Published on May 23rd, 2017 | by Randy Weeks0
The View from The Balcony with Randy Weeks
Hal & Mal’s has long been my favorite haunt in Jackson. When I lived there I was a Wednesday night regular. After church choir practice I’d go hear The Vernon Brothers play bluegrass while my friend, Ron Welch, and I drank beer and smoked cigarettes.
On Saturday night, May 6, 2017, I found myself standing in the men’s restroom at Hal & Mal’s, reading the quotes about Elvis that are painted on the walls. I began to swoon. I reached for the motorcycle handles above the urinal, but they were painted on, too, so I frantically latched onto the flush handle. Suddenly I was flooded with Elvis memories.
I remembered standing in my parent’s den on August 17, 1977, hearing the news of Elvis’ death announced on TV. I recalled the Elvis concert I went to 42 years and a day before in Jackson. Then, from the deepest, darkest part of my psyche, THE Elvis memory bubbled up through a steaming pool of melted vinyl.
By all rights I should not be here. My older sisters should have taken me out when I was about 10 years old. They had good reason.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s with two older sisters meant you had to listen to Elvis—a lot. That’s not a complaint, mind you. My family owned at least two 78 rpm records. One was Hank Williams: “Your Cheatin’ Heart” (side A) and “Kaw-Liga” (side B). I LOVED “Kaw-Liga”! It was a Jimmy Rogers yodel meets a Comanche war cry—at least the way it was depicted on Wagon Train. The other 78 was Elvis: “Hound Dog” (side A) and “Don’t Be Cruel” (side B). Both 78s were scratchy, having been played about a billion times, but neither of them skipped.
One day I was bored. I wanted to throw a Frisbee, but I didn’t have one. So I improvised. The Cool Whip bowl lids were too small and light to fly right. The 78s? Perfect! Totally flat, substantial in weight, and not the least bit floppy. (For the record, both 78s were made of shellac, not vinyl.) They flew great! I was able to sail them low to the ground so when they landed, back side first, they would skim ten or more feet on the concrete driveway. Groovy, man!
Unfortunately, both 78s soon caught the wind, turned sideways, crashed onto the cement, and fell to pieces. Yes, I broke two major records on the same day! To quote the Chips Moman/Bobby Emmons song, “They oughta give me the Wulitzer Prize”—one jagged piece at a time, shoved where the sun don’t shine.
Realizing what a stupid thing I’d done, I obliterated the evidence. Fire truly is the Devil’s closest friend. As the fragments burned I heard Elvis and Hank wailing desperately, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”
Nobody ever said anything about the records. Being a good Baptist, I carried the guilt around for decades, knowing that at any moment the fickle finger of fate was going to strike me down.
Once my wooziness in the men’s room had passed I wondered, “Could this have been my punishment?” But I knew that would be all too lenient. I polled my friends on The Balcony as to what they thought my sisters should have done to me. Everyone agreed that a slow, painful death would be justice served. “But how?” I asked. They were sharply divided between slowly pulling out my fingernails and teeth, or dragging me naked across ten miles of rough concrete into a pool of alcohol.
My good friend, Leon, a very insightful man, later said to me, “Weeks, you shoulda kept your mouth shut about them damn records! Now everybody knows what a jerk-ass kid you were. Some things you just don’t tell.” Leon’s probably right. He usually is.
I won’t be going to Elvis Fest this year. Now that I’ve confessed my record sin to all of Oxford Town—confession being good for the soul but bad for the reputation—I may go incognito for a while. I’ve got two pair of Elvis sunglasses. I’ll wear them and nobody will recognize me! Yeah. Sure. There’s a King-sized target on my back. You can’t miss it.
I’m a dead man walking.
And that’s the view from The Balcony.
BTW, Thanks to the City for fixing the one-way sign across from The Balcony. Unfortunately the crosswalk on Van Buren at Faulkner Alley remains hazardous. On graduation weekend I saw nearly two dozen people trip there. Three or four fell. One was elderly. Let’s get together and liberally coat the crosswalk with melted records. I’ll donate five of my six Lawrence Welk polka albums. That ought to get things rolling.
This Randy Weeks column first appeared in The Local Voice #279.