There’s nothing more depressing than having to watch history being made from the sidelines; I’m talking about the Michael Jackson trial. I’ve covered several so-called trials of the century (or at least the last half-decade) for this publication: Sean (P. Diddy) Combs, Al Taubman, Martha Stewart.
So when the call didn’t come to hop a plane to California, I felt something akin to Celebrity Justice/Court TV withdrawal. I missed the camaraderie of the courtroom, lunch with fellow reporters, the stirring sight of TV satellite trucks as far as the eye can see.
It must have been that desire to get in on the pop-culture conversation that prompted me to put my Michael Jackson glove up for sale on eBay. The glove in question admittedly never graced the pop star’s slender fingers. It’s not even an actual garment. It’s an invitation, printed on a cheap white-cloth glove, to a black-tie gala that I attended in 1984 at the American Museum of Natural History to celebrate the debut of Michael’s Thriller album. But with the hype surrounding the trial, you never know how much some sucker might pay for it. If Jackson fans were willing to quit their jobs to sit vigil at the Santa Maria courthouse, is it too far-fetched to believe that one or more of his psychotic followers would bid up my glove into the thousands of dollars on eBay?
But before offering this valuable collectible to the public, I figured I ought to check with my 16-year-old. Even though the glove has been sitting in my sock drawer for years gathering dust, has an ink stain on the fourth finger and is developing liver spots, it is arguably a piece of Americana.
My wife always regretted the way her parents sold her childhood summer home in the Thousand Islands. Would my kid hold it against me if I let this family heirloom slip away?
But she gave me the green light. “I don’t like Michael Jackson,” she admitted. “He freaks me out. I don’t even like his music that much.”
She just thought my timing was off. She thought I should wait until the end of the trial, when interest in Jacksoniana would inevitably crescendo. I wasn’t so sure. What if the rock star was convicted? Even a celebrity-crazed culture would draw the line at child molestation … wouldn’t it?
Once the trial was getting under way, the moment seemed perfect to strike. But what was the glove worth? Ten bucks? Ten thousand? And how many existed? Were there lots of nuts like me who never throw anything out? Or did I own the only one in existence?
I decided to call Sotheby’s to get an accurate estimate of my keepsake’s value. Unfortunately, Matthew Weigman, Sotheby’s spokesman, turned down the opportunity to put me in touch with one of the auction house’s experts. Mr. Weigman explained that Sotheby’s long ago ceded the kitsch end of the market to eBay and its ilk (Kennedy family tchotchkes notwithstanding, of course.)
“We did a Jeff Koons porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson with his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles,” he recalled. “It sold for about $5 million a few years ago. It would be the upper range of things associated with his celebrity.”
Mr. Weigman tried to convince me that the sale of the Koons had little relevance to my situation. The Koons, after all, was a work of art, a cultural marker even, akin to Warhol’s Marilyn series. My glove was-well, a glove.
I begged to differ. If anything, my glove was the superior cultural artifact. It was a purpose-driven object, a historical document even, radiating none of the smug, self-conscious irony of Mr. Koons’ work. I found myself growing attached to the glove.
Since Mr. Weigman was of little help, I went on eBay in search of similar objects. But my glove seemed to fall into a nether region-neither a mass-produced five-and-dime-store replica of a Jackson glove (of which there were dozens for sale), nor an authentic glitter glove worn by the rock star in concert or on a video. There was one of those on the block, handsomely framed, complete with a letter of authenticity; it carried an auction estimate of several hundred thousand dollars.
In the meantime, the trial was slipping by. There was Jeffrey Toobin every night offering Paula Zahn and Aaron Brown his patrician Harvard Law take on the proceedings, and Nancy Grace ripping the heads off dolls.
Part of my hesitation about pulling the trigger was that I’m a technological naïf. I took a snapshot of the glove and opened an eBay account, but I had no idea how to put the picture on my computer, let alone paste it on eBay for the masses. And then there was my budding resistance to be a player-even a bit player-in all of this bloviating seediness. Might not the high road be to have a dinner party and ceremoniously burn the glove?
The jury was deliberating by the time I placed a call to Susan Blond, the rock ‘n’ roll publicist who put together the Jackson bash at the American Museum of Natural History back in ’84. I was calling less to reminisce about that evening than to learn how many similar gloves might be out there.
“I have a few,” Ms. Blond conceded cagily, adding that they were in perfect condition. “I’ve never even thought of selling any of them.
“It was a certain moment in time,” she went on. “He had just sold 35 million records. He was the biggest artist in the world. He had just gone on fire from the Pepsi commercial earlier in the week; we were just hoping he could make it. He had to stay in the V.I.P. area longer than he’d liked because he was kind of fragile.”
I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as she spoke: nostalgia for my 20′s, nostalgia for the People magazine reporter I was dating at the time, who had invited me to the party. In fact, Ms. Blond and I shared the same vivid memory of that night.
Michael walked out onto the front steps of the American Museum of Natural History to greet his hundreds (perhaps thousands) of fans cordoned off behind police barricades across the street, on the park side of Central Park West. I followed him out to experience the vicarious thrill of celebrity. As he appeared, the crowd roared and seemed to rise off the ground in delight.
“It was unbelievably exciting,” Ms. Blond remembered. “Even to this day, I don’t think anyone has become as big a star as he was at that moment.”
I asked what she thought the glove was worth. “Priceless,” she said, predictably. “I wouldn’t sell it. I was thinking I should have another party; anyone who has a glove can come.”
When the trial ended in Michael’s acquittal, my teenager came up with a selling hook. “Call it, like, the Freedom Glove,” she said.
But I’ve decided to keep it. You never know-the King of Pop may make a comeback. I can imagine him retreating to Neverland, hiring a stern British nanny to keep his flunkies and the young boys at bay (and the liquor cabinet under lock and key), and writing some dark, redemptive song cycle, an updated musical equivalent of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.
Throughout the whole ordeal, no one ever denied that Michael has talent. As for my glove, it’s going straight to the safe-deposit box-or at least back into my sock drawer.