25 June 2009

Throw a Rock: Michael Jackson, Sly Stallone, and L.A.

IMHO, whatever sells tickets qualifies as entertainment. Could be sports, film, TV, theater (back East, one says, thee-ah-tah), stand-up comedy, music, and, yes, even wrestling (down South, one says, wrasalin'). If we, the average citizenry, are parting ways with our hard-earned money (especially w/ today's economy) to buy decent tickets to catch a gig, see a show, or watch a play, it is the buying of tickets to see one's favorite act or star up-close-and in-the-flesh that denotes "entertainment."

In L.A., the industry here in SoCal is the entertainment industry. It's sexy. It's hip. If you want to be admired as "in the know," you must work in the entertainment industry (not that I am advocating this; far from it). Throw a rock and you pretty much hit someone who works "in the biz," (horrible phrase) whether behind the scenes, or whether one, as my childhood friend who had his own series on Fox says, "makes a living in front of the camera." We who live here are perhaps a little (no, a lot) jaded. When we have friends come to town, it is they who want to see and be seen with celebs. Even D-listers like reality tv "appearancers" are ogled and photographed (the au courant way to snap this photo is with camera extended high in the air, like one is about to pour beer on oneself, pointed back at yourself with arm around all manners of Shia Leboufs, Kobe Bryants, or even Barack Obamas). The only locals that really care about the celebs and their goings-on are the paparazzi who stalk them 24/7.

Just one quick recent example. When one of the owners of a boutique law firm I used to work for in Austin came to town for meetings with me to call on several studio lawyers, we were having breakfast and he said to me, "hey, my wife is a huge film buff, do you think we'll see any celebrities or movie stars while we're out today?" I looked up from my chicken breast with capers and egg whites and casually mentioned that William H. Macy was seated directly behind him (William H. was rocking a rather bushy, if not bouncin' and behavin', moustache). My Texas colleague vaguely recollected "Fargo" and thought his wife would indeed like that. When another of our colleagues met me in Marina Del Rey a few weeks later, we had breakfast next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

If you live in certain LA neighborhoods, or frequent certain spots, one becomes accustomed to the celebrity sighting. We grow up with these guys or their kids; their kids play baseball or soccer on our kids' teams. We bump into Wimbledon champs in playing gear on quick break from their UCLA tennis tournament in grocery stores buying feminine hygiene products and/or prophylactics (talk about your 30-love!). None of what I've written is an exaggeration, but we could list 200 "celebrities" that we've met, know, have known, or bumped into just in the last several years.

Take this week, my boys are playing at a youth football camp at UCLA (there were also track, volleyball and swimming camps). I checked them in, and stayed around a bit to see that they were enjoying themselves, or worse, were not. Anyway, in the line at camper check-in was Diane Keaton ("Something's Gotta Give"), who was very relaxed and doing the exact same thing that all of us parents were doing, checking in some anxious kid. A few moments later, I was standing next to a few dads as we watched UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel welcome our collective brood with some nice words. I realized that next to me was Keyshawn Johnson, arguably one of the greatest college wide receivers, and a spectacular professional receiver as well. (This was actually odd b/c Keyshawn is a USC Trojan alum, and here he was dropping off his kid -- I'm assuming his -- at a UCLA Bruin camp.)

When I was in college, my first-love handed me my cuckold beating heart in a break-up down in Malibu. It was a multi-year relationship that needed to end years earlier, but it stung nonetheless (enough so, that within two semesters, I was asked quite nicely to leave school until I could get my "shiyat" together -- it's a technical Cal State Admin term. Breakups are like that, they're the gifts that keep giving.). As we were walking and talking, heading back to her car, we passed several times two other broken-hearted beachcombers doing the exact same thing we were: Brigitte Nielsen and Sly Stallone. The next day, I heard on the radio whilst driving to CSUN that Sly filed for divorce that day.

So, back to today. I stayed around a bit longer at UCLA to just watch and enjoy my sons playing their favorite sport, and met a director/writer team who had just landed a new gig from Paramount Pictures and were doing research, meeting coaches and parents of youth footballers. The three of us talked about some common interests and friends in the business and had a nice chat. Like I said, throw a rock.

