Saturday, June 27, 2009

On Michael Jackson

In a restaurant at a beachfront resort with my family on Thursday, I glanced up to see that Michael Jackson had been taken to the hospital. This was not surprising. He's had a variety of medical issues over the years. I went back to my food.

The next thing I know, some friends of ours at the same table are saying, "Well, 1958-2009. I guess that confirms it." And he's pronounced dead. Just like that. It takes a while to sink in.

Confession time. I was a HUGE Michael Jackson fan in the eighties. His posters covered my walls and ceiling. I had the glove, the doll, the video disc (yep, disc, but not sure on the spelling. disk?). It still plays on my classic RCA videodisc player. I had 66 Jackson record albums collected from all over the world, some printed in other languages. I saw the Victory tour. It was the first major concert I ever attended. I was fourteen years old.

I met him.

Well, almost.

Long story, but I feel the need to tell it all and not leave anything out. This will likely be the longest post I've ever written.

When I was fourteen, my parents decided a trip to Disney World was in order. EPCOT was "educational and fun." My fourteen-year-old self didn't agree. I thought this would be the most childish vacation ever. Boy was I wrong!

On the day of our arrival, while waiting for our Disney Fairway Villa to be ready, we had lunch at the Royal Plaza Hotel. Now, remember, I knew all there was to know about Michael Jackson. I knew he kept a suite of rooms at the Royal Plaza. The hotel would rent it to others, but if Michael wanted to stay there (he loved Disney World), it was always ready for him. The suite had many of his gold and platinum albums hanging on the walls. I'd seen it on television.

My mother is a character. I talked her into coming with me to the appropriate floor of the hotel. When we found the suite, the door was open. A maid was cleaning it! Somehow, my mother talked her into letting me in to take pictures. I have photos of the gold and platinum albums hanging on those walls.

And so, our vacation continued. We were there for a week. Two or three days later, I began to think about why a maid would be cleaning the rooms at the Royal Plaza. Michael was on the Victory tour. I'd just seen it a few weeks prior. But there were breaks built into the tour schedule. It had to be coincidence, but I needed to know. My parents were very cool with me as an overly mature fourteen-year-old. I had the Disney bus pass. I had park passes. I was allowed to go wherever those would take me during the day, so long as I met them for dinner at night. I returned to the Royal Plaza Hotel.

I went up the elevator to the correct floor. I encountered a roped off hallway and security. I knew HE was there. Had I been a little less painfully shy, I might have gotten the guard to get me an autograph or something. I was the only teenager around. No one knew, except me. I doubt it would have worked, but I didn't even try. I went back to the ground floor. I tried to think like Michael Jackson. I prowled the hotel property. I found the service entrance. I discovered black vans and limousines. Okay, I knew how he got in and out. I told my mom that evening. We returned to the hotel together and waited outside. We caught a glimpse of him running from the service elevator to a waiting car.

This was pretty much how I spent the rest of my vacation. I would arrive early, wait until he left, and try to follow where he went. Okay, I was a young stalker. I would try to guess where he was headed, and was frequently right, but since I only had a bus pass, and he had direct transportation, I couldn't follow him very well. I would arrive at places to hear I'd just missed him. I got to the Magic Kingdom to hear he'd just ridden the Dumbo ride and left. Had I been a little smarter, I would have stayed at the Royal Plaza all day and waited right by the service elevators and hoped to be acknowledged. And since I was still the only one around, I might very well have been. But my teenage self was terrified of being in trouble with security, arrested, who knows? I desperately wish I could go back in time and tell myself how unlikely that was.

Still, my luck had not run out yet. On the last night of our stay, my parents planned to eat at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue dinner show at Disney's Fort Wilderness resort. I met them, on time, at the restaurant, babbling about missing Michael Jackson by minutes yet again. My father, who never cared for Jackson's influence on me, laid down the law. He did not want to hear one more word about Michael Jackson for the rest of the night. He was sick and tired of it all. Mom was more tolerant, but when Dad gets angry, it's best to shut up.

We went inside. We had a front row table. Mom always booked everything way in advance, like up to a year. We always had the best seats for everything. The very next table behind ours was long and seated maybe ten people. It remained empty while all the other tables filled. I commented that wouldn't it be funny if Michael Jackson and his party sat there. I got a growl from Dad and another warning. But somehow, I just had this feeling . . .

