Archie & Nancy

Now we could hear an insistent tap-tap-tap-tap- echoing down the long hall. “I’d know that sound anywhere,” said mein pater. “It’s Nancy Sinatra’s boots!” I had left Nancy et al on the patio for some time. Perhaps she was coming to get a re fill for her hip flask. “Is Nancy Sinatra really here?”

“Yes Archie,” said I. “As I formerly explained in a previous post your oldest, fondest friends are currently ensconced in Shitsville Ranch to celebrate your death… I mean life.”

Nancy!” said mein pater. He was clearly touched. His eyes had misted over and he started in on a reverie. “Nance and I go way back,” he said. “I remember her when no one else would look twice. The first time I set eyes on her I thought, ‘Who’s that wop?’ I couldn’t figure out why everyone was being so nice to her, she was plain and dark and really the worst dressed girl in the room, I thought she’d escaped from a nunnery, honey that’s for sure. Then someone told me she was Sinatra’s daughter and it all made sense…  Years later when we were both playing Vegas I told Frank about it as a kind of joke and that’s why he had me blacklisted. Let me tell you, it was a long time before I worked in the industry again, hell I got so close to starving I actually thought about getting a real job.”

Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra 1960

“Yes, pappy,” said I. “I know you have a real way with words that could explain many of your long periods of despondency and unemployment, and also why I, your sweet lovely daughter, was blacklisted by Frank Sinatra at the age of two and instead of easily and naturally making a mint from my good looks, numerous talents and undeniable charms have had to spend years procuring money by irregular means.” I did not tell him that Nancy still had a soft spot for him and that she’d pressed a rather large cheque upon me in lieu of flowers, “Because I like to think of you as the child we couldn’t have,” she said. “I was never allowed to say this when he was alive.”

Now Nancy was right outside the kitchen.  Before he could say anything else I pushed Archie into the pantry and closed the door on him. “She might get a shock seeing you like this,” said I.

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In lieu of flowers, send in the clowns

Doris Day Send Me No Flowers

I confess I wasn’t as surprised by this hellish vision as most would be. In fact I’m really used to seeing Archie Shitsville appear unwanted and looking like death warmed over. “Alas poor ghost!” said I. “Do you so object to my serving cold meats for breakfast that you’ve come from heaven (or Las Vegas) to point me to the Cornflakes instead?” But he said, “Pity me not, honey chile, but lend thy serious hearing to what I shall unfold. I have returned to Shitsville Ranch, hell it’s great, aren’t you glad to see your old papa home again?”

“Well dear papa,” said I tactfully. “I would’ve been glad of some notice. You’ve returned at rather an awkward time you see. All of your oldest and fondest friends have gathered to bid your ghost adieu and weep over your bones, there isn’t a bed left in the Ranch. You’re looking well, father.”

“Thank you,” said he.

vintage pepsi ad - Marilyn Monroe model

“In fact it seems rather tactless of you to turn up at your own wake looking like the picture of health.” He had helped himself to some of the cold cuts and Frankie’s packet of cigarettes and sat blowing smoke around the kitchen and eating with his fingers. “Rude health,” I said, “Is probably the most apt expression. Father, father, I thought that you were supposed to be dead.”

“I am,” said Archie, “Supposed to be. Now daughter, hear: tis given out that sleeping in my bathrobe a serpent stung me; so the whole of Vegas is by a forged process of my death rankly abused: but know, thou noble youth, the serpent that did sting thy sweet papa’s life got the wrong sucker, yea boy.”

“I already knew that, papa,” said I. “Call it my prophetic soul if you like. But actually I just knew that you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing underwear on a Sunday.”

“Naked Sunday,” he corrected me. For forty odd years every Sunday he had convened with nature for the overwhelming good of his primal male soul. “Is this corned beef or just beef that’s really pink?”

Rock HudsonSend Me No Flowers

Ole fashioned Texas Bar-B-Q Funeral refreshments

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For a while Frankie questioned the wisdom of serving a good ole fashioned Texas Bar-B-Q for funeral refreshments, but I couldn’t think of anything that would be more appropriate, my father was such a ham. We invited a lot of his old fond friends who were in their ways grateful for Archie’s many and various inanities: late one night he’d left a voice-mail for Nancy Sinatra telling her about his free underwear. “He was right,  the underwear they sent wasn’t very good. But I’ve always appreciated thrift,” said Nancy.

