Return to Sender

Jungle Room — 2010

I’ve never been much of an Elvis fan.

I had an uncle growing up, you can call him Dick because … well, that’s what he was. So Dick was coo coo for Cocoa Puffs when it came to all things Elvis. He collected figurines and costumes and those stupid little porcelain plates that only idiots and old ladies buy from shopping channels. He even bought a mantle-sized Velvet Elvis and had some local artist paint him into the picture with his arm around The King.

I’m telling you, Dick was not a well man. I’m pretty sure I caught him beating off to “Blue Christmas” one time, and he was referring to his little man as a “hunk of, hunk of burnin’ love.”

So, yeah, that’s a little piece of my innocence I’m never getting back.

Once I put Dick in my rearview mirror, I kept him there. Elvis was just collateral damage. An unwanted association that had to go to keep the psyche clean.

That’s why it made no sense for me to even be on the hunt. I was not an Elvis guy. I didn’t give a damn whether or not he’d faked his own death or was living in captivity on a wildlife refuge in Malawi. Both The King and his music could fuck off for all I cared.

But sometimes God works in mysterious ways. And by mysterious, I mean in a sadistic this-would-be-funny-if-it-were-happening-to-someone-else kind of a way. The man upstairs (or woman upstairs, if that’s how you choose to butter your biscuit). It’s all the same to me. They’ll be no goddess hatin’ up in this story.

Anyway … the Great and Powerful Oz in the Sky gifted me with Charlie, a friend whose loyalty is only outmatched by his desire to drag me to shit in which I have absolutely no interest. This Elvis safari was just the latest disaster.

“You know I’ve actually been to Graceland,” I whispered.

Charlie shooshed me. In my defense, the sound he made was louder than the voice I’d used.

“I’m just saying I’ve been to the actual Jungle Room, and this isn’t it,” I said.

We sat on a wooden bench inside a hollowed out chest of drawers that had been fashioned into a hunting blind. It was made out of a dark mahogany that was all but obscured by the massive amounts of foliage that were draped across the front of the piece. A rectangular slit had been cut into one of the drawers. That, along with a strategic pruning of nearby ferns, provided us with a marginally unobstructed view of the rest of the room.

“This is the spot,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Did you just say that without moving your lips?” I asked.

Charlie glared at me. His knuckles were white where they gripped the tranquilizer rifle.

“Is there a ventriloquist show later that I didn’t know about?” I asked.

“Please just shut up and stop being an asshole,” he said.

“Would it be better if I left?” I certainly thought so.

“You know I need you here,” Charlie said. Every time he spoke, he glanced nervously about, as if the non-existent Elvis might overhear. “You’re my backup. My wingman.”

I looked into Charlie’s earnest face and wondered when exactly it was that my life had gone so tragically wrong.

“Charlie,” I said, motioning to the room beyond the hunting blind. “This is stupid.”

To say the space was kind of overrun by what appeared to be genuine jungle growth would be like saying Gene Simmons had probably gotten a little bit of play while touring with KISS. Ferns, moss, vines, and real-by-God actual trees covered everything. It was packed in so tight that it obscured the walls and corners of the room, making it almost impossible to guess its dimensions. More than once I’d lost track of the door we’d come through when we’d entered the room, and I found myself mentally retracing our steps until I found our obscured point of entry.

In truth, this jungle room seemed like the kind of place where you were more likely to bump into Indiana Jones than you were Elvis. But Charlie was hearing none of that.

“I’m telling you,” Charlie said. “This is the place.” He was sounding a little desperate, and I wondered if the four hours we’d already spent sitting here were beginning to take their toll.

“How do you know?” I asked. I was more annoyed than curious.

“I looked it up,” Charlie said.

I waited for more, but that was the full extent of his endorsement. “On the Internet?” I asked.

Charlie nodded in response but kept his eyes focused on the plate of peanut butter and banana sandwiches he’d placed on a bed of leaves a few yards in front of the blind.

“You know I could get online right now and show you proof,” I said, giving him the universal sign for air quotes, “that Elvis is alive and well in a border town in Arizona, where he spends his days planning to overthrow the government with his army of illegal immigrants.”

Charlie considered that for a moment. “I kind of think you’re being an asshole again.”

I wasn’t aware I’d ever stopped. “And I kind of think we’re wasting our time and should just go home.”

“You just need to be more patient,” Charlie said. “This is legit. I swear. I even had to buy a permit.”

This was news to me. “You what?”

“I had to buy a permit to shoot Elvis.”

Okay, so obviously Charlie wasn’t hearing what was coming out of his own mouth. “With, like, real money?” I asked.

Charlie nodded. He seemed to think he was winning me over. “There’s a whole application and everything. You’ve got to promise you’re won’t kill him.”

“Because presumably there are people out there who might be trying?”

“It’s a troubled world.”

I didn’t respond to that right away. I tried to let Charlie’s own words really sink in for him, but eventually the tension of the hunt got to me.

