In this sweltering summer of discontent, the Elvis impersonator is wedged into a rhinestone-encrusted royal-blue jumpsuit. Our pores sweat like Corona bottles under the blistering sun. Just this morning, the radio voice noted this is the tenth straight July day over 90 degrees. We are at the water’s edge, but the bay denies us a breeze. In this season of political campaigns, Elvis on stage among the palm trees appears to be a mirage. The people are searching for a savior.
As the sun hovers over the slowly rising water, imitation Elvis croons Are You Lonesome Tonight. Our dampened shorts cling to the seats. The metallic high-top table is emblazoned with a massive Red Bull logo. In front of the stage, a blonde haired boy joyfully cartwheels in the replenished sand. Nearby, a slim tattooed grandmother swirls in a peach dress as her daughter and granddaughter dance nearby. We hope the sun dips behind a cloud. We are searching for relief.
This morning’s news showed Louisiana lowlands slipping underwater and the California hills engulfed in flames. Meanwhile, the elephant rants at an Ohio fairground, and the donkey licks ice cream in Atlanta. Our congressman has escaped to Martha’s Vineyard. A massive American flag hangs mournfully over our heads. Imitation Elvis swigs from a plastic bottle, sighs and sneers, “I’ve never drank so much Gatorade and Pedialyte in my life.”
A man underneath a camouflaged NRA cap pushes a wheelchair through the sand to the foot of the stage. His pre-teen daughter, draped in a white t-shirt with a screen print of Imitation Elvis, waves excitedly from her seat with strained muscles. Elvis drops to one knee, serenades her with Love Me Tender, and blows her a kiss. He dabs his forehead with a red, white, and blue silk scarf. The girl grins as though she has witnessed a miracle.
Three young black women, their hair in corn rows, walk by the stage holding styrofoam cartons with dinner leftovers. The faintest breeze picks up momentarily, providing us with false hope. As teenagers in uniforms empty the trash, our nostrils sense the faintest whiff of a rotten burger. A woman in her sixties steps up to our side and aims her cell phone at the stage for a snapshot. Her bleached blonde hair is styled as though she just stepped off the set of Beach Blanket Bingo.
Two bronzed hard-scrabbled men in jeans and t-shirts posture with beer cans. They watch imitation Elvis, occasionally talking and laughing between themselves. I imagine they have spent the past six days toiling on a Delmarva farm, or stringing television cable between poles along a desolate road in the July heat. The one man hands his beer can to his friend and starts dancing solo, spinning and winding his way through the crowd until he is gyrating next to the grandmother and her daughters. The man leans in and flirts away. The women laugh and open their circle to him.
Imitation Elvis sings Suspicious Minds. The bronzed man dances with the grandmother as the daughters laugh. A Malaysian family walks by. My wife has nearly finished her second frozen pina colada. An elderly man holds his wife’s hand as they shuffle by to the dance floor. His red cap, too small for his head, reads Make America Great Again.
A weathered woman puffs on a cigarette. Her arms charred from the sun, her jaw and cheeks inset from a decades long fondness for cheap whiskey. Her bony frame is draped in cheap chains, her black t-shirt embellished with a black and white mug shot of the original Elvis. Underneath, boldly emblazoned are the words, The King.
The image reminds me of being a sweaty twelve-year-old boy on an August afternoon nearly 40 years ago. Having just finished a game of kickball, I walked into the kitchen hoping to quench my thirst, and overheard my father tell my mother that Elvis was dead.
“Who’s Elvis?” I asked.
My mother shrieked, “You don’t know who Elvis is? He was the greatest.”
Now, I study this weathered woman’s worn, tired face. The puffs of her cigarette smoke fade into the sky. Imitation Elvis slows the tempo down, croons Amazing Grace. This wrinkled woman stands entranced by the mirage, as though this stage is as sacred as Guadalupe, Lourdes, or Graceland.
The sky turns gray as the bay rises to engulf the sun. A breeze picks up, and I’m reminded autumn is advancing. Soon, the children will be given haircuts and be fitted for school uniforms. Moms will pack lunches and sweatshirts. The crops will be harvested and the fields will sit fallow. Decisions will have to be made.