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I had a decision to make: Elvis or Mr. Wonderful. I loved listening to Mr. Wonderful tear apart idiotic business ideas; more than that, I admired him because he wasn’t afraid to tell the truth. But I’d stayed home the last three Friday nights watching Shark Tank with my parents, and I couldn’t do it for another week.
I drove my rusty white Corolla toward the Tiki House, a family restaurant on Honolulu’s northwest side that was a cliché of itself. My heart pounded and my palms soaked the steering wheel with sweat. My body was telling me not to do this, but I kept going. I parked fifty feet away from the entrance and turned off the engine. The Tiki House shared a plaza with Starbucks, T.J. Maxx, and a movie theater, and had achieved a certain level of infamy. It was where everyone took out-of-town guests from the mainland who demanded an “authentic” Hawaiian experience. There were countless other restaurants in Honolulu with better food and less-tacky furnishings, but the Tiki House was an event tourists lived for.
I considered pulling out of the parking lot and going home, but I’d clocked out of Super Kmart six minutes early to be there on time. I got out and walked up to the bamboo front door. There was a hot pink flier taped to the outside promoting Elvis night featuring Eddie King, Harold Rogers, and Johnny Lee Young.
I’d watched Eddie King once with my ex-girlfriend Caroline and her friend Becca. Caroline loved Eddie and had only missed two of his shows in the past year. On Wednesday she’d posted on Facebook that she’d be at tonight’s performance. I was counting on it. I hoped she’d see me across the room and then walk back into my arms as if nothing had changed, as if the Worst Valentine’s Day in History™ had never happened. It was a long shot, but it was a shot I had to take.
I pulled out my phone and dialed Ronnie. “Are you sure you can’t meet me at the Tiki House?”
“Can’t. It’s mahjong night at casa de Medina, and I gotta watch Ella. Sorry, T-dawg.”
God forbid Ronnie call me by my actual name, Thompson. It was always T-dawg, T-money, T-dubs, or my personal favorite, T-cup, as if we were popular jocks with cheerleader girlfriends who could pull off such ridiculous nicknames. Instead, we were scrawny AP class nerds who played NBA Live instead of real basketball.
“Can’t you just put your sister in her playpen?” I asked. “Have Barkley watch her?”
Barkley was his family’s neurotic West Highland terrier. He weighed all of eighteen pounds, but had the guard dog tendencies of a Rottweiler.
“That’s cruelty to two year-olds,” he said. “Besides, you know how I feel about your quest to get the CW back.”
“Who says I’m trying to get her back? Maybe I’m just embracing the pain. Wallowing if you will.”
“Yeah right. I think we might need to have an intervention soon. You are very close to hitting rock bottom, my friend. You might already be there.” He hung up before I could think of a witty comeback.
Inside, the Tiki House looked like the island section of a party supply store had thrown up. Magentas, purples, and greens practically punched you in the face as you walked in. Synthetic palm trees and multi-colored lights on strings multiplied in places they shouldn’t, like the urinals in the restroom. The female wait staff wore grass skirts over their khaki shorts and all the employees draped rainbow leis around their necks. The food was so-so at best. The fries weren’t salty enough and were often undercooked, and locals knew it was a bad idea to order the cheeseburger, or any beef dish they had on offer.
I sat at a small round table meant for two and ordered a chocolate shake and fish tacos. I scanned the bamboo- and palm-encrusted room, hoping I’d see Caroline’s wavy red hair in the crowd. Caroline had an unrivaled obsession with Elvis and I had what was probably, in retrospect, an unhealthy obsession with her. I loved that she didn’t worship boy bands like other girls or listen to obscure alt-rock bands that were supposed to be cool. After we became a couple, “Sweet Caroline,” a song I had loathed previously and that I was sure had no business being played for anyone except the unfortunate souls who actually attended Neil Diamond concerts, became my ring tone. It was in my top twenty-five most played songs on iTunes, sitting comfortably in the number three spot. I had every word memorized and sang the song with gusto whenever my phone went off, grinning like an idiot when it played. Elvis songs held five of the twenty-five spots, another side effect of Caroline. Caroline loved Elvis so much that I myself became enamored with him. I bought his CDs, read up on his life (Me & A Guy Named Elvis: wow, what a book), and watched his movies, even though they all followed a similar formula:
Elvis meets girl + Elvis punches guy in dancelike fight over girl + Elvis wins girl + catchy songs = cash cow
I noticed I was one of maybe six males in the restaurant. There was a table full of women who, based on their soft bodies and day glo crocs, had to be moms. They were acting like they didn’t get out much, shrieking and laughing as if everything that was being said was the funniest thing they’d ever heard. This, I knew, was statistically impossible. There were groups of younger females in their twenties wearing high heels, low-cut shirts, and bright red lipstick, with the occasional couple thrown into the mix. There was also an old couple with silver hair at a table near the stage with a large pepperoni pizza and margaritas in front of them. For a second I thought about leaving, but didn’t. I wanted to “run into” Caroline and this was the only way to do it.
