Monday, December 26, 2011

Michael: as a Verb

Michael: (Related forms) Mich·el·ing, Michael-ism, Michael-ness, Michael-ed;
noun, adjective, verb

1. to go from one Michael place to another, as by car, train, plane, or ship; take a trip; journey: to travel for pleasure to follow in the steps of Michael Jackson.
2. the act of a Michael journey.
3. to journey, to traverse distance places, to proceed, to go from place to place as a Michael Jackson fan in pursuit of, seeking all things MJ.
4. to associate, consort with other Michael Jackson fans who pursue all things Michael Jackson.
5. to travel, journey, or pass through or over, as a country or road, town or city where Michael lived, visited, traveled, performed or shopped.
6. journeys; wanderings; pursuing all things Michael Jackson
7. to express ones Michaelness.
8. to focus on, watch, listen to, to attend, to buy, dance to, sing, embrace all things Michael Jackson.
9.  to spend endless internet and video hours in pursuit of all things Michael Jackson; to blog, to post, to text, to You Tube, to instant message, to email, to tweet all things MJ.

We had never personally met. Like millions have done around the globe since Michael Jackson’s death we became friends on Face Book via the LOVE we hold dear for Michael Jackson. I had wondered what I was getting myself into as you never really know someone just from posts and messages on Face Book. I have learned you can have a great back and forth posting relationship with someone and then you meet them and they are not at all what you perceived them to be. You just never really know someone from Face Book communication. The old fashion face to face communication of expression is lost in the technological world of text messages, email, Face Book and the internet. It’s so easy to type (((HUGS))) and another thing to embrace someone in person. To look them in the eye and say, “Hello” or “How are you?” let alone “I LOVE you.” A term which is the mainstay of all Michael Jackson fan pages. So I was a bit nervous; however I had prayed for months about our encounter and vacation time together and had a sense of peace and anticipation. I also knew God was in charge and I was on yet another Michael journey. I was excited for what was in store and how the next 10 days would unfold.

I arrived early at LAX airport as I didn’t want her to land in a strange place alone without someone to welcome her. We had exchanged pictures of each other to know who to look for but pictures don’t always do justice to the real essence and appearance of a person’s spirit. They can look so different in person. Then there she was, you couldn’t miss her even though she was just a “little bit” as my dad used to call me when I was small. I am not a tall person but Susan was a bit shorter than myself and very thin and trim. Yes small in stature but there was no mistaking that great big MJ LOVE. MJ shirt, jacket, loafers and a big smile. I called her name as a question, “Susan?” with instant recognition as we made eye contact. Gathering her up, off we went wheeling her suitcases to my car as we embarked on the beginning of a new Michael adventure. It seemed from that moment on for 10 full days our Michaeling only stopped long enough to garner a few hours sleep before moving on. It was a wonderful whirlwind of activity, restful sharing, constant MJ music, laughter, commiserating over the sadness of broken hearts over the loss of Michael Jackson and a full years worth of Michaeling crammed into 10 days.

At times there was silence as we digested a day and felt our own feelings over a subject or adventure. What is it that makes a friendship? The ability to be who you are and feel what you feel and not have to constantly tell someone what that is... a knowing... a communication without words. This is what we had. Although there were ALOT of words too. Many, many as we stayed up late into the wee hours of the morning, night after night talking and watching MJ videos, never able to get enough of Michael Jackson and not wanting to waste a single moment of her time in California.

I had planned a massive Michaeling tour session fitting in as many of the So. Calif. Michael spots as possible. Neither of us had any idea what was truly in store. This was a trip of a lifetime for Susan. Each day ended up evolving as the agenda was loose with only 3 major days with scheduled plans; Disneyland, Neverland and Shambala. It was all a first for Susan and although I had been to many of these spots before I was just as excited as she was and felt anxious to share them. We simply had no idea how much fun we would have sharing our common interest and endless stories and research about Michael.

Her English dialect was so fun to listen to and I learned many new English meanings in our journeys across the So. Cal. landscape as we endeavored to walk in Michael’s footsteps. Words such as: ‘motoring’ as we drove, ‘car park’ as we found ourselves lost in the Kodak Theater parking structure (is that possible? Apparently for me Yes!). We readily agreed on the name of the old restored surfer wagon, the ‘Woody’, we passed at least 5 times while I maneuvered in unending circles to find my way to the surface of earth again and up out of the parking structure or ‘car park’. I had no idea the Kodak went so deep into the earth, but there is a dead end & it holds a maintenance material area which is really not at all interesting... but still I managed to find it. The ‘que’ is the line we wait in whether by foot or car. The ‘sponge cakes’ are the pancakes she ate at IHop. The media is ‘blinkered’ in the UK and I have to agree in the US as well with all their fallacious lies about MJ. I have the biggest ‘dust bins’ or trash cans she has ever seen... super sized by UK standards. From the very first day she pitched in with chores like the dishes or bringing in the dust bins from the street and also the mail. We both had a good laugh at my neighbor's puzzled response and strange look when she asked how to open my ‘postal box.’ 

Most times getting lost can be very entertaining and adventurous and I always meet interesting people. I had pondered buying GPS for her visit and even priced them, as I knew I’d be driving quite a bit but decided against the extra expense and thought I’d just wing it as usual. Of course as a result I became lost innumerable times. It was fun and exciting sometime and bewildering and exhausting other times. There were a couple of nights past midnight when I just said “I’m too exhausted to keep looking. Let's just go somewhere else.” The trouble was I was so engrossed in thought and conversation so many times I would forget where I was and would get lost even while taking her to places I have been to many times. We laughed so hard when I was searching at one point for Michael’s tattoo salon, Anastasia’s, off Wilshire in Beverly Hills. When we finally found it I realized I had been there before as it was only doors away from Julien’s auction house. I circled the area searching for the salon and played good tour guide pointing out Julien’s where Michael’s clothes and the Thriller jacket were recently auctioned and kept pointing it out each time we passed missing Anastasia's completely each time announcing instead, “Well there’s Julien’s!” Susan laughed heartily as she said “I saw Julien’s so many times as we passed by that I thought there were several Julien’s.” Good thing she wasn't paying this tour guide. It was hilarious.

Then there was the time we searched all afternoon and into the evening for Ed Hardy only to learn after visiting three different Ed Hardy stores, and to make it more confusing two of them are on Melrose, the Ed Hardy store we actually had in mind, the one that Michael visited with Christian Audigier, is now the Ed Hardy Outlet. I didn’t realize so much Ed Hardy history existed until I talked to the many Ed Hardy sales people in each store as Susan shopped or we asked for directions to different stores. After searching for hours and shopping at each store we arrived at the outlet with only minutes to spare before closing but Susan immediately spotted the items she wanted to purchase and snagged her booty. As the store closed for the night I promised I’d bring her back... if I could ever find it again. Then as I was taking her to dinner days later in Santa Monica to a restaurant I have been to several times before I again found myself completely lost yet again. We traveled up and down a street, I now have forgotten the name of, that was in the middle of West Hollywood. Her comments while lost there that day consisted of, “OH MY! Betty! I just saw some naked men dancing on the table shaking their bits about!!!” I howled with laughter and informed her, “Oh! I forgot to tell you about that part of the tour!” U turns and I are a well adjusted duo. If all else fails make a u-turn and try again.... this way of traveling about L.A. of course enabled Susan to again view the ‘shakers of the bits’ a few more times. This time she hid her eyes. Let’s just say I have learned if my instincts say to go west I better turn east.

