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LAUGH LINES : With the Stroke of a Pen, a Fan Touches Elvis

June 24, 1994|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I bought the pens. There, it's out in the open. I'm the person who shocked Las Vegas by bidding $600 on a pair of pens once used by Elvis Presley.

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One is a felt-tipped pen from Suzy Cream Cheese, a Vegas store Elvis frequented; the other, a Papermate ballpoint pen. Projected auction price: $75 to $100. Projected price if they didn't belong to Elvis: The cost of a Happy Meal.

My colleagues at work don't understand. They say I am eccentric. I say I have a personality.

Maybe I am weird, as they say, or maybe I am just eclectic.

Whatever, I am man enough to admit it: I bought the pens.

Together, they made up one of 606 lots available last week in Las Vegas at the auction of Jimmy Velvet's Elvis Museum. The pens arrived in L.A. on Thursday, and I picked them up and wrote the check with my $2.98 Papermate.

I didn't go to Las Vegas; I bid from Los Angeles. I figured the money I saved on two nights for a hotel and the cost of tickets to see the "Legends in Concert" at the Imperial Palace and the "Memories of Elvis" show at Vegas World could be spent on the 15% buyer's premium charged by the Butterfield & Butterfield auction house, which is, near as I can tell, a tip for the anxiety they cause you.

With that buyer's premium, and the sales tax, the pens cost $746.93. I can't believe anyone has paid more for two pens, except maybe the Pentagon. Maybe one of my pens should be worth something--the pen belonging to the guy who spent $746.93 for two pens.

I made the mistake of saving a red Sharpie used by Nolan Ryan in 1986 when he signed a photo for me. Then I hung on to three four-color Pentechs used by baseball Hall of Famer Billy Williams, race car driver Al Unser Jr. and childhood fantasy Ann-Margret.

It all climaxed last weekend, spurred on by Desiree, whom I had met the first day of the auction and actually had the nerve to invite to dine with me at the All-American Burger.

It was there that I told her of my burgeoning collection stuck inside a kitchen drawer and my lack of funds that prevented me from getting something really good.

I stalled at $425, but Desiree urged me on.

"This is something you really want," she said, and I've never said no to a girl who said, "This is something you really want." They just don't come around very often.

She did it again at $575, whispering, "Just one more time."

And when my $600 bid was announced the winner, Desiree shrieked excitedly, prompting the auctioneer in Las Vegas--who heard it through the microphone 40 feet from us--to comment on how much fun we were having.

I learned an important lesson that day: Spend money and you can make women shriek.

The 25 bidders in L.A. applauded me. I felt like a thousand bucks.

Among them were people who looked very much like Beverly Hills, and those who looked very much like "Elvis People." You know what I'm talking about. The ones who look very much like Little Rock. I look like Denver.

There was an Elvis there, too, just a nose job away from looking like the real deal.

His name is Reno. Not Johnny Reno. Not Elvis Reno. Just Reno. He bought Elvis' cigars for $550. He's a smoker. Desiree bought a photo and painting. She's a looker. I bought pens. I'm a writer. Hmmm.

Shortly before the auction ended, Reno introduced himself and acknowledge my prize: "You got the pens, didn't you?"

"And you got the cigars."

We both had big ol' Elvis smiles.

Reno is a student who is about a year away from completing his studies. He does a little Elvis on the side and when his education is complete, he will go to Las Vegas and pursue the great neon dream.

So I ask: "If an usher comes up to you and says, 'Hey, there's a guy out there who said you bought some cigars. . . ' "

"I'll get you backstage," Reno said, completing my thought.

It's nice to know there are people out there who understand.

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