by Myke Johns
Reader, I should like for you to get into a headspace where you are Michael Jackson.
Not the dead guy; the King of Pop, the multi-platinum selling song and dance man. Moonwalk around your head for a second, mutter “shamone” to yourself and let’s get into this.
Are you there? Are you Michael Jackson? Good.
It seems like you just arrived on set, but it’s already been a long day. You were up until 11 or 12 with Jeffery, your choreographer, working out the opening steps–shoulder pop, side step, heel spin–where your posse leap to your side from behind subway columns after your verbal altercation with Wesley Snipes. Jeffery was introducing all these pop-and-lock elements to the arm movement and now that you’re there in the jacket with all the badass buckles all over it, you’re glad he did. It looks good. You look good.
Scorsese calls for a dinner break and you roll your shoulders back and relax your stance.
“Marty” you say–you can call him Marty–”Marty, I’m going for a walk, I won’t be far away.”
“You got it Michael,” he chatters and turns back to his DP to talk about a particularly long shot he wants to take. “Yeah! Like in Taxi Driver!” you hear him say as your boots clamp up the stairs.
“Bad” debuted at number one on the Billboard, and the touring hasn’t even started yet. You’re at the height of your powers. You are unstoppable. You are a king.
Stepping out of the subway, you pass Snipes. This is kind of his big break. He’s leaning against a column, his small cadre around him. All New York tough. He gives you an uncharacteristic smile and nods at you. You smile back. You wonder if it’s odd that in a way, you desire his approval. He’s in wardrobe– backwards ball cap, puffy jacket– he looks so good, so real. His young face already lined like new leather. He’s hard in a way you are not and you wave a two-fingered wave as you pass, smiling, friendly, seeking.
Somebody from Snipes’s group breaks off and trails you as you step outside. A Zippo snaps and strikes behind you and you hear your name called, maybe before you really hear it. You seem to know that it’s coming.
“Michael.” You turn. The posse member, Dodgers cap, flannel jacket–he breathes smoke and nods you into an alley. You follow. He hops, grabs the bottom rung of a fire escape and pulls the ladder down and climbs. You follow. Above you, he slips over the ledge and onto the roof. You follow.
“Hey.” The word slips from you and seems to bounce off of him. Not like he didn’t hear you, but like he didn’t need to hear you. He pulls on his Parliament and speaks.
“If you are the King of Pop, command that these singles go to #1.”
You know this story, you know your response and speak as if you’ve rehearsed this over and over, like a dance routine. Shoulder pop, side step, heel spin, fall to your knees.
“One does not live by singles alone,” you say, “but by every album that is released to the Billboard 200.”
Dodgers Cap steps near the ledge overlooking the facade.
“If you are the King of Pop, throw yourself down. Quincy Jones will command a posse of handlers concerning you. On their hands they will bear you up so that you will not dash your foot against 176th Street.”
“Again,” you say, “it is written into my contract: ‘Do not put Epic Records to the test.’”
Dodgers Cap twists his face, scowls, drops his head. He’s about to offer you all the kingdoms and their splendor–which is easy to pass up. You don’t need that stuff. It’s already yours. This temptation is basically moot. Go talk to Jermaine or LaToya–they could use some fucking help–and begone from me you Devil. But you don’t say this. He doesn’t show you visions of riches. He approaches you, his posture smaller.
“Look,” he says, “I’m really just trying to help you out here.”
This is not a tact you’re prepared for. Satan doesn’t implore.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little black rectangle. He taps at its smudged glass surface then turns it to you. It’s like a tiny television and there is a video of you playing on it. He turns up the volume and it’s a news report about you–about your wife.
“I marry Elvis’ daughter?” you say.
“Yeah man. And it gets worse.”
Your face flashes onto the screen, but it’s barely your face. It’s a whited-out, ghoulish version of your face with a different chin and nose and pale skin stretching around your eyes like craters.
“Look Michael, it’s all downhill from here. This Elephant Man bones, Liz Taylor, hyperbaric chamber bullshit you’re going through now is nothing. It’s nothing compared to what’s coming.
“There is nothing for you in this world you won’t ruin. Your success will wither, your youth will crack and fall away, revealing the monster that you are.
“Michael, you have to stop. Throw yourself down. Quincy Jones can’t stop you. The Lord and all His angels can’t stop you. And this…” he holds the screen to your face. Your pasty visage a living death mask, “…this doesn’t have to happen.”
On-screen, you’re dangling a baby over a hotel balcony.
On-screen, you’re a monster. On-screen, you’re dead.
You look Dodgers Cap in the eyes for the first time. He looks afraid. He is shaking.
“Do I…” you stop yourself. You stop the questions you want to ask.
“Do I still get to dance?”
Shoulder pop, side step, heel spin, fall to your knees. Pound the stage with your fist.
“Yeah,” Dodgers Cap says, a hint of surprise.
“Okay.” You turn to the fire escape, snapping your fingers. “Okay. I have to get back to set now.”