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Quality of Life: Musings on Michael Jackson

This
morning I took my car to Delta Sonic on Main Street for a wash and inside
detail, a 45-minute event.  I often
think Delta Sonic is a microcosm of the world where you can observe the most
mundane errands like grocery shopping, picking up the paper and filling up on
gas to the most extreme heartaches like poverty, addiction and despair.  I walked over to the plaza, looking for
the most mundane–a breakfast of coffee and an apple cinnamon donut. CNN was
playing on the televisions elevated throughout the store and Larry King was
talking to Berry Gordy about Michael Jackson.  The crawl was quoting celebrities like Diana Ross and
Elizabeth Taylor devastated over the death of Michael Jackson.  I thought to myself enough is enough
.  Last time I checked, we were fighting 2
wars, hovering on the edge of economic disaster and watching the Iranians kill
protesters on YouTube.  I walked
over to the al fresco dining area to wait for my car with the hopes of doing
nothing more than enjoying the sun and a daydream.

Next
thing you know, another patron struck up a conversation with me, and I met Evan.  He is a music promoter who owns clubs
throughout Oklahoma.  He was
returning home to Buffalo to visit his children.  We discovered that we are about the same age and definitely
of the same generation.  I asked
him his thoughts on Michael Jackson. 
Was the music industry really shocked by the news or was his poor health
a well-known secret?  He assured me
that the industry had no idea Michael was in ill health.  He was looking forward to his comeback
tour–wasn’t I?  I confessed I am
one of those who listen to 2 types of music-Country and Western, and was
totally ignorant of a comeback tour. 
We laughed as he recalled begging his mom for a Beat It
Jacket and a sequined
glove.  I admitted to spending
countless hours watching this crazy new Channel (I don’t think we could
comprehend a network other than ABC, NBC or CBS at that point) called MTV in
the hopes of seeing the Thriller
Video. 
“The King of Pop is dead,” Evan lamented.  “Michael has gone to meet his creator at the gates of heaven.”

My
face must have given away my thoughts, and Evan asked me if I was a Christian.  Did I not believe in heaven?  I replied yes, I am a Catholic, but not
at all sure of Michael’s guaranteed place in heaven.  A part of me thinks of him as something worse than
Wacko-Jacko.  Although never
convicted, I remember the Ed Bradley interview and think of him as more of a
dangerous predator who exploited sick kids at Neverland and someone who jeopardized
the mental and physical health of his children more than a great humanitarian.  We all remember the baby dangling over
the hotel balcony and the kids wearing veils and similarly odd get ups.  Did the biological mothers of his children
willingly surrender parental rights, or did the wealth and power of the Michael
Jackson machine intimidate them into it? 
This conversation was veering far away from the pleasant, banal daydream
I was hoping for.

Evan’s
car was ready, and we parted company after agreeing that, if nothing else, Jackson
was a tortured soul.  I couldn’t
stop thinking about Michael Jackson–and let me be clear–I am the first to admit
I do not know much about the particulars of his life.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I have a vague memory of a
Lifetime movie about his childhood that portrayed a borderline abusive Father
with a maniacal focus, arguably a dangerous obsession on the commercial success
of the Jackson 5.  Like all
teenagers, Michael then entered the awkward years and the cute little boy who
sang “ABC, 123” lost some of his angelic charm.  Unlike so many preteen talents, Michael continued to enjoy
commercial success, and his talent as a pop star was obvious.  In my mind, “We Are the World” was the
beginning of his ascent into the cultural icon stratosphere, but it was also
impossible to deny something strange was going on with his appearance, so
strange that it was more than just a bad hair do or unattractive outfit, but
the manifestation of some terrible demons.  I remember the rumors about his skin tone changing due to a rare
skin condition.  We can all pretend
his first nose job was medically necessary to heal his deviated septum.  He isn’t the first person to frequent
the plastic surgeon almost as often as the hairdresser, or treat prescription
painkillers like vitamins, but he might be one of the very few people who died
never knowing if he was ever loved for just being Michael.

Did
anybody ever say, “Stop?”  Enough
with the surgery.  Enough with the costly
lifestyle.  Enough with the
eccentricities.  Did he not have a
friend who would tell him the truth even though it might risk their friendship?  Didn’t he have the friend you take to
the mall because you know she will tell you that the dress with the horizontal
stripes isn’t “fashionably nautical,” but looks like prison garb and
adds 10 pounds to your hips? More importantly, she will tell you if you are in
a toxic relationship with a toxic person or if your bad choices are more than
just reckless expressions of youth, but dangerous and potentially
hazardous.   She or he loves you so much that they
are willing to tell you the truth no matter how painful it is, and they know
that you may totally ignore their advice, resent their intrusion and accuse
them of being jealous, close-minded and a bad friend.  They know you may choose your toxic partner or risky
behavior over them, but they value your friendship enough that they are wiling
to fight for your life even when you are unable or unwilling to.  They love you just for you when you are
out and about having fun and feeling on top of the world, just as they love you
when you haven’t gotten out of bed in 3 days and only eat ice cream out of the
carton. 

The
tragedy isn’t that the world lost a musical genius, a creative force like no
other.  I believe the tragedy is
that nobody ever loved Michael, the person, enough to tell him to stop.  The risk of losing access to his money,
his fame and his celebrity outweighed the reward of doing right by a
friend.  Rest in peace Michael, and
may you find the comfort in the next life that seemed to escape you in this
one.   

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