Excerpt from the story A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts book coverThe Last Rites from N.M. Kelby’s A Travel Guide for Reckless Hearts


Zimmer had always wanted to be buried in his 1953 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Built the year he was born, only 532 of these cars were ever made. The name Eldorado came to Cadillac’s marketing division by way of the Spanish el dorado, meaning “gilded one” or “golden man,” depending on the buyer. The instrument inserts, door moldings, and kick strips were all fourteen-carat-gold plated.

Zimmer had twelve gold records, a Golden Globe, and a gold Oscar statuette.


It made perfect sense.

The Eldorado came in only a handful of colors; Zimmer’s was Aztec red with East Indian red pepper leather seats. When he drove down the streets of Los Angeles, the Caddie’s enormous fins made it look like a school of embarrassed sharks circling aimlessly in barren waters.

He didn’t often drive it. On tour, he usually trailered it behind his bus, just for photo opportunities. It was handy when he needed it. And he always needed it. Toward the end, Zimmer spent most of his days sitting in the driver’s seat, not driving, just listening to the radio or sometimes the static of a station, the ghost announcer fading in and out.

Since Zimmer died while still a legal resident of LA, a car-crazed city that has drive-in churches, drive-in bars, an ill-fated drive-in tattoo parlor, and some of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in America, it was a given that his last wish would be granted. The fact that the Turtle Island Casino Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, was his benefactor was unforeseen, but understandable.

There was no next of kin. He died while still under contract to the casino. In fact, while still in their parking garage. The casino felt he owed them. And he did. His bar bill alone was enormous.

The funeral arrangements were quickly made. His name was still on the marquee, so all they had to do was add “The Last Show” underneath. There was a twenty-dollar cover charge and two-drink minimum. No exceptions. They wouldn’t even comp Janet in.

“I’m all he had,” she told the box office manager, a young woman wearing a Pocahontas costume that amounted to a couple of strategically placed scraps of suede and a few chaste feathers. “I’m the only one who really loved him,” Janet said.

The box office manager adjusted her suede, giggled, and then laughed out loud.

Apparently, Zimmer had not been lonely while in Orlando.

“Never mind,” Janet said, and knew she should have taken the time to dye her gray hair, buy a new black dress, and lose about 27.5 pounds. But there hadn’t been time. It all happened so fast. No one expected Zimmer to die–not ever.

Zimmer was an American original–the tight pants, the cowboy swagger, the ill-tempered snarl. When he sang, he channeled Elvis, crawled inside that rockabilly sound and turned it inside out, made it his own. By the time Zimmer had his first gold record, he’d moved to LA, lost touch with Janet, bought a mansion in the Hollywood Hills, and opened a line of credit at the local Tiffany & Co., which he used with such lavish abandon that they ran out of little blue boxes at Christmas.

What Zimmer didn’t know is that the average shelf life of musicians is about ten years–after that they still perform and record, but nobody cares. At thirty, his label dropped him and he took up acting–mostly horror films and straight-to-video westerns.

When Zimmer turned forty-one, he was cast as a washed-up rock star in an independent film, found what critics called his “white hot center,” and won both the Golden Globe and Oscar. He’d also found Janet again. Called her from the Vanity Fair party.

“My own sorrow saved me,” he said.

Ten years later, he was playing supermarket openings and casinos again. But a core of his fans remained, a couple hundred or so, many of them willing to pay twenty dollars a head to get close to a man whose blood was now replaced with embalming fluid. The line wrapped around the casino; some had camped out all night.

Still, that really wasn’t what made Janet uneasy. It was something about seeing Zimmer dressed in his trademark dark sunglasses, the long straggly hair curling beneath his white Stetson hat, and that exquisite Nudie jacket, hand-tailored by Nudie Cohen himself, the one with the rhinestone-encrusted image of Christ crucified at Calvary across the back and the archangels standing watch on both arms, that unnerved her.

She wasn’t exactly sure what bothered her about it; the jacket was somewhat in keeping with the gravity of the moment. At least he wasn’t wearing that Vargas Girl silk shirt, she thought, and then immediately suspected that probably he was wearing it underneath his jacket.

That was the kind of man Zimmer was: Jesus up front; naked pinups close to his heart.


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