I’m told that this coming Friday, which ought to be July 3 unless my calendar skills have regressed back to post-BCS championship game levels, I should not attempt to drive on U.S. highway 101. This is because there will be a viewing of Michael Jackson’s body at Neverland Ranch, and the type of people who would fly in from Germany or the Philippines to get a view of the King of Pop’s (presumably) preserved corpse are also not the type of people who are willing to carpool. Likely they are willing to carpool, but carpooling is probably not an option given the scale of the M.J. Experience, which is the name I have given to both the actual group and the phenomenon.
I got a hint of the power of this phenomenon when I made a joke about child molestation in front of a co-worker after she told me he had died. I have a tendency to say uncouth things in moments of great delicacy, and this was no exception. She reared up – this isn’t just idle metaphor: she really did rear up like an angry bear, or a horse that finally got tired of stupid humans – and told me off. It turns out there are many, many people who love(d) Jackson, and “Billie Jean” is enough to make them catatonic with pleasure if it wasn’t also invoking one of the pantheonic demigods of dance. I stuck by my guns because who doesn’t love a pederast joke in a time of duress? Still, it made me think. All these years I believed that Jackson probably did something bad with those kids, or maybe with one of those kids and the rest piled on (sorry, had to stick another one of those poor-tasters in there); either way, the guy creeped me out. He was never convicted, though. He just lost a number of trials-by-public.
This is a country that prides itself on things like the assumption that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. Have I been wrong all these years to assume Michael Jackson must’ve done something bad? Was he, in reality, just an eccentric person capable of immense genius and sensitivity? We’re all a bit weird, after all. I haven’t surgically altered my face to look more like white America, but I do clip my toe nails into the toilet occasionally. The truth is that I don’t really know anything that can’t be gleaned from Wikipedia or my poorly recalled experience with Moonwalker (the movie, the video game and the arcade machine), but my comment was enough to get a rise out of a normal person who felt involved in Jackson’s death in a way most people aren’t capable of expressing, but likely has something to do with a connection with someone you ought never to have connected with in the first place if our modes of communication were still in, say, a 17th century state, and maybe this is why people genuinely care about Jennifer Aniston’s love life.
Which brings me to Reggie Bush. It’s hard for me to watch New Orleans Saints games because of Bush. Sedrick Ellis helps, as does Billy Miller – and I never thought Miller would still be in the league in 2009 but I approve, you freckled spot-of-brightness from the nineties – but it’s so easy to focus on Bush for the obvious reasons of talent, speed and convulsion-inducing-impossibility. It makes me feel terrible inside because I know Reggie Bush is guilty of violating numerous NCAA rules during his time at USC.
Or do I? I thought I knew. I tell a lot of people he’s guilty. “He had a souped up Impala, man. The sheer stupidity of it, driving around in that thing as the star tailback of the most visible program in the nation!” as I writhe on the floor at the thought of such betrayal, showing off the stigmata. I talk about how proud I was watching the 2005 Heisman ceremony, how I was moved to tears when Reggie teared up and talked about his step-dad, and about how I felt when I read that LaMar Griffin was at the center of the accusations of cheating.
(Cheating? I suppose it would be, but to this day “cheating” doesn’t encapsulate everything. If Bush is guilty then he’d have been ineligible, which means his presence from the 2004 to 2005 seasons would be cheating, yes, but more than anything I feel the crime is actually greed and arrogance. Greed for taking that money and arrogance for thinking he could sweep a relationship with a guy named Michael Michaels under the table. Plus he pretty much disappointed in every bowl appearance he made.)
(That really is the kind of justification I make to myself while standing in line at the deli. I need help.)
I still feel betrayed. I remember the 2005 game at Washington. The poor, poor Huskies were several seasons away from the ultimate in futility, but they were still so crappy I had to justify my presence in Seattle with two rationalizations: the seafood, and Reggie Bush. Neither disappointed. Bush took a punt back using nothing but refraction and a pair of double jointed ankles. He made it look like he was running around a bunch of shades (the afterlife kind, not the venetian kind.) Every single Husky fan I talked to said the same thing: “We are going to lose, and lose big. I just hope Bush does something amazing.” They weren’t disappointed, which is odd since they’re technically rooting for the victims but still: the Chinese could appreciate the awesomeness of the Golden Horde even as it rolled over them. #5 wasn’t wearing a fur hat or launching plague-ridden corpses into European cities that day, but he r-and-p’ed the shit out of Husky Stadium. I’m not sure if Tyrone Willingham would’ve preferred facing Bush or Khan. I’d like to think Willingham was like me, and like those Husky fans: he was just happy to have a seat for the Best Show in College Football. Reggie was like that. He made everyone feel like they were watching history being made.
