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The Knockout PunchTo Charles Rammelkamp's previous piece

The Impersonator

When Jeff Robbins called to invite him to go to Broadway Market Square down at Fells Point to the Elvis Presley commemoration on the anniversary of the King's death, Stan Porter declined. His wife had left him the previous week. She had gone out to Oregon with her friend Mitsy. Stan was on his own; he wanted to be alone to think.

"Come on, man. Don't just sit around and mope. Larry and Kristin are coming with us. Afterwards we thought we'd go down to that place on Fleet Street? Miss Bonnie's Elvis Bar and Shrine? Watch the Elvis impersonators sing 'Love Me Tender' and 'Heartbreak Hotel.'"

"Nah, I just don't feel like going." Stan tried hard to conceal the hollow lonely guy sound in his voice, but he wasn't very successful. It was hard to feel animated, sociable. "Stan! Come on! Don't just sit around feeling sorry for yourself! Jackie's gone and you're only making yourself feel worse sitting home alone! Do yourself a favor! Get out of the house!"

"No, really, Jeff. I just never cared much for Elvis."

"No kidding. I thought everybody liked Elvis."

"He was just a pill?popping slob in a white jumpsuit when I started listening to rock and roll. I was into the Beatles and the Stones. Eric Burdon. The Animals."

"The King never died as far as I'm concerned," Jeff said, "but I'm not as bad as some people." He seemed to buy Stan's excuse, or maybe he saw it was futile to try and persuade him to come to Fells Point, and this was a way out for everybody without losing face. "My Aunt Jane is a real Elvis fanatic. My Mom's younger sister. She told me she saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, and it seemed like Elvis was pleading with her to love him. That's how she put it. She's been hooked ever since. She's gone to Graceland every year for the last nine or ten years now."

"To commemorate him on the day he died?"

"Everything from the candlelight vigil at midnight on the sixteenth to the memorial service at Memphis State. She tours the Elvis jet, the Elvis car museum, the 'Hall of Gold' where Elvis' records are displayed, the whole Graceland estate tour. She knows so much about the King she corrects the tour guides when they make a mistake."

"They must love her."

"Aunt Jane's a good old girl." When Stan didn't say anything, Jeff brought the conversation to a conclusion. "So you don't want to come, huh?"

"Nah, I don't think so."

"Well, if you change your mind give me a call. I mean it, too, Stan. You really should get out of the house. Do something."

"Thanks, Jeff. Thanks a lot for calling. I'll let you know if I change my mind."

After they hung up, Stan had a vision of a group of Elvis imitators on stage with slicked?up hair and leather jackets, and he almost wished he'd accepted Jeff's invitation. It might be a lot of fun. He almost reached out to pick up the phone and dial Jeff back, but he stopped himself. He'd feel foolish in company with Jeff and Roxanne, Larry and Kristin. That was probably the hardest part. Not just feeling like a cuckold who'd been dumped for a woman, but having all his friends know about it. They probably made jokes about him. Who wouldn't?

The thing was, he'd known about Jackie's proclivities since he'd met her fifteen years ago. It went beyond her support of the ERA, her membership in NOW, her attendance at AIDS rallies. That wasn't what spelled it out for him. He'd known from the very first night he'd had sex with her.

They'd met at a summer camp in the Adirondacks where they were both working as counselors during the summer break from college between their junior and senior years. They both attended schools in Boston, and in the fall they continued to see each other. But Jackie had also seen a lot of her friend Mitsy. They formed a triangle, Jackie at the apex. They went everywhere together ?? dinner and movies in Harvard Square, sports events, concerts and museums in Boston. A real menage a trois.

After graduation, Mitsy moved out to San Francisco, and Stan and Jackie took an apartment together in Beacon Hill for a year before moving down to Baltimore. Mitsy moved back from San Francisco to Baltimore a couple years ago, after Stan and Jackie had been living in their Mount Vernon apartment for half a dozen years. Stan had never known if Jackie and Mitsy had a physical relationship, and he was afraid to ask. Now he knew.


When Stan went into the liquor store to buy a bottle of scotch that evening, a radio was playing Elvis songs, and a DJ announced that they'd be playing his music all night. Stan plucked a bottle of Passport from the shelf.

