Are humans hard-wired to gather in mourning for Hollywood celebrities? 1,848 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
June 25th is my birthday. Most years. Not this year. This year it’s 2009 and the day Michael died. And Farrah. And it makes me very sad. If you looked at me, you’d probably figure why would a white, divorced, middle-aged accountant — okay, unemployed accountant — give a shit? You’d think I’d have more important things to be sad about. Like the fact that I’m unemployed. Or that I’m middle-aged and fat. Moonwalk? Hell, sometimes just plain walking normally gives me shooting pains in my left arm.
I should be sad that I live in a crappy apartment in Hollywood, the part where the glam is insane homeless men and drug-addled whores. Or that my ex took my kids to Ohio. Or that she did it because I lost my job. In other words, she did it just to be a bitch. Was it my fault that all of a sudden I couldn’t make good money being an accountant? That’s my skill. I didn’t complain that she didn’t make good money being a bitch.
Anyway, let’s not go there now. Lots of nights, I sit around drinking cheap scotch being sad about that. Not this afternoon. This afternoon, I’m sitting around drinking cheap scotch being sad that Michael’s dead. And Farrah.
So why do I give a shit? Because Michael and I were close. We were bros. Not that I ever met him. We probably didn’t have many values in common. Fill in your own pedophile joke here. But we did sorta have stuff in common. We’re the same age. Well, I’m two months older. And I’ve outlasted him. I never thought that would happen. I mean, I never really thought about it at all. But he was a rich singer-dancer -actor who breathed purified air, and I’m a fat accountant who recently began drinking too much cheap scotch. Just since my kids left.
I guess every generation in turn learns what it feels like to have your contemporaries keel over. I mean, more or less naturally, not cuz their heads got blown off or they came off a Harley. It’s a creepy feeling to understand "Ask not for whom the bell tolls." Maybe you say, “Yeah, so what?” I say that a lot myself. But tonight I’m all, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Joe. Michael’s father’s name is Joe. And that’s something else we have in common. Not that my father’s name was Joe. Although it was. Not even that my name is Michael. Although it is. That’s where I say, “Yeah, so what?” too. Back then, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a boy named Michael. It was yesteryear’s version of “Jacob.”
What we have in common is that my Dad knew Michael’s dad. In Gary, Indiana. At U.S. Steel. I think Michael’s father was a janitor. My Dad was a foreman on one of the rolling lines. Dad said Michael’s father was kind of a jerk. Not to be a bigot or anything — my Dad was cool that way. But my father could be kind of a jerk, too. I remember him sitting at the dinner table telling me that a guy had fallen into the slab that day. The slab is red hot steel. I said, “What did you do?” He said, “You can’t do nothing. The chemical composition of the whole slab is ruined. You just cut out a two by six chunk to send to the family and the rest is worthless.”
Of course, then the Jackson 5 took off, and Joe Jackson could buy and sell my father. Not that my Dad ever complained about that. But I kinda noticed that Michael Jackson was a twelve-year-old superstar and I was just a boy. Not that I really worried about it. I wasn’t that sensitive.
We stayed close as young adults. I mean, with Thriller, everyone our age was close to Michael Jackson. You couldn’t help it. By the way, as you probably figured, Farrah and I weren’t as close. I mean, once in awhile for a few minutes at night when I was a teenager and her red swimsuit poster was popular. Like Michael’s music for years afterward, you couldn’t get away from it. But she was an older woman by more than ten years. So we weren’t as close.
I guess Michael and I drifted apart. I got married, had kids, and went to work for Arthur Andersen. Try and guess which one of those three things still seems like a good choice. Ain’t life full of surprises. Like Michael dying on June 25th. And Farrah.
Michael got progressively weirder and did god knows what. I mean, I heard from a solid second hand source related to a former assistant of Michael’s that he really had to settle that first case. That’s the way L.A. is. Even fat accountants hear stuff like that from time to time. Maybe it wasn’t true.
I also heard that Farrah was a drunk and druggie way before the Letterman thing. Maybe that wasn’t true, either. But I’m remembering it because the media is writing stuff about Michael being a weirdo and Farrah being an angel. Not that I hold it against her. Actually, I think the world would be a better place if people just got over themselves and started minding their own business. But who cares what I think? Apparently the surviving accounting firms don’t.