Next, I glanced at the service entrance by the kitchen. And there stood two limousine drivers. I knew them. I'd seen them day after day at the Royal Plaza Hotel. They were Michael Jackson's limo drivers. My heart jumped. I told my mom and pointed them out, but they'd disappeared. By now, my parents thought I was losing it. Then I see his personal bodyguard, Bill Bray (yes, I knew him by name), and I point him out, and he, too, disappears. And I KNOW! I know what's coming, and I can barely breathe.

The lights went down. The show prepared to start, and my Dad says something like, "Well, I'll be . . ." and in through the other fire exit comes Michael Jackson, his bodyguard, and several cousins and friends. My mother turns, spots him, and blurts out, "Michael!" And they sit at that big, long table right next to ours!

Michael is seated at the far end of the table, the head, with the best view (though I'm actually closer to the stage than he is.) I have a direct line of sight to him for the next hour to two hours of the show. I started to stand. My knees buckled. I had tears running down my face which I finally managed to control. My mother tried to get me an autograph and was escorted out by security. They let her back in when she explained that I'd had terrible medical problems over the past year, and she was just trying to do something for me, but it took awhile, about ten minutes or so. She never got the autograph. Dad and I just waited calmly. We knew she could talk herself out of any trouble.

Flashbulbs were popping like mad, and I realized with great distress that I DIDN'T HAVE MY CAMERA! Thank God for the elderly couple at the table on our other side. They took pictures, took my address, and mailed them to me a few weeks later.

I never saw the show. In fact, one of the performers tried to involve me, since we were front row, and I didn't even notice her. I only had eyes for Michael. He looked fantastic then, in one of those beaded red jackets with gold braid, and the aviator sunglasses. I don't know what I wore that night, but I do remember I had on my one glove pendant necklace which I held onto throughout the evening for luck. I almost never took that necklace off.

After the show, the Jackson party left first, and the rest of us ran outside to catch a glimpse of his limousines pulling away from the rear parking lot. I think he may have waved from the window, but I can't remember clearly enough now.

Aside from my wedding, that was the most exciting moment in my life. Years would pass. Michael would be accused of horrible things that I would not want to believe, but couldn't quite ignore. My hero worship of him would end, but my love of his music would not.

I grew older. He grew older. He disappeared. When I found out he was going to do more performances, I desperately wanted to go and recapture that magic I'd experienced from seeing the Victory tour all those years before, but he was doing the shows in London. I held out a small hope that he would extend the tour into the United States, and perhaps I could share that incredible experience with my own children, now eleven years old. But it was not to be.

I still can't believe he is gone. An era has ended. A piece of my childhood is missing. I want to know why, and I want to blame someone. Michael always seemed sad to me, and lonely in a way. His soft-spoken demeanor and apparent shyness were a huge part of his allure. I could relate to shyness. A lot of people found something in him to relate to. It's hard to identify exactly what it was about him--talent? personality? appearance? Whatever it was, we are unlikely to see anything quite like it ever again.

I hope he has found the happiness he always seemed to be searching for.


Anonymous said...

What a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

Lisa Iriarte said...

You are welcome. He will be missed.

BannaOj said...

Hey, I hadn't heard from you or icarus lately. Ya'll ok?


Lisa Iriarte said...

Yeah, we're fine. Just busy. Thanks for asking, though.

Aimee said...

Hi, Lisa,

I was killing time today when Google led me to your post, and I read it, mouth agape. I stalked Michael during my family vacations (Encino, California, where I saw Janet, and Jacksonville/Orlando), too.

I saw the Victory tour in Jacksonville, and tried to spot Michael near Disney at the same time you did! We must have been at the Royal Plaza within days of one another—my dad smuggled a friend and me up to the suite, and passed some cash to security and housekeeping. They were cleaning immediately after MJ's departure. Same velvet rope, same everything.

I wasn't lucky enough to see him, or to have my own park pass to wander around, but I have pictures of myself on the bed in the suite, gold records behind me and all. If I would have been thinking, I would have snagged the trash bag! But I was simply in awe of being in the same space, and scared to death of getting in trouble.