“So what else did you promise these people?” I asked.

“Just your basic stuff,” he said. He seemed to have forgotten his earlier hesitation to talk, but I noticed he was still keeping his voice down. “No killing, like I said earlier. You’ve got to promise to only use the dart gun they issue. And you only get one dart, so you better make it count. Other than that, no shots to the face.”

“In case he’s thinking about making a comeback,” I said.

“I doubt that,” Charlie said. “He’s got to be pretty old by now.”

I hate it when sarcasm goes unrecognized. The feeling I get in those moments must be something akin to what the comedian Carrot Top experiences when he has to explain to someone who he is. In the end, it’s disappointing, and the explanation doesn’t do a thing for either one of you.

“He’d be in his late seventies, but age is just a number. Am I right?” I said.

“You might have a point there,” Charlie said.

I died a little inside.

“So no killing, no face shots, please use our gun. That about cover it?” I asked.

“The only other thing is that if you are lucky enough to take Elvis down, you’re only allowed one souvenir. Like a piece of clothing or something. But you’re not allowed to remove him from the sanctuary,” Charlie said.

I looked around. “This isn’t an animal sanctuary. It’s a room. With trees.”

“And Elvis,” Charlie said.

“Allegedly,” I added.

Charlie didn’t rise to the bait. Much like Elvis, I thought.

“And you paid real money for this?” It was a question I felt needed to be asked again.

Charlie nodded. “Yeah. For the permit.”

“Can I see it?”

Charlie fished a folded piece of paper out of his back pocket and handed it to me. When I opened the document, it took me less than half a minute to read it. The permit had Charlie’s name printed on it, along with the serial number of the tranquilizer gun he was holding. It granted him permission to fire one dart in the direction of Elvis with the express purpose of sedating the King of Rock and Roll for the procurement of a souvenir.

The document also provided Charlie with the date and time he should arrive at Straeon Manor for his Elvis safari, and it outlined the express no-no’s of the expedition, including the prohibition of shots to areas of the face and head.

“This was obviously written by the fun police,” I said.

I flipped the page over and saw a picture of a mouse.

“Charlie,” I said.

“Shhhh!” he responded.

For a moment I had forgotten what a serious errand we were on.

“Sorry,” I said in a lower tone of voice. “Umm . . . Did you realize your permit is printed on the back of a Chuck E. Cheese flyer?”

“Give it back.” He held out his hand to take it but didn’t look at me.

I gave him back his paper, and Charlie refolded it before returning it to his pocket.

We sat in silence for the next several minutes before Charlie finally spoke. “So are you going to leave now?”

His tone gave me permission both to leave and to feel like shit about it. He might as well have said, it’s okay if you want to kick my dog. I’ll still be your friend.

See, this is the problem with prolonged human contact. Nine times out of ten you just end up hiding in a piece of furniture in the middle of a jungle while your ass goes numb on a wooden bench.

I let Charlie’s question hang in the air for a minute, trying to give the impression I was actually considering taking off. I don’t think he bought it. Looking back, I’m pretty sure he always knew I’d stay.

“No,” I finally said. I stood and stretched my legs and studied the jungle from over the top of the hunting blind. Charlie kept quiet about the fact that I was no longer concealed.

“I am going to take a piss though,” I said. “What do you think? The bathroom’s probably this way?”

I pointed to our left. It was somewhat deeper into the jungle, but I thought I’d seen a brief flash of door knob when I’d first stood up.

Charlie cautiously peered across the top of the blind, as if he were worried about enemy snipers as opposed to being spotted by an aging rock-and-roll legend.

Dead rock-and-roll legend, I corrected myself. I had to be careful about letting the crazy seep in.

Charlie looked in the direction I’d pointed. “Seems as good a place as any,” he said. “But why don’t you just piss over behind those trees and get back under cover.”

I turned to look at him. “Charlie. It’s a bedroom. Not a fucking jungle. I’m not pissing on anybody’s floor.”

Charlie shrugged and disappeared back into the blind. “Just try to be quiet,” he said as I walked off.

In a world where crazy people did not cram jungles into the rooms of mansions, the trip to the bathroom would have taken ten, maybe fifteen, steps tops. But that world did not involve my leaving an indoor hunting blind in search of a toilet, and it certainly didn’t account for the slow, slogging progress necessitated by the dense vegetation.

When my hand finally found a door knob, it felt like I’d been searching for more than twenty minutes. The door swung inward, and I stepped inside to find something that was initially jarring to my senses: a perfectly normal bathroom.

Hurray! I thought. The freak show stops at the door.

As I relieved my aching bladder, I wondered how long I could delay before returning to the blind. It was so nice and clean in here. And there was nothing green in sight. It was possible the jungle room had turned me off plant life for a good lifetime or two.

I finished my business, flushed the toilet, and turned around to see Elvis standing behind me. It was an old, paunchy, crusty-ass Elvis, but Elvis nonetheless. He still had the big sweeping hairdo and mutton chops, but they had turned white with age. He also wore the large sunglasses and white, sequined jumpsuit made iconic by so many of his impersonators.

