When we got back to the office after Christmas, word spread quickly: Allen Dennis had gone full Elvis. At first we thought it was a stunt, a gag, but that is not Allen. Allen, are you officiating a wedding? Allen, are you headed to karaoke? He just sat and typed, in his white suit and white belt and wig.
What did this mean? In a biographical sense, for Allen, we formed immediate theories. His wife must’ve left, a Yuletide jilting, which freed in Allen a locked-away desire for sequins. For gel. The iconic quaffed wig with sideburns: Have you heard about Allen’s bodybuilding in the nineties? Obviously he destroyed his hair with steroids. Is he flirting—Margaret from HR posed—with anonymity? There were theories of death, affairs, midlife crises, a dozen seeds from which our Elvis grew. On Fridays, Allen worked from his elderly father’s house, he’d explained, where there was an extra desk and his old man who Allen couldn’t bear to keep always alone. We lunched at Mamacita’s, and, in his absence, deliberated the cause of Allen’s Elvis.
Anyone notice the weight? AD had got big AF. Late-era Presley. But why? His unwillingness to share traumas sowed in us a grinding frustration. There were practical concerns, too: what if a client saw? How could vendors take us seriously: Allen in the corner, wearing powder blue sunglasses? We asked in meetings, Allen, did you lose a bet? Allen, are you OK? But there he sat in his usual chair, hiding his stomach beneath a legal pad and suggesting, if it was alright, could we please just move on.
We investigated possible leads. Was this related to the football pool? Had he knocked his head? In the past, Allen solicited the office for his niece’s Cancer Walk. This was the most we had ever heard him speak. But the Elvis thing was no such stunt—back then, Allen, our old Allen, who we regard lovingly in retrospect, was not one who liked to be seen. He lunched from a plastic grocery bag at his desk. After layoffs, he requested to move from the bullpen out to the perimeter, which was denied until he made clear that he did not need a desk beside a window.
We are not unique people. Nor are we the beige clichés of the corporate class. We have horrific fears, our children suffer in ways that in certain nights eviscerate us, and once in our childhoods we heard chains rattling from the end of a dark hallway. We recognize and have even described the dangers of othering our colleague. But his Elvis has damaged too much. We have been forced, in the absence of his reasons, to look at ourselves, the origins of our own outrage, and return again (and again) to the individual moments of our distress. Still, Allen reveals only large rings on his hairy pinky fingers, rhinestones along the welts of his shoes. And in that vacuum of knowing appear our moments, the way the light recedes at the end of a hall, water scalding our mothers, or the words to a faraway song that went like this.