I still tell people about it all the time. I have been searching like mad for the photos, which are boxed up someplace and will emerge someday.

Now, I'm a grownup with kids, too, and I've moved on from the crazy-teen-fan stage, yet I'm a little bit embarrassed about how upset I feel about Michael's death. It truly was electrifying to see him in concert, and to feel the energy in the room, just moments after he had left, made the hair on my arms stand on end. (I know it sounds crazy, but it's true.) That man had charisma you could feel, and his talent was unlike anything I've ever seen. Somewhere deep down, I still really wanted to have the chance to see him live, in London, and to have my girls experience the excitement that surrounded him, strangeness and all.

So glad you shared your teen experience, and I'm thrilled to know there was a wonderful, happy-tears-inducing end to your tale!

Aimee in Vermont

Lisa Iriarte said...

Wow, that's really amazing! The internet certainly makes the world a little smaller, doesn't it? Yes, you probably arrived the day I left. I got the impression Michael was leaving Florida the same day my family was. I think the security guard mentioned something about it to my mother when he walked her out of the restaurant for a "chat." I haven't found my hotel room pictures yet, but I have my photos from the restaurant here beside the computer. I'm just waiting for my husband to scan them in. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel the same way--sad, and a little embarrassed. But I think that's just fine.

Anonymous said...

My family and I were at the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue that same night! We sat in the balcony. We didn't get any photos of MJ, our waitress said he had requested that no one take pictures, and my mother recalls that we had not brought our camera. Really fun to read your experience and compare notes. Would love a copy of your pics!

Lisa Iriarte said...

Cool! Again, small world. (No Disney pun intended there.) I'm working on getting my husband to scan the pictures in for me. I'll try to post here where they can be seen. They are very old. I don't own the negatives as it was the elderly couple's camera. No digital back then.

Anonymous said...

Great! I'll have to check back. Again, what a small world! When I'd tell the story of seeing him at that restaurant, I think people thought I was making it up since I didn't have a photo to prove it! My family and I can't wait to see the pics! Like you said, he was kind of forgotten about, but with his passing we've been reminiscing about our celebrity sighting. I don't remember anything about the show, but I sure remember seeing him! Thanks again!

SerenityLife said...

Your post made me smile.

I like you went to my first concert ever - The Victory Tour in Washington, DC.

I had a chance to meet Michael in 1991 at the National Black Journalists Association dinner in Washington, DC. He was seated on the dias and I could see him from my seat but I was too nervous to walk up to him and ask him for an autograph. Like you my knees buckled and I was sweating and going looney that I prayed on it but I could not move out of my seat.

Like you, I was hoping to go to London next year to see him perform if he did more concerts but he is in God's hands now.

I appreciate your fond memories of him.

May Michael be at rest!

Lisa Iriarte said...

I've put up the urls for the photos on a later blog entry. Take a look, if you are interested.

Anonymous said...

I hope you have thick skin cause you don't need it i love the description you gave and where you said that when you got to a place that they always said sorry you just missed him you must have had a pretty wild life when you where a kid what inspired you to make a blog? i really want to know and

Michael,Jackson rest in peace :( (sigh)i haven't met Michael but i loved his songs.i think he was a very sweet person i also really wanted to see what he looked like when he grew would have been a very exciting time i really wanted to meet him.

Anonymous said...

please post the photos that the old ladies took of Michael for you and mailed to you

Luis said...

I feel bad for you

Zelle said...

It has taken me all this time to read this post? God, how much I feel related to what you say. Your experience is very beautiful. We, as people who had the enormous gift in this world to see Michael in person we know that there was magic in the air. We could feel it. And even more than just magic. I attended his Bad Tour, I was very happy to have seen Moonwalker in London, and talk with some girls about Michael and how great he Is. And some coincidences always direct me to Michael, since my early childhood: people, especially. As if we had the same tastes. I also can say that my mother was very important for an event that happened to me regarding Michael Jackson. And all I could do is cry until I could control myself. For his presence absorbed everything that was around. It was just him. And the stars above. I also remember his fatherly bodyguard, who precisely appeared shortly in Moonwalker. I feel that Michael is eternal because just now I feel everything is starting over again, like the song, and like the first time I saw Michael singing with his brothers on videos. It is amazing, yes it is. Thank you