Very few people have read any fiction I've written, much less a story which happens to not be my particular favorite. In any case, a few months ago, I posted this poem. It was an ode to a teenaged Vegas elopement and the bar they visited soon after. After thinking about it, I figured it was the perfect companion piece or sequel to a short story I wrote eons ago about the same subject. If anything, the only thing I can say is that they ultimately belong together at this point. First this story, "The Two Elvises" which I'll post in three parts, and then the poem from the other day - Honeymoon at the Atomic.
"The Two Elvises" - Part Three
So here they were, a week later, standing in the tackiest house of worship they've ever known. They were about to join the ranks of individuals who go the extra mile in romanticism. The unconventional notion of packing up everything with your loved one and eloping, is a proposition people with no courage can only dream about. Besides, if the town was able to marry big shots like Paul Newman, Jane Fonda, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Michael Jordan, two snot-nosed kids from Chicago probably wouldn't have many other options.
"So what should we do, baby?" Carol asked him.
He shrugged his broad yet bony shoulders. "Doesn't matter. How 'bout the Elvis one? It'll be fun, I guess." She smiled in agreement and turned to the minister who was prepping himself for a 7:30 p.m. ceremony -- a black couple from Georgia were renewing their vows after 42 years of marriage.
"'Scuse us, father. I think we're gonna go with the Elvis wedding?"
"How much extra we talkin'?" Stu asked.
"The Elvis wedding is an extra hundred."
"Are you kiddin'?" Stu said, frowning.
The minister pulled up the sides of his trousers. "Be rest assured son, that our Elvises are the best in the biz," he defended. "Jake Peters was named best rockabilly Elvis by Presley's own fan club."
"Really?" Carol asked.
"Yesiree. Three years running. He's got that one-man review show up in that hotel... Venice."
The couple conferred. Stu told her that an extra hundred could easily be used for gas or even more important, lodging for at least a couple of nights.
"But I want to," his bride-to-be insisted. "We'll remember it for the rest of our lives."
"Carol, are you thinking about where we're gonna sleep? As it is, our money is already starting to disappear."
"Only because you had to stay up all night playing blackjack."
"Hey, I won back everything I lost. So you can't count that."
Stu saw the corner of her bottom lip begin to quiver. "I thought you loved me," she said to him.
"Oh, Jesus Christ, it has nothing to do with loving you, Carol."
"After all we've been through"
Stu shut his eyes in aggravation saying, "God damn it Carol --"
The minister snapped his Bible shut and said as kindly as possible, "Excuse me son, can you watch your language? We're in The Almighty's house after all."
The boy knew he was wrong and held up his palm to the minister, embarrassed, "See what your doing, Carol, making me curse in a place of worship. And besides, when did you suddenly start liking Elvis?"
Carol ignored Stu. "We'll take the Elvis package," she told the minister, pulling out a small bundle of tens and twenties.
"What the hell is that?" Stu asked.
"I'll pay for the Elvis thing, okay?"
Stu was still dumbfounded. "Carol, where did you get that money? Did you call them? Did they wire you money?"
She stopped counting the bills. "Remember after the buffet at breakfast you had to go the bathroom?"
"I slipped off to a slot machine and won about $190. I was gonna use it to buy you a wedding present but since you're bein' such a creep, I'll pay for the Elvis. That's my present to you. Happy fucking wedding day."
Stu knew to just keep his mouth shut. He'd smooth things over later. Besides, Carol was going to feel so euphoric after the ceremony, chances are she'd forget about it.
But things got confusing again. "Which Elvis would you like?" the minister replied.
Carol wasn't really getting the gist of what he was asking. "Anyone'll do. Whoever's available."
The minister chuckled, shaking his head saying, "You don't seem to catch my meanin'. Would ya'll prefer rockabilly Elvis or jumpsuit Elvis?"
The kids looked like they were just asked to explain the square root of pi.
"Big difference you know," the minister continued. "Big difference."
Stu never really thought about Presley as two separate entities. As far as he was concerned Elvis was... well... just Elvis. He decided to fess up and asked, "What's the difference?"
"Well," the minister explained. "Rockabilly Elvis was the young Elvis. The one y'all probably seen from the clips of the Ed Sullivan Show. He was vibrant, charismatic and good lookin' too," he said glancing at Carol and pointed to a photo from one of the wedding catalogs. "You see, the is what rockabilly Elvis looked like."
Carol's eyes lit up. "Elvis was a babe, huh?" she said to Stu.
"Yeah, I guess. Too bad he became fat and bloated."
The minister gave Stu a look as if he'd committed blasphemy. It was sacreligous to refer to the King -- in the town that he helped put on the map -- as fat and bloated. "I beg your pardon, young man," the minister corrected, "the king had a little bitty problem in his twilight years." The minister took a long pause before he tried to diplomatically explain. "In the seventies, the King put on a little weight so to speak and he couldn't fit into them tight leather numbers he liked to wear."
"Those cool suits didn't fit him either, huh father?" Stu asked.
The minister agreed and sadly shook his head. "Let's just say they weren't very conducive to his..." the minister said trying to find a harmless word. "...Girth."
The minister flipped through a couple more pages in his catalog and pointed to a photo of Elvis from his last concert. In all the splendor that was The King, there he was in full Technicolor -- the gaudy white jumpsuit, the bloated puffy cheeks and the huge gut -- an inflated icon that once made millions scream.
