down as much a 12-year old Catholic girl can do.  Everything was fine as kind until "The Ballad of  John and Yoko" came on. 

"Christ, you know it ain't easy, you know how hard it can be, the way things are going, they're gonna crucify me," John sang.

Sister sprung into action with an agility that belied her age, which I believe was about 187 years old. She ran to the record player, turned it off, and gingerly lifted the album off the turntable. She only used her thumb and forefinger, as if she was afraid that the devil his own self would somehow leap from the vinyl into her very soul. Sister slid the album into the sleeve and  returned it to me without a word. The next time it rained, the class got to spend the entire recess and lunch breaks listening to the groovy musical styling of Jim Nabors. 

Entire books have been written about The Beatles and their influence on society. All I know is this.....I can watch old clips of  early Beatles, and will still find myself screaming, using my outside voice. 

After all these years, those boys still have it.