I witnessed disorienting amounts of wealth over the weekend. I didn't know it really existed. The puzzle pieces I'd formed of reality and media and fantasy couldn't jam together hard enough to fit altogether in my head. I grew sheepish as I recognized the lack of any personal reference point in the face of it.

Part of the vision of this wealth took place in a massive outdoor tent, perching on stilts so that it stood level although it sat halfway up a luscious green hill. Inside, there were hundreds of people all dancing and drinking under lights and vines and feasting at immaculate place settings; all wearing the most beautiful pressed and tailored and exotic clothing I'd ever seen people actually wear. I sat on the perimeter and watched for hours. It was beautiful despite its foreign flavors.

As I walked away, the lights spilling from the tent cast my silhouette, making my legs look unrealistically long and feminine like an anime characters'. The stars that I'd missed in the city twinkled over me and a lightning bolt in the distance sporadically created an exciting monstrous glow.

I remembered some Joni Mitchell lyrics and sang them to myself out loud:

All the people at this party, they've got a lot of style
they've got stamps from many countries
they've got passport smiles
some are friendly
some are cutting
some are watching it from the wings
some are standin' in the center,
giving to get something

I retreated to a tiny rental car; identical to the one I owned before it was smashed in an accident last December. It felt like home. I opened the book my mother lent me about Hmong immigrants living in Merced, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down." The humbling chapter I chose provided the leveling I sought. I cried under the yellow dome light at the tenderness of two human beings who reach beyond blame, resentment, and vast cultural differences to provide comfort to one another in the face of tragedy.

Then, like any child suffering overstimulation, I slept deeply in that car seat until it was time to leave.



Between me and Elvis, I've always had the upper hand. The legendary being who pop culture itself was invented for and around could always be diminished with two great family legends. I used them to introduce myself on the first day of class in Jr. High a few times:

"My name is Laura Barlow and my biggest claim to fame is that Elvis taught my uncle how to ride a bike," or
"I am Laura Barlow. Elvis asked my aunt out on a date. But she rejected him."

Most of the time the teachers would exaggerate an gaped-mouth response; maybe they thought I was lying; but both accounts are, in fact, true.

My mother was born in Memphis and lived in the same trailer park that he moved to when he was thirteen.

The only qualifier I ever heard was that my aunt, Patsy, had actually been friends with Elvis's sister and that he only flirted with Pat when she was sleeping over at his house as a guest of his sister's. But even in the wake of the exaggerated truth of that story still stood the factor that won me the upper hand:
"But Pat never liked him. . . said he seemed slimy." My mom lapses into the southern accent of her youth as she says it.

In part, it was easy to minimize the real Elvis all of these years because I didn't know who he was. Yes, I'd heard a few songs here or there on Back to the Future and from the toy speakers of the red, velvet, Valentine's Day chocolate box my Dad bought for my mother one year; but beyond that; I never even thought to care.

My oldest brother, Tom, once caught a lizard in the desert that he named Elvis. Even as I type the name now, it reminds me more of a brown lizard who lived in a glass tank with sand and rocks; who died when my little brother, James, tried too hard to catch him when he once got out.

A friend put the song "Blue Moon" on a mix for me and I listened to it for the first time at two o'clock in the morning on a 2 train headed to Flatbush from 96th Street through my yellow, skull-candy headphones last night. My entire countenance awoke and hung on every note. I was dazzled, starstruck, and pinched both of my arms to check if I really was the living niece of these living people who'd interacted with living man who produced these living sounds. I put the song on repeat until I got home.

I wish I'd asked Uncle Ted what it was like to to ride bikes with Elvis before either of them died.