Mobile, Alabama—the Malaga Inn. This is an old French-inspired building with iron balconies and hanging ferns. I’m sleeping in the same bed Elvis slept in.
THEE Elvis the Pelvis, in this SAME room. Even the bathroom feels holy.
I can hardly hold my bladder.
The man who carried our luggage said, “Elvis used’a vacation here to hide from crowds, long time ago.”
Room 220 is nice digs, with high ceilings, wood floors, and tall windows. The balcony overlooks a narrow Church Street.
I am singing “Love Me Tender,” to myself.
The city of Mobile and I have a history together. When I was younger, five of my friends took off work to attend Mardi Gras here.
It was a half-brained idea. We couldn’t all fit in the truck that brought us.
Four boys squeezed into a single cab, one rode in the bed. We’d drawn straws over who would endure the interstate from the pickup bed.
By the time we hit Mobile, I was deaf, blind, and eyebrow-less.
That night, we boys piled into an economy hotel room which smelled like a pot of collards. There were two beds. We drew straws again for beds.
I guess I’m naturally unlucky.
The next day, we watched a parade. After that, the boys cracked open six-packs and played poker by the hotel swimming pool.
My friend and I went for a walk to get some air.
That’s when it happened. We saw a woman. She was tall, black, shoeless. Her clothes were tattered.
She asked us for a cigarette.
My friend gave her his entire pack. She lit one. So did my friend.
We stood with her. She pointed at me, “You look like my son, you know?”
My friend and I gave her all the money we had. It wasn’t more than a couple of fives and tens.
She smiled her four teeth at us. She wiped her eyes.
“How is he?” she said. “My son.”
“Please tell my son his mama loves him,” she went on. “When you see him…”
I yes-ma’amed her.
“Promise me…” she said.
“…That you’ll tell him. Promise me.”
“I will, ma’am.”
Then, she leaned against the wall and bawled.
I felt like hell all night. I wished I would’ve done something. I wished I would’ve bought her a chicken-fried steak, or found her somewhere to sleep.
Instead, we’d said goodbye and kept walking Mobile.
I’m an adult now. I’m lying in Elvis’ bed, writing this. But I’m not thinking about the King. I’m thinking about how fortunate I am. And how unfortunate some have it.
I still remember how dirty and veiny that woman’s bare feet were.
Some things stick with you.
I hardly remember the boy I used to be. I don’t keep in touch with old friends. And I wouldn’t ride in a pickup bed—not even on a bet.
But I hope I’m a better person now.
Anyway, I suppose I have unfinished business here in Mobile. Long ago, I promised someone I’d deliver a message. And it’s about time I made good on my promise.
Wherever you are. Whoever you are.
Your mama loves you.