“Like horses and cattle, we sleep standing up. If they lay us down, see, we begin to sag and warp.”
By the time they pack us up again, I’m ready to move. Five years boxed, standing up in an old warehouse — it’s about time. Hey, how is that to treat a king! King of Rock that is — “Elvis in the warehouse,” the other dummies joke. But I always knew that one day I’d be back on top, showman that I am, featuring at some classy New York museum or Vegas casino. Word is, a bunch of us from Niagara’s old “Celebrities in Wax House” are being moved to the Midwest. Not my choice, but, hey, Elvis is big everywhere. We stars, Liz and Liza, Bogie and Bacall, Kennedy and Nixon, and a bunch of others are all being loaded up. We’ll need a supporting cast.
The train ride is pretty dull, but that’s normal for us who stand and wait outside any concept of time. Like horses and cattle, we sleep standing up. If they lay us down, see, we begin to sag and warp. You don’t want that and neither do I. Believe me.
At the station in Cleveland we’re loaded onto a freight truck. I can see through the cracks and hear the workers cursing the lifting. Little do they know whom they handle — the famous transported in the back of a truck. Pretty ironic. But I do understand such security measures. People always want to touch me or worse, and there was that awful woman in Niagara.
When the truck finally stops, the doors slide up. The light hits us, and all I can see is a big red brick building with the words “Silver Lining Cathedral” in big white letters. My name’s not yet reached the marquee or billboards. The workers unload us onto dollies, and suddenly another group of buildings appear, probably our trailers near the set.
Once inside, we are stripped down, our show garments exchanged for costumes, my gold lame folded on a chair. Naked in wax, nothing really moves or matters. Let them look. I was made to show it all, with all my anatomy clearly intact. The costume women look up and giggle as they unwrap a long cloth, a robe it seems . . . for the King. But why such humble cloth? It seems ancient and common, yet, as they say, “Anything for the film.” At first, a hood comes over my head, then wisely someone allows my face to be seen. “Never hide your star.”
I’m being carried into a room with three walls, our set no doubt. Others are standing robed before me assembled in waiting before a gray-blue sky with a lightning streak. There’s Natalie over there kneeling with Jennifer by the rocks. Edward G. and Vincent are holding long, pointed spears. I’m waiting for my blocking when the director calls out something, and my robe is taken off, my arms are being raised and carefully reattached. I am the figure to be placed — up there in the light. My God! Oh, my God. It’s the cross!
As wounds are being painted on my legs and hands, I think of Mother, and a beautiful smile comes over my face. I feel it — we are, all us, in a Bible wax museum.
Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer and biographer of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Patchen. His most recent work is Thoreau’s Lost Journal: Poems and Tu Fu Comes to America. He’s a professor emeritus of Bowling Green State University in Ohio and director of Bottom Dog Press. He and his wife live along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio.