I apologize for my lack of output lately. I’ve been taking this damn personal essay class and so far all it’s done is make me creatively constipated and constantly question whether I have any right to think I can write. But, amidst all the self doubt, I finally finished and submitted my essay with for the class. On Monday I’ll get my critique from the group. Thought I’d share it with y’all and you can tell me lies, sweet lies that it isn’t a steaming pile of . . . words.
Michael Jackson, the Comcast Guy, and Me
The atmosphere in the office was electric and in sharp contrast to the monotonous management meeting I had just left. “What’s going on” I asked Anza who was always in the know. “Michael Jackson died” she said in her usual no nonsense way. “What? I, I thought it was Farrah who died” I said feeling clueless. “Oh Farrah was soooo three hours ago” Gabe drawled campily as he buzzed by me. Renita shouted from her office, “he ain’t dead. We don’t know that for certain yet. That’s just a rumor!“ I went back to my office to check the internet myself. For the next few minutes you could hear people shouting updates between offices. Finally, it was confirmed by reputable sources: Michael Jackson was dead. The mood abruptly changed from excited to somber as my co-workers started gathering in twos and threes in each other’s offices to watch the streaming live news coverage.
I joined the cluster of young black women in Lashaun’s office next door. They seemed to be taking it hard, especially Lashaun who said she felt like Michael was family because her cousin once worked for LaToya. Her Blackberry kept buzzing as her family members texted to share news and console one another.
Frankly, I didn’t really understand why my co-workers were taking it so hard. Most of them were too young to remember Thriller when it came out. And Michael’s days as the cute child star of the Jackson 5 was of their parent’s generation. Well, actually my generation. Like me, Michael Jackson was 50 years old. Yet, these young African American women felt more of a connection to him than I ever did. I guessed I must have looked puzzled as Lashaun said, as she often does to me, the “token white lady”, “hey, it’s a black thing.” But unlike her usual joking tone, this time there was an air of sadness and resignation.
Before his sudden death if someone had asked me my thoughts on Michael Jackson, my answer would have been short and cruel: freak. I hadn’t paid attention to his musical output in the last 20 years, and he had only been on my radar as an object of puzzlement and scorn. Yet now the airwaves were filled with the best of his music – “I Want You Back“, “Billy Jean“, “Thriller” – and my favorite, “Ben“, a love song written about a rat. It was good music, memorable music. I started feeling the loss myself.
Back when Thriller came out in the early 80’s, I spent many an evening hanging out with my best friend David in his comfortable duplex apartment filled with his collection of 50’s glassware and other vintage kitsch. We would watch old film noir movies and then would finish the evening with some MTV while sharing a joint. Whenever Michael came on we stopped talking, turned up the sound and marveled at his moves. Even through our clouded minds, there was a reverence paid to the man’s talent.
I hadn’t thought of David in years. He was possibly the best friend I ever had, and Michael Jackson was an important part of the soundtrack to that friendship. When I got home, I downloaded The Essential Michael Jackson off of iTunes and I played it loud as I prepared myself dinner and wondered what had ever happened to David.
Over the next two weeks it was All Michael Jackson All the Time. You couldn’t escape the coverage. While most of it was hyperbolic, the story of the man became clearly tragic to me – a talented kid who was exploited and abused and the wounds that turned into something sick and twisted. My previous hard judgments of him softened.
The morning of Michael Jackson’s funeral I stayed home from work to wait for the Comcast guy. Both my broadband and cable TV had gone out a few days ago, and this was the earliest appointment I could get to get my service restored. The technician arrived on time at 10am. He was a tall African American young man, probably about half my age. He was dressed in oversized jeans that rode low on his skinny hips, and while I found the gold embroidery on the back pockets to be a bit tacky, I later read that it was quite in style among urban youth. The blue button-down shirt that he no doubt worn in deference to his employer was purposely tucked in on only one side. “So what‘s the problem?” he asked already sounding bored. “Well, I explained everything in detail on the phone” expecting that he would have come prepared. “Yeah, well, they don’t tell me nothin’ but what time to be here.” So I over-explained all the phone calls and steps I had taken to troubleshoot the problem. He listened impassively. “Where’s your cable come in?” he asked getting to the point. I gestured to the pole outside my front door. “OK” he said as he started to walk out. He paused by the pen where I keep my two rabbits, Binkles and Peabody. “You gotta watch out what you feed them ‘cuz they’re gonna get fat.” And with that he left.
“The nerve of that guy. Calling my rabbits fat. They‘re not fat.” I huffed as I sat down to check my email and play games on my iPhone while I waited.
A half hour later he walked back in through the front door, opened up the TV armoire and picked up the remote as if he lived here. When the TV came on, it was on a news channel that was broadcasting the Jackson funeral. There was a helicopter shot of a string of hearses and seemingly hundreds of police. “Oh, I want to see the casket come in” he said with the most animation I had heard from him all morning. I went into my office to check if my broadband was also working, and when I came back to report the success he was still standing in front of the TV.
I took my place in my TV watching chair. The coverage had switched back to the studio with some commentators discussing the various molestation charges against Jackson. “Ah come on” I said with some exasperation, “give it a rest for just one day. It’s the man’s funeral” “Exactly!” he said with some enthusiasm and volume, “have a little respect for his family.” The coverage then cut to the procession with the casket. “There it is!” the Comcast guy said with the excitement of a kid seeing the ice cream truck on a hot day. The Jackson brothers, all wearing single sequined gloves brought in a gilded casket covered in red roses. “Damn, that thing looks expensive” he said with awe. “Kind of a waste since it’s just going into the ground” I countered. “Exactly!” he heartily agreed.
When Smokey Robinson got up to speak, the Comcast guy said with admiration “Damn, is that Smokey? He looks goooood.” We speculated on his age guessing he was around 70. “Hey, black don‘t crack“ I offered. He considered this as if he had never heard that saying before, “yeah that‘s kind of true, huh.”
It became clear we were in this together for the long run. “Have a seat” I said pointing to the couch. He quickly made himself comfortable. If I had been more accustomed to having company I would have offered him something to drink or eat, but a comfy seat and a TV seemed just fine with him.
As the tasteful service unfolded occasionally one of us would make a brief comment about how good someone looked or sounded, but mostly we watched in silence. Finally, when Reverend Al Sharpton started speaking, my guest got up abruptly and said “when the crazy preacher starts talking, it’s time for me to get back to work.”
On his way out he passed the rabbits again. Binkles stretched up against the pen begging for attention. “He’s a friendly one, huh. Can I pet him?” “Sure. He likes having his nose scratched.” I advised. As he scratched the little red rabbit’s nose he said “I used to have a pet rabbit.” When he finished, he let himself out the door saying “have a blessed day.” “You too” I called back but he had already closed the door.
I sat back down to watch the rest of the service, but it didn’t feel right. So, I said farewell to my four-legged friends and headed out to work so I could join the crowd in a cramped fluorescent-lit office to watch the rest of the service on a 17 inch computer screen.
Some things just need to be shared.