Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from Texas

Archive for the tag “music”

“Two Kings In A Caddie”


I wrote this story back in 2014. A few changes and editing have been made for a smoother read. Of course this is pure fiction, but if you believe everything that has happened to us in 2020, this could as well.

The high desert at night, is solitude. The velvet blackness holds wondrous things.

The “57” Caddie pulled away from the gas station, spewing gravel and dust. The old man that had filled it up a few minuets ago watched until the tail lights disappeared down the highway. Two, twenty-dollar bills for ten dollars of gas, go figure. There was a two-dollar bill mixed in the bills; TCB was printed on the front. What the hell did that mean?

The most comfortable place in the world to the aged singer was sitting behind the wheel of his beloved white Cadillac.  

Not the sleek crooner in size thirty-six sport coats anymore, he really didn’t care to be. He was comfortable in his own skin.  After decades of dieting, he surrendered to the siren’s call of biscuits and gravy, and his beloved peanut butter and banana sandwiches. “Hell, everybody gets a little heavy as they age,” he told himself, and after seeing an old girlfriend in a supermarket trash magazine, he felt better about his expanding looks. The once sleek red-headed dancer was now as portly as himself. It’s a shame he couldn’t call her up. But then again, she loved the man he used to be and he loved the girl she once was.

The decision to disappear back in the late 70s was his way of escaping the hell he had created for himself. Drugs, alcohol, guns, crazy-ass women, and an army of hanger-on’s. The whole scene was sucking what life he had left from him. Realizing, that, if he was going live incognito, Las Vegas Nevada was ground zero. Every casino on the strip had Elvis impersonators. He could hide in plain sight.

To stave off boredom, he worked for a while at one of the cheesy late-night wedding chapels, imitating himself. He loved the irony of it all. He would have the wedding party crying and gagging with laughter, telling stories that only the “real Elvis” would know. The patrons were appreciative of his stories and his one-man karaoke performance, and he could still make a few young brides swoon.

At times, he became bone-weary of it all and yearned to go home, but he knew that could never happen, except in dreams. These long rides in the desert calmed him and allowed sleep without prescription drugs. He was clean now and was damn – straight going to stay that way.

The Caddies headlights illuminated the figure of a man standing by the roadside, thumb in the air. Aaron had never picked up a hitcher, but a tingling feeling in his scalp told him he should stop for this one. Pulling over, he waited for the stranger to approach the car. The door opened and a figure slid into the seat beside him. He turned to introduce himself.

In the glow of the dash lights sat an old man; long gray hair was tied into a ponytail, and a neatly trimmed gray beard filled his face. He wore a loose-fitting red running jacket with matching sweat pants. His gold lame’ running shoes, shined like gold bars.

Aaron studied him for a moment and then asked the old man, “I know you, mister, I’ve seen you on TV, aren’t you Willie Nelson? What are you doing out in this desert this time of night?”

The old man looked at Aaron and spoke softly, “No, I’m not Willie Nelson, and that’s a fine compliment, to be sure. I’m not going far and it’s nice to meet you Elvis.”

He spoke Aaron’s first name as if he had known him forever, and the tone of his voice made him squirm. Elvis ditched his first name years ago and now referred to himself as Aaron, his middle name. It was part of the plan; Elvis was who he used to be.

“No sir, I don’t know who you are if you’re not Willie,” Aron stammered.

In a slightly scolding tone, the old man addressed Aaron, “young man, I’m shocked that a Christian boy like yourself from a Baptist church in Tunica would not recognize me. Don’t you find it strange that I know who you are? In fact, my boy, I know everything about you from the day you were born. And while we are here together, let’s ditch the Aaron thing. I will address you as you are known back at home. Elvis fits real nice, don’t you think?” Elvis nodded agreeably.

The old man pushed the button on the caddie’s glove box. The door dropped down with a clunk. From inside, came an angelic light that illuminated his face in a soft glow.  Elvis found himself staring into the most striking blue eyes he had ever seen; endless in depth, filled with kindness and forgiving but tinged with a bit of sadness. The old fellow looked to be as old as dirt, but in that light, his features were as soft as a pastel portrait.