No this is not Alzheimers... I'm just 'Directionally Challenged' and I have surrendered to this sometime mind boggling and frustrating fact, embracing it as part of who I am. At least as an independent woman I can freely ask for directions and meet great people I would never have met otherwise. I have been known to call friends in Colorado while driving for directions to the Grove in Los Angeles. Thank God for cell phones and helpful, loving friends with a sense of humor. However, this time I called my son who is always accommodating no matter the time of day or night, asking for directions to the restaurant we were in search of and when he asked me where I was I looked up absolutely, utterly astounded to see right before me the Ed Hardy Outlet that I had searched for endlessly the previous day. There it was in all it’s glory! Susan and I broke into rolling gales of laughter as we both realized where we were. My son has long ago accepted the crazy part of his mother but he was not as amused as we were about discovering the Ed Hardy Outlet in our quest for dinner and supportively said, “Ok Mom. Uhhh Let’s just get you where you’re going.”

So the first day in Los Angeles I decided I better take Susan to Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, and one of Michael’s favorite places on earth. I thought it best we go while we were both fresh and had plenty of energy. Disneyland was amazing as always and everywhere we looked we were reminded of Michael, from the train station to Mickey Mouse. I snuck her in the back entrance to see Michael’s huge Capt. EO portrait and then of course went straight to the theater to see the Capt. himself on the big screen. The whole day was filled with Disney magic. I think we sat through Capt. EO 5 times ending the night front and center at the Castle to view the most amazing fireworks and then one last visit to say good bye to the Capt. Oh that gorgeous smile. Michael no don’t wave good bye... PLEASE come back don’t leave...

Finally we ended our Disney day with a visit to Michael’s rock in the moat at the castle and the rebel that I am had to stand where Michael stood. We took turns. Yes my bad.

The remainder of the agenda except for the Neverland and Shambala journeys was very loose and whatever we found and experienced just flowed. I took her to the MJ Hollywood Star where she met Jovan the impersonator from Haiti. It was good reconnecting with him and to see he is doing well and still very inspired by Michael Jackson. Very close to MJ's Hollywood Star we took a look at the Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood display where MJ’s fedora is behind glass with a sign stating that MJ traded his fedora for a box of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys along with an MJ signed Dangerous album on display. It always makes me smile to think about Michael giving away his fedora for MickeyD toys.

At Gardner St. School she saw the wonderful results of the fans from all over the world speaking up for JUSTICE for Michael as his name gleamed bright on the Michael Jackson Auditorium. The principle of Gardner St. is a fan of Michael's and has instituted many art and music classes which honor Michael and teach the children about his genius and beauty.

We visited Michael twice at Holly Terrace, Forest Lawn and also the main mausoleum where the majestic white angel stands above the space where Elizabeth Taylor now rests and is not far from Michael. While there we also viewed the beautiful Michelangelo show room and Last Supper stained glass window display. The gorgeous water lilies I had been waiting to capture in photos were in full bloom and contented Wild Geese were gathered at the front gate fountain. We visited the Forest Lawn Florist and Susan chose special flowers for Michael which included a sunflower and butterflies and decided to have them delivered inside to Michael. We went up to the Holly Terrace patio so we could personally watch them go inside. The second visit I brought Michael a Charlie Brown sunflower from my garden, one of the last of about 30 that bloomed throughout the summer, and left it outside with many other beautiful flowers the fans have brought or had delivered from other florists shops. There are always flowers inside and outside on the patio for Michael. 

 She was happy to see the Thriller House in person where Michael filmed his most famous short film of all time. This old house has been restored leaving portions just as they were for the filming of Thriller. It sits in the most amazingly beautiful, refurbished neighborhood of Victorian homes in Los Angeles and not coincidentally on Carroll St. That eery coincidence is never lost on me. 

The Palace Theater where Thriller was also filmed isn't what it used to be but we made sure to stop momentarily to see it. One day I hope to go inside. The same ticket booth that was used in the scene of Michael and Ola Ray while filming Thriller still sits inside behind closed gates. The lights still look the same. It would be so wonderful to see this great theater restored to it's former glory one day.

We made sure to stop by the court house where we had made arrangements to meet Larry Nimmer on the first day of jury selection. It was awesome to be able to take her to the court house to speak her feelings for JUSTICE for Michael Jackson. She displayed her shirt which clearly displayed Conrad Murray as Dr. Death. I carried the same t-shirt to the court house for her throughout the trial. 

Off The Wall antique store in Hollywood on Melrose is always fun to visit. I was not surprised to learn from the owner that one of the pieces from the 1900's medical school set that Michael had purchased but never took delivery on before he passed away was now gone. I was happy to hear that the leg in the set was sold to an MJ fan. The two heads still remain and are as intriguing as ever.  The antique Disney figurines that Michael loved so much are still in the corner display and on the day we visited there were also wonderful antique toys in the front window which so reminded me of Neverland. Seemed everywhere we looked there were Michael reminders.

The Autry Museum was also fun to see and we learned this exhibit of Michael’s clothes will not be open much longer. We also were shown a very cool tribute, guitar belt buckle which is a replica of the one which Michael wore is for sale. The original that Michael wore is on display there in the exhibit that Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins designed.

 The Grammy Museum now has a new permanent Michael Jackson display which is not to distant from the Graff Lab Mural so we made sure to swing by the Graff Lab after visiting the Grammy so Susan could see that incredible TII Michael mural.

  The Super Bowl MJ Mural off Hollywood Blvd is always so much fun to share with fans. I just love that mural and it always brings a smile to their faces along with many ooohs and ahhhs from those I take to view it. Susan loved this mural as well.

Once we finally found them the Ed Hardy and Moist stores were interesting, as well as Anastasian’s and Julien’s. The woman who waited on Michael at Moist was there and we were told that a video plays on occasion of Michael's visit to Moist. Michael liked to shop in both Moist for Men and Moist for Woman, gender never had boundaries to his fashion taste. The day we visited the video of Michael was not playing; however across the street was definitely a reminder of Michael. A full size Peter Pan statue (albiet the face looked a bit evil to me LOL).

Carolwood was last on the list but we ended up seeing it the day we were searching for Ed Hardy. This place is always difficult to visit. To me it will always be a crime scene... then maybe not just for me because not long after Michael’s death it was included on the Hollywood Star Tours Crime Scene Map. Long before Conrad Murray was found guilty. Every time I visit this place the incredible, unnecessary loss of Michael Jackson is felt. This day the tour buses were coming by on a regular basis, as usual, much to the chagrin of the home owners who happen to be Christian Audigier and his wife, who at times post guards to keep tourists away. This day it was guard free but we kept our distance to respect their property.

In my search of Engine House 71 which I know is just around the corner from Carolwood, not that I like to go there but in an attempt to be a good tour guide I thought I’d point it out to Susan. Following my inner directional instincts we ended up going the wrong way. It was only a short distance and I realized with no surprise we were headed instead for San Fernando Valley where Michael lived at Hayvenhurst so instead of a U turn we rolled on up and over the hill into the San Fernando Valley and ultimately were dumped out on to Ventura Blvd. Thus we decided to go to Hayvenhurst for a visit instead. We stopped to buy a lovely orchid for Mrs. Jackson although she and the children are not living at Hayvenhurst, it was the gesture of love that mattered. We walked down to the compound rang the bell and the guard kindly thanked us for the gift through the intercom and assured us he would come out to retrieve it. We left the orchid on the brick planter and stepped across the street to wait, he came out shortly and we started a conversation with him. He was so polite and friendly and as we talked we looked down the drive way and there was Kenya! Beautiful Kenya... Michael’s family dog, a beautiful chocolate brown retriever, the children’s dog. She was wagging her tail and so happy and content, very well behaved. We talked for sometime to the kind gentleman and again as always with every time I have ever visited Hayvenhurst and spoken to the guards I was once again assured simply by this man’s gentle, kind spirit that MJ3 and now also Kenya are being very well cared for.