In the end the funeral party was only ruined by one thing, and that was Archie himself. After dinner we watched some of the least painful of my father’s films. While he failed again and again in his attempts to deliver dialogue convincingly, his oldest fondest friends restricted themselves to respectful comments, which means for the most part they sat in silence, and Nancy sipped from a flask on the sly and burped discreetly into her handkerchief, which she’d also got from that “Freebies for Seniors” website. Next day while Nancy et. al sat on the patio, bleary eyed in the mountain morn, I was in the kitchen coldly furnishing forth the breakfast table with the funeral baked meats and counting chickens before they hatched as I considered the rather large sum of consoling money that would be coming my way in lieu of flowers when Archie Shitsville himself, adding schlock horror to his credits, appeared at the window, quite green, and said, “Honey, I’ve come back…” failing spectacularly as always to deliver the line without sounding actually illiterate or only slightly drunk.

A brief lesson in sexual psychology

It had been five days now and Frankie was entirely soaked; he had lost his healthy glow, his lusty high colour; his wan cheeks were dimly phosphorescent; he looked like he’d walked out of the ocean wearing his business suit; when I tried locking him in the bathroom so he could dry out for a bit he was so legless he simply slipped out again from under the door like gelatinous zooplankton. One thing I will say about Frankie is that even when he has not slept for days he can still look remarkably clean, like a hairless cat. “Your father was such a charismatic bastard,” he said. “It would take a lot to kill him. Sometimes I think I can still feel him near. He really was larger than life…”

“That’s for sure,” said I.

“I never had a father,” he said. He was staring at his plate, and his eyes were twice as large as the poached eggs, as though he expected to be able to absorb the nutrients by thought waves.

“Oh, everybody has a father,” said I, with conventional wisdom. “Even if you think you don’t, some Freudian somewhere will some day succeed in nutting him out. Would you like me to cut your toast into fingers for you?”

But Frankie was trembling so much he could barely control his own fingers and kept dropping his cigarette onto the table-top. It was mainly to cheer Frankie up that I decided we should hold a funeral party.

That grim act Patricide

Marilyn Monroe

Over the next few days Frankie’s taste in music deteriorated with his mood and a bottle of gin (the tequila was long gone, a distant memory); from “Candle in the Wind” (the Princess Diana version) it was now Robbie Williams’ “Angels…” on repeat. Poor Francis was always such a sensitive soul, almost too fragile for this world. For my part I stayed outside nicking fags from the packet he’d left on the table when he finally crawled off insensible with drink. You should know I smoke for effect in this blog more than anything; I largely quit a year ago, which is to say that all of the joy vanished from my life shortly after Davy Jones died. In case you are starting to think I am completely heartless (as Frankie said, “You haven’t got a h-h-heart cousin,” when I suggested perhaps he’d been drunk for three days now) the thought that Archie was dead hadn’t really sunk in yet, or perhaps I am more savvy than you realise: my father was well known for surprising quantities of Revivals and Comeback tours. In any case as I told Frankie, “It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life,” which is the sentiment that generated when I peered at the label on the empty Espolon tequila bottle (gradually filling up with fag ends); it wasn’t long after that Frankie got the yips and started calling out to me that he could feel tiny skeletons running over him.

Oh my love, my darling…

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Archie Shitsville’s life was a lot like his movies: entirely predictable, full of C-grade actresses with generous bosoms, the Technicolor process made him look slightly negro, and at odd times in the silvery dark even as you munched through a caravan of popcorn you found yourself wishing it would all come to a swift end. But I suppose I owe some wonderful things to the great ape who was the unwilling source of my creation. He bought Shitsville Ranch in the Sixties and gave it to my mother as a wedding present, which is why the Vegas Mafia could never roll him for it.

For a long time I sat in the mountain sunlight admiring the view and the patio furniture and trying to think up a nicer way of saying “In lieu of flowers send money”. Then I thought perhaps that was the real reason unlettered folk turn to ‘poetry’ made up of kindergarten rhymes on special occasions: funerals, weddings, etc, where in my book torturing your family into donations somehow seems less friendly than asking for the cash straight up. Meantime my cousin Francis Matlock Shitsville was very upset by the news, as upset as I was when I heard that Davy Jones had passed away on my birthday last year. Blind with drink and tears Francis ferreted through my records and finally pulled out an ‘Archie Shitsville Live in Vegas’ LP from the Seventies, which had been shut away from the light so long that the inner sleeve turned to dust when it was exposed to the air. Then he boarded himself up with a bottle of tequila and listened to it over. “Oh, my love, my darling… I’ve hungered for your touch…” I could feel the vibrations through the floor.

