How I Met Elvis . . . Almost
They say the only difference between a fairy tale and a sea story is that a fairy tale begins with “Once upon a time,” while a sea story always begins with, “You ain’t gonna believe this $#!^.” Technically, the following story didn’t happen on the sea, but it ties directly to one of my favorite activities involving salt water. No, not that one, although that one is fun, too. We’ll see if you can figure out the connection as the story plays out.
Far too long ago to remember, I took my first breath underwater, and from that moment, I was hooked. Since then, I’ve logged thousands of dives, racked certifications, and even taught a couple thousand people to breathe underwater with me. It is safe to say I am an avid scuba diver.
Scuba is an interesting word, and since I now make my living with words, perhaps you’ll allow me to share a tidbit of trivia that just might win you a free drink in some seaside bar someday. Scuba isn’t really a word at all. It’s an acronym. For those of you who slept through freshman English, an acronym is a made-up word using the first letters of several real words to make people like diving instructors sound cool. Okay, diving instructors don’t need any made-up words to make them sound cool. We’re naturally cool and groovy and far out, and all those other things everyone else wants to be. In the interest of full disclosure, even though I still hold the license and insurance to do so, I’m no longer actively teaching the art and science of scuba diving.
Now that all of you seem to enjoy the stories I write, the bulk of my time is spent creating the next story for you. Oh, my . . . I’ve wandered away from the original point of this paragraph. Perhaps you’ll forgive me now that I’ve found my way back to telling you about the word SCUBA. It’s actually an acronym meaning Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. There are a great many words in the English language I genuinely love. Apparatus is one of those words. It’s fun to say, and it can mean almost anything. The things gymnasts flop around on are often called apparatuses . . . or maybe apparati. Just because I like the word doesn’t mean I know how to pluralize it.
I’ve gotten off track again, and I blame you. If you hadn’t bought a few hundred thousand books from me over the past few years, I probably would’ve never fallen so deeply in love with language, and I wouldn’t spend time pondering why some words get an “S” while others get an “ES” and an even more select few get an “I” to make them plural. English is hard.
Okay, I’m back. We were talking about learning to scuba dive . . . and meeting Elvis.
One enormous requirement to dive safely is compressed air. Some non-divers believe we wear a big aluminum tank filled with oxygen when we dive. The truth is, the compressed gas inside that big aluminum tank is exactly the same air you’re breathing right now, unless, of course, you’re in a hospital or oxygen bar, where you may be breathing oxygen instead of air. The reason divers don’t breathe oxygen underwater is long, technical, and feels a little like high school physics when it’s explained. Suffice it to say, breathing pure oxygen underwater is extremely deadly. If you care, you can Google oxygen toxicity or ask your favorite scuba instructor.
Anyway, the aforementioned aluminum tank doesn’t magically fill itself with compressed air. There’s an apparatus for that. The machine that pumps air into those tanks is an air compressor, but nothing like the one in your garage. The compressor you bought from Sears or from that yard sale last year is a great machine, but compared to a scuba compressor, it barely qualifies as a compressor at all. High-pressure compressors aren’t cheap. They aren’t simple, either. They remove most of the humidity from the air they blow into those tanks, and they have to do their work while cleaning the nasty air around us to a remarkable standard. There are lots of valves and separators and gauges and crazy gadgets with ridiculous names hanging off of them. So, now you know a lot more about scuba diving than you did before I started this story about meeting Elvis, but we’re just getting started.
Although I owned a perfectly good compressor that did a beautiful job of squeezing air into tanks, I wanted another one . . . just in case. Okay, I’ll confess. I’m a guy who likes gadgets, and if one gadget is good, two have to be better, right? Fate and Facebook Marketplace smiled down on me and delivered a beautifully written ad for the second compressor I’d been dreaming of owning. If I remember correctly, the wordsmith who created the ad wrote something like this:
“4-Sail: one really big, noisy, black air compressor of some kind that sounds like it’s doing something when it runs, but I don’t know what. I’ll take a thousand dollars for it, unless you don’t think it’s worth that much, and then I’ll probably take less, especially if you know what it does. Don’t call before noon or after eight. I’ll probably be sleeping or something.”
Well, how could I not call the number? I had to own that wonderful machine. Unlike most writers, I’m a social animal. I love people—especially interesting people. I’ve discovered the people who sell things online are often the epitome of interesting . . . or weird. I make a living writing stories about weird people, so I consider it research, and I do it for you, so I made the call. To my great disappointment, the guy sounded perfectly normal on the phone. He was rational, well-spoken, and articulate. He and I agreed I would come take a look at his big, noisy, black air compressor of some kind.
He gave wonderful directions to his home off Beal Parkway, near Destin, Florida. Before you start jumping to conclusions that this is turning into a “Florida man” story . . . Oh, never mind. Go ahead and jump. You’re right.
My lovely bride and I absolutely treasure any excuse to take a road trip of any distance, so we loaded up and headed for Beal Parkway, a couple of hours from our house. The drive was delightful. We sang a bunch of songs we didn’t really know, ate some fantastic barbeque, and saw a wreck involving a VW Microbus, a horse and buggy, and an ice cream truck. (Okay, maybe that part isn’t true . . . maybe.)