“Does this help?” he asked.

“No sir it doesn’t, any lounge magician from Vegas can do those light tricks, although that’s pretty darn good coming from that glove box, that light hasn’t worked twenty years. While you’re in there, hand me one of the banana and peanut butter sandwiches would you?” asked Elvis.

“Surely, may I have one also? I haven’t eaten in a while,” asked the old man.

Elvis, turning to face his visitor, replied “Help yourself, sir. You’re pretty good with them tricks, I could probably get you some work in the lounges back in Vegas if you’re needing some cash.”

The old man sighed, and in between bites said, “No, but thank you, I’m pretty busy most of the time, seems like I’ve been working for an eternity, but I could use a little excitement.”

“Looky here now, I’m going to give you a final chance to figure out my identity and why you felt so compelled to give me a ride young feller, pull this caddie over by that pond up there” ordered the old man.

Elvis, laughing, said “Pond, there ain’t no ponds in the desert, unless they’re concrete, and in someone’s back yard.”

The old man said, “just pull over here please, just by that beautiful cactus patch.”

Elvis parked the caddie on the shoulder and turned off the engine.

The old man motioned for Elvis to follow “Come with me please, I think you will like this. It’s not everyday that I go through this much work to impress one of my children.” He said.

Elvis, now a bit amused by the scenario, followed him into the desert. Ink Dark and no moon, they were both stumbling on rocks and bumping into cactus, so the old man switched on that angelic glow to light the way. This impressed Elvis. This guy was really good.

They walked a short distance until they came upon a small lake. It wasn’t a stock tank, or a catch basin, and it wasn’t your typical Las Vegas casino pond, but a beautiful sparkling lake with palm trees and lush tropical plants lining the shore. Small waterfalls cascaded to the water’s surface producing a peaceful sound. The perimeter of the lake was back- lit with that same eerie light.

The old man turned to Elvis and said “Okay, my son, I usually don’t pull this one out much, but you’re a real special case boy.”

And with that said, he walked down the bank and out onto the waters surface. He didn’t sink, but skimmed across the surface like a dragon fly. Stopping about twenty yards out, he turned, faced Elvis, and raised his arms to the sky. The water boiled and swirled, flashes of lightning hit the surface, and the waters parted into two walls on either side of him.

On the bank, Elvis jumping up and down, screamed, “Hot Dog, I’ve seen this before. I know who you are now…you’re Charlatan Heston, that actor… you played Moses in that Easter movie, the Ten Commitments.”

That did it for the old man. It took the weight of the universe to tick him off, but this hillbilly in an old Cadillac had succeeded.

The old man walked to the bank, and directly to Elvis. Without saying a word, he pointed his finger at Elvis forehead, looked up to the sky and said, “Father, thy non-believers shall wallow with the hounds beneath the porch of the out-cast, let this man of doubt feel your wrath.”

There was a blinding flash of light. Elvis, knocked on his rear, found himself looking up at the old man. “Way up”.  He felt funny. He itched, his breath smelled like a skunk, and he felt the urge scoot his butt on the ground. Looking down, instead tennis shoes, he saw paws, and a lot of dirty, matted hair. He attempted to speak but his words came out in barks. This went on for a few minuets until he became a nuisance.

Another flash of light, and Elvis was once again eye to eye with the old man.

The old man smiled and said, “Elvis, I’m sorry I turned you into a dog, but like I said, you are a special case.” The glowing light usually convinces most people, but you’re just a little thick ain’t you boy.”

The old man smiled, put his arm around Elvis’s shoulder, and said, “Look, let’s get back to your car, I’ve got someplace to be, and I want you to go with. We can have a little visit along the way, a counseling session of sorts, no charge, it’s on the house. And by the way, when I’m down here, in this realm, I prefer to be called just plain old Sonny, it’s less frightening…puts people at ease.”

After driving for a while, Sonny turned to Elvis and said, “You know son, I play in a band when I’m home, and your name comes up often, the guys are always asking me when you’re coming up to join them.”

