It had been her lifelong dream to get married in Las Vegas. Renee knew it was the only place for her. Not just as a reflection of her “romantic style,” but as a fan of Elvis. She was also aware, however, that it was “wrong” to openly support such a man in the present climate. For it was no secret that Elvis was a cad. And a rapist, to boot. Priscilla made that much clear in her tell-all, Elvis and Me, the basis for the TV movie VH1 would play on a loop along with The Jacksons: An American Dream. Renee watched both, but was more riveted by the drama of the former. Even though it crushed her image of Elvis as some kind of “sweet teddy bear.” Especially when that spousal rape scene came on. But, once a girl has an idea in her head, it’s difficult to shake it out. And Renee’s mind and heart had been set on an Elvis wedding in Vegas ever since she was eight years old, long before she ever knew about the dark truth of Elvis the Man as opposed to the Myth.
Renee’s parents decided, like so many others lured in by marketing, that Vegas was a perfectly “family-friendly” place. And the price of a Circus Circus package certainly would have made anyone talk themselves into feeling that way. Never mind that Hunter S. Thompson was accurate to describe it as “what the whole hep world would be doing Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war. This is the sixth Reich. The ground floor is full of gambling tables, like all the other casinos… but the place is about four stories high, in the style of a circus tent, and all manner of strange County-Fair/Polish Carnival madness is going on up in this space.” Even as a child, Renee could see Thompson’s point. She had a built-in radar for bullshit, and Circus Circus was just that. A seedy place with families trying to see it with rose-colored glasses. Maybe that’s why she decided to wander off on her own one night, when her parents and her older sister had fallen asleep.
Looking back, it seemed crazy to her that she was even able to stumble upon the Elvis Wedding Chapel, a roughly twenty-minute walk from the Circus Circus. It was almost as though Fate had deliberately intervened to make her see the light regarding her nuptial future. She had to get married with Elvis officiating, ideally while he was interjecting verses of “Fools Rush In.” There was simply no other way now that she had borne witness to this scene. What’s more, the busty blonde woman marrying the tall, muscular black-haired (complete with his own Elvis pompadour) man was something to covet as well. And, later on in life, it came as no surprise to her that she ended up spending all her extra cash on bleaching her hair every month (in addition to the one-time fee for that breast augmentation).
To behold that moment was worth all the pain in the world she felt afterward, when she was located by a stern police officer upon her parents informing the authorities that she had gone missing. The squad car spotted her as she was coming out of the chapel, all ready to return to the hotel without anyone being the wiser. Unfortunately, her mother had awakened to go to the bathroom and immediately noticed that her youngest was absent. So at least Renee didn’t feel totally invisible to her matriarch, though she had long suspected Alina would have preferred not to notice her existence at all. For Renee was what any parent would have called an “odd bird.” And nobody likes to deal with raising that sort of thing.
It didn’t matter that she was grounded after the trip for her “insolence.” Her mission had been made clear. She would return to Vegas at the age of eighteen and find the man of her dreams, then marry him at the chapel. She never imagined being so “on the nose” as to fall for Martin, an “Elvis tribute artist,” as they called themselves, but it did turn out to be quite useful in terms of gaining the early intel about the crackdown on Elvis “impersonators” (tribute artists!, they all wanted to scream). Sure, the licensing company that “officially” “owned his image” was insistent that they weren’t “eradicating” Elvis weddings. Instead declaring, “We are seeking to partner with each of these small businesses to ensure that their use of Elvis’ name, image and likeness are officially licensed and authorized by the estate, so they can continue their operations.” Yeah fuckin’ right. Continue their operations making half the profit. What fuckin’ business wanted to deal with that?
“I swear to Christ, it’s enough to make you wish for the days when the mafia was around to deal with pests like these,” Martin lamented at the Grand Lux Café as he tried to wash away some of what was to be his hangover with a glass of ice water at approximately three a.m. That wasn’t all he had ordered, of course. The Venetian would have frowned upon such things, even if this restaurant was affiliated with an institution as déclassé The Cheesecake Factory. He had also asked for a stack of buttermilk pancakes. In addition to biscuits and gravy with sunny-side up eggs (he wanted to stay true to his “Fat Elvis” character, he would often claim).
