Knight in White Jumpsuit

The Elvis impersonator unhooked his mike, lunged onto one knee,
pulled a scarf from around his neck, and crooned to an adoring,
big-haired woman, ‘For my darling, I love you . . .’

Folks in the audience hooted and clapped. It was an audacious,
seamless performance, complete with live band, backup singers, and
beefy bodyguards. But there was no way that I, Elvis’ wife, could
keep watching. I covered my eyes with my hands and held my breath.
It was the 54-year-old knee Elvis was leaning on that frightened
me. At an earlier performance, it had popped out of its socket, and
the King had dropped to the floor. Everybody thought the move was
part of the show, but I, like most spouses of celebs, knew the
gritty truth.

My odyssey with ‘Elvis’ began four years ago, when my husband,
Bill, a novelist, college teacher, and father of our two young
daughters, took the bait from an enterprising editor: He agreed to
write a nonfiction book about the Elvis-impersonator scene.

The quid pro quo? He had to become one. Now, I am not an Elvis
fan, but I am game for adventure. Indeed, my own path has taken
some bizarre twists during our 20-plus years of married life: from
modern dancer, professional dog walker, masseuse, community
organizer, to mother and freelance writer. Who was I to protest?
And how many times does a middle-aged pop culture hound get to
morph into a rhinestone-studded Elvis?

Too many, I found out. One time, Bill drove two days to a show,
leaving behind his jumpsuit and wig. ‘You what?’ I asked,
incredulous, when he called. Visions of a frenzied mob of Dionysian
Elvis devotees angrily dismembering my balding, Teva-shod husband
quelled my wifely anger at his forgetfulness, and Fed Ex saved the
day. At another concert, the wife of a real impersonator pulled
Bill aside and suggested that he unzip his suit and ‘show some
chest.’ Later, I found my man dozing in the bathtub, a swirl of
muddy ‘For Men Only’ black dye burning the flesh on his chest.

‘Who cares if your chest hair is white and your suit doesn’t fit
perfectly?’ I wailed. (He’d made several trips to the alterations
lady, trying to get the hand-me-down suit’s crotch raised.) ‘You’re
only an impersonator of an impersonator.’

I tried to stand by my man. I once taped this list to the
bathroom mirror:

2. WIG!!!

But the entire endeavor confused me. What would you do if your
mate suddenly threw himself wholeheartedly into an activity you
found, well, distasteful? I tried to console myself: At least he
wasn’t gambling, pursuing an MBA degree, or ringing bells on street
corners with the Hare Krishnas. I was the one, after all, who had
stuck the George Eliot quote to our refrigerator door: ‘It is never
too late to be what you might have been.’

Or is it? I was sure about one thing. There was no way I was
going to accompany Bill to Images of Elvis, the ultimate
impersonator contest, in Memphis. Even the thought of spending a
whole week in one of those drop-ceilinged, stale-aired motel
banquet rooms, watching 80 impostors bump and grind across a
makeshift stage, made me gag.

Anyway, the book came out, the promotional fanfare followed, an
even balder Bill limped back into the classroom where he belonged,
and our lives returned to normal.



The phone kept ringing. FiancÈes wanted him to sing ballads at
their weddings, schools ‘booked’ him, festivals featured him. Some
folks, it seems, just can’t get enough of Elvis, any Elvis.

Luckily, Bill isn’t one of them. After a year of glorying as the
King, he was completely worn out. His back seized up, and he

‘That was a wild romp,’ I said, ‘but I guess we’re both getting
a bit old to try on new lives.’

Bill agreed.

So why, I asked him the other day, is he boning up on Jerry
Garcia lyrics?

From The Oxford American (Summer
1999). Subscriptions: $19.95/yr. (6 issues) from Box 1156, Oxford,
MS 38655.

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.