Elvis said “that’s nice sir, who might your band members be?” and where exactly, is home?”

“Well, home is where my Father is; Heaven. You know, the pearly gates and such, sitting on clouds, the weathers good all the time, all of that stuff you read about.”

“You mean streets of gold and everyone lives in their own temple type of Heaven?” asked Elvis.

Sonny replied, “Well not exactly, the streets of gold were a real maintenance nightmare, so we went back to Jordanian river – rock. The temples were a little small, so we made some major changes right after Frank Lloyd Wright came up. Everyone now has a nice little place with a view of the garden…everyone’s equal in Dad’s eyes you know. Your Mamma and Daddy’s place is an exact copy of Graceland. Bet you didn’t know that!”

Elvis swallowed hard and said “You seen my Momma and Daddy?”

“Well of course I have you nimrod. Didn’t I just tell you who I am and where I live. Don’t you listen!” replied Sonny.

Sonny clapped his hands on his knees and said, “Now, back to my band for a minute. It’s made up of the best musicians that ever lived.  Your old buddies Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash just recently joined up, and I’ve got Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison on guitars, Gene Kruppa and Keith Moon on drums, and I’m looking forward to Ringo joining up pretty soon. There’s Count Basie and Mozart on keyboards, Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly, and Old Blue Eyes on vocals. Man, that Orbison can hit those high notes…really ticks Sinatra off. Frank has a bad attitude about everything, always wanting to get the Rat Pack up and running again. Dads always sending him “down below” for a few days, just to keep him in line.”

Elvis was struggling to comprehend what he was hearing, he knew all those dudes when they were alive, and Bobby Darin was a running buddy back in the day.

Sonny on a bit of a roll continued, “Myself, I play a little bass sometimes, if Noel Redding is busy greeting the British arrivals down at the gate.  John Lennon still claims it wasn’t Yoko that broke up the band, he swears it was McCartney’s doings, and old Ed Sullivan already has a Beatles reunion show planned, just waiting for the other two to show up. I told him it wouldn’t be too much longer, but it wasn’t a deal if he had that stupid little mouse puppet Popo Gigio on the bill.  I just wanted to squeeze him until his little eyes popped out. Puppets make me uncomfortable.”

Elvis, staring at the road ahead was sweating like a lawn sprinkler. His mouth, dry as cotton, and he couldn’t catch a good breath. This was too much for him to digest at one time. Here he is, giving a ride to the Son of God. “Is this the way it’s suppose to be” he thought, “Aren’t you suppose to see a white light and your loved ones coming to meet you?” Not the Lord telling you he plays in a rock band full of dead musicians and hates mouse puppets. Maybe he was having an LSD flashback.

Sonny turned to Elvis and said, “No, Elvis, you’re not having a flashback, and you don’t always see the light…and yes, I can read your thoughts.  Really, this is pretty much the way it happens. I make special provisions for people as needed, and you are a special provision type of fellow, so enjoy the evening.  I’m not saying it’s your time to come home to “my place,” but who knows. Take the next right up here; you’re going to like where we are going.”

Elvis turned the caddie down the dirt road and after a mile or so came to a ramshackle tin building. The exterior looked to be an old military barrack, and over the door was a cheesy neon-sign that read “Sonny’s Place.” No cars parked in the lot, and no tire tracks in the sand. This joint was really out of the way.

Sonny escorted Elvis through the front door where they were greeted by a kindly lady with big hair sitting behind a counter. Elvis noticed her name tag read “Patsy C.” When she saw Sonny, she lit up and said, “My Savior, how good to see you again, everyone’s been asking if you were going to come by tonight, who’s your pal?”

Sonny replied, “This is the famous Elvis Presley darling, but he’s not here officially yet, he’s just visiting for a spell, slap one of those silver wrist bands on him please.”

Elvis interrupted, “Excuse me sir, what’s the silver band mean?”

Smiling, Sonny said “Oh, it means you can’t have the top shelf drinks, can’t use the nice restrooms, and most of all it means you’re not dead yet…understand.”

Elvis understood alright, and that was okay with him. As long as he had not assumed room temperature, that’s all that mattered.

