During the age of Thriller, I was in sixth grade, a tall girl with an especially unfortunate perm and the old-school kind of retainer with the layer of plastic molded across the roof of your mouth that collected saliva and forced you to slurp every few minutes. It should be no surprise that I could consider a man wearing one glittery glove cool.
My sisters and I wore out two Thriller albums. My neighbor taught me how to moonwalk, helpfully pointing out that it was easier to do if you placed a coffee table between you and your intended audience. My aunt videotaped the Thriller video and I watched it every time I went over her house.
At my middle school, there was an eighth grader who dressed like Michael Jackson, down to the glove and the jacket. The day we got our yearbooks, the school must have let everyone congregate in the cafeteria for a while to sign them. The MJ-guy had a crowd around him. One girl I was friends with got up the nerve to ask him to sign her yearbook and a small group of us rode her tails over to where he was. This was the closest, I knew, that I'd ever get to an autograph from Michael Jackson. He signed my book. Later, I was mildly disappointed to see that he signed his real name—José—in a teenage-boy scrawl, not the famous signature with the sparkler at the end.
Yesterday, as I was checking my email after dinner, I saw that the actual Michael Jackson died. Since the age of Thriller, my feelings about him have become more muddy, but suddenly I remembered José. I wondered what he might be thinking. His feelings might be just as muddy as my own, but it was lovely to remember a time when there was celebrity so big and so unsullied that a little of it could be lent to make a suburban middle school cafeteria a measure more glittery.