The last time I gave money to a one-legged man at Fred Meyer, I kind of got my ass kicked. It went much better today.

I can’t remember when I’ve been there in the middle of a weekday, but clearly this is when to shop. The place was near deserted! There were even parking spaces right out front. It was practically relaxing.

My list was fairly short and I was at the checkout in no time. As my purchases were being rung up, a man in a scooter rolled by and made some kind of wisecrack to the cashier. “Well, at least I can walk and chew gum at the same time!” she shot back. Ouch. That seemed like a harsh thing to say to a man with only one leg, but he laughed and pretended to toss her a piece of gum. “Prove it!”

I thought I heard her call him “Elvis” but I was trying not to be nosy (that’s a laugh). There was a little issue with one of the items I was buying so I got tied up for a few minutes at the check stand. Once I had my stuff, I started pushing my cart toward the door.

“Have you had your song for today? It’s your lucky day!” It was Elvis. He pulled his scooter up next to my cart. “Want to know how I lost my leg?” he asked. “Yeah, how?” “It ran off!” He was on a roll. “What do you say to a one-legged hitchhiker?” He paused. “Hop in!”

A laugh a minute

Then he started to sing. “You’re so young and beautiful and I love you so…” He pulled out his wallet and gave me a card identifying him as Les Small and advertising his services as an Elvis impersonator. A friend joined him, a painfully thin elderly woman I had noticed in the store earlier. “I’m her chauffeur,” he explained. Everyone who walked by got a comment or a smart remark.

Les signing his card for me

A woman in a wheelchair rolled up; she looked in rough shape and had one leg wrapped in a thick discolored bandage. She seemed to know Les and said hi. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I’m gathering women!” he bellowed, taking all of us in with a sweep of his arm. “Step right up to the love machine!”

Eventually things settled down a bit and I told Les that it was his lucky day, too. “I’m listening,” he said. I started explaining about honoring my mom, and paying forward a gift. “That’s real neat!” he said. “So, I want to pass some of it on to you.” I handed him the hundred.

He glanced at the folded bill. “Oh, I love that!” he said. “That’s neat.”

“It’s real,” I whispered. “NO!” he shouted. “WHY? Why would you do this? I’m going to pass out!” His friend had stepped over by the pharmacy for a minute. He told me quietly that he owed Dorie $50 and was so happy he would be able to pay it back. “I’m going to give her half!” he said with a big smile. “Come shake this lady’s hand!” he called out to her. I had my camera out and started to snap their picture. “Get close!” he ordered Dorie.

Les and Dorie

Les really wanted to show me something he had in his truck: an article from Star Magazine about his Elvis act. On the way, he told me that he used to be a tree trimmer. In 1994 there was an accident in which he fell 60 feet. His left leg was broken and his right leg crushed beyond repair.

He parked the scooter next to his truck and swung himself up into the driver’s seat. Rifling through some papers, he found what he was looking for. An article describing his Elvis-O-Gram service showed a much younger Les and his guitar, serenading a woman on one knee. He insisted I keep one of the two copies he had.

We chatted for a while more and he told me to call him if I ever need anything. “I hire this truck out. If you ever need to move, just remember: ‘Elvis has a truck!’ I’ll run right over. I’ll even put my leg on for ya! And I’ll get there eventually! Ha!”

I asked what he was going to do about the store’s scooter, which was sitting between two parking spaces. He was thinking this over as a young woman walked by. She was smartly dressed in a long wool coat and high heels. Her hair was piled high on her head and her lips were freshly painted and bright red.

“Hey!” called Les. The woman looked up. “You want to return that scooter to the store?” “Do I want to?” she asked. “Will you?” he persisted. “Okay,” she said. “What do I do?”

“Just climb on board and push that lever,” Les instructed. “That’s the only way to make it go. It’ll be fun!” The woman climbed onto the scooter and backed it up, almost running into someone. “Watch out, everyone!” she warned. “This is fun,” she agreed, as she headed for the entrance.

A good samaritan

As we said goodbye, Les reached out to give me a big hug. “You know what you are?” he asked. “What?” I said. Elvis answered.

You’re so young and beautiful, you’re everything I love
Your angel smile, your gentle touch
Are all I’m dreaming of
Oh take this heart I offer you
And never set me free
Then you’ll be forever young
And beautiful to me

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9 Responses to The Love Machine

  1. DJan says:

    Wonderful. You’re definitely on a roll now, Jill! I sure did enjoy this. I am learning how to write dialogue by studying your technique.

  2. andrea gehrke says:

    What a wonderful spirit Les has. This is what you’ve been missing in the middle of the weekday at Freddy’s. You received another special serenade, and this time from an Elvis impersonator of all people!

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      It’s true! I’ve gotten quite a few songs along the way. Thanks for reminding me! And thanks for always reading with such an open heart.

  3. Heather says:

    I was happy to find this site! I ran into Les Small at a gas station near work today. He was in a pickup truck at the adjacent pump with a friend, and they started asking me about my car as my tank was filling. Then he asked me if I liked Elvis, and when I said I do, he popped his Elvis wig on, turned up his CD player, and began singing to me! Then he handed me his card and I said “is your name really Les Small?” He laughed and said it is actually Les Small Jr., and he got picked on a lot in high school. I said “if you really want to make it big as Elvis, you need to change your name to Mo Big!” He roared with laughter and offered me a job as his new agent. What a fun person!

  4. Janeen says:

    I am looking through my diaries as I am writing my memoirs and discovered an interesting entry in September 1985. I saw Les Small do his Elvis impersonation in LaGrande Oregon and he gave me his scarf which I kept for many years. I decided to google him and see if he was still going and saw this article about him. What dear man and good to see he was still bringing joy to others after so many years. As Elvis would say, Thank you very much.

  5. B says:

    I was just blessed by this man’s presence in 2022 now, what a wonderful and delightfully refreshing spirit he has, he gave me his card as well, which led me here. The universe works in magical ways through wonderful people sometimes

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Oh how wonderful! I have thought of Les often and wondered how he is doing. So nice to hear he is still spreading love!

  6. Jen says:

    Oh my goodness!! I was just serenaded by Les at the food carts in St Johns, North Portland. What a character and ray of sunshine

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