All in all, it’s not much of a birthday for me this year. It wouldn’t have been anyway, but now I have something better to feel sad about. Besides being fifty-one, unemployed and alone in a crappy apartment in the loser part of Hollywood. How lickered up am I? Not too, I guess.
Not too lickered up to drive over to UCLA Medical Center. And all of the sudden, I want to go there to be closer to Michael.
Well, that was a mistake. Well, maybe not. It started out back here in my crappy apartment drinking cheap scotch instead of cooling my heels in the drunk tank in the twin towers downtown. But you know — or you figure you know — what L.A. traffic is like. So driving over the hospital was really asking for it. I just ducked into a building that had a valet parking sign and dumped the car. I also began to question my sanity. I’m unemployed and just dumped my car into valet parking because I, a freshly fifty-one, white, fat accountant, had to keep vigil near where Michael Jackson died.
I didn’t feel any more sane out on the street in front. Oddly enough, I was one of the older ones there. There weren’t many kindred spirits. You know, fat guys in cheap suits. And even though I was sad, I didn’t feel like sobbing, especially in public. Or moonwalking. In fact, my left arm was starting to ache and I don’t like crowds.
After about a half hour I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went back to the garage and pulled out the last ten I had to get my car back. Dumbass, dumbass, dumbass. The valet said he couldn’t get my car out because it was in the section reserved for UCLA Medical Center and that was locked down.
I started to get mad but, before I could yell, my mood just evaporated into hopelessness. And powerlessness.And emptiness. My whole life seemed worthless. And Michael was dead. And Farrah. And a bunch of people that I actually knew, too. So I just stood there. And I started to notice that I wheezed when I breathed.
About ten minutes later, the valet came up with this kid who said he’d take me to my car. I think my depression started to waft around the garage and weigh everyone down. Chalk up a benefit of being pathetic, I guess. So I follow this kid through some security door, down an antiseptic hallway. He’s moving along. I’m wheezing and my left arm hurts. I’m starting to wonder how long I’m gonna outlast Michael, aside from my two-month head start. Finally, we go through another door and we’re back in a garage.
The kid says to me to wait here and he’ll get my car. I just nod, cuz my heart doesn’t feel like it needs the extra stress of pushing out words. Maybe I’m experiencing cardiac arrest, just like Michael. Of course, doesn’t everybody die of cardiac arrest one way or another? And it’s better than how Farrah went, wasting away from cancer. Before her cardiac arrest.
So now I’m stuck in a parking garage all alone. And I don’t feel very good. And I’m still sad. Like I said, it was a mistake to go there. Then these two luxury SUV’s come out of nowhere and pull up. I drive an old Camry. Of course, right? Then the security door opens and a phalanx of athletic-looking men in dark suits wearing earpieces rush out.
I must be made of cellophane cuz the security detail looks right through me. Or maybe I’m dead, too, and now I’m a ghost. Like in the movies. Then old Joe Jackson comes out, followed by someone pushing his wife in a wheelchair. She’s distraught but it seems to me that he’s just thinking about Joe Jackson. That’s my impression; I could be wrong. Although it’s why my Dad said he didn’t like him.
But here’s the amazing thing. Looking at old Joe Jackson, watching old Joe Jackson think about Joe Jackson — like I said, maybe I’m wrong about that — I didn’t feel so weak anymore. Because I was still alive, even though Michael Jackson was dead. And Farrah. So I still have time to do things for me, before I die and some people — maybe some bitch, not that I’m thinking of anyone in particular — walk away from my corpse thinking about themselves.
I still didn’t know why the hell I went over to the hospital. On the radio during the drive home, some pointy head was saying that gathering in mourning was a prehistoric hard-wired human trait. And here I’d thought I’d gone there because I’m a dumbass.
This scotch doesn’t taste as cheap as the last brand. But maybe it’ll be the final bottle I drink for awhile. I think maybe I’ll lose twenty pounds. Or fifty. And move to New York City. I’ve always wanted to live there. And that’s a good enough reason. Besides, I’d be closer to my kids.
I’m still sad. But I guess some pointy head on the radio would say that we are hard-wired from prehistoric times to feel happy when others our age die because it’s not us. Fuck that noise. Just the same, maybe I’ll do some other things just because I want to. Because I’m still alive. Even though Michael is dead. Rest in peace, my brother. And thanks for the help. And you, too, Farrah.