Yesterday, whilst I was in crisis, my father and I met a character.
It was at The Anchor Tap, a quiet nook by the river, and I met my father there to reflect on the difficulties of the modern condition, its monotony, the repressive fatigue of working in London, enervation at the close of difficult days. Elvis was an ancient man with white platform shoes and gold sequined trousers, whom my father remarked upon as we sat in a corner table going over my confluence of stresses. The man was missing teeth and those which remained were as gold as his trousers; in fact, everything about him oozed such a yellowness – his face was stained with the age spots one sees in a yellowing mirror, his glasses were as opaque as his glassy eyes, his tobacco fingers were coarse and discoloured.
He approached us with a “good afternoon” on his way out, but it was said with a sense of permanence, as though this was to be the beginning of something, rather than the beginning of his departure, and my father, in his mellowed way of engaging with and accepting the forsaken, gave an equally permanent “good afternoon, sir” and so the conversation began.
After the greeting, “Elvis” was both the first and the last thing he said. It was his niche in old age, the last thing left in the city, it seemed, with which he could identify and distinguish himself; “Elvis” as the man’s cry of humanity in what had become a deeply lonely existence. He spoke with celerity, almost offensively, with no regard for his two listeners, who each in their own way, though little he knew it, were nursing their own crises and loneliness, but unlike him, we could, on the surface, present an image of strength, the comparative bloom of youth. He brought up his performances, which were impersonations at what I took to be a variety of old-time fairs, and he punctuated this diatribe with glimpses of Elvis’s songs, which he sang in a resonant but unsupported baritone, and which carried a passable dinner party likeness to the original. “You’ve heard other impersonators before, you’ve heard them before,” the old man shot at us, leaving us with nothing but to acquiesce to his expectation, “this was the best you’ve ever heard, wasn’t it? The best you’ve ever heard; would you say it was the best you’ve ever heard?”
My father, engaging further, “it was, I’d say so,” and me, too subtle, “well, it was rather a shy delivery,” which evoked the merest stare, an utter incomprehension, his having given up noticing changes in the city outside; I capitulated, “I’m joking, it was, yes, it was,” and the old man, on hearing the validation, could unfreeze, proceed again, and ignore me.
He pushed and pushed for more compliments, more validations, and left with a vaunt of his success by telling us where we could hear his home recordings, made through a tin microphone, uploaded to the foreverafter, and possibly viewed by some hundredfold schoolchildren, further validation, who’d hovered at the page for an instant.
It could have continued for hours, my own crises rendered distracted and unresolved, but somehow my father had gauged it correctly, and the encounter lasted around five minutes or so, the old man ending his cry as quickly as he had embarked upon it, and he went through the exit door, leaving a dust of golden glitter, from his trousers, as he went.
Through the window, I saw him say “good afternoon” to two modish girls; they replied, but he turned, sensing they didn’t want to speak, and he disappeared. Perhaps we were the only people Elvis had spoken to that week.
The Anchor Tap is a traditional pub and hideaway on the south bank of Tower Bridge, 20A Horselydown Lane, SE1 2LN.