I was awakened by the dog, who was worrying a mail bag with her teeth, barking in frustration, determined to get at something inside. I sat up in bed and looked around. “What is all this crap?” I said aloud.
Elvis appeared in the doorway. “Oh, here she is,” he said.
“Have you been ordering online again?” I asked, eyeing the piles of mailbags, boxes and padded envelopes.
“Oh! Do you think my iPod is here already?” He looked around.
“I don’t know, but I think the dog treats are,” I said.
“I didn’t order any dog treats,” he said, trying to detach Getlo from the bag so that he could look inside.
“Maybe someone sent her a present,” I said.
In fact, most of the boxes contained presents, from homemade cookies to a digital camera sent by Canon, its Canon logo big enough to be picked up by news photographers at twenty paces, and a pair of Air Jordans. There were tee shirts, most of them in size XXL, advertising everything from bagels to towing services to exterminators. There were also: a harmonica; four caps from four local sports teams from Vermont to Georgia (I assumed that the ones from farther afield would take another day or two to get here); two squeak toys for dogs, five rawhide chews, and three boxes of dog biscuits; ten books from authors hoping the spacemen would be seen holding a copy; an odd-looking instrument for interplanetary communication, or so its inventor claimed; a packet of coupons for free pizza from a nearby pizza parlor; a Tupperware container of dried rose petals for Elvis to sprinkle over Elvis Presley’s grave; a radio-controlled, battery-operated miniature flying saucer; a jar of maple syrup; a jar of peach preserves; five dozen chocolate chip cookies from different sources; two dozen brownies; and a mood ring (extra large). Elvis memorabilia formed a whole category of its own: Elvis ash trays; Elvis auto-mugs; a Friend for Life Elvis bear, whose connection to Elvis seemed to me tenuous, at best; an Elvis soap dispenser; a life-size stand-up cut-out of Elvis dressed as a gunfighter and firing a pistol; an Elvis dog costume (white half-jumpsuit with gold sparkles, cuffs, and collar, and a matching cape—I kid you not); and three bumper stickers, again from different sources: one said “Honk If You Believe Elvis Is Still Alive,” one said “Honk If You Love Elvis,” and one said “Honk If You ARE Elvis.” And of course, there was music—not only the styles and genres Elvis had expressed enthusiasm for on his blog, but, as I’d predicted, easy listening and New Age music intended to win him over. There were also two amateur CDs from punk garage bands hoping for his endorsement.
Larry, who’d been shot the last time he’d landed on Earth, was clearly bemused by this outpouring of generosity.
“Hank,” Elvis said, “why is everybody sending us presents?”
“Well, I think we can assume that a third of them really like you and were moved to make a kind gesture. A third of them clearly want you to promote something—their business, their band, their book, their invention. A third of them probably want some kind of fame by proxy. They like to think you’ve touched something they’ve touched, and they’re gratified to imagine that their soap dispenser may be headed for another galaxy soon. I could have the proportions wrong, but that’s my theory.”
“But we don’t need a soap dispenser,” he said. “Can’t we give it away to someone who needs one?”
“Sure,” I said. “But we might have trouble identifying someone who needs an Elvis dog costume.”
“You are right,” he said through a mouthful of cookie. “I do not think dogs like to wear costumes.”
“Hey!” I grabbed the wrist that was on the way to his mouth. “Don’t eat this stuff. We have to make sure it’s safe.”
“Safe?” he echoed.
“It’s probably fine, but we don’t know that. It could be poisoned. Look, I know it sounds crazy,” I said, “but you guys tend to be polarizing figures. Some people love you, some people hate you.” He started to speak but I cut him off. “I know that they don’t know you. They’re not responding to who you really are. It’s not personal. You represent something to them.”
“Hank, are you talking about the way pictures on the cereal boxes and T.V. dinners represent something?” he asked, not critical, just asking for information.
“Well, sort of, yeah,” I said. “See, Americans have a really warped relationship to celebrity. In this country, people can become famous just for being famous.”
“But how do they get famous to begin with?” He noticed the dog licking crumbs off the carpet at his feet, and picked her up, squirming. He tickled her belly and said, “Getlo, we have to listen to Hank now.”
“It doesn’t matter. The point is, you’re famous. Some people will love you because you’re famous. Some people will hate you because you’re famous. Some people who want to become famous might conclude that the way to become famous is to hurt you, or even kill you. Then they would get their picture in the papers, and everybody would know their names.”
He was frowning in concentration. “Because they have immature minds.”
I sighed. “I suppose so.”
He nodded, then raised his lip in Elvis Presley’s trademark grin. “Then it is a good thing that they can’t kill me.” He set Getlo down and popped the rest of the cookie in his mouth. “I will taste all the cookies to make sure they’re not poisoned. This one is fine.”
But the mood at the breakfast table was somber.
“It’s not working,” Larry said. “We are going to fail again.”
“Listen to this, Hank,” Elvis said. He had a book propped against a pitcher of orange juice. “‛A mature truth told to immature minds ceases, in those minds, to be that same mature truth. Immature minds take from it only what immature minds can assimilate. In the end, even though they may give it lip-service—.”Here he curled his own lip and looked up from the book. “I know what that means. It means you talk about something, but don’t do anything.” His eyes went back to the page in front of him. “’Even though they may give it lip-service and may raise institutions in its name, they turn the mature truth into an applied immaturity.’ That is what Mr. Overstreet says.”