"That's right, this is the anniversary," he said to the cashier, remembering Jeff's invitation.

The cashier was a fresh?faced boy in a rumpled shirt and a wide garish tie, loose at the collar. He couldn't have been more than twenty?five. "Excuse me? Anniversary?"

"The day the King died."

A light went on in the boy's face. "Oh yeah. That must be why they're playing all his songs."

"I saw Elvis coming out of a Seven?Eleven the other day," Stan said, but the joke fell flat, and the cashier ignored it, counting out Stan's change.

Walking back to the apartment, Stan recalled his first date with Jackie. She had a group of thirteen year?old girls at Camp Mokwa. He had twelve year?old boys. Their scheduled canoeing lessons coincided, and Stan and Jackie spent a lot of time together. They were sitting on the docks after the canoe lessons counting the life jackets and securing the boats when Stan saw a big black spider crawling up Jackie's shorts. He made a noise of alarm and slapped at her leg, brushing her ass. She looked down and saw the spider scurrying away across the warped boards, and she grabbed Stan's arm when he started to step on it.

"Don't. Leave it alone. Spiders are good."

"I can't stand them. They seem evil to me. Like scorpions."

"They aren't. They're good." She kept her hand on his arm even after they were both self?conscious about it, and Stan finally said, "Would you like to go with me to see the Bob Dylan impersonators at the Cazenovia tonight?"

"I'd love to."


Back in his apartment, Stan got down on his knees and started sorting through his record albums. He hadn't played some of them for years. Crouched down like that, he started to sweat in the August humidity. The salty perspiration stung his eyes, but he kept at it until he found what he wanted. Highway Sixty?one Revisited.

Stan poured himself a scotch and soda in a highball glass and sat there holding the album in his hands like some sort of mystical object. He could feel the memories seep through his fingers, and he closed his eyes and took a long drink, drowning in the nostalgia. Stan could see them arriving at the nightclub dressed in corduroys and La Coste shirts.

The Cazenovia was a one?story building that looked like it used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken or something, perched on an acre of black asphalt with its pagoda?style roof and the rustic wood exterior. Out in the lot, groups of boys and girls were huddled together smoking joints and cigarettes. Stan steered Jackie past them into the club.

Inside, the air?conditioning was ice?cold, but later the place would warm up with body heat. He put his hand on the bare skin of Jackie's upper arm and pressed the cool flesh.

There was a long bar at the side and a stage where entertainers performed. The area where the audience sat was divided into three large tiers, each elevated about six inches about the next and separated by brass railings. Small formica?topped tables were screwed into the floor, packed closely together. Stan and Jackie chose a table for two back up near the railing of the first tier, maybe twenty feet from the stage. The performance was only secondary. The main event was their date.

Stan bought them drinks, a beer for her and a scotch and soda for himself, and they exchanged biographical information. Her family lived in Laurel, she said, a suburb in the Beltway between Baltimore and Washington. She planned to return there after graduating from Simmons. She wanted to get involved in "causes," she said ?? rights groups, the environment. Stan's family lived in Indiana, and he did not want to live there. After he left B.U., he figured he'd stay in Boston for a while. He wasn't sure what hewanted to do. Write, maybe. Get into journalism. Work with kids.

An emcee came on stage after a while to announce the start of the show, and Jackie, leaning into Stan so that her breasts came against his bare arm, pressed her wet mouth against his ear and whispered over the hubbub, "I'm going to the bathroom. I'll be right back."

Her breath was warm and damp, and she put her hands on his shoulders, ostensibly to raise herself from her seat and push off down the aisle, but she caressed his bicep and squeezed his shoulder, and Stan felt his desire leap up inside him. When she came back, he began to fondle her as well, intimately touching her legs and arms to make a point about some performance.

The Dylan impersonators were pretty amateurish, but the audience didn't expect much. First, a series of earnest folksingers in jeans and workshirts with acoustic guitars and harmonicas in harnesses around their necks sang "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are A?Changin'" in soft, twangy monotons. Then came the mimics in dark shades and curly mane and electric guitar. They belted out folk?rock tunes in a high nasal whine: "Desolation Row," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Positively Fourth Street."

