Fourth grade. Middle of Winter. Northwestern Minnesota
Still dark outside. Everyone rumbles in. Moon boots yanked off. The prettiest girl takes off her snowflake pompom stocking cap, her permed hair sweaty from the cold and warmth. The cutest boy takes off his puffy red ski jacket, his t-shirt staticy from the dry wind. The poorest boy goes to his desk in the same clothes he’s worn all week with no space age Tropicana juice sack or pudding snack or Doritos in his lunch bag. (i shouldn’t be noticing them but that is all i do... notice them). I’m quiet, wondering if I look ugly or pretty today. I’m in love with a number of these boys and I don’t think they know. I don’t think they notice. Maybe today he will say something unrelated to “pass my paper forward.”
As though the holy spirit passed through the room, a murmur begins about One Man. The popular girls are brazen, loud, and flirtatious about Him. The boys only have loud and large good to say about Him. The quieter ones agree. Twenty-four of them, give or take a few million, one of Him. He is the most beautiful man alive. He is awesome, totally rad. He’s a CARD: cool awesome radical dude. The girls are in love. The boys are in love. Everyone saw Him last night. One of the cute boys has learned His dance. Someone else still wears one, only one, glove. It was only last night that they saw Him and it was totally rad. He is a really good singer and dancer. The cute boy has taken his moon boots off and is in his stockings on the polished wood floor. Middle of winter. He continues his moonbootless walk.
He’s really really cute. He’s really really good. Everyone in unison. The quieter ones agree. All sing His praise. Someone important notices I’m stupefied, just watching, just noticing. Someone important turns to me and asks, “Don’t you think He’s awesome? Isn’t He really cute? Isn’t Michael Jackson rad?”
Michael Jackson? Who in the world is Michael Jackson?
My brain shoots a feverish light as everyone turns to listen to what the important person has to ask and what the quiet girl has to say. A small silence enters, swinging of heads, focus of eyes, hush from exhalation of breath. Somewhere in their childhood wisdom they know, or have heard somewhere, maybe out in the woods, that Still Waters Run Deep, and they kind of want to know what I will say. I snap myself into a strong decision.
Do I think michael jackson is awesome?
“No. I don’t like him. I think he’s dumb.”
Unison exhale inhale. They might gang up on me and moon walk me into the floor. Half the boys’ mouths hang open in shock. Half the girls sneer and one asks me again to make sure they’ve heard right. They chant the routine, “oh my gods” and “I think he’s awesome.” “Oh my God! Did you hear that? She doesn’t like Michael Jackson.”
Their worship and heretical remarks rise to feverish pitch again until the bell rings. Somewhere in the confusion, another girl, semi-popular, semi-quiet, stands near me and says, “I don’t like him either,” mostly to me in support, partly to the class, but they are still in the convulsions of the original shock and working back to their high-pitched praise. They don’t really care what she thinks.
A pleasant, heady turmoil slices through my brain.
One: My announcement gave me two minutes of infamy in a fourth grade classroom. I was the center of attention. The feeling of eyes and emotions focused on me, my words and emotions, sent my heart screaming for more… more of that undivided attention.
Two: I had made it through that episode without having to give any particulars to back up my opinion, an opinion I was now quite proud of and cherished for years to come, even after I knew I had to change my mind about the possible Extreme talents of michael jackson.
Three: I had no idea in heaven, earth, or hell, who they were worshipping. I was glad I had made it through that episode without having to explain any of this, not having to remind them why I didn’t know who he was. I was glad they were too in love with him to pick at my reasons for not loving him. My response had been too much of a rush for me, and them. I didn’t want to explain it away.
I didn’t know who Michael Jackson was because they had something I didn’t. This was 1984, February 29. Do you remember the Grammys when he made a grand appearance? It was channel 11 up in Northwestern MN 8pm CT (???). I don’t remember because we had no TV. I didn’t have a TV. Not for the previous six years. Not for the next twenty years.
postscript> and then when he burned his hair during the making of a commercial, enmasse they ripped down posters, tossed out albums, said he was stupid, dumb, and meant nothing to them. The god making process come full circle. Offer up another burnt offering to our sacrificial lamb.
RIP Michael Jackson. Forgive us, for we know not what we do.
(((Christine Vyrnon © 2009
... written in 2002, while in the throes of leaving Jesus... an unpublished attempt to understand how we make our own gods, and why we sacrifice these man made gods. further editing may ensue)))