It's rare that a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard nourishes your faith in humanity. But yesterday, the Day That Pop Died, was nothing special. I was expecting a cataclysmic scene torn from The Day of the Locust: a mob of ordinary folk, gathered as if at a movie premiere, turning violent, trampling each other just to look at stars. Or, you know, dead stars. Or the idea of stars. Carnage, brought on by boredom and disappointment, and backlit by military-strength spotlights. But it was really just like any other day in Hollywood.
The mood of people in the shops and hotel lobbies was low-key. Lots of folks in tacky memorial shirts, some with raised emotions. Some blubbering women made me blush but really nothing big. Hollywood felt as enthused as it did during any big event at the Staples Center-which even as I type, I realize isn't true because people were ecstatic about the Lakers. So, this was the variety of reflected reverence accorded to, say, a New Edition reunion concert: nostalgic but controlled.
There was a gathering of about 50 people at Michael Jackson's star on the Hollywood walk of fame around 3 p.m. I've stood in longer lines to vote, ride a roller coaster, and buy peasant bread at Trader Joe's. There were some flowers, teddy bears, candles. People stood in a line that was half a block long (about the span of 15 Hollywood stars, from Harrison Ford to Lucille Ball). Poor Tommy Lee Jones! There was a traffic cone right on his star!
People were polite and chatty. They used their cameras to take pictures of the guy dressed up like Superman and/or Jesus, and Tom Cruise's footprints, and each other. But there was something eerily off-putting about the guy dressed up in an uncanny Heath Ledger-as-the-Joker outfit. He stood smirking and rubbing his hands alongside the line. People took pictures with him too. How soon we forget!
At the end of the line, the people, with huge grins on their faces, had their pictures taken as they put their arm around a cardboard cut-out of a ghostly white Michael Jackson, right next to his star. Then they'd wander over to plant their hands on George Burns' palm prints outside of the Chinese theater.
What was fascinating to watch was the relentless hustle of the t-shirt street vendors. They had everything! Baggy t-shirts with loud collages of Jackson, baby tees embossed with golden lettering that said "POP IS DEAD," tank tops, hats, posters, and fans. When the vendors would run out of t-shirts, a man in a car came and delivered more. I asked one guy how many he sold; he said about 125 since noon, at $10 a pop. These men move product with an incredible efficiency. Someone wants an extra-small? If one guy doesn't have it, another vendor will snap up the sale and the two will split the profit.
These men are at every event in L.A. I remember first noting their tenacious business model at a collapsed apartment building after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The t-shirts read: '7.4: I SURVIVED THE BIG ONE!' Was it a recession proof industry? They said yes!
In fact, the earthquake was a 6.7.
I have to imagine things would have been way more insane if the memorial was held at Neverland. Meaning: people would have to drive an hour away from anything to stand in line, sob, snap, walk, and then drive away again. There would be this concentrated bubble of grief festering in Santa Barbara that would have then spilled back into the city.
But the fact that the death of Michael Jackson was acknowledged by the city of L.A. and, like, THE WORLD, made diffuse the (supposed) intensity of the situation. Unlike the Princess Di death, where there was a total lack of official acknowledgment by the monarchy/state, this time, in L.A., it was like, "OK, REGULAR PEOPLE, WE KNOW THIS IS A BIG DEAL." And the regular people were all, "Okay. Cool. When's lunch?"