On another day when I was showing a friend, Sara, from Colorado around L.A and we were in search yet again for the Ed Hardy Outlet I instead did in fact find Engine House 71. I dunno... it makes no sense.... but there on the right was Engine House 71. Baffling. Seems sometimes Michael leads me where he wants me to go.

This next part of our Michaeling adventure was not the best time; however with all things the Lord can turn the seemingly bad completely around. One of the highlights of the week was our trip to Neverland. I was very excited for Susan as this would be her first ever trip to the gates of Michael’s Neverland. I have learned to just take life as it comes most days... most especially when on vacation and Michaeling. We first had so much fun spending some time in my MJ guest room where Susan was staying going through many of the MJ items I have collected before leaving on the journey. A day which started with so much joy quickly changed as we traveled slowly toward our destination. Our journey to Neverland this day was not my typical joyful adventure. Fear can squelch freedom of expression and inhibits fluidity. God tells us to be free of fear. I have worked very hard for many, many years to turn my fear into faith. Today I wander freely through life working hard to avoid the pitfalls of fear. It's still not an easy thing to do. On this journey to Neverland I found myself and Susan unwittingly at the mercy of someone else’s fears as another insisted on driving. Preferably I'd have rather been lost anytime than ever endure this experience again. Never have I visited the gates of Neverland, Los Olivos and Solvang and not felt exhilaration, peace and joy except for this day. Let me just say this for the person out there who has never been to Neverland... who knows nothing about the lay of the land around Neverland; there are indeed back country roads and if you don’t know how to drive a country road I would suggest a bus, taxi or just let someone else drive. Yes Neverland is in the country far away from everything. That is why Michael loved it. There are far reaching rolling hills with animals and wild life, ranches with cows and horses and if you are afraid of such things this may not be the place for you. For me a trip to Neverland is also a time to stay late and take in Michael’s moon and millions of twinkling stars that Michael gazed and wished upon when he lived at Neverland. Why else go? Bring a jacket if you don’t want to be chilly in the summer night. Yes it is dark for the only lights are the lamps at the drive way and the stars and the moon above. The crickets chirp, the bull frogs ribbet and if a coyote’s howl frightens you to death, again this may not be the place for you. For me I LOVE it. I am comforted by the distant coyote’s howl, it energizes me. For me a walk in the dark on Mnt. Figureroa Rd. while looking up at the stars and moon is like a spiritual journey. Also I must share with you if you are afraid of dirt and don’t like plants then Woeste nursery in Los Olivos down the road from Neverland is also not the place for you because after all it is a nursery, a plant nursery and there WILL be plants and dirt there, everywhere. For me it is like a fantasy wonderland.

Now after a long day, it was turning dark and we were very SLOWLY heading back from Solvang to the gates of Neverland before the next leg of our journey into Santa Barbara. I was pondering the absurdity of the day, and how it had been a very long time since I had felt hostage to fear, as we were driving back on Mnt. Figueroa Rd. when suddenly there was a baby calf in the road. We swerved almost hitting it then just kept going. I was shocked and sat up in my seat turning to look back, openly asking “How do you think it got loose? Maybe we need to go back.” My question was stonewalled with absolute refusal to stop the car in the dark on a country road. The driver not giving a hoot about the calf or the fact that any other cars might possibly hit it, or that someone could be hurt. Susan was beside herself with concern about the little calf. It looked so frightened. We pleaded to turn around to help the calf but there was no reasoning with her. We went on to the gates of Neverland but all joy was gone, only disappointment and shock in it’s place. Only Susan and myself emerged from the car for any length of time to take in the gates and the night sky. It was barely dark and the stars were not fully visible but soon I was the only one taking in the view. She wanted to leave for the night. I sat on the stone wall at the gates and looked up at the stars wondering what parallel universe I had stepped into this day. Susan who is a huge animal lover could not get the worry over the baby calf out of her mind. We were all so miserable at this point that we loaded into the car to drive on down to Santa Barbara. On the way again we saw the baby calf... or as our fearful driver put it “It’s just a cow. It’s fine.” All I could see was a dead cow, or dead calf, if someone didn’t intervene in some way so we again begged for her to stop. Finally she begrudgingly stopped and Susan and myself piled out of the car. I immediately found a phone number on a near by fence and began calling the number hoping to arouse someone to gather up their livestock. Susan on the other hand went directly to the baby calf and began shusshing it gently along the road disappearing into the dark up over the bend. The driver of our car began to scream out the door “Get In the car!!! NOW!!” while gunning the engine and pretending to leave. I was shocked to say the least and by that time was also on the phone with another friend we were planning on meeting up with. Our plan had been to meet around midnight. Those plans now scratched as well. Something else to remember when Michaeling is that very few nights end early as there is no time in Michael land. In any event by this time all I could say to my friend on the phone was “Oh the joys of MJ fan drama. I have Susan saving a cow and another screaming at the top of her lungs demanding we get in the car.” I wondered for the life of me why she ever wanted to join in our adventure, was it just to play the part of the squasher of dreams? So with the screamer in the car vocalizing her total disregard for the calf and her passengers and the local phone call made to the neighbors I walked up the road to collect Susan and tell her we needed to get in the car or be left behind as our driver gunned her engine and threatened to leave us there on the road in the dark. She reluctantly acquiesced as her mission was incomplete. It was a VERY long, SLOW, uncomfortable ride home. I was enormously relieved to finally see my house, walk through the door and close it behind me on this day. One more time realizing you never really know someone until jealousy and fear looms it’s ugly head in your life. Thank God for positive choices in life and the freedom to close doors.

So very happy to be home, I literally closed the door behind me, turned looked at Susan and in one accord we simultaneously gasped, “OH MY GOD!” Then the relaxed laughter and easy flow immediately returned. It was like night and day. We stayed up that night unable to sleep watching MJ videos and talking about the day and Michael; however neither of us could shake the memory of that poor frightened little calf. The last we knew the calf had run along the road and the last sound Susan heard in the murky blackness of the night was the clinking of chicken wire and much skidding and scuffling. We had no way of knowing if the calf was ok or if it was entangled in a ditch snagged in chicken wire. I looked at her and said... “SO why not go back in the morning? Let’s go back to NEVERLAND! There is no way you are going back to the UK with just ‘that’ Neverland experience under you belt!”

So we drove back to Neverland the next morning. This trip was the opposite of the previous day. The sky was blue and bright, the drive moved along at a quick clip, MJ serenaded us the whole way and soon we arrived at Mnt. Figueroa Rd. to check on the wayward calf. It seemed to be a week full of animals of all sort. As we traversed the road in search of the calf we saw Muscles in the road and swerved to miss him. In this case we were not about to save the snake as he was on his way to where ever he needed to be with his belly full of what looked to be a small mouse or some other meal. Then happily we spotted the calf. He was back behind the chicken wire fence where Susan had shooed him and now standing under a tree with his mum and dad and also two friendly donkeys. Clearly we could see where he had gotten out. We attempted to cinch up the chicken wire to no avail so decided to seek out the owners of the ranch. Susan being from England approaches easily and bound out of the car to knock on doors. I on the other hand being from L.A was a bit apprehensive and in the end regretted letting her go door knocking alone while I sat as the get away driver. We were directed to a ranch who as it turned out was Michael’s immediate neighbor and the very home of the Milk Money Cows Michael leased his land to for grazing money. Susan climbed the porch stairs and knocked, sitting just inside beyond the screen door at a desk a gruff voice responded “Yes. What can I do for you?” Susan looked into a face of a David Nordahl looking mountain man with a scruffy long beard and wild lumber jack way about him and explained about the calf escaping the night before and he said he would send someone down to mend the fence. Our job done on behalf of the calf we felt relieved the little guy would now be safe and moved on not much farther up the road to the gates of Neverland. We parked under the giant old oak that stands sentry at the gates, it’s bark riddled with wood pecker holes. A blue jay perched up in the branches of the old Oak lit down to the split rail fence to say hello. A lizard skittered out and posed for a picture. We seemed to draw animals at every turn this trip. It may have been Susan’s Dr. Doo Little personality. My cats simply loved her as well.

