I saw a poor Elvis impersonator on a street corner in Portland, Oregon a few years back. I watched him from across the street as I sat with my daughter at an outdoor cafe in one of Portland’s lovely small-town neighborhoods.
He wore all the accoutrements of a typical Elvis imitator: thick black hair, yellow plastic glasses, white sequined bell-bottoms, red cape and hand-held microphone. He looked the part. But when he sang? Nothing at all like the real “Jailhouse Rock” rocker. If someone walked by without stopping or tossing money, he drooped his shoulders and stopped singing, leaning down to turn off the boom box that sat near his white vinyl boot-clad feet.
Nothing sadder, I thought, than a poor Elvis impersonator. All the trouble it must take to dress for his excursion to the street. And frankly, , it looks ridiculous unless the impersonation is impeccable.
“Are you going to give him some money?” my daughter asked as I continued to watch the Elvis wanna-be across the street.
“I’m thinking about it, but I don’t want to contribute to his sad state of being,” I answered.
I wanted to walk across the street and give him the best philosophy I could impart.
“If you’re going to be Elvis, be Elvis, or just be yourself,” I wanted to say. “But whatever you do, do it well and don’t let anyone else tell you you can’t do it.”
I never gave him the advice, but I’ve remembered it myself every day since. Whenever I find myself headed away from who I am, I remember that man in Portland and change my direction.
Maybe he’s not such a sad character after all.