By Leonard Pitts
I was in Michael Jackson’s bedroom once.
This was long enough ago that he still had brown skin and God’s intended nose. Contrary to the allegations that have surfaced in his child molestation trial, Jackson offered me neither “Jesus Juice” nor pornography. I remember only a rattan chair and shelves full of movie memorabilia, including Disney, the Three Stooges and a likeness of Jackson himself as the scarecrow from “The Wiz.” His room was the last stop on a tour of the family home in the L.A. suburb of Encino following an interview.
To get inside the Jackson compound, you spoke your name into an electronic box and a heavy black gate swung ponderously open. You drove down a long driveway past a pen where fearsome guard dogs were caged. “Act like you’re going to attack me,” Jackson said as he pointed them out to me. I obediently lifted a fist and took a step in his direction only to become a mannequin as the dogs hurled themselves against the fence, barking and slavering. As I was concentrating on bladder control, Jackson doubled over, laughing.
He was a fey creature, insubstantial as smoke, who slouched about the house as if bored of existence itself. The life he described in that whisper-soft voice of his was lonely, isolated and sad. He complained of being unable to go beyond the gates for fear of being mobbed. Still, he confided, he slipped out sometimes late at night and walked the streets, looking for someone to talk to. I was never sure about that story until years later when a man I knew told me how he’d been driving near the Jackson home one night when who should he see but Michael, walking alone.
I left the Jackson home feeling vaguely sorry for the family’s most famous son, feeling that here was a guy who was not of us, a pitiable man who desperately needed a guide to instruct him in how things are done here on planet Earth.
It’s a feeling that returned in force last Thursday when I saw him arrive at court for his child molestation trial wearing pajama bottoms.
Jackson, for the three of you who missed it, turned up AWOL when testimony was set to resume. The singer’s attorneys explained that Jackson, suffering severe back pain, had been taken to the hospital earlier that morning. An infuriated Judge Rodney Melville threatened to revoke the singer’s $3 million bail and slap him in jail. He gave Jackson an hour to get his corpus to court. The singer, disheveled, hobbling in apparent pain and wearing his jammies, showed up an hour and three minutes later.
Now work with me here. You’re Michael Jackson. You’re on trial on charges that could send you away for 20 years. You have already hacked off the judge by showing up late for an earlier court appearance, dancing on top of an SUV, and forcing jury selection to be held up for a week while you are hospitalized with the flu. From here on out, aren’t you going to make every effort not to tee the man off any more?
Yes, you would. Me too. I don’t care if my back aches, if I have to lean on a cane, if I have to be rolled in a chair, if I have to be carried by my bodyguard, if I have to be wheeled into court on a gurney popping painkillers like M&Ms, my body would be present and accounted for when the session was gaveled to order.
That’s how we ordinary humans do things on planet Earth. But that’s a place Jackson has not lived for a very long time. He has been working since he was 5, famous since he was 11, sequestered behind gates since shortly after that.
Moreover, he has spent his life surrounded by flunkies who follow his orders, shape his environment to his tastes and say yes a lot. I doubt he can even remember the last time someone could tell him what to do. So what does he know about having to be governed by someone else’s orders? What does he know about Earth?
Nothing, that’s what.
But if he’s not very careful, Jackson will soon have 20 years to learn.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org