When we arrived at the house off Beal Parkway, a gentleman—yeah, we’ll call him a gentleman for now—bounded out the door and down the cinderblock steps onto his carport, wearing mismatched socks. Notice I did not mention shoes. There were no shoes. The other thing that was missing was the ability for the gentleman to point both eyes in the same direction at the same time. When he looked at me and at a squirrel well to my right, I felt the sudden urge to hold up three fingers and ask how many he saw. The first words out of his mouth were, “You must be here for the compressor . . . or is it the Crock-Pot?”
I’ve never bought a used Crock-Pot, so I gave some thought to claiming no interest in the compressor, but before I could come up with the words, he said, “No, you don’t look like no Crock-Pot kind of fella, so you must be here about that loud, old compressor thing.”
I’ve spent the last several years of my life trying to figure out what a Crock-Pot kind of fella looks like, but I’m not having any luck at all. I like Crock-Pots, and I like to think of myself as the kind of fella who enjoys a good slow-cooked pot roast with potatoes, carrots, and onions. An ice-cold glass of milk and some cornbread with a big plate of Crock-Pot roast sounds delicious, but I still have to tell you about meeting Elvis . . . almost.
As any gentleman raised in the South will tell you, it’s rude not to shake a man’s hand, so, even though I really wanted to take a look at that Crock-Pot, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. Most people would’ve shaken my hand and said something like, “Nice to meet you,” or “Why don’t you like Crock-Pots,” but not this guy. He thrust his hand toward me, palm-down, showcasing a bright red stone set in what appeared to be tinfoil that had been painted gold. It was the gaudiest, fakest ring I’d ever seen. It wasn’t like he was reaching for my hand to shake. He was clearly showing me his ring as if he wanted me to take a knee and kiss it or whatever one does when presented with such an opportunity. Not knowing the proper protocol or etiquette, I chose to simply drop my hand and pretend like we’d shaken. I hoped he would do the same, but no! He was proud of his gold tinfoil ring, and he was going to show it off. He pointed toward the precious jewel with his chin, but definitely not both of his eyes, and said, “I bet you ain’t never seen nothing like that, have you? Nope, I’m sure you ain’t. Go ahead and try to guess where I got that ring. Go ahead, guess.”
I didn’t want to guess. I wanted to hear the noise the compressor made, but I was caught in some sort of terrible episode of Candid Camera or Practical Jokers. I turned back to my lovely bride, who was waiting patiently in our vehicle. I don’t know why I needed her moral support at that moment, but I was running out of ideas and conversation starters. As if she knew I needed her help, she looked up, but her eyes didn’t meet mine. She stared wide-eyed past me and pointed as if trying to jab her right index finger through the windshield.
I really wish I were making this part up, but unfortunately, this is the god’s honest truth. When I turned around, the man was gyrating his body through something that must’ve been a fit brought on by some terrible medical condition. I momentarily considered grabbing his tongue to keep him from swallowing it, but before I could move to save his life, he sent one hand flying over his head and his hips shooting the opposite direction, and he froze in place like a statue . . . a damaged, terrifying, possessed statue.
As the years have passed, I’ve thought of a thousand things I could’ve said at that moment, but what came out of my mouth was a mortified, “What the hell was that?”
He looked hurt—way down deep in his soul hurt—and said, “I’m an Elvis impostinator.”
I promise you the man said “impostinator.” I’m not a good enough writer to make that up. He really said it.
Before I could react, he stuck his ring toward me again and said, “Now this here ring makes sense, don’t it?”
I stood in dumbfounded awe, devoid of words, and desperately wishing somebody were recording the scene. I opened my mouth in a wasted attempt to say something, but the man came to my rescue before I could say anything logical.
He said, “Yep, this here ring was gived to me by none other than Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie. I met her in the parking lot at McDonald’s one night when my car was broke down and she gived me a ride. So, to pay her back for the ride, I did my show for her, and she said right directly to me, ‘Your name from right now on is Rock-Pop-Elvis because you’ve got my daddy’s moves and Michael Jackson’s moves all at the same time. So, you’re the king of rock and pop, and I want you to have this ring.’”
I was suddenly deeply concerned about his broken-down car in the parking lot of McDonald’s somewhere near Graceland, but the excitement wasn’t over. No, sir. Not by a long shot. Rock-Pop-Elvis looked me square in the eye, with one of his eyes, and said, “I ain’t gonna tell you Elvis is inside my house, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure, buddy. I ain’t lettin’ you go in there to find out.”
I was still in stunned disbelief, but that fruitcake wasn’t finished. He sealed the deal with this phrase: “I guess you know now why I live off Beal Parkway. Elvis himself told me to move here ’cause it was just like Beale Street in Memphis, and that’s a fact.”
I bought the compressor and spent the two-hour drive home singing “Love Me Tender” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”
And the moral of the story is . . .
I have no idea, but I’ll never eat another pot roast without yearning to break into that guy’s house off Beal Parkway just to see if Elvis is in there.