Non-Fiction: Rachel Coonce

Portrait of an Old Man

An invisible hand puts him in the lower half of the frame, so that the darkness of the shed looms behind him, and he appears even squatter and shorter than he actually is. He is standing with a half-door at his waist, microphone in one hand, iPhone in the other. The thinning hair atop his large, round head is carefully combed to one side, while the coarse, white hair on his face is brushed straight down. His crisp, white shirt is buttoned as high as it can without choking his oversized neck, and the cuffs are buttoned, too, around his enormous wrists.

As the music starts, he looks up from his iPhone as if to his audience, steadying them for his imminent performance, even as the invisible hand quivers.

All at once, the microphone rises to his mouth, and he begins to sway, scrunching up his face to propel the words forth as fast as he can in his raspy voice.

“That’s one for the money, two for the show! Three to get ready, now go, cat, go!” He inevitably stumbles, skips a few words while he catches his breath, and lands on the iconic words “Step on my blue suede shoes.” He isn’t thrown off by his mistake, but instead bounces with the music. “You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes!”

In this fashion – bouncing and squinting – he makes it through the next verse. This time, after landing the iconic chorus, he rounds if off with, “Let’s go, cat!” at which point, his scrunched face lengthens, his spine straightens, and he looks straight into the camera for a long second. Then his whole face lifts: eyebrows arch, mouth rises, and all the wrinkles of his 75 years smooth out. He pumps his arms, and really starts to dance as the guitar breaks into its solo.

“Don’t get me to laughin’!” the voice behind the camera admonishes. At this his face lifts higher, and his bouncing turns him to one side, revealing simultaneously his stomach protruding in the front, and his bald spot shining in the back. He rockets his hands back and forth in rhythm with his shimmy. He almost seems light on his feet, despite his weight. Suddenly, the head of a black mutt appears beside him – all curly, black hair and a grey goatee. It’s long paws drape over the top of the half-door.

“Get ‘em, boy!” the old man growls. The mutt looks all around, and the old man slows his bouncing for the next verse. He reads from his iPhone, muddling the new words, but nailing the chorus. The mutt disappears only to reappear on the other side of the old man – the chord catches the mutt’s muzzle and the man untangles him just in time for the next musical interlude. “Rock it!” the old man howls.

He turns toward the mutt, pumping his arms around his massive belly. The mutt whines, lifting its head as if to get a good look at the man from under it’s overgrown eyebrows. It throws its paw up to the man’s swinging fists and even seems to bounce, giving the look of the two dancing with another.

“Hey!” the man spurs on the mutt. He mumbles as he scrambles to get his iPhone ready for the next verse. He reads the words into the microphone. The mutt disappears again. A few seconds pass, and it pops back up on the other side of the old man, just in time for the chorus.

“Blue, blue, blue suede shoes, blue, blue…” The man brandishes the microphone toward the mutt, but it only rests its paws over the door and looks on.

Finally, the song rounds out: “You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes!” The old man bellows the final words and then pumps the microphone once into the air. He opens his mouth wide and roars. “Raaaawwww! Thank you very much!” The video freezes as the last note sounds, as the man lowers the microphone, and as the mutt looks on.

Podcast Episode 3: James Magruder

The Avenue