When they walked into the main room, thunderous applause greeted them. Sonny humbly waved and nodded, and Elvis, slack-jawed and gob-smacked, stared at all the dead musicians and singers he had known.

On stage, Bobby Darin was kicking off “Mack The Knife” accompanied by an all-star band made up of Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Mozart, Charlie Bird, Gene Krupa, Glen Miller, Harry James and a full horn section. Bobby saw Elvis and gave him a big smile and a thumbs up.

When the song ended, Bobby directed a spot light to the small table occupied by Sonny and Elvis, and in that “oh so cool voice,” he announced “Ladies and Gents, in the crowd tonight we have the one and only, my good friend, Mr. Elvis Presley, stand up and take a bow, E”

The crowd went wild. Everyone, was on their feet, applauding, and from the back of the room a chant was growing, “Elvis..Elvis..Elvis.” A shaking, teary-eyed Elvis stood as best he could and acknowledged his peers…. dead peers.

Sonny touched his arm and said, “Go on up there my son, give it all you got.”

When Elvis walked onstage, the band came over and gave him a hug. His old friend Bobby held him the longest. Elvis grabbed the microphone, turned to the band, and yelled “Viva Las Vegas in the key of G.”

Strutting, gyrating, not missing a note, the crowd dancing in the isles, and Elvis was putting on the show of his life. His heart was so full of joy that he felt it would burst; and then it did.

As he floated backward, he felt hands engulfing his body, lowering him to the stage. He was aware of people standing around him, and then he saw a beautiful bright light, and from that light emerged his parents, and were leading him through a heavenly garden to a beautiful Graceland.

The musicians, formed a circle around his body, heads bowed, quietly praying.

When Sonny came on stage, they parted, and he knelt next to Elvis’s body. With his hand on Elvis’s forehead, he said, “wake up Elvis, you’re home now.”

A 70 Year Lesson


Today, September 17th, 2019 is my 70th birthday. I knew for a decade or two that it was coming but never expected it to show up so soon. It’s like an irritating distant relative that uninvitedly knocks on your door while you’re watching a good movie and now you have to entertain them, share your cheese and crackers, and miss your show. We are courteous in Texas. That’s what we do; even with birthdays, and relatives.

Birthdays, at least for me are personal, and I am often reluctant to share what I write with my followers and friends on social media. People need their privacy. Social media platforms allow and encourage you to give large pieces of yourself away to strangers. It’s too easy to write things you shouldn’t and hit the post button. It allows us all to make fools of ourselves in HD and living color. Hold my beer and watch this.

I convinced myself a few days ago to purchase a manual typewriter and spend less time on my laptop. Hemingway, Harper Lee, Capote, and Steinbeck all wrote longhand then completed their work on a typewriter. I am regressing but I feel in a good way. I am on a mission to complete numerous short stories and a children’s book before my batteries run down. Time is of the essence.

Ken Burns is the best documentary filmmaker in the business. If there is one better in some remote region of the Amazon or the mountains of Tibet, let them come forth. His latest effort on country music is a masterpiece in American history and the way our nation evolved to what we are today.

I love country music. I bleed three chords and a yodel. The old callouses on my fingers remind me that I am a musician and will be until the end. It’s my legacy and I fiercely protect my inherited history.

I grew up the son of a western swing fiddle player in Fort Worth Texas and watching the documentary film and seeing the faces of the people I knew as a child, renews my pride in what I was a part of.

Musicians playing instruments in our home was part of our everyday life. The guitars, fiddles, and banjos warmed the cold walls in the winter and floated on the summer breeze through our open windows to the delight of our neighborhood. I was a child in a crib, absorbing the notes. How could I not become a musician?

The men I knew that played their instruments and sang their songs are gone from this life and have been for some time. I watched them grow old and struggle to play until they couldn’t and graciously accepted their fate

I grew old with them. I walked and carried some of them to their final rest. I am humbled to have been part of their journey. It never occurred to me until decades later, that their journey was also mine. It was much more than classroom learning; it was life lessons. I am a better man because of my father and his country musician friends. The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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