UNTIL RECENTLY, my vision of hell was a fiery inferno where a lot of guys in canary-yellow polo shirts talked about golf.
Now, I may have to amend that. Now, I see hell as a fiery inferno where, mixing in with the golfers, is an army of Elvis impersonators, bloated guys in cheap satin jumpsuits talking about upcoming gigs at the Holiday Inn in El Paso or Jersey City or wherever.
This terrifying scenario is what keeps me walking the path of goodness while on this earth, so great is my fear of spending eternity listening to drivel about a shanked 9-iron in one ear and a third-rate rendition of "Hound Dog" in the other.
This all comes to mind because of a disturbing incident that occurred the other evening in a nightclub I was visiting with a few friends.
We were having a perfectly good time drinking a few beers and listening to the band when the club owner bounded on stage like a gorilla on Methedrine.
Grabbing the microphone, he breathlessly announced that in one hour's time, the audience would be in for a "special treat."
Well. My first reaction was to bolt for the exit, because when entertainment people talk about a "special treat," it usually means an accordion player.
And if it's not some misfit in lederhosen screeching through the "Beer Barrel Polka," it's a mime doing "Man Trapped in a Glass House" or some equally annoying routine.
Either way, the audience is in for a stupefyingly dull time, which is why management will often provide cots or sleeping bags during these performances.
In this case, however, my friends wanted to stay and see exactly what the "special treat" was.
"Suit yourself," I said. "But my advice is to begin drinking heavily."
Sure enough, one hour later the house lights dimmed. In the darkness, a lone figure could be seen leaping onto the stage. Then the lights came up and we gazed in horror at the sight before us.
It wasn't an accordion player.
It wasn't a mime.
No, this was far, far worse.
It was an Elvis impersonator.
Well. As you can imagine, people began fleeing the room in droves. In fact, midway through the guy's first song -- a dirge-like version of "Love Me Tender" -- it looked like someone had phoned in a bomb threat.
But I stayed, sedated now by a few more beers and overcome with a morbid fascination for what was happening on the stage.
Like most Elvis impersonators, this guy was absolutely awful. His name was Sal something, and if you judge members of his, ahem, genre on a scale of 1 to 10, this guy was a minus 3, tops.
Oh, he had the standard-issue satin jumpsuit and slicked back hair and long sideburns. And he had the King's sneer down pretty good, too.
But after that, the resemblance to Elvis fell off dramatically. For one thing, the King had talent -- at least before he became a dope fiend.
Sal had . . . well, let me put it this way. If you closed your eyes and listened to Sal, the image conjured up was that of a roofing salesman singing in the shower.
During the 45 minutes of jangled noise that followed, I reflected at some length on the phenomenon of Elvis impersonators.
It seems to me that there must be 140 million of these poor souls out there, most of them apparently working in the state of Maryland, unfortunately.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that I seem to run into so many of them, possibly because of the seedy bars and clubs I frequent. If ever there was a reason to upgrade one's social life, this is it.
The thing that I would stress to all you Elvis impersonators is that -- contrary to what those crack scribes at the National Enquirer print -- Elvis is dead.
In fact, the man has been dead for quite some time now, 1977 to be exact. And the thinking among many Americans is that perhaps we should all do the decent thing and declare some sort of moratorium on live performances of the King's music, too.
Oh, I know, I know . . . wouldn't this deal a crippling blow to the satin jumpsuit industry? Sadly, the answer is yes.
But it seems to me that society in general would be better off without a lot of beefy middle-aged men in rhinestone get-ups swiveling their hips and launching into nasally versions of "In the Ghetto."
I'm specifically referring to you, Sal.