During the last four months of 1982, I had a job managing a small video store in Encino called Video Stop, just a small shop along Ventura Blvd, across the street from a giant video retailer (and my former employer), The Wherehouse. There were three locations of Video Stop and I was hired by the owner, Alan, to run Encino while he would stay put in the Westwood location. This meant that I was the sole employee here. For $300 per week, I was to open the store in the morning, close it at night, and spend all the hours in between sitting there watching videos and serving the occasional customer who wandered in. There was no counter for me to stand behind, and no cash register. Instead, I sat behind a desk with a cash box in the bottom drawer, surrounded on all walls by VHS and Beta copies of all the movies that were out at the time, with porno kept in the back. We had many regular customers from the neighborhood.
Alan told me there would be many celebrity clients, and in particular, that I would be seeing a lot of Michael Jackson. This was before the release of the history-making Thriller album. While I had been a fan of his early career with the Jackson Five, I was not particularly a fan of his most recent music. In fact, I hated his previous album, Off the Wall. As a confirmed rock and roller, I was militantly anti-disco. In fact, to this day I have never seen the film Saturday Night Fever or its sequel, Stayin' Alive, because I considered the Bee Gees soundtrack to be an act of treason from a band I had formerly admired. However, as a music fan, I did keep up with all the news and was well aware that Michael was hard at work with Quincy Jones on the new album. And sure enough, by the end of my first week, the phone rang. I answered it and a high, breathy childlike voice announced, "Hi, it's Michael.""Who?"
"Michael. Michael Jackson."
"Is it okay if I come in?"
He would always call first to let me know he was coming in. I was never sure what I was supposed to do with that knowledge. The store was almost always empty, so no crowds to get rid of so he could have some privacy. Minutes later, he walked in and introduced himself to me and I asked him how the new record was coming along. He seemed to appreciate that. He said they were putting the final touches on it and he was very excited about it. I mentioned Quincy Jones, and he said "Yeah, me and Quincy." He seemed to relax at that point and wanted to chat.
We began talking movies as he would pull various titles from the shelves and ask me about them. Had I seen this? Was there any profanity or nudity? He hated those things and would quickly put back any title I said contained either profanity or sex. He said he was glad we kept the porno in the back so he didn't have to deal with it. He really liked old classic comedy teams like Abbott and Costello or the Three Stooges. He once had me gift wrap Rocky I, II & III as a gift for someone. Another time, he bought a VCR and asked me to deliver and set it up for a family in Woodland Hills. Instead of paying me directly, he had me send his bills to an accountant in Beverly Hills.
Sometimes he would come in with a small boy named Randy, who I assumed was a neighbor. Michael at the time was living with his parents in their nearby Hayvenhurst Estate. Other times he came alone, always calling first to let me know he was coming. He was kind enough to accept a copy of my own 45-rpm single I had made, promising to listen to it and give me his feedback. On his next visit, he apologized for not having played it yet, saying he would soon.
Many other celebrities came in frequently, including Ted Lange (Isaac, the bartender on Love Boat), Jan Smithers, the "other" female co-star of WKRP in Cincinnati (if she hadn't had to compete with the more voluptuous Loni Anderson, she would easily have been the "hot chick" on that show instead of the more plain one that now nobody remembers), and Reid Shelton, who I didn't realize was even an actor until one day he told me he was going to be on Remington Steele that evening. Watching it, I was amazed to see him playing the bad-ass killer, as in person he was quite effeminate. He later would turn up frequently as a surgeon on St. Elsewhere.
At the end of the year, Alan fired me because he had taken on a new partner who would take my place sitting all day in Encino. The store closed about a year later and today is a nail salon. Thriller, of course, came out and became the best selling pop album of all time and little Michael Jackson became the King of Pop. I had to admit, I liked the record because he incorporated elements of rock and roll, even hiring Eddie Van Halen to play lead guitar. I was kinda proud of him.
Over the past 27 years, as he went through his public trials and tribulations, I often thought back to the small friendship we shared for that short period half a lifetime ago. And as he died suddenly on my birthday, I recalled his graciousness, curiosity and enthusiasm more than his talent, his music or his impact on the world. To me, back then, he was just a cool, nice guy who happened to be famous from his earliest childhood, a childhood he felt he never got to enjoy. He remained a kid to the very end, one who wanted to share his music and his vision with the rest of the world.
(Published: Sun Feb 03 2019; Hits: 1)
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