(So, yes, I guess it would be cheating having a paradigm-shifting non-eligible tailback on your team. Access to the Speed Force only heightens that distinction. I guess my love of USC football makes it seem like a technicality, which is the segue way into the next paragraph but how do I get out of this parenthetical?)
My love of USC football made the accusations of cheating seem like a technicality. But I was – am – convinced of Bush’s guilt. This has nothing to do with school pride and an attendant wish to visit swift, Old Testament justice to someone who’s besmirched the name of the university. It doesn’t even have to do with a desire to clear the university’s name. Neither of those are factors, particularly because I went to UC Santa Barbara.
I think it has something to do with the 2004 opener against Virginia Tech. USC was favored by a couple of touchdowns but the Hokies, true to their late season form, were performing admirably. Correction: they were being assholes by not giving up. I wasn’t at Fed-Ex Field. I was watching the game at my neighbors’, and everyone of course hated USC. (Understandable, and not in that smug way. The factors which led to my USC fandom were uncontrollable, and had they not aligned so I, too, would hate USC. It’s simple fractals.) They were all, rightly so, giving me shit for a terrible passing interference call that benefited the Trojans. I did not help anyone by being drunk and telling them to fuck themselves. Reggie Bush ignored us all and single handedly won the game. He made Frank Beamer’s brilliant game plan moot, he made senior Tech QB Bryan Randall’s heroics null, and he made 80,000 plus Hokie faithful sad. This made me so happy I held a bottle of bourbon to my heart and swore on the soul of Kentucky ricks everywhere (in Kentucky) that I would give anything to see USC play for the national championship that year.
Bush made all that happen. He went from promising freshman to savior of the world in one game. The play where he turned a slip screen into a demonstration of the presence of God in the Creation was the play I hung my hat, firmly, on the back of a stool in a bar called “Reggie Bush Will Lead Me To The Promised Land”, and if that’s too much religiosity in a sentence about the 2004 BCA Classic you clearly haven’t heard me talk about the 2005 Notre Dame game. I spent three plus years in that bar, which includes more than a year after he declared early because I think I believed, particularly after USC lost in Corvallis in 2006, He would come back despite NCAA regulations against such. Little did I know.
So on some level I invested at least a sliver of my spiritual well being into Reggie Bush. He was capable of rendering pleasure (see: mostly every play during the 2005 season) and pain (see: lateral) more readily than any sports figure I have ever encountered. It’s kind of grotesque how easily he made me happy just by being in a huddle.
Everything I’ve read makes me think he did something wrong during his last two years at USC. I want this investigation to be over already, but it’s not going to be over this season or any time soon. I could care less about Tim Floyd and the money-gobbling new Memphis Grizzly, because that is basketball. It does not matter. But Bush? He’s hurt me. I’m not sure if there’s a USC fan convinced of Bush’s innocence but I can imagine their reactions to talk about guilt, lack of institutional control, etc.: reared up like an angry bear, or a horse that finally got tired of stupid UCLA fans. I can understand such USC fans. They might well have given their heart over to a supremely talented tailback. It happens if you’re lucky enough to be a fan when Bo or Herschel or Reggie carry the ball. There’s no shame in devoting a bit of your essence to that kind of hero worship because they make their qualifications for such worship so obvious with a simple off-tackle or sweep. It does leave you vulnerable, though.
There are going to be a lot of devoted Michael Jackson fans in Santa Barbara on Friday. Maybe they were moved by his music, or his gentleness, or the awesomeness that is “Smooth Criminal”. I never imagined there could be that much in common between us, but it took a poorly judged pedophile joke to bring the realization: they believe Jackson was innocent, I believe Bush is guilty, and it seems like neither the twain shall meet evidence to the contrary so long as death and the NCAA stay true. Love clouds all judgment. That’s why courtrooms never smell like perfume.
For the record, though: not even a returned Heisman, vacated wins or NCAA sanctions can take away the sweetness of the Bush Push. Not all cheating is wrong.