By Phillip Ghee (USA)
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What's so strange about a strange party? Things are supposed to get strange at a party. That's what makes a party worth having. A good party is exactly: a part-ing of the normal. Anything other than that is just merely a social gathering. However, there are times when weirdness at some parties becomes little too strange; or even otherworldly. I stopped in to see my friend and former boss Daniel. I had not talked to him in more than a year. Fortunately for him, I had arrived just when he was having some transportation issues. He had secured a free lance gig setting up the sound, taking pictures and shooting video of a party. The party was quite a distance away and he professed that he was on the verge of declining to do the gig before I had arrived. He enticed me to drive him to the party and, since I had not been out in awhile and I owed him about a billion favors, I consented to drive my vehicle. We reunited later in the day, picked-up one of Daniel's other acquaintances and we were off for a night or merriment.
We talked of many things while in the car, none which concerned the upcoming party. It was if instinctively we knew that the subject of the party was to be experienced and not discussed or speculated on beforehand. The drive was a little over an hour. It is magnificent to note how California's climate and terrain can change so drastically in such a comparatively short amount of time and distance. I believe the area to which we arrived would be geologically classified as the high desert. The spring-like weather blessing us on our departure had now changed to the omnipresent blaze of summer desert heat the closer we drew to our final destination. The heat, although intense, had a refreshing quality about it. It was hot, dry and breezy as if someone had left the door of a moon-sized Maytag dryer open, while it was still running. To feel oneself totally encapsulated by external heat has quite a surreal feel about it but, at this venture in the story, surrealism had only poked its head out momentarily to say boo!
Southern California is not an all night town like a Chicago or a New York. When we get down to partying we start early and end early. Parties as well as other social activities usually begin around six or seven in the evening. Since Daniel had to set up sound as well as camera and video equipment, we had arrived even earlier, around five.
After venturing through some winding hellish, I mean hillside roads we finally arrived at the intended location. The neighborhood appeared to be typical of a working man's (and woman's) blue collar encampment. The block was situated on a cul de sac which set back even further on an incline isolated and away from the main road. This fact gave the block an even more an appearance of se-part-ation. Although not truly isolated, the surrounding neighborhoods were staged at respectable distances. There were eight or so houses on each side of the street. The houses themselves were old, with nothing spectacular to look at and bearing no signs of gentrified facelifts. My first assumption was that this was going to be some sort of block party, since uniformed security guards were busy blocking off the entrance to the entire block with brass posts and ceremonial red velvet rope. There was even valet parking and some higher ups on the security hierarchy marched about dressed in the standard blue blazer, grew slacks and touting walkie-talkie. How impressive, I thought, for a block party.
Funny though, none of the blocks residents were outside to witness the hubbub, and neither were their cars. I guess valet parking or security had really taken care of them? The only visible person out there on the block other than us and the hired help was a female, draped in a one piece, tightly fitted, black jump suit. She was sitting at the entrance at the house Daniel had directed us towards. The heat waves emitting from the streets made her appear wavy and out of focus as I approached the house. Her wild and bountiful mane of reddish curls encouraged me to increase my pace so that I might have a prized peek. Strangely, the closer I advanced the more out of focus she became. It is a scientific fact them when something is unpleasing to the eyes, the pupils contract. The eyeballs attempt to help the brain out by diminishing the shock of the viewed image. I failed to note if she acknowledged any member as we literally stepped over and about her. The truth of the matter is that she scared me like a deer looking into the lights of an approaching semi. Rather than look away, I was transfixed on the very thing that I was wishing was not there. Relying on my rapidly constricting vision I do recall the following description. She had the sloping forehead going forth to develop into a Neanderthal brow; such as the vampires on Buffy the Vampire Slayer display once they have morphed into their desired form. She had no eyebrows of note which was interesting considering the abundant mass of head hair, ala Whoopi Goldberg meets Debra Messing. Could this physical appearance have been some sort of fashion statement as opposed to a genetic or demonic tag? We were after all still in the general vicinity of Hollyweird.
I have seen newspaper clippings showing that some people are into the Gothic music scene to such a degree that they will have physical alterations surgically done their person in order to become more ghoulish in appearance. If this was the case give that woman an Oscar or an Emmy or something because she sure succeeded. Only in LA, I guess.
OK, stop it! I was not going to let my imagination run wild.
OK, I had a party to attend. Once inside, my road trip companion and I found our way into the atrium section of the house. This area contained sort of an outdoor extension that ultimately leads out into a larger backyard. This party was definitely not being catered by a professional hosting service or even by someone with a flair for party throwing. I have seen more festive like accolades at birthday parties for kids at Chucky Cheese. All the trappings of celebration seemed cheap and haphazardly thrown together. Hey Guys! maybe you shouldn't have spent so much on security. Come to think of it, why security anyway? Who would want to crash a party like this? These were some of the thoughts that I entertained myself with as I sat there surveying the lack of ambience. Nursing 99 cents store quality cola in a plastic Dixie cup; I gave my imagination just a wee bit more slack on the chain. Guest had begun to arrive. I imagined that the demonic she-devil who guarded the entrance had thoroughly informed the visitors who were not the true cult members among them; mail us. Mommy, I feel a sacrifice coming on.
