GRACELAND

By John Thomas Tuft

Mary Lou Mabel, last name unknown, loved to dance to the Paul Simon tune, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” She had an old boom box with a too-often-spliced cassette tape and four C batteries showing where the battery case cover was missing.  She found a pair of discarded tap shoes in a dumpster and although they were three sizes too large, she would kalump-rat-a-tata-tap- kalump, up and down the sidewalks all the live long day.   Once upon a time Matthew, her best friend, was a master chef. He refused the medications to control his frantic brain and claimed to prefer living on the streets. As he stirred the vats of soup in the homeless shelters, he quoted the great philosophers from memory, more often than not fighting them to a draw on subjects like death and futility, substance and consciousness, the chicken and the egg, etc. “I want a shot at redemption; don’t want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard,” he always exclaimed.

Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon was fierce, a sensual goddess who had been exiled to earth from an unknown dimension. In her world, she had been wealthy and worshipped, the embodiment of desire. But she had offended Optimus Prime and been banished to this dimension, this corner near the downtown business district, in her bright purple pressure hosiery, lime green sweats, and the one tiara she had been permitted to keep as a reminder of who she really was. “All along there were hints and allegations, incidents and accidents,” she would proclaim. “There are angels in the architecture spinning in infinity! Amen and hallelujah!” Such was the fierceness of Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon. So fierce that when she came upon little Joseph, she proclaimed, “Take this child from Tucson, Arizona. This is the way we begin to remember; this is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein.”

It seems that Joseph had been his father’s favorite form of amusement. He found great delight in giving his infant son cocaine, giggling as the powder hit the child’s nasal membranes and induced a half hour high. The effects on the young, developing brain were devastating. By the age of five, learning numbers and recognizing letters were beyond his capabilities. He became too increasingly belligerent around other children, even adults, to be in a classroom. By the age of ten, he was on the streets in his oversized clothes and a pair of thrown away Birkenstocks. Mary Lou Mabel found him under the Roberto Clemente Bridge across the Allegheny River and declared, “The poor boy changes clothes and puts on aftershave to compensate for his ordinary shoes.” It was as good an explanation as any for what had become of Joseph.

Mary Lou Mabel found Matthew and Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon and presented the boy to them. Matthew looked him over, then gazed into his eyes. “Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose,” he said soberly, with a sad shake of his head. Then he started singing “El Condor Pasa,” dancing to the tune with a natural ease and sense of movement. Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon slowly approached Joseph, her tiara glinting in the sunlight. A tear unexpectedly appeared and ran down her royal cheek as she whispered, “You don’t feel you could love me, but I feel you could.” Such is the point of view of travelers to graceland.

A discussion arose among the adults as to what to do with the boy, Joseph. If ‘normal’ society did not know how to deal with him, how could they know any better? Matthew offered to teach him how to cook and also to dance. It helped him so much, surely it would help the boy. Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon pointed out that he needed to be able to deal with people for those fields of endeavor. Mary Lou Mabel offered that if Joseph could learn all the songs on her cassette tape, he could sing outside PNC Park at Pirates games for spare change. Matthew pointed out that so far, Joseph was nonverbal and singing might be a stretch. That night, the four troubadours sat at the Point, where the green waters from its Allegheny National Forest beginnings meet the muddy Mon to form the intrepid Ohio River. “Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake,” Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon murmured, and indeed, it was. Because of the Emsworth Dam, the headwaters of the Ohio can appear very calm, like a lake, conducive to thinking deep thoughts. They made a decision, a difficult one, as decisions about graceland tend to be.

The next night when they gathered, each brought what they found that day for Joseph. Matthew traded some soup for strong rope and large boards. Sister Sadie Sarah Marie Moon had traded in her tiara for some old tires. They spent the wee hours fashioning a raft. When it was finished, Mary Lou Mabel set her prized boom box on the planks. If you know the flow of the rivers, you know their plan. When all was ready, they pushed the raft into the waters of the rivers. Matthew lifted Joseph onto the vessel and gave him a solemn handshake before pushing it away from the shore. As it drifted into the current, Joseph waved goodbye and pressed the Play button. As the raft swung around in a lazy circle and headed away, the voice of Paul Simon could be heard, carrying over the water: “Because we all will be received in graceland…”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

With apologies to Paul Simon and his album from 1986, Graceland, plus El Condor Pasa(If I Could).