Which brings us to Michael Jackson. When I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, he came to my house twice as a Jehovah's Witness. First time, I answered the door in my towel having just stepped out of the shower. He told me his name was "Joe" and that he wanted to tell me (or maybe he said "share with me") about the Lord and the troubling times we found ourselves living in. As I was dripping water all over the porch, I excused myself to throw some sweats on and returned in a flash (maybe that's a poor choice of words). Of course, I had to call my girlfriend (the breaker of innocent hearts) and tell her that Michael Jackson had just landed on my door and that she could expect him imminently (she lived a few doors down).

Upon Michael's next visit, he again said his name was Joe, but I didn't play along this time. I told him that maybe his middle name was "Joe" but his first name was for sure Michael. He brought along a 10 or 11 yr-old little friend, a good looking blond kid wearing the de reguire witnessing suit, with a sturdy leather valise that made him appear actually mature, perhaps Michael's spiritual mentor. The three of us chatted for about 20 minutes, Michael holding his black umbrella, blondie his valise, and I my Bible. I pointed out a few verses in my Bible that were different from his New World Translation and was about to say "thus sayeth!" when a dozen or so neighborhood kids meandered up the street in search of the begloved one. Michael Jackson, startled as a spooked horse, took off like a bat out of Hell, or a King of Pop running from a pack of prepubescent autograph seekers. His loafers were slipping and sliding all over the brick porch, like a cartoon character running in place, and then, ahhh, wonderful traction as his feet propelled him down the street clutching only his umbrella in one hand and steadying his hat on his head with the other. I later learned from one of the little kids that Michael ran clip-clopping down the steep street to his black Rolls Royce which he had parked at the bottom of the hill ready to spirit him away should any suburban ruffians ask a difficult theological question or request an autograph.

Which brings my very unimportant yet personal story to a close. While waiting for my boys to finish their practice today, I heard confirmed on the radio that TMZ was reporting Michael Jackson dead at the UCLA Medical Center not 3 minutes from where I was standing. Startlingly quick, there were 6 helicopters above the UCLA practice fields, raising such a racket that Coach Neuheisel had to ask a few hundred young future Bruin footballers to get into a rather tight scrum so he could be heard. My boys were not too shocked of the news re: Michael, but their mother (my ex) and I both felt a very real tug on our hearts over the news of Michael's death; he meant a great deal to our generation. His life was tragic in so many ways, and perhaps even lurid. I hope and pray that he found peace in his life.

As the boys and I made our way through the campus to have an after-football-practice ice cream, there were already a queue of 100 mourners and reporters on the campus. Sitting down at Diddy Riese, I asked my boys what they thought they could learn from Michael's death. My oldest who is 11 said in earnest "not to have plastic surgery." My youngest (9) said, "you should not try to change your color," and I said "you mean your ethnicity?" And he said "yeah, that." I suggested that perhaps we should all be ready to give an account of our lives, and that we should live good ones as much as possible. We all were silent on the street next to the restaurant with the hookah, as helicopters kept up their bloody racket above us, almost as oddly winged angels leading Michael to meet his maker. We ate our chocolate ice cream sandwiched by freshly baked peanut butter cookies.

Only in L.A.


K. said...

Amazing stories...I also mourn Michael Jackson, especially his younger self, whose music still means a lot to me!

His life is so tragic--perfect for a Hollywood movie...

By the way, I would be one of those lame out of towners mooning over William H. Macy and the like...:)))

Anonymous said...

In regards to your comment on Political Celebritas:

What is that I smell? A conservative blogger. You should come blog on Political Celebritas. LauraEmily and I are always welcoming other perspectives, and seeing as were both fairly liberal, someone on the right would be a good addittion to the blog. I would really appreciate it if you seriously considered blogging politically here.

JGregg said...

Hi, K.! I know, hope the stories weren't too obnoxious ... but, since Michael was one of those once-in-a-lifetime characters, thought I'd put together a personal piece.

Lou, thanks for the offer! I'll just make little comments over here on FatScribe and visit you and Laura and keep the dialog going! All the best!


CalebG said...

Great piece. I can't believe MJ was a youngin JW. That's bizare. Good bittersweet reflections of the City of Angels. Everything has a price, even the Wonder.

Dirk Voetberg said...

Great post.