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Friday, June 26, 2009

Forgiving the Giraffe Guy

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.
Coming from poverty informed much of what he did in his life. Media reports say that when he died he was renting a house with ten bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. Who builds a house like that? what sane person with only three children decides to rent a place like that? I loved his music so I've forgiven him everything. Rest In Peace, Michael and God Speed!
Nice story, Joe--and it makes me think maybe one day I can forgive Madonna for ruining my beloved Castillo del Lago overlooking Lake Hollywood.

That was some years ago, of course, and if it's since been restored to pristine, glowing white it might actually be safe for me to return to L.A.
And they say you never give up a grudge? Not true!

I was a NOB at the time. While you were in MJ's neighborhood, I was near the other extreme of the music spectrum family, the Osmond's, when they lived for a brief stint in Arleta (contrary to what you see on the net). An Encino buddy (and great magician) saw MJ one day in Gelson's on Ventura (1975). He played a trick on Michael, who left really pissed off.
He didn't die of a heart attack. He died of cardiac arrest, probably in relation to the drugs he was taking.
I'm not sure how this out of poverty thing started, but it is echoed in almost every story out today. Almost exactly the same words. And while that might be a fair description for some of the older Jacksons, say Jackie and Tito--back when they lived in Gary--Michael knew wealth most of his life. He was living in a mansion before the age of 12--and in pretty good conditions for several years before that while Berry Gordy groomed the Jackson Five for stardom. Certainly the years before that on the road, club to club, could not have been easy, but "poverty" doesn't describe it. He suffered a lot of abuse as a kid, which probably helped form his fascination with prepubescent boys, but is not poverty.

Whether he actually molested boys or not, I don't know, but the countless sleepovers with lots of boys are that he has admitted to. Pedophile? I don't really know. Weird twisted rich dude? Certainly.
Your political diatribes- no matter, the right/wrong--were (and probably still are) relentless. This was one of my favorite blogs; I left. Occasionally, I would check in, but really, nothing much changed. Tonight, you reminded me why I love your writing.
I never was a Michael Jackson fan although "Billie Jean" is #3 on my all time favorite songs (Desperado/Eagles #1, I fought the Law/Bobby Fuller Four #2).

I do not, cannot know if he really was a pedophile. Certainly his actions were inappropriate.

And I have never been able to get the image of him dangling that baby over a balcony out of my mind. More than inappropriate. IMO

Thus I say rest in peace as I must as a decent human being. But celebrate his life? No.
On top of the poverty, Michael's mother believed that sensuality, fame, and music we all tools of the Devil. Imagine your own mother believing that about what you loved to do most in the world. On top of that, his father was kicked out of an R&B just before it took off. He was conflicted - he knew Michael was far more talented than he was, so he was not only jealous of him, but simultaneously trying to live vicariously through him. It was actually Michael who stood up and stopped the abuse by declaring that if his father touched him or any of his brothers again, he wouldn't sing another note. Further, he became a megastar at the age of 5, so there went his childhood - the amusement park, the chimp, the sleepovers - all were simply attempts to live out the childhood he never had. As for the baby-dangling, too much was made of it - he merely he wanted to share his joy at bieng a father with everyone: the act of holding up a baby for all to see is quite prevalent in many parts of the world (think that scene in The Lion King, and in his exuberance, he just wasn't thinking about how he was several stories up. Since he was a celebrity, the stupid whore media blew it out of proportion, just as they did with Britney driving with the baby on her lap (putting our kids on our laps so they can pretend they are driving is something we all do as parents).

Sergei Rostov
it must be nice not have to worry abouth money/like the rest of us /what a life
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