As the guests began to interact with each other, I ascertained the overt nature of the party. This was a surprise birthday party being held on behalf of the owner of the house, a man named Marion. The first few guests did not set off any alarms other than one couple who had what must have been their grandchild in tow. The unfettered Damien looking youth was quite annoying and no one attempted to discipline the precocious child. His erratically elf-like dancing was unfortunately set to music by some sort of party favor he was blowing. The instrument, a set of plastic horns or, to be more precise, pipes, produced god awful sounds. The vibrations which emanated from the instrument were reminiscent of miniature, high pitched, un-tuned, fog horn. This sound, enter twined with the orchestrated yet eerie harmonies coming forth from the River Dance video which played in the background, was enough to drive anyone batty. Still I refused to give in, heck I have seen weirder, so bring it on you little Pan beast, bring it on.
This resolve of mine seemed to have been lost on my fellow traveling companion. Daniel had so far spent most of his time in the house helping set up things. Although I keep quiet and remained cool and unnerved by everything I was witnessing; my road trip companion was just a wee bit freaking out. He gave sound bite to everything I was thinking but refused to voice. He had a physical appearance to Ben Stiller and had inherited Stiller's staged nervousness and neurotic mannerism to boot.
"Man, something is weird about this party What's wrong with that boy.
Why doesn't some tell him to stop blowing that f_ _ _ _ _ _ annoying horn?
Who the Hell in Marion anyway?
They talk about this f_ _ _ _ _ _ _ Marion like he's some sort of God.
What's was up with that chick on the steps etc. etc. etc.
Ben was trying so hard to get me to confirm that something was amiss that my resolve became even greater. I would say nothing and act as if I have seen it all before. The guest list was a multicultural delight but still a melting pot of the weird. The guest seemed unconnected in style and in appearance. They seemed to have nothing in common except for the admiration and/or love or devotion to the not yet arrived guest of honor, Marion. They greeted each other with cult like familiarity with praise of Marion being the subject of every other sentence. Now Marion was a part time talent agent which I deduced might explain the diversity and eccentric assortment of guest.
”Why security and where the Hell was the rest of the neighborhood"? Ben continued to query.
The Guests (some of the more notable in attendance):
The custodians of the little Pan, blowing his devilish horns and doing that terrible annoying goat boy dance were Middle Eastern and seem to speak in their own dialect except when bestowing the praises of Marion.
A former movie personality, an American Indian, looking just fabulous in his silver pony tails and western wear. He had co-stared in numerous cowboy productions of the 30's, 40's and 50's. Now in what look like his 90's, he still favored the glory days as indicated by the scrap book of glosses and movie stills, he bought along.
There was a child prodigy, not part of the band, who entertained the guest with surprisingly heavy drug themed rifts on the electric guitar such as numbers by the Doors and songs such as Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze. No Hanson or In Sync tunes here.
Two retirees, a lesbian couple with a New Mexico, artsy-fartsy, Santa Fe butchy-ness about them. One of the ladies had bought a pair of authentic cow bones, especially for the occasion, which she feverishly clanged together as percussion instruments. That gave me new meaning to hearing the term playing dem bones.
There was a trio of kids who moved as one unit. They walked so close together, intertwined and in unison it was amazing that they didn't fall over one another. The did not interact with any of the other kids, nor adults at that party so, not only did they moved in physical harmony as if one unit, I guess they were self contained. This mega unit of human flesh with the innocence of Bambi was probably in their preteens. They obviously were related, so cute to the point that with their long dark curly locks and doe like eyelashes one could barely ascertain their gender. And those that did guess would probably end up wrong. They had a Jackson like look about them. , I am referring to famous Jackson family. Also there was something inside of the house that gave credence to this assumption
The House: I had no idea what was going on inside the house nor did I want to. I planned to hold it as long as possible to avoid going inside hence no beer for me. As if to note our hesitancy to venture indoors, Daniel came out and requested that Ben and I give him a hand. The interior of the modest working class home was horrendous, an eye sore, without any style, arrangement or sense of decor. Many items would have found better lodgings in a museum or a medieval castle or a magic show. There were coat of arms mantles hanging on the walls next to hotel lobby styled painting. A full sized knight's armor stood clustered in between a television set and piece furniture so blah and non description that I don't know what to call it. Pinnacled, high backed wooden chairs with funeral home, maroon colored padding adorned the living? room. Throughout the house framed autographed pictures of Michael Jackson, pre his bizzaro incarnation, abounded. All the photos were addressed to Marion, thanking him for this and for that.