Stan's favorite act of the evening was the boy who came up as the front end of a four?legged camel costume assisted by another boy behind. The boy stepped out of his part and started scowling in his Jiminy Cricket boots, tight black pants, floral vest and top hat while the other boy discreetly disappeared. Fake eyeballs goggled out of his face, and he wore a false nose. He tore the eyeballs from his sockets, stuffed them into the pocket of his vest, and threw the nose onto the stage floor. Then he broke out into "Ballad of a Thin Man."

You walk into the room like a camel
And then you frown.
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground....

Like most of the performers, his imitation was way off, but the audience groaned appreciatively at his charade, and a few applauded. It was the only act Stan remembered after all these years. He and Jackie left halfway through a performance of "Lay, Lady, Lay" by a boy wearing a Buster Keaton straw boater and a shabby gray vest.

Before they even got into the car, Jackie had her tongue in Stan's mouth, and they were groping at each other with feverish hands. They drove to an isolated spot by the lake at Camp Mokwa where they necked and petted for more than an hour before Stan suggested they take the blanket out of the backseat of his car and lie down in a clearing in the woods. They spread the blanket on the soft dead needles beside a tall pine tree that gave them some privacy. Stan could not get enough of Jackie's body. As soon as he had one orgasm, his penis was spent for only a few minutes before it began to stir and stiffen. Within minutes he was erect and rigid again and plunging into Jackie's moist vagina. He came five or six times before Jackie suggested they get dressed. She had to get back to her bungalow. Weak?legged, Stan felt a pure writhe of sensation shiver up his spine when he stood and pulled up his trousers.

"God, that was great." The gratitude in his voice was almost palpable.

But all Jackie said, her voice a little wistful, disappointed, was, "Sometimes I think I'm a man in a woman's body."


Stan finished his drink and put the record on the stereo. He made himself another strong drink and chugged it down like a glass of lemonade on a warm day. He was feeling pretty mellow, and he started to sing along with the record in a loud voice. Somebody downstairs started to pound the ceiling and a voice called indistinctly, probably telling him to knock it off.

Stan stopped the record player and sat in a chair staring out the window. Evening had already fallen, and the streetlights limned the window panes. They looked like square halos. Stan felt restless. He wondered if it were too late to call Jeff, but then he heard Jeff's voice in his mind saying to Roxanne, "Everybody knew about her and Mitsy. I'm surprised it took him this long to find out." "It's sad, but it's kind of funny in a way, too, you know?" Jeff and Roxanne shared a small laugh, and with the imagined conversation still in his ears, Stan felt some little wall of fortitude and stoicism collapse within his breast, and the humiliation and loneliness and self?pity poured through him like hot liquid. His face burned. Impulsively, he stood up and headed for the door. He did not know where he was going.

Outside, a slight breeze stirred the air and seemed to cool Stan's emotion. He was able to erect another fragile barrier of self?respect to hold back the flood of his shame and sorrow. It strengthened as he walked. He decided to stroll down to the harbor, through Little Italy to Fells Point to catch the Elvis impersonations on his own but stopped at a bar for a couple of drinks before proceeding.

Stan ordered a scotch and soda and drank it down in a few gulps. He had not really decided to get drunk, but he did not care if he did. After the first drink, he had another, which he drank more slowly. A news program was showing on the television above the bar, and he watched the images, his mind a blank. It was soothing to him, and after he finished his second drink, he had a third. Then, before leaving, he went to the bathroom to relieve himself.

A bright fluorescent wand glowed over the mirror above the basin where he washed his hands, and looking at himself while he rinsed his hands, Stan had the uncomfortable feeling that his face was an independent object, some other thing besides himself, trapped in the glass. Not himself. The mirror was one of those magnifying types that enlarged the pores on his nose like the mirrors in roadside service stations. There were pits in his cheeks, creases from customary expressions ?? squints, grimaces, smiles. Lines across his forehead. Flecks of blood in the whites of his eyes like shreds of pimento. He stared at the face in the mirror and would have gone on staring at it longer had he not heard the door open behind him.

