My friends and family all know about it. To students who visit our house for coaching it’s become a sort of “B” movie legend. Carla, the kids and I live with it every day so we barely think about it. I’m referring to our downstairs bathroom just off the kitchen. It’s obviously no ordinary bathroom. Why? Because it’s filled with all things Elvis.
Now before you toss me on to the mountainous heap of Elvis worshippers some backstory might be helpful. First, I will be more than happy to agree with Elvis’ place in American popular musical history. He was and forever will be the “king” because he was one of those rare and brilliantly talented musicians whose career happened to co-exist at a crucial time in the development their musical genre (if you know classical music think Ockeghem, Monteverdi, Beethoven and Stravinsky). Elvis took a myriad of different musical styles that were prevalent at the time and then used them to create something new, different and better—and he did so with amazing talent. Enough said.
So why a bathroom filled with Elvis things? When we moved into the present house in 2002 the downstairs bathroom could only be described as deco dismal. It had last been wallpapered during the Nixon administration and the sink fixture was reminiscent of backstage community theater. Carla and I stood in the doorway and despaired, wondering what we could possibly do to give the dank narrow chamber a touch of decency. Giving it any class was far beyond reach. But in a moment of collective brilliance we, like so many resourceful and innovative Americans before us, did the not-so-obvious and embraced the tackiness. We would one-up the inherent dread of the space and make it a shrine of sorts.
The theme quickly became Elvis. Why Elvis? Easy answer: my late brother Ted. Among the four boys in our family Ted was as different from me as possible. He was taller and easily outweighed me by more than 20 pounds. He was a career construction worker and at first take looked like one of the members of ZZ Top with his long pony tail and biblical-length beard. A quick first impression found him to be fiercely intense, gruff and even frightening to the unwary but he was a complete sweetheart once you got to know him. He was utterly devoted to all his nieces and nephews; my son Patrick still asks about his favorite uncle. Ted also had a wicked sense of humor and biting tongue. I remember him once telling me with a twinkle in his eye that the best thing about hitting yourself repeatedly on the head with a full can of beer was that it felt really good when you stopped.
About 15 years ago Ted and I started a birthday/holiday tradition of sending each other the tackiest things we could find. For a white it was Hawaiian shirts but eventually we got into an Elvis groove that never stopped. I think I topped everything with an actual velvet Elvis painting ordered online from some mysterious place in Mexico. But the polyester Elvis suit Ted sent me with its gold fringe and fake pink boa is right there.
Today is Ted’s birthday. He would have turned 55 but lost a five year battle with lung cancer at the end of January, 2006, literally 30 days before my Mom passed away also from lung cancer. It goes without saying that we miss him terribly. I guess the Elvis bathroom is my way of remembering him. Happy Birthday, Teddy. Here’s thinking of you.