I called Mr. George again this morning. Mr. George is a plumber. We are fairly well acquainted. My life is an interminable episode of Green Acres.
Someone answered after a few rings.
I thought maybe the voice was too young to be Mr. George’s voice. It sounded like it could be his assistant, whose name I had forgotten. It was very early and I had had no coffee. When you wake up and find Lake Michigan in your front yard, you become preoccupied.
“Hey, uh, there. This is John Hicks out on Coburn Mountain Road. How y’all doing?”
At such times I employ the local dialect. John becomes Junn, doing becomes doon, etc. I have solid hillbilly genes and several years in-country. Someday I will rotate back to the world and speak like Sir Laurence Olivier.
“Yes sir,” the voice said.
“I got a bad break,” I said. “It’s on the same end where the other stuff broke. I was wonderin’ if y’all could come out and take a look at it. It’s shut off, so no rush.”
I was talking to this person while standing on my front porch. This is where I go if I want to use the Hillbilly Communications Network. Cell service out here is brutal.
While this was taking place, all the varmints were head-butting me and generally being pains in the neck.
“Sure, Mr. Hicks,” Mr. George or his assistant said. “We got one job to finish and we be right on over there.”
“Pree-shate it.” I pocketed my phone.
BoJo, Scrappy Pappy and Da Rat Jr. seemed completely unaware of the latest plumbing crisis, even though you could drive a Jet Ski across the yard. They wanted food in the bowl.
I was obviously vertical, breathing and semi-ambulatory there on the porch, and the bowls were still empty. The varmints were, like, Hey, Jethro. Where’s the chow?
Everybody had breakfast. Bob Johnson likes to multitask while he eats. He takes a few bites, runs over to the cat bowls to try and filch a few loose stars of kitty kibble, gets popped in the nose by the cats (hillbilly felines do not play when it comes to food), returns happily to his own bowl, takes another bite and energetically crunches it over the water bowl, depositing therein much partially masticated dog chow.
“I never seen such a dang collection of varmints in all my life,” I said. “I’d put y’all on a slow boat to China, if I thought it would do any good.”
They didn’t pay any attention to me. I had a banana for breakfast. It wasn’t quite ripe and the peel came off in annoying little chunks. I remembered there was some sort of banana crisis. Some form of sinister banana plague. I distinctly remembered hearing a story about it on NPR. But this was simply an unripe banana.
It was shaping up to be one of those days. I was glad I had visited with Elvis the day before. The power of Elvis would see me through current events.
I had an out-of-body experience while listening to Elvis sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” on WBTG-AM 1290 in Florence, Alabama. WBTG’s slogan, featured in every station ID, is stern and wise: “Sooner or later, the music of your life.”
I was walking in the woods with E in my earphones. He was in my head. That’s how earphones work. I was suddenly struck by the perfection of everything – Elvis, nature, the weather, the very sweetness of the air – and then I found myself in a waiting room.
The walls were a faded green and there were a bunch of discolored train posters that looked like they’d been framed, poorly, in 1979. It was a lot like the lobby of the Amtrak depot in Tuscaloosa, where I like to hang out when I’m not pursuing my show-business career.
I was alone, except for Elvis. He wasn’t singing anymore. He was kicked back on a beat-to-sh__ Amtrak couch, watching me.
Elvis wasn’t dressed up or anything. Denim work shirt, jeans, boots. He looked great, like he’d just finished shooting the ‘68 Comeback Special for NBC.
“Wow, dang,” I said. “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Presley.”
“Call me Elvis, Chet,” he said. “Chet. I like that name. But you and me, Chet, we need to have a little talk, man. Have a seat.”
Elvis knew my nickname, of course. He knows everything. I sat down on a tippy chair. It had been orange and structurally viable, once upon a time.
Elvis didn’t talk long. Maybe it was two minutes. Maybe it was ten minutes. I don’t know. It’s not like I was checking my watch.
Elvis told me, basically, I had better get my sh__ together, and soon. He actually used the phrase “get your sh__ together.” He wasn’t mean about it or anything, but he made it clear the time was long overdue for me to start taking care of business.
“You’re right, Mr. Pre–, I mean Elvis,” I said.
My voice was soft and tight. I knew it was the truth. Lately I had been nurturing a sorry, no-‘count attitude. My head hung low. I wiped a hot tear from my eye.
“Dynamite is a tool, Chet,” Elvis said. “It can be used for good or evil. From now on use your dynamite for good, and good alone.”
“Yes sir,” I said. “I promise you I will.”
“Now cheer up, man. It’s gonna be all right.”
Elvis stood and so did I.
“Have you heard the news?” He winked at me, offered his hand.
“Good rockin’ tonight,” I said.
Elvis favors a firm, quick shake. After he let go of my hand, Elvis did that thing where you act like you’re going to punch somebody in the stomach, but don’t.
“Gotcha,” he said.
I thought our meeting was over, but he stopped at the door.
“Get your mind right. It ain’t nothin’ but a thing, man. Chickens dancin’ on a hot plate.”
“Thank you, Elvis,” I said.
And then I was back in the woods. Elvis was still there, but only in my earphones.
I reckon I’m ready for anything.
John Hicks recycles.