It's 10 '™clock on a Tuesday evening, and Elvis has left the building.

Well, many Elvises, actually. "Dozens and dozens of them," Jim Knippenberg is saying, as he shakes his head in disbelief. "They started lining up at 6 p.m. Men. Women. Even little girls in Elvis swimwear. I thought, oh yeah, this is gonna be a long night."

We're at 312 Elm "” headquarters of Cincinnati's morning newspaper, The Enquirer "” and Knippenberg has just finished one of the most bizarre stories in a 35-year newspaper career that boasts no particular shortage of aberrant assignments.

To properly commemorate the anniversary of The King's death, Knippenberg was instructed to invite all the area's Elvi "” every amateur, professional and semi-pro Elvis imitator in Greater Cincinnati "” to the newsroom for an all-night photo shoot: jumpsuits, blue suede shoes, slicked-back hair and tacky gold chains at the ready.

They came, they swiveled, they conquered.

"For some reason nobody knows, one of them bought a dead bird," the writer shrugs. "At least he took it back with him. We were grateful for that."

Jim Knippenberg is best described as the newspaper's emissary "” for decades now "” to Cincinnati's party scene, a social butterfly attending every artsy opening and nightlife function possible, as well as producing fun featurettes and quirky copy.

From Chez Nora to Dee Felice to Jeff Ruby's, he's always out on the town "” as when he was spotted cavorting around at the spring "Downtown HopAround" launch party at Sully's restaurant. "Jim's a treasure for Cincinnati, absolutely," observes Mary Armor, event founder and one of Knip's oldest friends. "I don't think the Downtown HopAround would have happened without him, for instance. He truly has a sense of what's important to the life of this city."

Indeed, this local institution (who grew up in Price Hill and attended Elder High) has been working and celebrating in the public eye since 1971, making him one of a handful of veteran observers in Cincinnati boasting any sort of institutional memory. "It was the year our daughter, Michelle, was born," he recalls about when he was hired. "Now, she's made me a granddad."

Before launching his writing career, Knippenberg taught English at Newport Catholic High School while obtaining a master's degree in educational psychology at the University of Cincinnati. Over the years, he's labored as an entertainment editor, gossip writer (the old "Psst!" column), rock 'n' roll reviewer, "Ask a Stupid Question" advice columnist, and more. Asked to name the seminal journalists he's worked with "” the ones wh'™ve influenced him the most "” he ponders for a moment. "Sheryl Bills, certainly. John Caldwell. Eleanor Adams "” oh, and Bob Brumfield, of course."

Adams, the longtime newspaper society editor, and Knippenberg happened to sport adjoining desks. "Eleanor used to get visits from all sorts of very tasteful ladies," he recalls. "I'd hold up Olympic scoring cards when their backs were turned, which read numbers like 6.1 and 8.7." Adams would burst out laughing as Knippenberg ranked the prissiness factor of each visiting dignitary. No social matron could ever figure out why the society editor would, for no perceptible reason, begin chuckling or outright guffawing during the course of an oh-so-serious interview.

New brides suffered no better treatment. "Eleanor and I were in charge of bridal notices. We used to conduct a Dog of the Week contest," Knippenberg admits. "My favorite wedding notice had to be the one that read, 'The honeymoon will be delayed while the groom serves the remainder of his sentence'."

Colleagues on the newspaper are asked to describe Jim (anonymously, of course). "Knip's a wonderful, funny funny guy, but he never met a free cocktail shrimp he didn't like," says one ink-stained wretch, referring to the columnist's penchant for parties. Another adds: "There are those of us in the office "” our numbers are legion "” wh'™d say to drive Jim into an absolute state of insanity, well, it could be a very short drive. Let's just say he lives real close to the state line."

Television/radio critic John Kiesewetter wants this known about Knippenberg, however: "Readers might think of him as kind of a party boy or, quote-unquote, goofball. But I know him as a serious journalist who has done breaking news stories as well as wonderful features. He can handle any assignment. He's wonderfully versatile as an editor and reporter.

"He was my boss at one time, I've been his boss, and now we work side by side as columnists," Kiesewetter continues. "And I can tell you he knows everybody. I would think [anybody] in town would die for his Rolodex."

Unlike many scribes, Knippenberg has supporters outside the newsroom. "I know I can always count on him. He's an incredible friend," says Janet Ach, who has chaired dozens of benefits and fundraisers in the city over the years. "I actually met him and started talking to him "” true story "” because his hair color is the same as mine." Ach recalls attending Knippenberg's 50th birthday party, held in a parking lot, where friends handed out commemorative birthday boxer shorts. "He's absolutely one of the funniest guys I know."

Knippenberg, for his part, simply says his reputation for goofy insanity "” earned or not "” is all part of the job description. "One of the things I like most about this job is I never know, from day to day, what I will be covering," he observes. "The only given is that, frequently, I'm the last one in the office to find out.

"This time of year is kind of busy, especially, with the theme parks all opening, the zoo having babies, the summer festival scene starting and all the wineries gearing up for spring and summer tours."

As a reporter, Knippenberg does know he's the go-to guy to cover the amusement park beat (his favorite coaster is the Magnum at Cedar Point in Sandusky). "One day, somebody got the idea I should ride every roller coaster in the states of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana "” in the same week "” while I was hooked up to a portable heart monitor," he recalls. "I had to jump off every coaster and immediately run to a public telephone and play the monitor back to the cardiologist.

"What I found out is, whenever I snuck a cigarette, he knew about it. And when the kid in front of me puked on one ride, my heart rate really went up."

Known as a consummate practical joker, Knippenberg concedes he'll sometimes pass himself off as columnist David Wecker, his one-time opposite number at the competing Cincinnati Post. "He's heard about it and called me on it. When I was on vacation in Key West and got a little loopy, somebody there sort of thought they recognized me. I said, 'Hi, I'm David Wecker'."

The jokester also recalls the time a friend was meeting him at the curb outside on Elm Street. "I jump into his blue BMW, the engine running. Now who would have thought there could be two blue BMWs, with their motors running, outside my office door at the same time? The driver, this lady, she looked at me and just started screaming. The poor woman, she thought I was the madman from hell. So, I just said, 'Hi, I'm David Wecker. Sorry, my mistake' "” and I got out of there fast."

This is Knippenberg at his finest: frank, honest, outlandish, totally out there. Is there anything, in fact, the public doesn't know about Jim Knippenberg? "I play the piano every evening to relax, but nobody has ever heard me. I play Mozart pieces, mostly."

"I like what I'm doing," Knippenberg says of his chosen profession. "I'm old enough to retire." He concedes there are days when he pictures himself as a retiree, living on a beach somewhere while sipping Coronas. "But, frankly, I'd go nuts."

We're walking out the door of the Hyatt Hotel banquet hall, but before we can leave, one of the columnist's loyal readers spots him and immediately trots over to shake hands, complimenting him on a charity gig he'd just emceed. Knippenberg flashes his "ain't nothing but a hounddog" smile and accepts the praise with due modesty. "Thankyouveryverymuch." Then, he's gone.

Knippenberg has left the building.