We lived in a big blue building in North Hollywood. It was 1988 and I was more awkward and less fat than I am now. My father was a year into his second marriage to a nut. (Once, the neighbors called the cops on her because she was running around the block screaming the devil was near. She was my Step-Mom and she was a nut.) My Grandfather lived on the couch. And my older sister seemed, almost supernaturally, to have never left her room. We were a normal, quite fucked, family.
I was also convinced at the time that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and I were going to be best friends and that Michael Cooper’s socks contained magic.
(I was really into the Lakers.)
I hung out with the other kids in the building and rarely left the gates.
(There were rumors of a big, one-eyed, weirdo who prowled the block on a 10-speed hunting kids. Marianna said she saw him once and he hissed at her through the cracks in the gate. I believed her- because she was pretty.)
Like most of the kids in the building, we never saw our family. Everybody worked so the family can stay a family even if you never saw your family.
My step-mother worked at a stationary store 4 days a week, just a few blocks away from our apartment, when she wasn’t in the loony bin. On her days off she went to Mass and volunteered at the Church.
My Grandfather worked security check-points at the Burbank airport Wednesday thru Sunday. And my father was out to sea 6 months out the year; slowing trying to climb the ranks in the Navy.
My family was always busy being busy. We had little that brought us together.
Then one day Marianna (the love of my life) showed up in the courtyard sporting a silly ass jacket- the kind with hella zippers. My initial reaction was to flirt and call her “stupid”.
“That looks stupid.” I said at the time.
“No, it doesn’t. Michael Jackson wears it.” She said.
I then remember her taking me to her apartment. How it smelled like fresh laundry. How her grandmother sat quietly in front of the T.V. with the sound barely audible. How I thought I was finally about to French a girl. But how instead, she pulled out a vinyl record from a sleeve, placed it on a half-busted record player, pressed play, and proceeded to change my whole shit up.
It was Michael Jackson’s just released album “Bad”.
As soon as I saw an adult in my family who had purchasing power I begged them to buy our own copy.
And as a family, we fell in love with that damn album.
In a home full of immigrants with varying degrees of English proficiencies and Catholicism- we could all recite every damn word to “Dirty Diana”. Every new music video off the album became a family event.
In 1988 Los Angeles, Michael Jackson’s music was my family’s lighthouse.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, 20 years later, while my friend Josh and I were stranded in a Minneapolis Airport trying desperately to figure out a way to get to Madison, Wisconsin in less than 24 hours, that a Michael Jackson song would be what saved us. That Michael Jackson would again become a lighthouse.
It was the summer of 2008. Josh and I were sitting on a couch searching for last-minute flights on the internet. We waited so long to buy plane tickets because…
Everything we found to Wisconsin from Oakland was about $200 out of our price range. Being responsible adults, we decided to fly to the closest state we could afford to get to and from there…we were to wing it. We apparently fancied ourselves as a modern day Lewis & Clark team with head injuries.
It must be said now, that at the time of purchase, we were not sober and we were using a Wii for our internet access.
To recap, we had to go to Madison, WI. We booked a flight to Minneapolis, MN instead, using a point and click video game console. We were then going to “figure it out”. And we were probably going to “figure it out” not sober.
When we arrived, a week later, into the Humphrey Terminal in Minnesota we had no clue how we were going to get to anywhere.
We casually stepped onto a shuttle train because at least it was going somewhere and that’s better than standing still when you have somewhere to be… (?).
When we got on to the shuttle train, Josh and I- two naturally born weirdo’s, did what we always did in times of crises- He began to sing a booming rendition of “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson while I danced my heart out. (I would sometimes jump in on the chorus because, really, how could you not?) He sung and I danced until someone noticed that we were in dire need of help.
That someone was Jonathon.*
“I love that song.” He said.
He then smiled and approached us slowly; as if we were some kind of wild and untamed carnival act.
“You know it.” We both said in unison. (Which I still don’t fully understand what that was supposed to mean.)
As our conversation grew, it turned out that Jonathon was from California as well and grew up not only in the same town as Josh but also the same neighborhood.
When he asked us what we were in Minneapolis for, I told him about our plight. Without a blink of hesitation, he immediately took the reins and went about trying to solve our problem. We exited the tram and he found the nearest information booth. He called the greyhound bus lines from there. And then he got the address to the bus station. And then he got the time of the next bus leaving for Madison.
We had 20 minutes to get to Downtown Minneapolis.
Jonathon then rushed to his car, picked us up at the designated spot, and said “You got a bus to catch.”
We were cutting it close. At one point into the drive he promised “if you guys miss this bus; don’t worry, I’ll drive you to the next stop and you’ll catch it there.”
That goddamn shining star of humanity was promising to pull some dukes of hazard type moves for us!
Then Jonathan dropped the bomb on us- adding a little extra magic to the story. Or as I like to call it, he pulled his Michael Cooper socks UP.
As is it turned out, Jonathan is a pilot and no fucking bullshit; he not only flew us 2000 miles across the country but he took it upon himself to drive two strangers another 20 miles in his own vehicle so they could get where they needed to be.
Now that is customer service you just don’t see anymore.
We screeched into the Greyhound parking lot a few minutes later. He told us to hurry up or we’ll miss it. So we jumped out and yelled “thank you” over and over again. We saw that the bus was still there, and we had a few minutes before it left, so we turned to Jonathon, who was waiting across the street to see if we needed any further help, and gave him a big thumbs up.
He then rolled down his window and started to sing, “if they say, why, why? Tell’em that its human nature…”
*Because i’m not a very good person I forgot his actually name. For awhile, I was referring to him by “Wasabi” since “Wasabi” maybe the coolest name ever pronounced. And he was the coolest.