Off the Wall

There were Christers waving banners admonishing celebrity-watchers to repent. There were gender-bender girls in glitter gloves and angled fedoras. There was even one mad thing waving a tri-color French flag that read “FRANCE — YES YES — MICHAEL.” But above all there was a lone figure in the crowd that kept catching our eye.

She was holding a birdcage.

Michael Jackson was on trial …again… for alleged sexual advances toward one of the boy children, always the boys never the girls, that he invited to his Ferris-wheel and Disney-ride enhanced manor house. He had named the 3,000-acre estate Neverland Ranch in honor of his favorite Disney character Peter Pan, the boy who, among other things, was destined… or doomed…to be a pre-adolescent forever.

Outside the Santa Maria courthouse, where Jackson’s possible jail sentence would be determined, some of the faithful prayed, others sang, many were on cell phones, and everybody waved when they got word that the TV cameras were panning. That’s when the red-jacketed Michael Jackson impersonator at the front of the crowd did the moonwalk. The mood, we were told by the shapely Court TV reporter, was “guarded.”

Actually, it looked like a tailgate party. No, intoned the grim-faced reporter, the police were “prepared” because if the verdict went against the star some of the fans were “likely to go on a rampage” through the streets of this sleepy upscale valley town, smashing one imagines the window of the local J.Crew. Meanwhile, back in the TV studio, Nancy Grace and her coven of avenging harpies were predicting a grand slam for the prosecution.

“This. Is. A. Moment. In. Legal History, folks,” Grace told us in bite-size chunks, her sunbelt lilt on the rise. “An icon, really. An American icon. Known all across the world. Some people believe Michael is a deity!” Her voice dropped to an end-of the-world hush. “A cross between a man. And a god!

Nancy paused for a moment so we could digest that nugget. It was an explanation for those of us who had forgotten, perhaps, what a deity was or that Michael was not, say, a cross between a man and a woman. “Make no mistake about it, Michael Jackson is a star.” The word seemed to dazzle Nancy. “In a class with Elvis. Presley, people! And Marilyn. Monroe.” Her voice caught a rumble. “On trial for felony! On trial for child molestation!”

Nancy was just warming up. While the camera scanned the crowd, she spoke in a sidebar box, her face at a tilt, showing to advantage what looked like subtle but recent work and just the tiniest hint that her left eye had been pulled a bit too far in a Chinese direction. Meanwhile, the camera had found the woman with the birdcage, and like ourselves, had come to a standstill. The woman’s blond helmet-haired head was bent.

She was speaking to the birds.

Grace, meanwhile, was still in full flow, buoyed up by the jury’s unexpectedly long deliberation and reports coming in from the scene that the jurors had walked in with heads lowered, declining to meet Michael’s eyes. “Always bad news for the defendant,” one of her colleagues, a rather hard looking glamor-babe, managed to slip in.

But Nancy was not to be thrown off her game. “Will they go ahead and fingerprint Jackson right there in the courtroom!” she crowed with wide-eyed anticipation. “Will they handcuff him? Will he be allowed to meet with his family, with his lawyers, with his children before they take him away.” Nancy had no doubt what the answers to these questions would be: Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Meanwhile, the lady with the birdcage bent closer to a radio. The clerk was about to read the verdicts:

Innocent. Innocent. Innocent.

With each verdict, the woman reached into her cage and released a white dove. Sometimes she kissed the bird on its beak; other times she’d clasp her hands in prayer as it ascended Holy Ghost-like. We’d hate to think what might have happened to the birds had the verdicts gone the other way. Would she have wrung their necks in teeth-gnashing grief? Bitten off their heads in blind fury? No J. Crew would have been left unharmed.

The doves, mercifully, were spared that day. But not so the ravens hovering around Nancy Grace. For the rest of day, she repeatedly told her viewers, “Well, I’m having a crow sandwich. It doesn’t taste very good.”