Friday, June 26, 2009

Oh, Michael

This is a memory rather than a eulogy.

As for eulogies, I really like Bilal Dardai's.

At my elementary school, we held a school-wide fundraiser, or was it a fun run? Maybe both. There were thermometers on paper with red markers tracking how much progress we had made, and lots of hype about the prize.

Those of us who succeeded in meeting our targets, the lucky few, would gain entry to a special performance at the Spring Fling. At the base of a hill beside the gymnasium, right next to the gravel path that led up to the tennis courts, that's where Michael Jackson would perform.

Michael Jackson! My friend Ashley was afraid of him -- whenever "Thriller" came on MTV, she ran screaming from the room. Katie, who was older, explained about "Billie Jean" to me, and we imagined living in a world where girls got preggers by accident, because that could never, ever happen in Birmingham, Alabama, not to people we knew! No, never!

We liked his single, silver glove. We tried to moonwalk.

I went to a tiny private school. The idea that Michael Jackson would come to perform -- just for us -- as a prize for the fun run! It was too good to be true. Probably it wasn't true. But then, how evil if it wasn't. It must be.

We gathered on the hill to await his arrival, lips and fingers sticky-red with popsicle goo, sweaty hair glued to the backs of our necks. The cheap cotton of our Spring Fling t-shirts prickled, but we were too proud to take them off. We had earned them. Them and Michael.

A huge camper van, the kind with a spare tire covered in tarp and big thinning stripes down the side, pulled up to the base of the hill, and we screamed. It was not like the Beatles, girls fainting and pulling their hair out, but close.

Somebody's mother got on a microphone and introduced him, Michael Jackson! Here to perform!

The music started, and the man himself climbed out of the camper van's roof. He stood on the top of the van. All sweet grass and sunstroke, we squinted.

He moonwalked. Sort of. The glove was right, but the hair was all wrong. It looked more like Elvis -- and that baseball cap tamping it down, it didn't quite work. Michael was a skinny guy, small, okay, but this Michael looked hippy. This Michael had on a big jacket to make up for narrow shoulders -- and boobs?

Michael was a mom. Somebody's mom wearing leather -- and blackface.

We squinted harder. We tried to believe. We still cheered. But the magic was gone.

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