 This return trip to Neverland Valley as it turned out was a perfect blessing because Young’s Art Gallery was open this day and we were able to spend time visiting with Ralph. It was fun to watch and listen as he entertained Susan with stories about Michael’s love of art and his visits to the shop. Then we moved on to Woeste nursery once again and spotted some wonderful new items on display that had just been delivered that morning. It was an amazing ‘Do Over’ at every turn. Moving on into Solvang we ran into a wonderful lady who knew Michael and whose children had been to Neverland many times. She shared heartwarming stories about Michael’s visits to Solvang stores and other local areas. The love in her heart and deep admiration of Michael was so evident. We clearly connected and again it was so comforting to know Michael was loved and appreciated by his neighbors. Along this part of the journey in Solvang we also saw a beautiful momma deer and her twin fawns. They were swift but I managed to capture one in a picture.

After feeling fully saturated with all things Michael in Solvang and with it now truly dark enough out to see the stars crystal clear we returned to the gates of Neverland for a real visit where we listened to the same night sounds that Michael listened to and looked up into the night sky at the same stars and moon Michael gazed at. We were taking our time at the gates when suddenly there was much activity inside the gates, security walkie talkies were buzzing. Perimeter and building checks were being done. Security was on high alert this night. We stayed for a while at the gate and under the Oak and then returned to our car where we sat facing the property wondering what was going on. Then we noticed a long line of headlights. A long caravan of cars lined up with their head lights beaming out toward the gates seemingly waiting to leave Neverland. Still curious we got out of the car and approached the gates as all the cars began to leave. In the second car was Tom Barrack. He was very friendly, smiling and waving hello to us as he slowly drove by. After the excitement died down and all cars drove away, we stayed for a while longer, listening to the Neverland night sounds then made our way back home. The drive home that night was filled with Michael’s music and lots of free flowing conversation. Much to think about with the goings on at Neverland this night.

For the last day of Susan’s visit we had made reservations months in advance to visit Shambala where Michael’s big cats Thriller and Sabu now reside. They will have a home here for the rest of their lives. I had met spunky Tippi Hedren at Julien’s when the Thriller jacket was up for auction and had been really looking forward to this visit. There were many people visiting Shambala this day. There were three groups each assigned a tour guide with a megaphone. It’s a long day visit and you are invited to bring a picnic lunch to eat at tables set up by the man-made lake at the end of the tour. All food is gathered and kept back at the picnic ground before embarking on the tour through the facility. Each group has a tour guide, two to three docents and another staff member following along to keep visitors safe and to make sure they don’t wander away from main trail or reach over near cages which is totally understandable. These are wild animals not trained house pets. They can be very dangerous and I suppose sometime the humans do stupid things as well like trying to feed or pet them.

Thriller and Sabu are in a cage at the edge of the compound up against a hill, we were pleased to learn were also at the beginning of our particular part of the walking tour. Sadly our tour guide knew nothing about Thriller and Sabu and seemed to believe the hype of the media about Michael. He clearly didn't want to talk about or answer questions about Michael's big cats. He completely skipped over MJ’s cats and moved on to the other part of the tour. I controlled myself to a degree but finally had to speak out about how disappointing our tour was since we paid the $50 a person to see and learn about Michael Jackson’s cats. I had made it clear we were MJ fans coming to Shambala specifically to see Thriller and Sabu. It was confusing to me especially since Shambala’s promotional campaign for 2011 was using Michael Jackson’s cats to promote and bring in donations, yet our particular guide knew 'nothing' about these beautiful animals, seemed to not want to talk about the cats and quickly moved on to other cats where he then spent long amounts of time talking about each animal. Anyone who knows me knows this just wasn’t going to fly with me. Not to detract or negate from how beautiful the other cats are it seemed extremely insensitive, ignorant and prejudicial toward MJ to me. As the tour moved on away from MJ’s cats I became more and more frustrated and disappointed, moving toward the back of the group I quietly voiced my complaints to the docents to no avail. My words however did not completely fall on all deaf ears, they were heard by a facility staff member standing at the back of our group. This man was so kind, as I stood next to him he quietly offered information about Michael’s big cats and confided to me that he fed Thriller and Sabu every morning and threw the ball for them to play.

Finally someone who knew about MJ’s cats! He shared that Thriller was very aggressive with the food and was the ruler of the roost so to speak. Sabu the male cat was more laid back and would allow Thriller, the female cat, to eat the food first every time, then he would eat his food when she was done. I smiled and couldn't help but think, “What a gentleman” but I am sure it is more about being territorial. He pointed out that they had a portion of the lake in their cage and would play and lay in the water. There was also a giant ball and other toys for them to play with. Sabu was laying on top of what looked like a giant dog house type shed which had a hard plastic green awning type roof over it. Thriller was laying inside the shed. He said those were their normal places they lay at rest. That Thriller was always inside the little shed and Sabu on top, they had claimed their own spots and they most always laid in the same place. I asked about water for them to drink and he pointed out the large water bin that looked like a metal trash can hanging on the fence and said it is filled often. He explained that they were nocturnal and slept most of the day and became much more active at night and feeding time.

There is a replica of an African Safari tent with a wooden floor which is set up and furnished for over night stays for guests. It sits just adjacent to Thriller and Sabu’s cage and those who stay over night are entertained by their growls and the sounds of their night time antics as they prowl in their cage as well as all the other cats in the compound. Night time becomes very active at Shambala. I was surprised when after going through the rest of the tour we arrived at the gift store and were then taken back by our tour guide to Thriller and Sabu’s cage. It was then that he began to show just how unknowledgeable he was about Michael Jackson and his animals, much of what he began to tell us was media lies. Such as Michael abandoned all of his animals and fled the country. Susan and I quickly put him right about that and ended up sharing the truth with him about Michael on many things. In response he said he had no idea. I was shocked that he was allowed to share such things on this tour. They are all volunteers but to allow someone to talk in a negative way about Michael especially when they were using Thriller and Sabu as their promotional income for the year of 2011 was just terrible to me. After eating our lunch I approached other staff members and met a wonderful, kind lady who also takes care of Michael’s cats regularly. She was adamant that Michael NEVER abandoned his cats or any of his animals. There was a veterinarian in charge at Neverland and it was the same vet who brought Michael's cats to Shambala. She also shared how the video of Thriller doing the moon walk happened accidentally one morning while she was present as none of the cats are trained or perform in any way. She just happened to have a camera in her pocket that day and captured Thriller moving backward as if Moonwalking. At Shambala these big cats are allowed to live out their lives with no human pressure to be anything other than the natural wild cats that they are. Sadly these magnificent animals should be free in the wild but for these animals who were originally pets or zoo animals, such as Michael’s cats, this is a wonderful place for them to live comfortable safe lives. After lunch Tippi Hedren also gave a speech and signed books and met with visitors.

For Susan’s last night in Los Angeles we watched more MJ videos and shared until late. We continued easily talking the next morning on the way to the airport. I have driven to LAX more times than I can count but of course on this day I was talking and of course found myself completely lost. What better way to end this 10 day Michaeling tour? We laughed as I pulled into a strip mall, got out of the car and asked for directions. It wasn’t long before we found our destination, Virgin Airlines at LAX. It was sad saying good bye to Susan our hearts and lives now bonded. A lovely lady who will always be welcome in my home, in my MJ room.