Stan felt better when he left the bar, more self?assured. He ambled slowly like a tourist down to the harbor and on into Little Italy. A man dressed up in an Elvis costume (Presley in an army uniform) strode past him and got into an olive green Volvo, and Stan started to watch for more Elvis look?alikes. He imagined everybody he passed was wearing a costume. Cops, businessmen, bartenders, streetwalkers, gays, waitresses, taxi drivers. Stan began to speculate drunkenly. If we all took off our clothes, he wondered, would we all be more "real"? What was "reality"? Essence as opposed to accident. More our essential selves, without the accretion of the accidental elements of our personalities. You went on in life, and you adopted attitudes that came out of the circumstances in which you found yourself. Political opinions, aesthetic tastes, value judgments. The clothes you wore. If you could just strip all that away, if you could just declare a new start. Not like Jackie had done. She had simply reverted to another personality, one that had been growing on her all along, even if he hadn't seen it. But to create yourself anew! To be born again! Not in the soppy way the religious jerks described it, which to him was as predictable as a politician declaring himself a candidate for the next office. But to be able to redefine the terms of your existence. Oh, what did he mean!

Finding himself on Thames Street, Stan did not know where to go next. This was Fells Point, after all. Now where did he go? Swept up in the inspiration of his drunken philosophical speculation, he had lost his interest in the Elvis spectacle, and he decided to drop into a bar and have a drink. He chose the very first establishment he came to, went up to the bar and ordered a double scotch on the rocks. To hell with the soda.

What had he been thinking about? Starting all over. Christ, what would that entail? He thought about it. He'd leave Baltimore. No big deal. He wouldn't miss it. He could easily chuck his job without any regrets. For the past eight years he had written and edited a newsletter for gifted children at one of the universities. He also counseled the children and their parents, developed their ideas for stories; then, he typed and laid out the newsletter with a desktop publishing setup. At first he enjoyed it, but now it was routine. The job had grown out of his counseling experience and his writing ambitions, but when he thought about it seriously, he admitted to himself that it was just another in the series of compromises that defined his life; something for which he had applied and been hired. It was not like a fulfillment of his inner drive. What was his inner drive? What ought he to do with his life?

"Identity crisis," he muttered into his glass, and, liking the way it sounded, he repeated it again. "Identity crisis. Identity crisis."

"Hey, what're you sayin'?"

Stan turned his head to the butch?looking blond with a shag haircut sitting at the bar three seats to his right. Heavily made up, she was clad in a tight skirt that rode six inches above her knees, revealing an expanse of thighs sheathed in black net nylons, and a diaphanous, sleeveless white cotton blouse. Her muscles bulged everywhere; the biceps looked like rocks. She must spend her entire day working out in a gym, Stan guessed. He stared at her drunkenly.

"Yeah, you. What did you say?" She had a deep voice and spoke in the cultivated accent of a wiseass. A tough broad.

"Identity crisis," Stan repeated. "It sounds like a machine gun firing, don't you think? Firing and then fading away. The staccato tees and sibilant esses."

"What's that you're sayin' about tits and asses?" She exploded in a fit of laughter that propelled her onto the stool next to his. She smelled as though she had drenched herself in perfume. The odor was cloying. In another mood, Stan would have gagged, but the fragrance stimulated him now.

"My name's Eve. What's yours? You know, you're kinda cute." She touched a finger to the tip of his nose.

"Stan Porter."

"I didn't tell you what my last name was." Eve turned on the coquetry like a hose.

"No, I guess you didn't." Drunk, Stan did not feel flustered so much as confused, as if he were standing at a door fumbling with a set of keys, trying to find the right one for the lock. He tried humor. "Zat mean you're having an identity crisis?" he slurred, smiling foolishly.

Again Eve exploded in laughter, this time leaning onto Stan's shoulder, her hair brushing into his face. He took a deep snuff of the perfumed hair and put his arm around her and squeezed.

"Now, now. We mustn't get too fresh!" Eve rubbed her nose against Stan's. "You're a doll! If I don't watch out I'll lose my head!"

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"Get me a Bloody."


"Mary, you naughty boy! A Bloody Mary!"

Stan's glass was two?thirds full, but he chugged it down and signalled to the bartender for another.

