At 63 the pale skin on Ronnie Kohr’s face looked like construction putty. Full cheeks felt like a doughy version of a wax museum dummy. Without the money to fly to Mexico for a full-scale face transplant, the professional Elvis impersonator knew he was finished.
Laid off from the pest control company after working off and on in the entertainment business for decades (at the age of three Ronnie Kohr’s mother Grace billed him as the youngest Elvis clone in the world), at least he still got a local gig or two around Christmas at the VFW or Legion hall. During his career Ronnie Kohr played small events in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and all points in between, including his high point sold-out concert in a bar in State College during the 1986 national championship football season.
Once when Ronnie was 14, he performed two great nights and four shows at a Tupperware convention in Las Vegas. Grace easily secured an annulment for Ronnie’s Elvis Chapel marriage to a pain pill addicted showgirl with one phone call to the woman’s husband who worked as a Las Vegas police officer. No bigger Elvis fan than Grace lived and she often told anybody who would listen how divine intervention blessed her with a son the Tarot card reader at the mall told her actually was Elvis in a past life.
“A sign,” she said, “a sign.”
Over the years Ronnie matured. The act got better. But in 2001 he started putting on some serious weight.
At least he kept his standards intact. In 2019 he turned down an offer to do a “nude Elvis” event that would have put $250 in his pocket for a three-hour show that would have left him singing wearing only his sideburns and white patent leather shoes. An undyingly polite Ronnie Kohr declined the offer even when the treasurer of the businesswomen’s association organizing the party offered $300. What would Ronnie’s dearly departed mother say had he agreed to put his hunka hunka burning love on display?
When COVID hit Ronnie got stuck home practicing his karate moves in the living room until he got hurt. A simple front snap kick tangled his foot in the leg of his bell bottom pajamas, tripped him and sent a tooth through his lip when he hit the coffee table face first. To make matters worse, the wound injured his sneering lip, the one that curled when he smiled and spoke in his perfect Elvis accent. Now his words sounded garbled, like a drunken imitation of a redneck salesman selling used pickups in Memphis.
For the next two weeks Ronnie pampered himself to heal, increasing his two daily peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches to four, eating one with his breakfast of bacon, eggs and bacon, one with deep-fried pickles covered in hot sauce for lunch, one with a man-sized dinner of chicken fried steak and gravy with black-eyed peas and one with sugar, cinnamon and whipped cream before bed. Sometimes Ronnie ate two bananas per sandwich which he figured is what sent his potassium levels off the charts. With a level of 6.3, six being fatal, doctors told Ronnie he should be dead by yesterday.
So he tried to change.
Ronnie really tried to change.
But by 2022 he weighed 360 pounds, ten pounds more than Elvis did when he died at 42.
The 21st Century bode bad news for the future, far worse than the disco era when the King passed. Back then Ronnie looked real good. By the time he turned 19 he was dating a friend of his mother who managed a beer distributor that specialized in German brews. Young Ronnie drank like a Danube river carp and never performed onstage without bock beer on his breath.
When he met Rayleen that summer she didn’t drink. Working as the beer distributor’s young divorcee cashier subjected the young woman to flirtation, insult and even intimidation. That’s where Ronnie Kohr came in stepping through the doorway in a blue track suit with a gold stripe down the side and black Flagg Brothers’ shoes with Cuban heels and white leather lightning bolts on the sides. A svelte 195 pound light-heavyweight, he spotted a roofer tanned bronze and skinny as a rusty nail leaning over the counter asking Priscilla for a kiss.
Rayleen just turned 23 but Ronnie saw her as a 14-year-old named Priscilla wearing a black beehive hairdo and sporting a Munich accent which was really just Pennsylvania Dutch from Lebanon, PA, where she grew up. Elvis’ Priscilla was American and spoke perfectly despite being born in Brooklyn. Ronnie loved watching Rayleen ring up cases and kegs.
Pulling a derringer-shaped cigarette lighter with a fake pearl handle from his pocket, Ronnie lit a thin anisette-flavored cigarillo. Stepping toward the roofer he cleared his throat. Spotting the lighter and taking it for a real gun, the hungover roofer fled.
Rayleen blew Ronnie a kiss.
“My hero,” she said.
Three days later Rayleen moved to Florida with the contractor who put up the new drywall at the beer distributorship. A week later Ronnie rescued a stray cat from the Forever Care Paw Foundation. He named her Priscilla. A week later he rescued a stray kitten from the same shelter he called Lisa Marie. Until both famously-named felines ran away within a day of each other a few years later, they all lived together like one big happy family in Ronnie’s late mother’s one-story red brick house along the highway that paralleled the railroad tracks that paralleled the river.