“He sounds like a smart guy,” I conceded.
“Perhaps your people will only respond to threats,” Larry said.
“I have been re-reading our other book,” Elvis said, extracting a second book from behind The Mature Mind. “I had forgotten about it, but I found it last night when I searched for Mr. Overstreet’s book.”
“Your other book?” I asked.
He turned it around to show me the cover: How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger.
“I think you have read this book, Hank,” Elvis said.
“No, I never heard of it.”
His eyebrows levitated. “Never? But Hank, it is all about selling, like your advertisements. It is a very popular book. It is endorsed by Mr. Dale Carnegie and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I believe they are very famous people.”
He handed it to me and I turned to the copyright page: 1947.
“Mr. Bettger was a baseball player who became injured and started selling life insurance,” Elvis told me as I flipped through the book. “I am not sure that I understand what life insurance is, but I know that we are not selling it.”
I looked up. “In a way, that’s exactly what you’re selling, big guy.”
He smiled, pleased. “Okay. I was going to say that we are selling dislegging.”
“Disarming,” I corrected, then corrected myself. “Disarmament.”
“Yes, that,” he said. “And I know that Ginger is very smart and skillful about designing a media campaign and crafting our image and insuring maximum exposure.” He picked his way carefully across these last phrases, which he’d learned from hanging out with Ginger and her crew. “But I think Mr. Bettger gives lots of good advice about selling.”
“Such as?” I handed the book back to him.
He opened it and put his finger on a page. “Here it says that the one idea that transformed Mr. Bettger’s career was to act enthusiastic.”
“Yes.” He used his finger as a bookmark and looked up at me. “How do we do that?”
Warren the bodyguard had joined us at the table with a whole-wheat bagel sandwich of peanut butter and bean sprouts. From somewhere in the suite, we could hear the other bodyguard on duty, Cisco, speaking to someone on his cell phone in loud Spanish. Warren and I exchanged a look. His said, “This one’s all yours, bro.”
“You already act enthusiastic,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” Elvis said. “If I did, we would be succeeding more. I think that maybe I act enthusiastic about Elvis Presley, and rock and roll music, but those are not the things we’re trying to sell. And Larry never acts enthusiastic.” He didn’t say this accusingly; he was just making an observation. His eyes were on the toast he was smearing with jelly.
Larry didn’t seem to take offense. He seemed to be listening with interest.
Elvis looked up. “We are on a very serious mission. We would like to save your planet from being destroyed. That is what we need to act enthusiastic about.” He bit a corner off of the toast triangle, and chewed. After he had swallowed, he said, “It will not be easy for Larry, I think. He has a serious nature and he is sad because he has been away from his family so long. But perhaps we could take a course in public speaking, like the one Mr. Bettger took from Mr. Carnegie.”
Larry’s eyes dropped and I could see him mentally adding six weeks to a mission that was already seriously behind schedule.
“Here is another thing Mr. Bettger says,” Elvis continued, wiping his fingers on a napkin and picking up the book again. “We must tell our story earnestly, and we must find out what people want, and help them to get it. I think that is where the refrigerator magnets come in, don’t you? Ginger was very smart about that, but perhaps she has read Mr. Bettger’s book. But I don’t think that the refrigerator magnets are the whole grimtigrog.”
Warren paused with his bagel sandwich poised for a bite. “The what?”
Larry smiled. “A grimtigrog is a very large animal that has evolved on the planet Kirsk. It is capable of breaking into pieces, even very small pieces, and then reassembling itself, sometimes in a different shape.”
“No shit,” Warren said. “A grimtigrog.”
Elvis looked at Warren and me. “Don’t you think that if we are trying to sell disarmingment, the something that people want needs to be connected to that in some way?”
“Makes sense to me,” I said.
“So what do Earth people want?”
I sighed. “Bigger, more powerful weapons systems.”
Warren said, “Let us think about it, and get back to you, Big E.”
Elvis turned a few more pages. “Ginger and Jillian are doing a good job of keeping us organized, so we don’t need to worry about that, I think. And they make appointments for us, and prepare us, and even give us notes. I am looking at the basic principles to use in making the sale.” He looked up. “But Mr. Bettger says we must ask questions. I don’t think we have asked enough questions. Larry, you must ask more questions, and not just tell people what they must do all the time.”
“What kinds of questions?” Larry said.
“You must ask them why they are not buying what you are selling.” Larry made a gesture of impatience, and Elvis continued. “You see? You always become impatient. You should not get so bent. You must remember that you are dealing with immature minds.” To Warren and me, he said, “Larry has always been good with children. He is very patient with children. He must learn to be the same way with adults on Earth.” To Larry, he said, “You should read this book, Larry. Mr. Bettger was a very successful salesman, and he sold to Earth people. They are your bull’s-eye market.”
Larry reached out a hand and Elvis passed him the open book. Larry ran his eyes down the page, then smiled.
“You haven’t mentioned principles six and seven yet,” he said. “Principle six is ‘explode dynamite—do something startling, surprising.’ Principle seven is ‘arouse fear.’” He looked up. “At last—something at which I believe that I could succeed.”