She called me from the UK today to wish me a happy Christmas as I prepared to write this story and I was so pleased to tell her that among other wonderful amazing MJ presents that I received was GPS from my son and his girlfriend!!! Apparently the time I called my son at 5 a.m. on the morning of the first day of the Conrat Murderer trial convinced him I needed GPS. That morning I was once again in the dark of night, alone and lost in downtown Los Angeles. After dialing him I didn’t realize I had forgotten to hang up before he answered as I had come upon some bus drivers on the way to work who amiably gave me directions. He over heard my asking for directions and back and forth conversation with these friendly people as they directed me to Temple St. After I realized my phone was still on I just hung it up. I laughed when he called me back very curious and amused with the question, “Mom, For the Love of God where are you now and why?” Funny how roles change with our children. Somehow he wasn’t surprised my answer had to do with JUSTICE for Michael. I had a mission that morning to receive the sunflowers to hand out for the Call For Love Face Book group. My family has come to know and accept my Michaelness and the directionally challenged part of me as well.

So now to all my MJ friends who have been nagging at me about getting GPS, and my response has always been “maybe someday"... someday is here... now to learn how to use it.
A late Merry Christmas and very Happy New Year to everyone...
and of course Shamone! Happy Michaeling!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

MJIWT and Fan Fest Las Vegas

I’m a small town girl from the far reaches of northern Los Angeles County. I prefer the quiet small town life but when offered the chance to view Michael's belongings up close and see the Michael Jackson Immortal World Tour again I jumped at it. Vegas was on my radar. I hadn’t been so excited about going to Vegas since my drinking days in the 70’s. I won’t go there now because back then whatever happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas. Now on the other hand whatever happens in Vegas must be shared.

I had not long ago been completely blessed to visit Montreal with 14 other MJ fans for one of the final rehearsals of MJIWT and once there I knew I just had to also see it in Vegas. Even the drama with the ticket agency attempting to put the kibosh on my ticket turned into gold for this trip. One ticket became two which enabled my dear friend Robyn to attend with me. I had reserved a room with two beds knowing there may be a fan who would need a bed for the weekend and sure enough my instincts had been right. Leaving work early with my heart already in Vegas I pulled up to my house to find Robyn waiting in my drive way just as we had planned. Our bags quickly tossed into the trunk and we were ready to roll. Destination: Vegas BABY!

The four and half hour drive passed quickly as we talked non stop about Michael, fan happenings, and of course the victorious GUILTY verdict and sentencing of the monster Conrad Murray. This trip and this weekend seemed the perfect way to celebrate the victory for JUSTICE for Michael. The sun set over the Nevada desert just as we approached the State Line and not much later like a magnet the lights of downtown Vegas pulled us in. I totally understand why Michael loved Vegas... a land where there is no time, brimming with artistic creativity, entertainment and show business at every turn. The city that never sleeps.

I had read a very surprising Vegas related article in Hip Hop Silver Edition Commemorative magazine shortly after Michael died. The chief of staff for Louis Farrakhan, Leonard Muhammad was interviewed. He had headed up the security staff for Michael during the trial in 2005 and for a short time after in 2006. It was a joy to learn that although Michael had been deeply wounded by the trial he had not just retreated to deep depression but had his hand in many projects the public did not know about. He never stopped creating. This story changed my memories of seeing the beautiful water shows in Vegas forever. Now they will always have Michael’s touch on them. It is no wonder they are so beautiful and always draw a crowd, especially at night. 

Part of the interview:
Q: Were you ever able to experience first hand the (MJ’s) artistic process or creative talents?
LM: I saw his artistry because he had a studio he had put in the house, that he was staying in at the time, and we would sometimes observe him. And from time to time people would come by who were co-writers or musicians and played the music that he would write and I saw a little of that.... but also to listen to him talk about his future as a developer, as someone who wanted to do theme parks and there are water shows and that sort of thing right now in Vegas that were designed right now by Michael Jackson that people don’t know that he in fact designed these spectacular water shows that you see when you drive down the strip in Las Vegas. Many of these things were designed by Michael, but it’s not known in the public.

So here we were in Vegas in Michael’s water wonderland of creativity and fun. Here he didn’t have to sleep... no one does unless they want to.

There was a gathering of some fans from MJNYFC, the New York fans, for a party on Friday afternoon we had been invited to a party at the Palms where Michael loved to stay and had stayed with his children many times. We missed that party because work came first for me but at least I was in Vegas now and we were headed to meet the fans at the second fan party at the WYNN hotel. We had parked the car and opted to use a taxi the entire weekend because of my penchant for getting lost. It was hilarious to me the next day when on the way to the Mandalay Bay Hotel the taxi driver was lost but I recognized my way and corrected him. There may be hope for me after all. In any event the taxi ride to the WYNN was a quick jaunt down the strip. The WYNN hotel is simply gorgeous and there is one room which so reminded me of Michael with giant ornate, glass, umbrella shaped, decorations hanging from the ceiling. It was simply beautiful. I was thrilled to see and meet up with several fans I’d met over the last two and half years. We opted not to go to the party after the long drive but instead returned to the room early (how my life has changed since the 70's) so we could be rested and fresh for the big day, the Vegas FAN FEST and MJIWT red carpet premier.

We were up and out early into the very cold, windy desert winds. The taxi pulling up was a welcome sight and we piled in grateful for warm air and escape from the wind. We had seen the MJIWT Mandalay Bay sign at night on the way into town but as we rolled up to the gold glimmering front doors we were hit by an absolute presence of Michael. As I stepped out of the taxi and took my first look I was taken aback, stopped dead in my tracks. It was as if Michael were here in concert himself. As if he was billed for a personal appearance. My heart sank. I was stuck at the front doors for sometime overwhelmed, tears brimming, heart racing, snapping pictures and trying to grasp reality, wanting my wishes to be the reality I was about to enter. If only he could be here. If only... taking a large cleansing breath we forged on through the front doors to find our way through the giant rooms filled with slots and tables leading to seemingly never ending vast corridors and alluring stores and shops. The air changes inside. I have heard that oxygen is pumped in to pump up the patrons, to keep then hopping at those gambling tables. We are not gamblers; however we didn’t need much help at getting pumped up. Everywhere we turned there were different types of signs with Michael’s picture leading you to Fan Fest or the concert hall for MJIWT. Every sign seemed to boost our energy level and spur us on. We secured our tickets from Will Call. Sadly there were many other fans learning that their tickets had also been sold out from under them or were simply not there. The greed surrounding anything Michael Jackson still astounds me. I will from now on always be sure to buy my tickets only from Ticketmaster.(will explain later)

Soon we thankfully sank down into a comfy chair in the close by Starbucks to nosh and drink our breakfast. As I was savoring the yummy, fortifying splendidness of my mocha latte I was so pleased to look up and see beautiful Raquel approaching me. She is the founder of the Las Vegas MJ fan club, and holds the MJ Fan Convention in Vegas every year through her group MJSUNIFC. We happily hugged each other hello. I was so happy to see her again after meeting her in Montreal. Her enthusiasm and energy is contagious. We shared for a minute or two and then she was on her way.
On to Fan Fest... not sure what to expect but remembering we had been promised in Montreal it would hold some wonderful items from Michael’s personal collection including the Neverland arch we all thought was gone forever, and that we would definitely be able to walk under it. I couldn’t even imagine that. Also the Scream set from the video would be there along with some of Michael’s own personal glove collection. It wasn’t long before we walked through the doors of the MJ Vegas Fan Fest. The lights were dimmed, Michael’s beautiful voice was singing to us. He was talking to Dick Clark on a huge screen and singing his little heart out with the Jackson Five. We entered the doors and then took just long enough to get pics at the Fan Fest Sign before moving slowly on to the main attraction. I felt myself holding my breath in  anticipation of what was to come. It was very emotional and sad for some fans. Tears were brimming and rolling down cheeks. Some came to tell me they needed to leave and would come back later, yet still found it difficult to pull themselves away from anything Michael and ended up staying. On display were Michael’s personal belongings that he wore, he touched, he treasured. What was on display held us in awe and rapture. We all slowly moved from item to item completely captivated. Memories flooding our minds. I would stop to talk to other fans and we all had the same look on our faces. There were no words to describe this feeling. For some it was too much. 

