Elvis was here.
His limo idled outside in the apartment's parking lot, now filled with the bumper-stickered compact cars of techno types ("If this were an F-16, we'd be home by now"; "My other car is a jet"). He walked through the doorway with its teddy bear welcome mat, visited the bathroom with the poodle picture on the wall and seemed to appreciate the utter normalcy of it all.
"You've made a beautiful home here, Joyce," said the man from that monument to Southern Baroque, Graceland.
Joyce Bova still lives here, in an apartment-gone-condo complex in one of those Washington suburbs that is home to so many of the busy worker bees who, mostly anonymously, keep the federal government churning along. She asked that her particular suburb not be named because, well, when you write a book about your love affair with Elvis Presley, you just don't know which nerve you're going to twitch.
The love-crazed and the simply crazed. The true believers and the ironic poseurs. They all possess the true Elvis, and everyone else's Elvis is a false god.
"I have a friend who just loves Elvis, she has Elvis everywhere. She knows I went out with him, but she'll never ask me about him -- she'll tell me about him," Ms. Bova says with bemusement.
So the only solution, of course, was to write a book -- which the Baltimore native and Capitol Hill aide has done with "Don't Ask Forever: My Love Affair With Elvis" (Kensington Publishing Corp., $20). Ms. Bova will autograph copies of the book tomorrow at the Waterfront Hotel, 1710 Thames St. in Fells Point, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The book is a three-year slice of life: Ms. Bova says she met The King in Las Vegas in 1969 -- one of his aides saw her, thought she was his type and brought her backstage -- and shortly thereafter they began a three-year affair. She says they met when they could, either at Graceland, at one of his performance stops or in Washington between his touring and her work as an aide for the House Armed Services Committee. But, as Presley became increasingly reliant on drugs, and got her hooked on sleeping pills as well, the relationship faltered, she says. Ms. Bova became pregnant, had an abortion and eventually left him, she says.
"That was the hardest thing," she says now. "I loved him, I wanted to help him, but I failed."
At 49, Ms. Bova looks at least 10 years younger. Tiny and birdlike -- she's a competitive ballroom dancer with the requisite pared-down, sinewy build -- she looks much as she did during her years with Elvis, judging from the photos in the book. Her eyeliner and jet-black hair are tamer than the days when she was regularly mistaken for beehived and made-up Priscilla Presley -- to whom Elvis was still married at the time of the affair -- but you can imagine why the star would be attracted to this pretty, sweet- natured woman.
Graceland's take on book
And now she is part of the posthumous flood of Elvis tattlers.
"It's hard to weed through what's legitimate and what's not. So many people have written about their real or imagined relationship with Elvis," says Todd Morgan, director of communications at Graceland, Presley's home-turned-shrine outside Memphis.
Mr. Morgan says Graceland's staff tries to keep track of the scores of books written about Presley -- it's part of their mission to keep archives of all Elvisana -- but doesn't put itself in the position of either endorsing or challenging what the authors say.
"We would hope they'd all be honest," Mr. Morgan says. "And in a way it's a good sign that these books get written. It's a constant indicator that the interest in Elvis is real, real strong."
Despite the fact that Presley is no longer around to tell his side of the story -- he died in 1977 -- there's little reason to suspect that Ms. Bova invented their affair. One biographer, who asked that his name not be used, says Mr. Presley's associates did recognize her name when he asked about her, and the book has several pictures of Ms. Bova, her twin sister, Janice, and their mother with Presley and various members of his "Memphis Mafia."
Ms. Bova says she simply wanted to offer an honest account of three years in Presley's life and her own life. She sees her book as filling in some gaps in the thousands of pages already written about the great entertainer.
"It's a beautiful love story. It's a significant part of his life, and my life, too," Ms. Bova says. "It's not a knock-Elvis book. There's nothing sleazy about it."
Nor, however, does the book present a cleaned-up, iconic image of Presley. Ms. Bova shows him increasingly addled by drugs, needing pills or injections to sleep and then to wake up again. He was always surrounded by a sycophantic group of aides and relatives, whom he treated both with affection and petty tyranny -- Ms. Bova relates one particularly pathetic scene in which Mr. Presley clipped his toenails before going to bed and then called for someone to vacuum it up.
And, when she became pregnant, before she could tell him, he made an offhand comment about how women shouldn't try to be attractive to men after they have children. She says she had an abortion rather than risk losing him.
'A head trip'
There was a constant push-pull between Presley wanting Ms. Bova to be able to drop everything and hop a plane whenever he called, and Ms. Bova being devoted to her job with the Armed Services Committee. She works for the investigations subcommittee, which at the start of her affair was looking into the My Lai massacre.
"I'd work all day, then fly to Graceland, and by the time I got there, Elvis was just waking up," she recalls. "He wanted me to give up my life and my career, and I just wasn't of the mind set to do that for him, or anyone."
It was tempting at times, though, to move to Graceland as he asked her to, she says. The book also gives a glimpse of the heady lifestyle that she could have been a part of. There are delicious scenes in the book, such as one in which Catherine Deneuve tries to spend the night with Presley.
Ms. Bova admits it's "a head trip" that someone so universally lusted after chose her. Yet, in retrospect, she says, he had an overwhelming need to control her -- to the point that he would insist she take sleeping pills so that he knew she was asleep while he was asleep -- as he did everyone around him.
Her fierce independence does set her apart from those who surrounded Presley -- no one would laugh at a joke until he did, no one would leave a party until he broke it up -- and perhaps that was part of what intrigued him. "It would never occur to him that I might want to eat my steak rare," she says of all the meals when everyone ate whatever Elvis ate -- usually overcooked meat, black-eyed peas and mashed potatoes.
Ms. Bova has never married, although she was engaged once and has been seeing someone for nine years. "Maybe I've never met Mr. Wonderful, or maybe I've met too many Mr. Wonderfuls," she says with a laugh. "But it's not because I've been pining for Elvis all these years. He was a major love in my life, but after it ended, I was able to come back to my world."
She lived in her private world until recently, when she decided to unearth her teen-age diaries to use as background for "Don't Ask Forever," which was ghostwritten by William Conrad Nowels.
Now, she's on the chat circuit -- she's appeared on "Entertainment Tonight" (showing the Hotel Washington suite that she and Elvis slept in), been interviewed by People magazine and recently taped an episode with Sally Jesse Raphael to be aired sometime in the future. Her family is private -- her mother lives in Columbia and her father, a former Baltimore vice squad detective, lives in the city -- but they are proud of her book, although initially they were not pleased that she was involved with a married man, she says.
"Time does heal all wounds," says twin Janice Bova, who also lives in the Washington suburbs and figures prominently in her sister's memoir. "I thought it was a great idea to write the book. So much has been written about Elvis, but nothing about his time in Washington."
There is, of course, that bizarre photo of Presley shaking President Nixon's hand in the Oval Office in 1970. Presley had asked to be named a "Federal Agent at Large" to help in the war on drugs and sought -- and received -- a meeting with the 'D president.
"The President's a good dude, man," Ms. Bova's book quotes Presley. But he goes on to say the dude was only a secondary reason for his trip to Washington. "Swear I didn't think of seeing him until after I was here and couldn't find you."
"He was," Ms. Bova says dreamily, "adorable."