The bartender and another patron, a guy who looked like a regular from the way he slouched confidentially over the bar, were both eyeing Stan and Eve and looking amused. In an instant of paranoia, Stan was sure they were laughing at him, and the reason they were laughing at him, he knew ?? he knew! ?? was that his wife had left him for another woman!

More pathetic than your run?of?the?mill cuckold! You bet! A real figure of fun! But then the moment passed. These people didn't know him. He'd never seen them before. They must be sharing a private joke.

"Another scotch and a Bloody Mary over here," he called, and the bartender pushed himself away from the bar to prepare the drinks. He gave Eve a significant glance whose meaning eluded Stan but which sent fresh shivers of fear and suspicion down his back.

"Well, I've got to go to the little girl's room!" Eve said, drilling the bartender with a malevolent look.

The bartender mixed the drinks and brought them over. He made change for Stan's bill and brought that over from the cash register. He looked like he wanted to say something, and Stan tried to ease his way.

"Hey, thanks a lot. Thiz a real nice place you got."

"Yeah," the bartender said, still wavering around his indecision.

"Anybody come in tonight dressed up like the King?"

The bartender glanced back at his friend, who guffawed.

"You mean the Queen!"

Stan looked puzzled, and the bartender leaned onto the bar.

"Hey, buddy. That ain't no broad."

"'Scuse me?"

"I said that ain't no broad. Eve. That's a guy dressed up like one."

"Really?" Stan did not know whether to believe the man or not. Was he pulling his leg?

"Take a look at the bathroom he comes out of."

Stan turned around in time to see Eve come out of the men's room, smoothing her skirt. He stood up at once, wavering unsteadily. Eve rushed over to support him.

"Oh, honey! You don't look well! Let me help you, baby."

"Hey, leeme alone. I gotta go." Stan pulled his arm away from her and lurched toward the door. The bartender and his friend both started laughing loudly.

"You bastard!" Eve screeched at the bartender. "You dirty bastard!"

Then Stan was out on the street, and it was as if he were trying to catch up with himself. Leaning forward, his upper body ahead of his feet, he staggered ahead. He almost collided with a group of yuppies out for the weekend festivities, and he caromed off the brick wall of a restaurant, scraping his elbow and propelling himself down a dark alley. He tripped over his feet and fell flat on his face, but he got up and started going forward again, until he realized he did not know where he was.

Peeling themselves off the wall of a building to which they'd pasted themselves like flies, two boys came up to him in the gloom. They looked like teenagers.

"Hey, man. You need some help, man."

"Naw, man. It's okay, man." Stan tried to slip into a tough guy accent, but it was like trying on a pair of shoes that were two sizes too big.

"Yeah, you need some help, man."

"Let me help you, man. Let me and my buddy help you, man."

Then they were on him, had him by both arms and muscled him into the recessed entry of an apartment house. One of them put the heel of his hand against Stan's chin and shoved his head back against a bank of mailboxes. Stan struggled, but he didn't have a chance. After stripping his watch from his wrist and yanking his wallet out of his pocket, they bloodied him with their fists and kicked him down. Stan pushed himself up and ran into the street. One of the boys jumped on him from behind. Stan went down with his face against the pavement.

He twisted his arm painfully. Then the two were kicking him and stamping on him, like blood-frenzied sharks. They might have gone at it a lot longer but a voice cut across the darkness.

"Hey! What the hell are you guys doing? What's going on there?"

"Come on, man! Let's git!" The kicking stopped, and Stan heard their fleeing feet recede down the street. As they got farther away, the noise was eclipsed by the sound of his rescuers approaching. Through blood?blinded eyes he made out two men coming toward him, and then he closed his eyes again. Drunk and beaten, Stan had lost all sense of who he was, what he aspired to, what, in the eyes of the world, he must have represented, and all at once he felt relief wash over him, relief that became release: a warm cathartic rush sweeping him up in something that felt like forgiveness or absolution or vindication. He knew he was going to pass out. Before he lost consciousness, Stan made out the voices of the two men.

"Hey, isn't that Stan Porter?" Larry Maxwell said.

"No, it couldn't be," Jeff Robbins said. "It just looks like him."

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