As an adolescent in the '70s, I had SOB friends. In San Fernando Valley parlance, SOB means "South of the Boulevard," the boulevard in question being a commercial thoroughfare called Ventura. Rich bastards lived in sprawling homes in the SOB hills of Encino. Working class heroes, like me, lived in NOB apartments.
To visit my SOB friends, I bussed to Ventura and Petit and walked south toward them thar upmarket hills. Petit is a small road that runs parallel to Havenhurst, a name which may ring a bell for some of you.
An impressive mansion, the finest thing in all of SOB-land, loomed up from behind the ranch-style homes on Petit. Having not yet had all the ambition knocked out of me, I vowed one day to live in that magnificent place, which one reached via a hidden driveway on Havenhurst. (This map
may help you get your bearings.)
One day, I sauntered down Petit as usual, and glanced over at the mansion which destiny had meant for me.
A giraffe's head poked up from behind the hedge.
My reaction was right out of the movies. First, no
reaction. No change in walking pace. Then, after about ten more steps: "Hey -- was that a freaking giraffe
?" I ran back. Yes, it was indeed a giraffe. I silently communed with the animal for about ten seconds, until it went off in search of better foliage to munch.
Later, I asked my friends: "Who in the neighborhood owns a giraffe?"
"Michael Jackson," they relied. He had purchased the Havenhurst mansion that was rightfully mine.
This was my first awareness that Jackson had certain eccentricities. The giraffe was just the beginning.
Over time, he moved up north to Neverland, while much of the Jackson family stayed in the Havenhurst house. Michael Jackson demolished that magnificent mansion -- my
mansion, dammit! -- and replaced it with something even larger. The old one was better.
Nowadays, you can't really see the new house, because the homeowners on Petit have enlarged their ranch homes and the foliage has expanded (despite the best efforts of the local giraffe population). In the mid-1990s, I built bookshelves from white-painted lumber deposited outside the entrance to the Havenhurst mansion, a gift for which I've always felt grateful to the Jackson family.
Being a classical aficionado, I never gave much thought to Michael Jackson's music. He was always the Giraffe Guy. That giraffe symbolized the way two geographically close people could inhabit two very separate worlds. Michael Jackson was my age. Lived nearby. Had known near-poverty, as had I. Yet he never attended Birmingham High, never socialized with anyone I knew, never spoke to any of his neighbors, never said Hi
to the poorly-dressed fellow heading down Petit.
It is a sobering thing when a contemporary dies of a heart attack. De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
The time has come for me to announce to the world that I forgive Michael Jackson for demolishing my house.