After that, just like Elvis, Ronnie hated cats. He disliked women, too. For the record, Ronnie’s dad Ronnie Sr. died when he slammed drunk into the back of an ambulance stopped at a red light the day before his son was born. With his last words before he died, Ronnie Sr. whispered to the emergency room nurse that he had a baby boy on the way, a son who would be born with sideburns. Deep down as an underground septic tank, though, Ronnie loved everybody. In subsequent years, when Ronnie sang the words “always on my mind” he thought of his mom, his cats and his dead daddy, too.
For three hours last Tuesday Ronnie sat on the toilet waiting to die, reading Frank Adams’ “The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus,” the same book Elvis was reading when he keeled over and fell from the throne. What a way to go. Ronnie envisioned paramedics struggling to roll him onto a stretcher. He could hear county morgue workers mocking his corpse, hearing their cruel laughter so much so he kept his silver aviator shades on in the shower that night to give the folds of his belly a darker shade that didn’t make his middle look so thick.
The Elvis angel showed up at the door the next morning.
“My name is Ginger,” she said. “Would you be interested in buying a set of cyclopedias?”
A woman named Ginger waited in a king-sized Graceland bed for Elvis the night he took his last breath on the bathroom floor. The face of that woman was exactly who Ronnie saw when the saleslady stood on the cinderblock front steps. He knew it wasn’t the same Ginger, of course, but if he could dream, and he could, the spirit was hers.
“These ain’t Britannia cyclopedias,” Ginger said. “But just as good.”
Ronnie acted interested in the pitch.
“I have the first book, A, of the 26 volumes with me,” Ginger said.
“There’s 26 letters in the alphabet,” Ronnie said.
“You’re real smart already,” Ginger said. “You might not even need the books.”
“Thank you very much,” Ronnie said.
Each volume contained around 100 pages and you could buy them individually at select supermarkets.
“The set comes in paperback, too,” Ginger said.
“Maybe I can get one to keep in the Caddy,” Ronnie said.
“You have a Cadillac?”
“Two of them, a red 1978 El Dorado and a 1956 hearse.”
“You got it made in the shade,” Ginger said.
Of course he didn’t and still owed money on both cars.
“I’m sorry I don’t have a full set of cyclopedias with me,” Ginger said.
“That’s OK,” Ronnie said. “I’m not playing with a full deck, either.”
Even the freight train loaded with coal rattling by couldn’t drown the sweet harmony of their laughter.
“So I’ll see you tomorrow when you come back with the books and the paperwork,” Ronnie said
“You’ll be my first full sale,” she said.
Now Ronnie flushed.
But Ginger reddened even more deeply.
“Can I ask a favor?”
“Shoot,” Ronnie said.
“Can I have your autograph?”
People didn’t ask Ronnie for autographs anymore.
Ronnie got real serious.
“How old are you?”
“I’m 42,” Ginger said.
Ginger was 21 years younger, the same age difference between Elvis and his Ginger.
Ronnie bit his sneering lip to keep from crying.
When Ginger returned the next day to sign the paperwork, Ronnie, having just ironed his best black and red jump suit, answered the door in full regalia, including cubic zirconia diamonds on every finger and a freshly dyed black pompadour.
“You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away,” Ronnie said, speaking a real live Elvis quote.
Confused, Ginger stumbled over her words like a country diner waitress tripping over a dropped platter of blackened catfish with hush puppies on the side.
“What ain’t going away?”
“Tenderness,” Ronnie said.
Ginger moved in the following Saturday, bringing her stuff in beer boxes from the motel by the truck stop where she was staying and paying $400 a week with no pets allowed.
“I’m allergic to cat and dog hair and peanuts,” she said.
With no peanut butter in the house, Ronnie laid off the bananas and bacon, too. You’d be amazed at how much weight he lost in the next few months, especially when Ginger taught him some yoga moves that strengthened his knees and allowed him to kick hard enough to make the fabric at the ends of his bell bottoms snap like a turtle before going into the soup.
Last week out of nowhere the social worker at the senior citizens center called because “The Human Eightball” cancelled her appearance to check into alcohol rehab and asked if Ronnie was available for a Friday night show.
“You’ll be much younger than our mostly female audience,” the social worker said. “They think you’re hot off the Ed Sullivan Show.”
“I won’t swivel,” Ronnie said.
“With these old girls you can swivel all you want, just duck when they throw their room keys at you,” the social worker said.
After the show, which, as you might expect, was a hit, Ginger asked Ronnie to marry her.
“Thank you very much,” he said.
“Oh, Elvis,” she said.