But the trappings of the man alone didn’t complete the image, it was also his stance, his attitude, his expression: the one that was part smile, part sneer, all mischief.

Elvis was undeniably alive and in the building, and he’d just walked up behind me as I was taking a piss.

I tried to take a step back, maybe give myself a second to think about what I needed to do, but he grabbed my arm and held me in place. He was a freakishly strong old man, and as he gripped my bicep, he gave me a subtle shake of the head. He motioned for me to be quiet and then began removing the top of his jumpsuit.

I felt a momentary flutter of panic and tried to take another step back. Elvis gripped my arm until it hurt and I stopped trying to pull away. “I . . .” I stammered. “I just want to be friends.”

Elvis snorted a laugh. “You’re the devil in disguise,” he mumbled softly. His voice was the sound of so many records from my childhood, but the words made no sense to me.

“What?” I asked.

Elvis didn’t reply. Instead he held me in place with on arm and used the other to continue removing his clothes.

By the time we left the bathroom, my nerves were shot. At one point, I’d made the mistake of thinking I could bull rush past him and, at the very least, escape into the jungle. Sure he might have a hell of a grip, but that didn’t mean the rest of his body had held up just as well. Surely all those years of hip gyrations had to have taken their toll. I convinced myself that this geriatric shadow of the former heartthrob was probably barely keeping his legs under him.

Yeah … no.

One ass whipping later, I was bruised and humbled. Elvis pushed me ahead of him, one hand on my upper arm, the other clamped around the back of my neck. I gave up trying to talk to him. It only resulted in sharp squeezes that were obviously intended to shut me up. For once I decided to go along to get along.

Elvis directed me into the jungle beyond the bathroom door. Branches and leaves slapped at my face and arms as he propelled my forward, but my discomfort didn’t seem to be high on his list of concerns. I was on the verge of thinking I should give escape another try when I felt his grip around my neck loosen. A moment later, he placed a foot in the small of my back and pushed.

Apparently hanging out in the jungle gives you time to work on your quads. I stumbled forward, barely keeping my balance, and managed to turn the momentum into an awkward-looking sprint. The cape of the jumpsuit I now wore flapped behind me.

Run, run, run! my mind screamed. It sounded like great advice, but in that same instance, I heard Charlie’s excited voice.

“Fuckin’ A!” he yelled.

I heard the report of the rifle and then felt a sting as the tranquilizer dart pierced my right ass cheek.

“Damn!” I said as my knees buckled and I pitched face-first into the leaf-littered floor.

I managed to roll onto my back as Charlie emerged from the hunting blind and ran over to examine his fallen prey. He still carried the gun in one hand, and I found myself wishing he had an extra dart so I could shoot him in the ass and return the favor.

Thoughts like that didn’t last long, though. It was getting difficult to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds.

Charlie grinned as he hovered over me, but his smile began to fade when he recognized my face.

“What are you–” he began.

His words were cut short as Elvis emerged from the trees wearing his sunglasses and little else.

Charlie screamed, but I’m not sure if it was from the surprise of seeing a nearly naked Elvis or because the old man was very obviously enjoying himself. And I mean a lot. You might even say his excitement could easily have been measured.

Elvis charged, and Charlie screamed again, but this time there was a little more battle cry in it. Charlie still held the rifle, so he gripped it like a baseball bat and stepped into his swing.

Now I’d like to tell you that Charlie valiantly clubbed an elderly icon to death, but these kinds of stories rarely have happy endings. As soon as Charlie began rotating his body, Elvis stepped in close. His left arm shot up, and he caught Charlie’s gun midway through its arc. Then, just as suddenly, both men froze and looked at the floor.

“Oh shit!” Charlie said.

When he’d stepped forward to put more power behind his swing, Charlie’s shoe had come down on Elvis’ foot, but the foot wasn’t bare.

“Blue Suede Shoes,” I said. I think my words were slurred, but I can’t say for sure. I do know I couldn’t feel the ground beneath me at that point.

Elvis’ face flushed a deep shade of red, and he pushed Charlie away from him. Then I saw it, that famous hip swivel, followed by a kick that made a crescent shape from the left side of Charlie’s body to his right side, abusing his jawline along with way. It must have felt like getting bitch slapped by the heel of somebody’s foot.

Charlie dropped like a sack of flour, landing a few feet away from me. I was seeing four Charlies by then, but I was sure at least one of them would be okay.

Elvis walked over to Charlie, spit on him, and then threw the tranquilizer gun down next to his cowering form.

“Return to sender,” Elvis said.

He turned away from us then and disappeared into the trees once more, the dense foliage mercifully shielding our eyes from his wrinkly, old-man ass.

Charlie rolled to face me. He was bleeding from the mouth and nose but was smiling despite his injuries.

“Told you he was real,” Charlie said.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

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