The sun was beginning to set and some guests were arriving in Limousines. Limos to such a tacky affair? Marion had yet to arrive. Then it occurred to me, Could Marion be an alias, a pseudo identity for Michael Jackson? It had to be, I thought. At least this line of thinking offered me a sigh of relief which was soon replaced by joyous exhilaration of the spectacle to due to arrive. This new assumption was far better than the previous, I thanked God all this Rosemary's baby scenario was nothing more than a protective cover for the party-goers most famous friend.
Somewhere in the distance I heard a helicopter approaching at South Central, LA altitude. That's gotta be him, I mused and returned to the backyard. Some of the arriving guest were now more fashionable, still pretty eclectic but arriving in some serious out on the town classy duds. I take it these were some of the folks exiting from the limos. The, way less than a night out on the town, atmosphere did not seem to bother them, maybe I was just being paranoid and a snob to boot.
Much like the earlier arrivals, the fashionable new arrivals seemed only concerned seemed to be centered around the expectant arrival of Michael, oops, I mean Marion. The Arrival: from my position in the backyard, sitting on a Pic and Save lawn chair, I heard a commotion brewing from the front of the house. Oh Boy! That must be him, I mused. A sad birthday cake, the kind one could probably purchase at Price Club if Price Club did birthday cakes, which I think they do, was brought to the outdoor dining table. The commotion continued a few minutes on the inside of the house as I held my breath with anticipation. The entourage of well wishers parted and out on to the patio stepped Marion.
Marion was not Michael Jackson. Not only that, Marion appeared to be the most normal looking person at the party, your author included. He humbly, thanked the well wishers, casting his infectious and child like smile this way then, that way. In his mid forties, displaying all the charisma of a content civil servant, Marion entreated the band to play. The rest of the night dwindled forth uneventful. No baby was brought out for sacrifice. Marion did not change into a puff of smoke while doing the moon walk. I still thought the band, which included the woman-beast guardian of the steps, played some damn scary and demonic lyrics but such I guess is the nature of speed metal punk gothic funk or what ever type of band they were. There were still nagging questions about the nature of the party, the weird assortment of guest, the security, the absence of an entire neighborhood; I still could not answer but, juxtaposed against the normalcy of Marion my imagination remained stuck in neutral.
The evening was drawing to a close for me. I apologized to Daniel but asked if he could possibly get a ride home with one of the other guests; many he seemed to have some sort of affiliation with. He was disappointed that I was not going to stay to the end but left matters as they were. When Ben heard I was leaving he was ready to also bail. Ben was still being freaked by the whole scene. I guest the normalcy of Marion did not persuade him otherwise. I surveyed the scene one more time taking in a detail account of the guest of honor. No he was not Michael, nor the Devil.
But during the long silent ride home, I pondered. He very well could have been Michael Jackson, The real Michael Jackson. He had all the physical attributes of what Michael may have looked like if he had never lived the life of a super star, if he had never contracted the alleged disease and skin disorder. What if he had never undergone all the plastic surgeries? If Michael had aged and assumed the features of a normal middle age man rather than remain that eternal adolescent homunculus being. Although now beginning to bald, Marion had the same slender build, height, color (of birth) and natural facial features yes, even the original full nose, that a mature Michael Jackson would have probably have had.
Perhaps a younger Michael sold his identity to the Devil in exchange for what ever? Maybe he had even changed places with a demon to rid himself of the hectic superstar’s life.
Now my imagination was back on track. Body Language: There are some things acquired early in life that tend to stay with up no matter how many transformations we go through. Weeks after the party, I would sometimes muse about my concluding, yet baseless, fantasy scenario about the party and the Michael Jackson connection. However just thinking about the humble and super normal Marion doused the flames of my imagination. Marion was such a likable character. I really enjoyed his sincere way of both waving to and thanking his well wishers. Unlike the smirky smile and the little cutesy fake kiss of the hands to lips followed by his half hearted and labored extension of the arm to wave to well wishers and fans that Michael Jackson is noted for; Marion exhibits a beaming, broad smile followed by a wave which invokes his entire body. Slightly bent at the waist, Marion would raise his entire arm, starting from the opposite side of the body and with the enthusiastic follow through bring the arm and hand way above the head into almost an open handed, forward facing salute. It really made you feel appreciated. No wonder he had such devoted fans as a child start. Many months later and on several occasions, I happen to see televised footage of the Jackson Five during their early years. In dispersed between all the clips one could see a jubilant and beaming Michael Jackson smile while giving thanks to his fans; slightly bent at the waist, raising his entire arm, starting from the opposite side of the body and with the enthusiastic follow through he would bring his arm and hand way above the head into almost an open handed, forward facing salute. It really made you feel appreciated. No wonder he had such devoted fans. The videos are out there.
Phillip Ghee 2004