A beautiful friend approached me. I was so happy to see her there then as I saw the sadness in her eyes she collapsed in my arms and began to sob, gut wrenching sobs, heartbroken tears. My heart broke for her and it broke for Michael all over again. As I held her I wondered if this feeling, this missing Michael, this emptiness without him in this world... will it ever pass? We can’t seem to get enough of Michael Jackson. The need to be closer to him, to anything that is or was of Michael. I travel all over Michaeling. I take visiting fans and friends from all over to Michael spots, yet each time finding ourselves once there never quite able to conquer the feeling of emptiness, of missing him... it’s just not ever enough. Not enough because nothing we do will ever bring him back. Time has helped. In some ways this blanket of overwhelming grief seems to have changed, lifted, evolved, yet never seems to leave. Will there ever be closure? I believe I have come to accept... no; just the missing of Michael blended with the joy of the person Michael was on this earth and all he gave this world. Michael is our inspiration, our beauty, our enchantment, our ecstasy. It is the grief, the missing MJ that brought us all together... but the love of the human being that keeps us here. This day we celebrate the greatest entertainer to have ever lived on this planet. 

I won’t go into great detail about every item. There are a few that brought me to tears and took my breath away beyond description. There was a This Is It display that I refused to visit until the very end. It was too painful I just couldn’t face that one at first. Along with everyone else I oohhhed and ahhhed and gasped over and over and over again. The enormity of realizing I was standing in front of those shoes... the well worn loafers that clearly show the form of Michael's magical feet. One foot worn more than the other from spinning. Or the tank that MJ himself stood in front of in concerts around the world as he sang Earth Song or the ‘Castle’ that was housed in Michael’s living room at Neverland, it was mind boggling. Here in this room there is a feeling, a joy and it isn’t just the oxygen levels. Here you can feel Michael’s spirit. I have been to a few Julien’s auctions where Michael’s belongings or gifts from Michael to others were up for sale, albeit it was amazing and exhilarating as a fan to see these items up close but none of those visits can compare to what was felt at Fan Fest this day. Michael’s spirit was in this huge room. A room so large that his limos and the Neverland arch were on display with room to spare, yet it felt so warm and so filled with LOVE. Only Michael can do this. Only Michael can bring fans together from all over the world and then fill the entire room with awe and wonder. 

We walked on further to each display and were astounded at the walls filled with awards and honors and realized that this huge room filled with so many awards and items is only about 1/100th of all the awards and belongings that are still Michael’s. I want to say this right now because I know many fans are upset at the selling of some of Michael’s things. I am hoping that this knowledge will bring some comfort. I was told by Juliene's sometime ago that most of the items sold by Juliene’s are NOT from Michael’s personal collection. The personal collection is still very large and held by the Michael Jackson Estate. 

I turned at one point and saw John Branca and Karen Langford walking toward me so I moved over toward them. It was so wonderful to meet up with them again. Karen took on the giant task and responsibility of putting together the Fan Fest event. She did an amazingly spectacular job and I wanted to convey my appreciation for her hard work. John Branca has endeavored to create an experience for the MJ fans with both MJIWT and the Fan Fest event that honors Michael Jackson's legacy in a superb way that Michael so deserves. He has not fallen short. I am very impressed with his warm sincerity and it is very apparent to me that he deeply loves Michael and highly respects and values Michael’s fans just as Michael did. 

 After spending much time at the re-creation of Michael’s library and so wishing I could have just sat one time on the couch with Michael and discussed the latest book he may have just read or look through the same telescope he viewed the amazing Neverland stars thru we move on to the cars. The beautiful Rolls Royce limo and the Bentley both dark navy blue with Michael’s crown emblems adorning them in many places. The Bentley we are fascinated to learn has beautiful hand blown glass vases and mini chandelier type lights attached on the side walls in the back, along with gold trim and burl wood everywhere. Not just tinted windows but also curtains and tapestry pillows. These cars were made exclusively for Michael Jackson and you can see his touch in every detail. 

A friendly Fan Fest guard approached us and shared a wonderful Michael story. One of the women working for Fan Fest whose job it was to unpack boxes and set up displays found when she began opening the cars and unloading the boxes she was over whelmed by a feeling of Michael's presence. Upon opening the car doors Michael's scent was unmistakable. Each box she opened Michael's scent wafted out. At one point feeling overwhelmed she needed to take a break. She went upstairs to her room to relax, turned on the radio and heard Michael’s voice singing. She then said “Ok Michael I’ll go finish.”  There was no escaping Michael, his spirit was everywhere. I then asked if I could get in the limo to smell Michael but was told no. Yes ladies I tried. We stood and talked to this lovely man for a while and then I asked his name and wouldn’t you know it... wait for it... yes it was... ‘Michael’. We of course said, "ahhhhh... Michael." He gave us a strange look but seemed to be amused. I think he liked it. He told us we needed to make sure and take a close look at the Smooth Criminal suit from the This Is It display as it had a stain on the lapel. The stain he said was from Michael. Painfully I listened as a knife cut through my heart to hear that the stain was from Michael throwing up because he had become dehydrated and was feeling ill. I told him I just couldn’t look yet but would later on near the end.

Then I meandered over and took my time admiring the wonderful fan art that was on display including a ‘thumbs up MJ Mickey Mouse.’ Only a tiny microcosm of the fan art Michael collected and received from fans around the world. I have heard but don’t know if it is true, that there a several huge warehouses full of fan art. I don’t doubt it. Two wonderful stories came to mind when I was looking at this art. One from the owner of Youngs Art Gallery in Los Olivos about a time he was delivering art for Michael at Neverland. As he stood in Michael’s office talking to the ranch manager he looked over to a room that was haphazardly filled to the top with boxes and items. He commented about it all and was told that what he was looking at was only a few days worth of presents for Michael and it would be cleared and taken to a warehouse to make room for more mail that would inevitably arrive daily. Michael loved to receive art and presents from his fans. Michael truly loved his fans.

The other story which sprang to mind as I looked closely at the fan art work was one John Branca had shared in Montreal. John had shared that after Michael passed away the MJ Team took on the task of going through his things and were elated to find huge stacks of video tapes. They were even more elated to learn these were personal tapes of Michael’s from concerts he gave from around the world. Thinking these might hold unseen concert footage they were all amused to learn when they watched video after video that these tapes were filled with footage of nothing but Michael’s fans watching him at concerts. He loved to watch his fans watch him on stage. To Michael seeing his fans in the audience was just as fascinating and entertaining as the fans watching him on stage. Yes, that was our humble, loving Michael.

After moving to the back of the hall where some very interesting MJIWT costumes were on display It was now time for me to finally see the TII display. I slowly approached and tried to just take in the genius and creativity of Michael with this display. The spider was absolutely amazing and I could just see Michael coming out from under it. I wanted to get under it to be where he had been but it was chained down or believe me I would have tried. Hee Hee I looked at the fine detail of Zaldy’s creations and wondered how on earth Michael as frail as he was could have worn those beautiful but heavy designs and danced in them. The pant legs were so skinny, so thin. My heart broke for Michael. Then I took a very up close look at the stain on the Smooth Criminal outfit. Sadness flooded my heart as tears filled my eyes once again for Michael. He wanted so much to show the world all he had been creating. I needed to move away and digest my thoughts and feelings so I moved to sit on the TII stage. I had only sat there for a few moments when I turned to see my wonderful friend Wendy moving toward me saying my name, with a huge beautiful smile on her face. I reached out and gave her a giant hug. I was so happy to see her and admire her so much proving, yet once again the deep sadness of loosing Michael is continually, paradoxically accompanied with great happiness and joy. This thought immediately went straight to my heart like an arrow as do all things Michael, leaving me to wonder if Michael himself had not experienced this contradictory feeling throughout his amazing life. He suffered so much at the hands of humans but on the other hand was blessed beyond comprehension with the life God gave him to live, for he surely was chosen for an extraordinary life. I suddenly thought as I stood in front of the TII display with people I love dearly who always bring joy into my life every time I see them... is this a tiny thimble full of what it was like to be around Michael? 

