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To the Elvis Impersonator Who Ranted About the COVID ‘Hoax’ in the Walmart Checkout Line

Actin’ wild as a bug.
January 26, 2022
To the Elvis Impersonator Who Ranted About the COVID ‘Hoax’ in the Walmart Checkout Line
Elvis Presley receiving a polio vaccine in October 1956. (Department of Health Collection, NYC Municipal Archives)

Read the room.

Everyone in line is wearing a mask, except you.

You spew lies about the COVID hoax, saying it’s just the flu. You blather on about your version of the Constitution and how unfair masks are, sounding like a 3-year-old who won’t get dressed for school. The real Elvis Aaron Presley tended to do what his mother, Gladys, told him to do.

I’m guessing you are among the roughly half of Mississippians who remain unvaccinated.

Don’t you know that in 1956, right before he went on The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis got the polio vaccine? The image of him getting stuck in the arm became part of the successful publicity campaign for polio vaccination. And two years later, photos of Elvis receiving three other vaccines as part of his Army induction were reprinted around the country. Impersonate that.

Why can’t you see? What you’re doing to me?

You shout, Why in hell would I wear a mask?

Do your sideburns get in the way? Sunglasses fog? Spray tan smudge?

The cashier tightens her nose clip as your spit flies, vectoring invisible Omicron balls past the chewing gum and 10,000 varieties of beef jerky.

She’s wearing a mask, and it’s not even her favorite sequined one because cloth isn’t as good anymore, not like the N95s or even the blue surgical ones we see caught in traps of live oaks all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

You go on with your paranoia about COVID and the government, but I lose track of your suspicious mind. You’re wearing a black shirt, black jeans, a white belt . . . and tennis shoes? No blue suede for you. Somebody step on them?

You’re rocking back and forth now, shaking, rattling, and rolling inches from me, preaching to your imaginary choir. You say you don’t like the way this country’s being run. You say it burns you up. You say that guy in Washington’s got to go. He’s a criminal. He should be in jail.

Seriously? Should we all break into “Jailhouse Rock”?

I start to say something. It’s now or never. The cashier stares at me, shaking her head, no.

She’s right. Nobody needs another YouTube mask fight at Walmart, even if it does involve you as Elvis.

I move further back while the cashier scans the items I imagine you buying: peanut butter, bananas, Hawaiian bread, mayonnaise, King Cake.

I grocery shop once a week. I wear a mask because I don’t want to get sick, nor do I want to get others sick. I haven’t gotten COVID (yet). As a bonus, I have not had the flu or a cold in the last three years. When I’m not home or outside, I wear masks indoors even though it’s not required. There are no mandates in Mississippi.

You go on about everything now—the withered lettuce in produce; the empty milk shelves in dairy; even those lonely cracked eggs that belong in some heartbreak hotel in aisle 6. You blame it all on the president. You’re angry Elvis, unleashed.

I imagine that you’ve likely been out of work these last few years. Impersonation gigs dried up, and you’re not getting any younger.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for Elvis impersonators. Years ago, when I was flying back home here to Pass Christian, Mississippi to get married, I hung my wedding dress in the tiny airplane closet filled with sequined jumpsuits. After connecting in Memphis, 90 percent of the plane was full of men with dyed black hair, representing various stages of Elvis, headed for an Elvis convention in Gulfport. When they found out I was getting married, they sang “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” at takeoff. For landing, it was “Love Me Tender.”

The cashier and I watch you leave. Finally. Elvis has left the Walmart.

I push my stuff onto the damp conveyor belt.

“I really wanted to say something,” I say.

“You know better than that,” she replies. “No common, no comment.”

I wait for her to explain.

“I got nothing in common with that man so it’s not worth a comment.”

She hears a lot working here, and we’ve just come out of a blue, blue Christmas.

Outside in the parking lot, I see you again loading your groceries into your car parked in the handicapped space, even though you don’t have a handicapped sticker.

Elvis wasn’t like this. I’m sure of it. I’ve read accounts, gone to his birthplace in Tupelo and to Graceland. After he failed music class at Humes High School, and before he became King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Elvis was a truck driver. He knew the rules of the road.

But there you are in your car, honking at the guy corralling the shopping carts. It’s not a friendly honk.

The real Elvis would have been 87 this month. He was no saint, but he took his time, visiting with people. I met his ex-girlfriend once at a book signing. She’d written about the summer back in the 1950s when she and Elvis drove to the Mississippi coast, stopping here for fun and sun. She said everywhere they went, Elvis was kind and gracious to waiters and hotel clerks. She said she didn’t have any “dirt,” no complaints, and maybe that’s why her book didn’t sell as well as she’d hoped. She said the Elvis she knew was guided by a simple rule: Don’t Be Cruel.

You lay on the horn again. The cart guy isn’t going fast enough for you.

COVID’s no hoax, impersonating the flu. Maybe you’ll figure that out the hard way. Like Elvis said, “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.”

At home, I wash my hands and put the groceries away. I wash my hands again.

If I have it now, I got it from you.

I order four free COVID tests on my phone. To be on the safe side.

I can’t help it. I’m all shook up.

Margaret McMullan

Margaret McMullan is the author or editor of nine award-winning books, including the novel In My Mother’s House, the anthology Every Father’s Daughter, and the memoir Where the Angels Lived.