The first guy to come out was Eddie King. When he walked onto the wood stage, one of the moms let out a shrill whistle. Eddie King was young, twenty-something, and wore Elvis’s trademark gold lamé jacket over tight black pants. His outrageously poufy black hair was clearly a wig. But, as he swiveled his hips across the stage, the ladies in the Tiki House went ape-shit, especially the girl in the barely-there lime green shirt who grabbed at him like he was the King himself, digging her long pink nails into his right arm. I scanned the crowd again for Caroline, but didn’t see her.
Eddie sang three songs before making way for the next Elvis, Harold Rogers, who was ancient and out of shape. His wig had seen better days and hung loosely against his wrinkled brow. Gobs of flesh prayed to be freed from his synthetic navy blue jumpsuit. The rhinestones on his suit were one false move away from popping into an unintended firework display of silver sequins and glitter. I almost hoped it would happen since the show was guaranteed to be spectacular, but I really didn’t want to see this guy without any clothes on. His chest heaved with exhaustion as he plodded through “Suspicious Minds.” Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead and hit the stage like fat drops of rain.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” he gasped at the end of his set.
I asked my waitress for a refill of my shake before the last guy came on. I didn’t get to eat junk food a lot since mom was the queen of low-fat, organic, non-GMO eating. She blogged about clean living in addition to doing her day job (she did something with spreadsheets for the Four Seasons Resort, I still wasn’t sure what exactly) and had made a nice side-business of it. She sold enough advertising to subsidize our astronomical Whole Foods’ bills.
The last Elvis was older than Eddie King, maybe thirty, and had a spark in him that made the women of the Tiki House swoon. His thick black hair was real—it wasn’t clipped on and fake like the last two guys’. His jaw and nose were narrower than Elvis’, but his eyes were just as big. He wore a black button-down shirt, matching slacks, and a yellow lei, and from the way he shuffled his feet as he performed “Jailhouse Rock,” I could tell he’d been doing this a long time. Unlike the previous performers, he ventured off the stage and into the heart of the restaurant, stopping to greet every patron as he sang. He moved with the kind of confidence and charisma I could only dream about. He locked eyes with me as he approached my table and winked. He tipped his head, spun around, and continued on.
He waved to the old couple with the pizza at the table in the front and returned to the stage before breaking into a song I’d never heard before, one that hadn’t made its way into my larger-than-average Elvis catalog. It started with a grand crescendo to a high note that made the hairs on my arms stand up, before dropping back down to a low register. It was about being lied to and led on, but loving the girl anyway. There were no backing vocals or gratuitous instrumentation to tone down the emotion. It was just this guy in black putting his heart on the floor.
He sang about being blindsided by his one true love, which I knew something about. The song was simple—there weren’t any extended metaphors or complicated language—but it was effective. I could tell by the way he clutched at his shirt that he’d lived through what the lyrics spoke of. Either that or he was one hell of an actor. I tried looking up the song on my phone but, like most things at the Tiki House, the Wi-Fi was terrible. I’d been listening to so many sad songs in recent weeks about regret, loss, and heartache—even country songs about drinking your problems away—but this one was different.
“I’m Johnny Lee Young, everybody,” he said at the end of the song, a slight drawl in his voice. “Though not so young anymore. I’ll be here all night. Please stick around for my second set.”
The moms’ night out table whooped with delight. The young girls in heels whistled.
As Johnny Lee Young stepped down from the stage and made his way to the bar, I zoomed past the rowdy ladies and accosted him.
I had to know the name of that song.
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