We now had seen everything at least twice. I went back yet again now and took more pictures of the displays as the fans had thinned out near closing. We had arrived before it had begun and like many MJ events stayed until we were told we had to leave. Now we had gravitated back to the library. It was so warm, comfortable and cozy. What struck me was that it was so simple, not ostentatious in any way, very earthy but beautiful. Most especially strikingly beautiful was Michael’s desk. There is a bronze bust of Walt Disney on the mantel which evokes ahhhs. The pictures over the fire place old school fox hunting pictures, very simple and a stark contrast to Michael’s beautiful desk. I wondered if they had come with the ranch when Michael bought it and with the huge collection of art he owned why he never chose to change the pictures out for more Neverland type paintings, such as the ones Dave Nordahl had done for him on so many occasions. Maybe one day I'll find out.  I could just see Michael sitting on the brown, leather, diamond tuck, button couch accepting his awards on TV as he had done so many times. One time in particular with Chris Tucker popped in my head and I could see Michael laughing at Chris’ jokes, giggling up a storm and most likely eventually rolling on the floor in gales of laughter. It was about then I noticed Miko Brando approaching us. Miko is still a beautiful, staunchly loyal friend to Michael. At the Julien’s auction where the Thriller jacket was for sale I had asked him what he thought of the auction and he very understandably shook his head sadly and firmly stated, “I could never sell anything that Michael gave me.” Miko is a quiet, kind man whose grief at the Julien’s auction was absolutely palpable. My heart broke for his loss and although I wanted to ask him many questions, as I always do to those I meet who knew Michael, I simply could not bring myself to intrude on his private sorrow. A surreal feeling enveloped me as he casually stood next to me just between the Neverland arch and Michael’s library and we talked. Robyn and I asked about the magnificent desk in Michael’s library and we were thrilled to learn it was made of mahogany inlay and real gold. He also shared that Michael really loved that desk and had it special ordered. We remarked about the incredibly beautiful chess set and Miko explained in Michael's library it was displayed on a high table which enabled Michael to play chess while standing up. We had run into a local Las Vegas performer, Bella, from Hungary who was also taking in Fan Fest and said Michael had attended a circus he ran many years ago in Vegas which made perfect sense since Michael loved animals. He had shared how Michael loved to watch the large cats at the circus and Miko talked about how Michael loved the large cats and had written a song for 'Siegfried and Roy'. Hysterically Bella had thought I was ‘someone’ famous and kept asking my name. I was tempted to tell him I was Bea from Mayberry but stopped myself. Yes I know that ages me but I am old. HA! Google Mayberry RFD. I assured him I was no one, just an MJ fan, but later when he approached Miko as I stood next to him I informed him that Miko was definitely ‘someone’ special. That he was a huge part of Michael’s life. We told him about all the videos and movies Miko was in with Michael and named them one by one; Thriller, Moonwalker, You Rock My World and that he was even married at Neverland. As we talked I thought about a life time of memories that must daily over flow in Miko’s heart for his best friend. There I was standing next to someone who so loved and supported Michael unfailingly through simply everything for several decades. It was in fact Miko who was there to protect Michael and make sure the fire was out during the Pepsi disaster. It was Miko who placed his body over Michael to put out the flames with his jacket. Bella said he knew Michael because he'd seen Billie Jean and Thriller and Miko said, "That wasn't Michael. Billie Jean was someone he played on stage." So many fans believe they know Michael because of what they have seen on stage or in videos but Michael was a performer and transformed on stage. It is always so wonderful to speak to someone who knew the man Michael truly was. As I stood next to Miko again I wanted to ask so many questions but this time it was just simply enough to stand and talk with him about ‘stuff.’ The desk, the couch, the books, the telescope. He shared that he and Michael spent many times together in the library at Neverland. Yes he confirmed that Michael certainly did use the telescope and loved to look at the stars over Neverland through it. My star gazing at the gates of Neverland will never be the same now as I picture Michael peering through that giant telescope. I noticed the red and gold ‘Team MJ’ jacket he was wearing and asked about it, hoping somehow it might be available for purchase. He told me that all those who came together to support Michael after his death with the Estate became the 'Team MJ’ and each were given a jacket. He wore it proudly.

It was now time to go. We had spent four hours visiting Michael’s things and feeling his magic in this Michael wonderland, taking a very up close look at his personal belongings including the famous crown, stage costumes, awards, cars, arcade games, Michael’s bling; his amazing jewelry, pins and belts. It was simply incredible and hard to believe four hours had passed so quickly but it was time to go. There was a red carpet event down stairs we wanted to attend before the show. So off we went to the red carpet which turned out to be, as Robyn put it, "Just a room with a red carpet that went no where." It was for media only behind close doors. It's Vegas and apparently the illusion of a Red Carpet entrance is what works. The MJ fans were not to be deterred though and we stood very close to the doors so we could be supporting MJIWT in whatever way we could. We all took this privacy as a way to protect Michael’s children who were attending the premier and were making a showing inside the room on the red carpet.

The red carpet turned out to be a very private affair and Mandalay Bay people were not happy about MJ fans being there, to the point of great rudeness. We were not dismayed though and stood our ground. Soon Jackie and Tito Jackson came by, not stopping but saying a quick hello as they went inside. As I was standing there near the entrance table I suddenly felt a hairy thing like a dog under my hand and realized the lead dancer of the show, who is simply amazingly talented, and Bubbles were passing just inches in front of me. That was a surreal moment to know I had just petted Bubbles without even trying. Bubbles actually is a man dressed like Bubbles and he does a spot on imitation of a chimp. We didn’t have to wait too much longer when Travis Payne and Stacy Walker both choreographers and dancers who worked with Michael made sure to come by to see the MJ fans and visit with us. The Mandalay Bay workers tried hard to deter them from visiting with us and to send them the other way but they were so friendly and kind and spent several minutes with the fans taking pictures and saying hello. Travis’ jacket was absolutely amazing and looked as if it was most certainly a Zaldy design. They both looked just stunning. Travis kindly took a picture with me as Robyn told him, “I LOVE your jacket, Travis!” He responded with, “You do? Well you can have it then” as he laughed and took off down the hall for his red carpet interview. It was very chaotic in the hallway as the Mandalay Bay staff decided to hold a national cheer leading rally right in the middle of the hall way during the same time as the red carpet proceedings. All was not lost though as I looked up and saw Jeff Jampol and the staff from the MJ Online team looking very handsome and dapper for the premier night as well as Karen Langford and John Branca all coming our way. John had told me earlier that his children were enjoying themselves at Fan Fest and he now had them in tow for the red carpet as well. Simply stunningly, beautiful children with gorgeous blonde hair. He glowed with pride as he walked through the crowd with them heading for the red carpet. He too along with his team made sure to greet the MJ fans much to the chagrin of the Mandalay staff. The Red Carpet was not for the fans and actually pretty disappointing but the show was about to begin so we moved on making our way through the cheerleaders as they yelled, cheered, jumped and performed their routines while all their supporters clapped and cheered along. As they all yelled "YAYYY!!" I wanted so badly to chime in "YAYYY Michael!!!" but held my tongue. Somehow I wondered how MJ fans quietly standing in a hallway could be so distracting in comparison to the boisterous cheer leading squads. We also passed many cow boys and their cow girls since there was also the yearly rodeo happening on this same weekend in Vegas. The crowd was a baffling mixture of cheering sports groups, cowboys and MJ Fans we all got along famously except for the Mandalay staffers who seemed to not get along with anyone who wasn't a celeb or media. We moved on up the stairs away from the chaos to the concert hall to find our seats. Let the show begin! 

