I learned a great many things on this recent outing, such as the value of a belt. But also? If your pants are going to fall down, Miami is a good place for it. I think it has something to do with Jennifer Lopez, but that’s just an intuition. And I learned a few things I didn’t know about taxidermy. For instance, there’s a fine line between a beautifully preserved specimen and a dead animal (really, it’s like . . . you can’t even see the line until you’ve crossed it), and sleeping with a dead rabbit night after night will sometimes cause the rabbit to appear to have been hit by a car. Packing it in a suitcase doesn’t help. At first I tried to move him by packing him/it between clothes, and one of its ears got bent in a disturbing way, so instead of wearing my cowboy boots I packed them, slipping her inside one of them. I thought this was ingenious but when the bunny emerged he seemed even flatter and more boot-shaped than before. Then the worst occurred: I opened my suitcase to discover it had been inspected by the TSA. I frantically went over the list of what is forbidden in a checked suitcase and I could not see, on the list in my mind, any mention of dead animals. IT’S OKAY. FLAT STANLEY WAS SAFE. This is what he looked like before the trip:
Now you expect an ‘after’ photograph, but I just can’t. Anyway, he’s under my pillow. This, however, is what a live animal looks like:
That is my dog, Iorek. He is posing with my two-year-old’s shoe, for perspective. IT’S OKAY. I took the baby out of the shoe earlier.
I also learned that people are astonishingly kind – well, I knew that. The belt thing was something of a surprise. I was treated kindly everywhere I went, by everyone I came into contact with – in every city, in every hotel, by everyone who attended my readings. Bookshop owners were extraordinarily generous, and whaaaaaaa? is this? Commenters drove long distances to see me, which shocked me every time and made me teary. And to everyone who has given their time and money to IODINE, I can’t thank you enough. I’ll never again believe The Novel Is Dead, as is so often proclaimed. It is Merely Flat and Appears To Be Sleeping.
Finally . . . wait, let me back up. I’m not a person with enemies (that I know of) (and if I have some you may hold your peace because I am blissfully unaware of it) but once upon a time someone stole something very dear to me, and did so knowing how deeply I would be injured. Only in the first week or so after did I actively wish injury upon this person; after that, and to this day, I have merely been puzzled as to how much must have been lacking in My Bete Noir’s (hereafter MBN) life to have done such a thing. MBN is a person who, as Martin Buber, my favorite Jewish philosopher – and I’m sure yours, too! – would put it, turns every Thou into an It. “O piling up of information: It, It, It!” The purpose of such a life is not to apprehend, nor is it to fully engage with any thing or person – no one is a You – but to collect, and to deflect the deepest meaning of all particular occasions.
I heard recently that MBN, on one or another whirlwind Piling Up Of Information tours, made fun of Graceland in a very public way. That was when I knew I could cease puzzling over my own loss, because there are people among us who have a hole where there ought to be abiding compassion and tenderness and grief. There is no sadder figure in our popular culture than Elvis Presley, and nothing more heartrending than to invade his home and the scene of his death, the place he is buried between his parents, wearing a headset and staring at his relics. MBN did not see a boy from Tupelo who thought he’d purchased a mansion and who decorated it according to his whim and his loneliness. And apparently MBN’s headset didn’t include Lisa Marie’s account of how, as a little girl, she would see him walking down the stairs and he was so much larger than life, so much more than any other man she knew, it was like watching a god descend.
Others have made fun of his taste, how small the house actually is, and I am always stunned at how callous and blind people can be. Graceland is a holy site, because it is the place a man struggled for control of his life and his soul and lost, and not just any man but a good one, a generous and kind and brilliant man. It is the place a child lost her father, and where the father before her lost his own two beloved parents. Elvis lived with the ghost of his own dead twin. He was made an It in his own lifetime: Colonel Parker actually referred to engagements he set up for Elvis as ‘exploitations,’ and to Elvis’s face. There are people who would mock him and those who see him as a genuinely tragic figure. I don’t care what the latter type looks like or what they wear, or if they stand at the gates on the date he died and openly sob: I’m with them. My brother-in-law, who is really much too nice for my sister, well, okay, she gives them to me too, has given me priceless Elvis paraphernalia from his own past, and each piece breaks my heart a little, because Elvis paid for those concerts with his life while others danced and spent his money.
Did I have a point? Yes. I’ve been to Memphis a dozen times but this year just driving over the exit for Elvis Presley Boulevard caused me to let go of what MBN took from me. As I wrote to a friend, I went out walking, as I always do, and when a woman stopped and asked me if I was a Christian, son, I said, Ma’am I am tonight.