The minister shook his head in a weird kind of despair, "It's a damn shame," he said as if just hearing about his death on that dreadfully hot August afternoon. "Yep, it's a damn shame what them drugs'll do to you." He tried to lighten up and turned to the kids, "So which will it be?"
The married couple walked out of the chapel. Carol held onto Stu's hand like a vice grip to the point where he had to fake checking his watch to have her let go. Stu noticed his wife was beaming. Happy at the world. Happy that she was finally someone's wife. Stu's wife. Not quite knowing how to feel yet, Stu smiled back and stayed quiet. In his young life, if he figured out anything, it was that when you don't know what to say, you don't say anything.
Noticing a hot dog stand on the corner, Stu asked Carol if she was hungry."
"I was hoping that our first meal as husband and wife would be a little more special," she said.
"Hon, If I don't get something in my stomach, I'm gonna faint. Besides, I had so many butterflies in there, I think it might be good to eat a little something."
"Oh, all right," she said kissing him.
There was a small line ahead of them at the stand. A family of three, seeing the city, sightseeing; a casino worker, probably a dealer; and a woman with a small duffel bag. She was absolutely stunning. Stu put on his sunglasses to get a better peek without getting snagged by the misses. He took her in at least from the back -- dark brown hair, caramel complexion, and a rear end that favored a small basketball. If there was a 'Best Ass in Vegas' competition, Stu thought she'd win, hands down.
"Do you know what you want?" Carol asked him.
"Uh, yeah," he said. "A hot dog."
"I know that, Stu. I mean what are you getting on it?"
It was useless. Stu took off his sunglasses and turned to Carol. "Uh, I don't know, Carol. Why?"
Carol shrugged her shoulders, "No reason. 'Scuse me for asking. Forget it."
Stu knew it was wrong to snap at her, especially since they tied the knot just 15 minutes ago. He kissed her on her cheek and playfully bit her earlobe. It was his way of apologizing. She knew it and put her arm around him. Her way of saying, "It's okay, but don't let it happen again."
The happy couple stood there waiting, arm-in-arm, as everyone ordered their dogs. Stu watched the pretty woman in front of him order two franks with relish and quickly remembered how much he despised relish. He watched her stroll over to a nearby bench and eat the foot longs. Man, it was a pretty erotic sight. A vision that he tried hard not to frustrate him. After all, he was a newlywed and there was definite sex in his immediate future. If he played his cards right, he and Carol would be in the sack by dusk.
"What do you want on your hot dog?" Carol asked, sounding peeved.
"'Cause the guy's waiting for your order?"
Stu turned to the vendor. "Do you have chili?"
"No chili" the man answered in an unrecognizable accent. "Just bean."
Stu paid the peddler and he and Carol walked over to a bench parallel to the one the girl was on. The sunglasses came on again. "Man, this sun is bright, huh?" he said to Carol. "Where's your sunglasses?"
"Left them in the car."
"What did you do that for?" Stu asked, chomping into the dog.
"It was cloudy before, remember?"
"Oh yeah," he answered.
Carol looked as if something was bothering her, but Stu didn't notice. It wasn't until he heard her sniffing that he knew something was wrong.
"Honey, are you okay?"
Carol didn't answer.
"What's wrong?" he asked again, sitting closer to her and altogether forgetting about the sexy stranger across from them.
"Did we make a mistake today?" she asked him, blowing her nose with one of Stu's napkins.
"Why are you saying that?" Stu wanted to comfort her and let her know that everything was going to be okay. He rubbed the back of her neck and he felt her loosen up a bit. "I love you, Carol." he said. "I plan to be married only once in my life, so you're stuck with me whether you like it or not."
"Look at us," she said to him. "Where we gonna wind up? Where are we gonna go?"
He scarfed down what was left of his hot dog and sprinted to a newspaper vending machine. As he trotted back to Carol, Stu held the paper up like a paperboy and said, "What's next? We find jobs -- that's what's next."
"Really?" Carol didn't know how to respond. The thought of settling in Vegas was never really propositioned. At least not seriously.
Stu went on. "We get jobs, get a cheap place and..."
"And what?" Carol asked, somewhat excited at his burst of enthusiasm.
"And... I try to look up my dad. Last I heard he was out here making a living."
"He's still here?"
Stu shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows? We'll see."
"What's he do?"
"I heard he was a pit boss in one of the casinos but got fired."
"What's he do now?" Carol asked.
"My mom said he's a professional card sharp or something."
"He gambles for a living?"
"Who knows if he's even still in town. He could be pumping gas in Alaska for all I know. Who knows if he'd even want to see me." Stu switched gears. "The important thing is that we plant some seeds to grow roots of our own. Me and you. Know what I'm saying?
Carol didn't say anything. She was weighing what Stu was saying.
"Please don't ever doubt what we did here ever again, okay?" Stu said watching Carol getting the napkin out of her pocket and blowing her nose. This time, tears of happiness were flowing down her chin and she whispered, "I love you. You're so right, baby."
"Don't worry about a thing," Stu said, hugging his wife and noticing the sexy stranger get up from the bench and walk across the street into the Sugar and Spice Lounge. A banner attached to the building advertised an all-day go-go rama with over fifty girls. Stu thought she must have been one of the fifty.
He wanted to see her on that stage, wrapped around a pole. He couldn't help it. One thought ran through his mind repeatedly.
"How can I get her phone number?"