 I could hardly contain my excitement and had been anxiously waiting to see MJIWT again. My ticket had gone south on me when the agency I bought it from sold it out from under me and forced a later show and different seat location on me. To say the least I was not happy about this but as God always does with the seemingly bad he turned that ticket into two for the early red carpet show which enabled Robyn to attend with me. The seats were higher in the nose bleed section but we were perfectly happy with that. I had already seen from rehearsals the higher seats afford a better over all view of all that is Cirque. I brought binoculars just in case though and celeb watched while we waited for the show to begin. Michael’s children and Katherine were there in the front row and not far away were Tito and Jackie and many cousins were with the children. John Branca and his family were right behind Katherine and the children. Then also many MJNY fans and other fans I know were behind or near them in floor seats. Very cool for them to be so close to the stage and all those dear ones Michael loved so much.

The show began and Michael’s music and voice filled the arena. The Neverland gates and Michael’s bronze statues came alive before our eyes. It's at this point that it was reported Paris put her head on her cousin’s shoulder as memories flooded in from her childhood, her home at Neverland. The amazing miniature hot air balloon which held a animatronic MJ as a child floated over the crowd without a hitch as Michael’s heart glowed red beating inside little Michael. I was so completely thrilled to see that the idea I had shared in Montreal for Michael’s silhouette had come to life as Michael’s Billie Jean image in different poses projected onto a giant curtain. As it moved slightly in the breeze, my heart skipped a beat as it even gave the feeling that Michael himself was there. The cirque staff are amazingly talented and so creative. I was disappointed that the top of the giving tree was not there and later learned they had to forego it because of injuries to the acrobats. I'm hoping all problems are worked out and it reappears in Los Angeles. However for me the show was just amazing in spite of that. I whooo hood and danced in my seat to Michael’s music. How can you not? Many cried and Robyn and I shared tissues with a fan from Japan we sat next to and I’m not even sure she spoke English but we definitely all spoke the language of LOVE for Michael Jackson. There were many ahhhs over and over again from the audience and some just couldn’t help themselves but had to stand and dance at their seats. Robyn and I simply had to move to the music in our seats. I lost my voice yelling whooo hoooo and yayyyyy and clapped like crazy after each segment. Who could not? Yes I left my voice in Vegas and it took all week for it to return to normal but was totally worth it. The MJIWT is a journey through Michael’s musical career and simply crammed with so much of his music. Kevin Antunes and Greg Phillinganes and the band did a spectacular job on the music. Robyn was amazed and astounded when she realized what we were listening to was the real kick ass live band, the real singers and not track. The MJIWT Cirque show IS the tribute to Michael we have all long been waiting for. Michael’s voice, music and spirit filled the arena. He spoke his beautiful words in sections which also brought ohhhs, ahhs and tears. I tire so much of the critical fans who are just never pleased by anything. Those that refuse to even open their minds to this wonderful tribute to Michael and sit and criticize without ever having seen it. This IS a simply amazing show which brings so much honor to Michael. We need to embrace and support it. I am so very pleased with the MJIWT Cirque show and I am looking very forward to seeing it again when it comes to Los Angeles. Once or twice is simply not enough. Hee Hee

It was non stop Michael music the entire time and even pyrotechnics. The pole dancer was an incredible show stopper and the brilliant grace and beauty of the trapeze dancers was beyond amazing. The ‘Is It Scary’ segment with the contortionist worm who comes out of the book is one of my absolute favorite parts of the show as well as the show stopping Billie Jean finale performance with the light up suits which Michael would have pioneered at the O2.

We laughed and we cried and we left elated. Then on our way out as God would have it we ended up walking out with the heads of staff of the resident Immortal Cirque show which will be a permanent show at Mandalay Bay in 2013. I spoke to Wilby from Cirque who I had met when we all brain stormed in Montreal at the Cirque du Soleil corporate offices and was so shocked to know he recognized and remembered me right away. He introduced me to Jack Kenn, the VP and General Manager of the resident Cirque du Soleil shows. Also another on the creative end of things was a very shy and unassuming gentleman from France, Michelle. Wilby introduced me as a ‘Super Fan’ and yes that fits me very well. I will wear that label proudly, yes I am and always will be a Michael Jackson Super Fan. I was so honored. It was awesome again to give my input to their questions as we walked. They were so kind. I also look very forward to the permanent Immortal show.

The final consensus of the MJIWT Cirque du Soleil show from audience members walking out of the show that night, all that I heard speak on the way out, was that it was just fabulous. After spending the day at Fan Fest and seeing the show all else pretty much fell flat for me. I was floating on a cloud in Michael land.

The next day before leaving Vegas I just simply had to visit Michael’s favorite antique store in Vegas, the Regis Galerie in the beautiful Venetian Hotel which was just a brisk walk down the strip from our hotel. The Venetian Hotel now stands where the old Sands Hotel of the ratpack era stood which would explain all the ratpack memorabilia mixed in with fine jewelry, glass, painted bronze collectibles and antiques in the store. I was not surprised at all to see it packed full of antiques and unusual items. Michael seemed to like the small packed antique stores. In the front windows the Bashir interview played. The interview when visiting the store Michael says, “You Whooo! You Whoo!” (I just love that). The clip plays on a continuous loop on two separate TVs in both windows to either side of the front entrance of the shop with a statement saying “Our Dear friend Michael, You Will Be Missed.” I stood for quite a while waiting to get a clear shot of the store front and was pleased to see so many tourists stop to watch the video of Michael. Robyn and I walked through the down stairs portion of the store, the upstairs is blocked off, looking at all the beautiful and unusual treasures. We stood at the 'You Whooo' stair well and the tables along the wall reminded me of Michael's library desk and I wondered if he had special ordered his desk from the Regis Galerie. In the center of the main floor we discovered a framed picture of Michael on display which shows him admiring a beautiful re-creation of the crucifixion of Christ. The framed picture sits on the table in front of the same re-creation Michael is looking at in the picture. It is a breathtakingly beautiful piece. We met one of the owners of the store and he said that Michael was not just a customer but also a friend and he would come into shop and they would often go to dinner or lunch at the near by restaurants in the Venetian Hotel. We went inside a restaurant he pointed us to and clearly it would be a place where Michael would feel comfortable. All seating is hidden upstairs away from view over looking the canals where gondolas glide by and gondoliers sing the most heavenly songs, their beautiful voices echoing off the walls creating a ethereal effect. I vowed the next time I am in Vegas to eat at this wonderful restaurant.  The inside of the Venetian is painted like the out doors of Italy. It is just simply stunning. In the main entrance section the ceilings are a reminder of the Michelangelo ceilings Michael loved so much.

It was time to make the long trek home from the city that never sleeps.
I am still unwinding from this trip. Everything feels somewhat dull now as reality sets in and I am forced back in to my everyday life. I do however wonder what my next MJ adventure will hold and I am so looking forward to January when MJIWT Cirque du Soleil comes to Los Angeles. Will you be there? 

Neverland Valley Sign - Good Bye For Now
Videos courtesy of Melanie Freeman - MJ fans of NY

Great blog post on Seven's blog 777 about Miko Brando and a great read from Miko about Michael and their friendship.