Michael Jackson & OTB

I stopped paying attention to Michael Jackson a long time ago. The music was always there, and especially when the old songs came on, it was impossible to resist singing, tapping, dancing, but the weirdness, for me, overtook the music decades ago.

So in June of 2005, I wasn’t paying much attention to his trial for molestation. In those days before (for me) internet betting, I’d occasionally nip over to the local OTB to make a bet in the afternoon, trying to slip in and out as unobtrusively as possible. There were never a lot of people in that OTB who looked like me—white, female, middle-class—and this day was no different.

I walked to the window, and before I could place a bet, the teller said to me, “Can you believe it?” Believe what? “He got off. He got off! Can you believe it?”

And I realized then that, as usual, the customers’ heads were tilted up towards the TV screens…but instead of the usual array of racing across the country, several televisions were tuned to coverage of Michael Jackson’s acquittal. The reaction was loud and unified: Can you believe he got off?

My Brooklyn OTB was abuzz with social commentary and philosophy, as bettors offered their opinions on what had led to the acquittal, and, most loudly, their outrage at it. Think of it: in late afternoon, prime racing hours across the country, these most die-hard of gamblers put aside the racing to express their disgust at the outcome of the trial of the nearly-dethroned King of Pop.

I was more surprised by my experience that day than I was by the news of Jackson’s death yesterday. Decades of pathology—physical, emotional, psychological—didn’t point to a long and happy life, and the Michael Jackson who brought—and brings—me unequivocal musical joy disappeared a long time ago. But to state the obvious, his cultural significance can’t be underestimated, as I saw in that OTB four years ago.

Brian’s $350,000 guaranteed Pick 4 preview will be later today.

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