You’re next, doll. Ever had a tattoo before? Well, it ain’t changed much since then. Sit down and relax. Ain’t one of them dang bleeders, are you?
Sure, I do a bangup business every Valentine’s Day. Had my own parlor since ’61 and I done tats for brigadier generals, movie stars, accountants, singing nuns — you name ‘em, I done ‘em. For Valentine’s,
everybody wants a lasting impression of their true love.
The weirdest Valentine’s Day tattoo I ever done? That’s a toughie. Some people will do anything for love. But lemme tell you about Valentine’s Day couple years back. Had customers in here twenty straight hours, my fingers was cramped, my arm ready to drop off my body and then he walks in. Tall, slender, geeky-looking guy about sixty, bald with a grey goatee and hornrim glasses. I figure him for some collegiate type what with his tweed jacket and elbow patches. Had this real intellectual way of talking — you know, big jaw-bender words — and, when I ask him what he does, says he’s a professor of Biblical and World Religious Studies at the local U.
He pulls up his right sleeve and says he wants a Concave Mandorla, which, he goes on to say, is “an ellipsoidal figure symbolizing the intersection of the spheres of heaven and earth as espoused in the Third Book of Khunrath”, and I says, sure, no problemo, I got all the back issues in my closet.
Then he starts into a rap about meditation and holistics and rebirthing in a big tank of salt water taffy like the ancient Druids — all this New Age stuff that got on my nerves real quick so I says to change the conversation, “Hey, I tattooed a lotta unusual people. Did Elvis Presley once when we was in the Army. Put a yellow-and-blue rose with his momma’s name in the middle in green right on his inside left ankle.”
“Like this?” he says and yanks up his left pant leg, pulls down his sock and I nearly drive the needle through my hand cause there is the very tattoo I done thirty years ago.
“Great balls of fire!” I says. “You’re Elvis! Ain’t you s’pposed to be dead?”
“That’s what they tell me, sir,” he smiles, polite as ever, then jumps up and does one of those knockout karate moves with the splits. “All those years being a celebrity, being the center of attention, I was all shook up,” he says. “Couldn’t handle it anymore. The pills and the chicks, shooting out TVs in hotel rooms — I knew there was something more to life.
“My kung fu master got me studying Oriental philosophy. Then I got into ancient mythology, the secrets of Zoroaster, the Hebrew Kabbalah, the Bhagavad-Gita, Osiris and the Egyptian Creator Gods. I realized my excessive-compulsive behavior all those years represented a flawed quest for a new spiritual path. But once the material world has you in its grip, man, it’s tough to just walk away. Can’t you see the headlines: ‘Elvis Joins Monastic Order to Study Dead Sea Scrolls’? Everybody’d think it was one of the Colonel’s publicity stunts.”
“So you faked your death and changed your identity. Wouldn’t recognize you in a million years, musta dropped a hundred pounds. Think you’ll ever go back to showbiz?”
He laughed that one-of-a-kind-I’m-just-an-awshucks-fritter-eatin’-gospel-croonin’-country-boy-from-Tupelo laugh even the best impersonators can’t touch. “For years I believed sex, drugs and rocknroll were my only destiny — and my ultimate damnation. Instead, they led me to a higher plane of consciousness transcending this base physical existence and all its trivialities.”
I flipped on my tapedeck. “Know what my favorite Elvis song is? Stuck On You. Numero uno in 1960 when we was in Germany.”
“Here’s for old times’ sake.” Soon as the music started he was off like a rocket — on his knees, in the air, twisting, shouting, belting it out good as ever. “You can shake an apple off an apple tree; shake it, shake it, sugar, but you’ll never shake me, well, uh-uh, whoa-oh, nosiree, uh-uh-huh; I’m gonna stick like glue, baby, all over you, because I’m — uh- uhhh — stuck on you.”
I stopped the tape. “Your secret’s safe with me. Even if I squealed, who’s gonna believe the local profmeister of Shinto Mysticism 101 is the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?”
He chuckled and paid his bill. “The old Elvis would have tipped you a pink Caddy. But us college profs don’t work Vegas too often.”
Then he took out this here handkerchief and autographed it. “Dear Mister Tattoo Man — when the world treats you like nothin’ but a Hound Dog, it’s time to put on your Blue Zen Shoes.”
Huh? Nah, never saw him again. Called the school a week later, and they said Prof. Burroughs Carpenter was on sabbatical, off somewheres in Tibet writin’ a book about Shangri-La-Di-Da. Huh? Sure, I got change for a hundred, hey, wait a minute. . . show me your elbow, babe. Yeh, this “Joe DiMaggio, Please Call Home”. . . I did a tat like this in ’62 for. . . I don’t believe it! Jeez, what these plastic surgeons can do! Yeh, that’s allright, I like it, I like it. And you been a systems designer at NASA for how long, Marilyn?”
* THE END *
Lobo Newfield’s Last Hand &
Other True Tales from the Late Post-Elviad
– 9 Short Stories by L.E. McCullough –