“His voice in that version could m-m-move m-mountains,” Frankie sobbed.

“My father had a lot of practice moving mountains,” said I. “He lifted at least a hundred and seventy kilos every time he got out of bed.”

Vale Archie

Elvis Presley 50s It happened on a Sunday. Frankie and I had been up all night playing Uno or something like that (I remember it well); then in the morning light while the forest (high up in the hills on Shitsville Ranch) rang with the chatter of monkeys, we were having good ole fashioned Texas prawn, pork and bacon toasted sandwiches for breakfast with whisky in our lattes (or something greasy and unrefined anyhow) under the striped umbrella on the red brick patio.  Then the phone rang. It was Great-great-great Aunt Olga on the line, calling from America, with news as unexpected as if it had hatched out of a breakfast egg, or Frankie had gone on the wagon.

“Hello Aunt Olga (stop that Francis),” said I as he poured tomato sauce onto his plate, and later stubbed his cigarette out in the pool of it. “That shows a great want of refinement.”

But the relative refinements of Francis Shitsville would soon matter nought as Aunt Olga had some awful news. “We have arrived in Palm Springs in one piece,” she said.

“Oh?” said I. “I hope you enjoyed the zeppelin?”

“Yes, yes,” she said, “But that is another story. Dear sweet great niece, something dreadful has happened. It’s your father.”

“Oh,” said I. “Yes, I know.” (Francis in the background: “Ha, ha, ha.”)

I was struggling to hear and trying to push Frankie’s face into the sauce as she told me: “We arrived at the house in Palm Springs but he wasn’t there; some tarted up cleaner with thick ankles said he’d been in Vegas for a week so she gave us the address of a motel there. And that’s where we found him… My dear, the smell.”

“You get used to it,” said I.

“We found him by the pool. In blue underwear and a terry towelling robe open…”

Elvis 50s “Oh, I’m so sorry dear auntie. That must have been an awful sight for you,” said I.

“He was horribly bloated…”

“He is sensitive about his weight, but too vain to discuss it.”

“Sweet niece, you don’t understand. What I’m trying to tell you is that he wasn’t moving at all…”

“It is usually like that after a Saturday night in Vegas…”

“And he looked slightly greenish…”

“There should be a note on the fridge with the recommended dosage of Pepto…”

“I mean he was dead,” said Aunt Olga.

“Dead? Comatose perhaps sweet auntie but not dead surely. You can try pushing him in the pool if it worries you and he’ll come to soon enough.”

“Dear dear,” said Aunt Olga. “You don’t understand. I mean he was really dead; quite deceased. There was a hole in his head. He’d been shot.”

Elvis Presley 50s At last I saw it clearly, the scene by the pool: Archie green skinned in the grey Vegas morn come to sit by the pool and smoke and watch the Listerine-coloured ripples lap while a neon Marilyn’s skirt fluttered up in three lighted stages and empty chip packets shuffled around the Motel court like dreaming hoofers hoping for a dime. He might have fallen asleep, his robe falling open in soft folds either side to reveal the sweet portly stomach and thunder thighs; how tender and boyish he must have looked when the sky above the grey desert turned soft and pink; a strand of hair, errant from the well oiled pouff and duck’s ass falling forward over his forehead, his waxed spotted chest rising and falling as he dreamt as trustingly as a babe; and then some villain with a pistol, stepping out of the awkward chiaroscuro shadows made by the folded umbrellas and plastic flamingoes; some tool of the Vegas Mafia come to seek revenge…

“There wasn’t much blood so the coroner said he was dead from drugs before he was shot,” Aunt Olga was saying; her voice seemed to be coming from somewhere far away (i.e. Las Vegas, Nevada). “We had to make a formal identification… Though I haven’t seen him for years his is a face I’ll never forget. Funny how he looked a little Japanese, his eyes were so puffy,” she said.  Meanwhile Frankie was still laughing in the background.

Elvis duck's ass

Elvis Presley record store