Tony Danza flirting at the bar in Carlos 'n Charlie's. Bruce Willis cruising on Mulholland in a black Alpha convertible. Big deal. I hadn't even recognized them without some prodding from a friend. Stars are just more people who clog up the freeways in Los Angeles, and it's not cool to get excited over them. Only tourists buy star maps on Sunset.
My disdain for stars and those curious about the trivialities of stars wasn't devised for the sake of seeming cool. I pitied the star-struck and their envy.
But then I was shopping for a table in Venice Boulevard thrift and antique stores. It's a dirty business shopping this way, helping proprietors move furniture, squeezing down musty, maze-like corridors.
I wandered into the sanctity of a large warehouse filled with old mahogany and oak pieces from England. Now these were real tables, I knew. And antique pianos and elegant chairs and mirrors. I had the place to myself, a queen embracing treasures of beauty after a day of looking through somebody else's junk.
The clicking of heels on concrete signaled another customer. He wore long, shiny hair under a silly Fedora and I eyed him suspiciously, prematurely assuming him to be a less-than-serious antique shopper. Then he spun around expertly on one heel and I saw something pretty weird. He wore a surgical mask. Oh God, another freshly fashioned nose or dimpled chin. How "L.A." Why doesn't he have the pride to stay at home like most women in curlers? Or was this a stick-up?
But I knew those eyes, accented with sparkly eye shadow, and I lost my concentration on the antiques. Followed by an older man, he worked the room, running his fingers along the smooth wood, and in a high, squeaky voice, called attention to special articles. At one point we both fingered the same antique keyboard and exchanged a few words about some weak tones before I tested out some bars of a Bach prelude.
I gravitated toward the shopkeeper as the strange man and his shadow wandered into the antique toy section. "You know who that is?" the gentleman asked me. "Well, I have an idea, do you know who it is?" I wanted him to say it first in case I was wrong. "Michael Jackson," he whispered as we gossiped 10 feet from the star.
The subject before me, I listened keenly to all sorts of things I'd never cared to know before: that Michael Jackson always wears a mask when he goes to dusty places, that he comes to antique stores seeking only the most unusual toys and dolls, that he never concerns himself with asking the price, settling the deal, or making the purchase, that he doesn't explain his predilection for something but just silently points to it, and that a pair of sequined shoes are perched on a pedestal on the back-seat floor of his black Mercedes.
The thought of this performer had previously put me off when I had been assigned to write about his stuffed-animal collection and casual-clothes line. And twice had to wait outside his house to ask teen-age groupies how they liked his new colognes.
But I'm embarrassed to say I felt thrilled. I lost my head. I slipped into the back of the shop to apply new lipstick and then started showing off on the piano--auditioning, in fact--with the only popular piece I can play by heart: "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head!"
Though this encounter may have meant more to someone else--it would have been heart-attack material to teens who buy his concert tickets, albums, stuffed giraffes, colognes and denim jackets--the experience wasn't wasted on me. I surprised myself. Popular culture (and Michael Jackson is bigger-than-life) has a way of affecting you even when you don't follow it. Even an anti-fan can appreciate sharing a keyboard with a phenomenon of our time.