“Need to load up for the busy day I got tomorrow,” he explained in response to Renee’s judgmental stare. But she knew this wouldn’t be the only meal he would have over the course of the next five hours or so—if he even got that much sleep. He’d likely wake up and be right back here again, shoveling his face full. The only reason she bit her tongue for once about it was because she was keenly aware of the stress he was feeling regarding this licensing hullabaloo, and how it was doomed to compromise what was once the most secure gig in Vegas.
She sighed heavily and caught a glance of her reflection in one of the glass windows decorated in swirls. Renee suddenly realized she looked a little too much like Priscilla Presley, even though she had never technically agreed to be Martin’s accessory in “the business.” Perhaps he had been manipulating her all along, though. And it made her think of how Priscilla herself would say long after she had married him, “He wanted to mold me to his opinions and preferences.” Like Kanye with Kim, Elvis would also relish treating his wife like a doll to be dressed up. That’s not who Renee wanted to be, even if she was suddenly starting to have the epiphany that she had essentially only “chosen” Martin because he played the version of dress up she wanted to see without her needing to tell him to. Her interest in him, she was beginning to understand, was related purely to the turn-on—the months-long foreplay—of thinking about marrying an Elvis in the chapel. Going one step beyond merely being married by Elvis. No, she would be married to him as well. And that got her vag leaving slug marks all over the seat just thinking about it. Martin could seem to instantly detect the wetness she was feeling as he arched his brow and offered, “Wanna go back to my place?”
She glanced back at him lasciviously. “No. I wanna get married. Tonight. Before it’s too late and your kind is ‘banned’ altogether.”
At first, it looked as though Martin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. That he was actually surprised by what she wanted, like it was new information—even though literally the first thing she ever blurted out to him at the bar they met in was that she wanted to get married by Elvis in one of the chapels. She had said this when he was off-duty, in his “civilian” clothes. And he waited all the way until the end of the night, when her legs were already up, to inform her that he was, in fact, Elvis himself. She had an orgasm immediately after the information was relayed. Once he finished the last bite of his pancake and processed what she had demanded, he comprehended that it truly was now or never. Not just because he was at risk of losing Renee, but because this might very well be the last opportunity to be Elvis without, who the fuck knows, getting fined or arrested or some other American bullshit. And besides, what kind of fucked-up, truly joyless world had this become where two likely very drunk people couldn’t even enjoy getting married by Elvis? He wanted to grab the last of this uniquely Las Vegas joy while it was still possible.
The revelation was enough to make Martin slam down his fork and knife, rise from his chair and shout, “Goddammit, let’s do it!”
Hours later, at the very chapel Renee had first encountered an Elvis wedding when she was eight, the two were married. And Martin was right to take Renee’s urgency to heart, for it was only three days later that the crackdowns started to come in fast and furious. Every chapel was suffering from the long arm of the licensing and franchising law. An Elvis tribute artist could barely get out a “Love,” let alone a “Love me tender” before some “mystery guest” popped up and shouted, “Illegal!” It was enough to give anyone anxiety and PTSD, constantly fearing the threat of being “shut down.” It got so bad that the chapel Martin usually worked for decided to call the ceremonies “Melvis Ressley weddings” and changed the costume from white and sequined to tie-dye so as to avoid having to share in any of the profits.
That worked for a while (about two months) in terms of “keeping the sharks at bay” until We Own Elvis and Everything Else Iconic found a way to stomp on that as well. Martin daily questioned what the purpose of either of them being in Vegas was anymore if he couldn’t make his living as The King without so much hassle. Yet when he suggested to Renee that they leave town, her reaction was practically guttural. Leave Las Vegas? That shit was for Nic Cage. She wouldn’t leave no matter how many Vegas institutions The Man tried to smoke out. This was where she belonged, even if Las Vegas was no longer Las Vegas without Elvis-peppered chapels. But it would be even less so if everyone who actually lived there decided to flee just because Elvis had left the wedding. Martin could abscond when the going got rough, but Renee refused. She knew the tide would turn again sooner or later in favor of Sin City. It always did. Because the people always wanted “sin.” And what was Vegas if not that? Even when the corporate fat cats tried to make the town “smooth” around its rough edges. She did, however, find it highly karmic that The Corporation was trying to whitewash Elvis the same way he had whitewashed the music helmed by Black people. Just another way in which he could be such a disappointment behind the effigy. One that she happened to see in statue form at a souvenir shop on her way back from getting the annulment. She and Martin had tried long enough (four months), but ultimately, he had already fulfilled her greatest dream before it was outlawed, and she knew he would only disappoint her from this moment forward if they were to stay together.