Black Elvis

Black Elvis

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Black Elvis
    Book Description:

    In this funny, touching collection about music, identity, liars, and love, Geoffrey Becker brings us into the lives of people who have come to a turning point and lets us watch as they take, however clumsily, their next steps. In the title story, an aging black singer who performs only Elvis songs despite his classic bluesman looks has his regular spot at the local blues jam threatened by a newly arrived Asian American with the unlikely name Robert Johnson. In "Man Under," two friends struggling to be rock musicians in Reagan-era Brooklyn find that their front door has been removed by their landlord. An aspiring writer discovers the afterlife consists of being the stand-in for a famous author on an endless book tour in "Another Coyote Story." Lonely and adrift in Florence, Italy, a young man poses as a tour guide with an art history degree in "Know Your Saints." And in "This Is Not a Bar," a simple night on the town for a middle-aged guitar student and jazz buff turns into a confrontation with his past and an exploration of what is or is not real. In his depictions of struggling performers, artists, expectant parents, travelers, con-men, temporarily employed academics, and even the recently deceased, Becker asks the question, Which are more important: the stories we tell other people or the ones we tell ourselves?

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4028-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-12)

    At 5:00 p.m. precisely, Black Elvis began to get ready. First, he laid out his clothes: the dark suit, the white dress shirt, the two-tone oxfords. In the bathroom, he used a depilatory powder to remove the stubble from his face, then carefully brushed his teeth and gargled with Lavoris. He applied a light coating of foundation, used a liner to deepen the effect of his eyes. They were big eyes, the color of old ivory, and examining them in the mirror, he had to remind himself once again whose they were.

    At the bus stop, his guitar precariously stowed...

    (pp. 13-27)

    Back in May, about the time that Larry’s fiancée, Gwen, was coming clean to him about the professor she had been sleeping with—apparently there was no book group or yoga class—his aunt Julia’s boyfriend, Frank Packard, had run his Alfa Romeo right off the side of the autostrada. Frank, whom Larry had never met, was now in a coma. “I’m just sort of waiting to see,” Julia told him over the phone, her three-thousand-mile-distant voice as clear as if it were next door. “But in the meantime, there’s lots of room here. You’re totally invited.” That night at...

    (pp. 28-44)

    Kaufman drove from one fire to another. In Baltimore, there had been a train wreck in the Howard Street Tunnel, the northern end of which was not far from the small house he owned, tucked away on a side street behind the hulking wreck of a Victorian hotel, and three doors down from a gay bar with no sign or windows. The train was loaded with toxic chemicals, and stuck in the tunnel as it had been, there was little the authorities could do. The downtown air filled with the smell of melted plastic and electrical wire. Temperatures reached a...

    (pp. 45-57)

    I went to this new hotel downtown to hear my guitar teacher play. My girlfriend, Lorna, came along, although she doesn’t care much about jazz—she plays classical piano. From the lobby, we made a left and passed along red halls with chandeliers lighting them, heading toward the hotel restaurant until we heard music. It was just a trio, upright bass and drums and my teacher, whose name is Arthur. They were set up outside of the eating area, in an open space between the entrance to the restaurant and a nice-looking bar about fifteen feet away, lots of burnished...

    (pp. 58-75)

    The week Junior died, the temperature dropped to fourteen below and stayed there. The seats on my Honda felt like they were made of plywood, and the engine groaned before turning over, a low sound like some Japanese movie monster waking up after a thousand-year sleep. I had long underwear on under my suit, but I could still feel my legs numbing up. Four miles to the funeral parlor, and the heater never did kick in.

    After it was over, we all went back to Louise’s for food. There was a big ham her sister, June, had brought down from...

    (pp. 76-87)

    Joe can see it all in his head. At the president’s reception in Byron, New York, there is caviar in silver dishes, expensive wine served by waiters in black tie. In a corner of the room, by an enormous window that overlooks the postcard-perfect, sloping front lawn of the college, its bright green tongue leading the eye to a horizon of gold-and-red-stained trees, Kate entertains three or four handsome young professors. She is tall, blonde, Nordic-looking, and her figure is shown off nicely by a simple black dress with a low neckline, but there is something else about her that...

    (pp. 88-101)

    In mid-July, our landlady removed the front door to the house to get it repaired, and the next day, when I came back from my shift at Café D’Oro, the failing sandwiches-and-dessert place I’d managed to get hired at as a waiter, I discovered that we’d been robbed. The thieves had taken our black-and-white television and about two hundred dollars worth of stereo equipment. They’d also taken our instruments and amps.

    Ed called Renata to yell at her. “How are we supposed to live with no door?” he asked. I sat at our tiny kitchen table and stared out over...

    (pp. 102-112)

    By about the fourth somersault I knew I had no chance of surviving. A bouncing, limp puppet, I’d lost skis, poles, hat, gloves, glasses. Every now and then, in the tiny intervals when the ten guys in boots who were kicking me in the ribs stopped to catch their breath, I thought I saw the sky. My mind slowed way down the way it used to on rainy afternoons in math class back in high school—voices of smokers and lovers floating up from the parking lot, the wind shaking the leaves of the big oak just outside the window,...

    (pp. 113-129)

    In front of the Pompidou Center, a pretty redheaded girl with a violin case took a position about fifteen yards to my left. She wore tight jeans and a black cowboy shirt with pearly buttons, and I kept one eye on her as she took out her instrument and applied rosin to the bow in brisk, short strokes. I finished up “All Along the Watchtower,” nodded to the family from Peoria who had stopped to stare at me as if I were a roadside accident, laid down my Strat, and went over.

    She launched into something lively and Irish sounding,...

    (pp. 130-144)

    The Australian girl and Harrison were standing about two feet apart in the center of the hotel pool, discussing the respective merits of the American and Australian versions of MTV. Rivulets of water ran down the pronounced V of Harrison’s chest, the result of his last submersion. Every now and then, he dunked himself down into the water, then popped back up and shook his long hair like a dog. The girl was blonde, generically pretty, with a ponytail, on vacation with her family, and in the noon sun her white bikini top was blindingly bright—a special effect above...

    (pp. 145-157)

    I hadn’t always been The Naked Man. While his head was mine—dark curly hair, glasses, an earnest, somewhat baffled look on a middle-aged face with an almost blue beard line and what I like to think of as a dueling scar on the left cheek (I had a cyst removed there and the doctor botched the job)—the body belonged to my wife’s former boyfriend, a man with the unlikely name of Garth, who taught earth science at a high school in Ohio. Garth had posed for other paintings, too, but this was the last, and the only one...

    (pp. 158-174)

    Desire had suddenly gone quiet, and the Professor could tell what was coming. They were on the train from Castelpoggio back to Rome, riding facing each other in window seats. She seemed to be working through some deep thought, her eyes narrowed, her fingers pressed together almost as if in prayer.

    “What?” he finally asked. Out the window to his left, hedgerows flew by in a blur of greens and browns.

    “This train,” she said. “I’m getting something.”

    He looked up through the bars of the luggage rack at their two wheelie bags, hers pink, his black, and his guitar...

  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-176)