A friendly man behind the counter sitting at a computer greeted me and asked me if I was looking for anything in particular and having seen a few of the price tags I hesitantly told him, “Well, actually I am here to see where Michael Jackson shopped.” He smiled and pointed to three items on a shelf in the corner and said, “He purchased these three items just weeks before his death. He had been eyeing them for some time and finally had decided he wanted them on his last trip in. We were waiting for his manager to finish processing the payment when we learned he had passed away. That is how we do business. Most of the famous people who shop here will come in and point out something they like and then have the manager pay later.” Pointing again at the items on the shelf he said, “We now have them on display.” He explained they were wax forms used in medical school some where back east in the 1900s when cadavers were not available. I turned back to the shelf the body parts were simply fascinating to look at. The detail was incredible.
I looked closely at them and totally got why MJ purchased them. Many people labeled it as ‘weird’ but I felt I completely understood how they would aid with home schooling, having home schooled my own children for several years; I was always looking for teaching aids.
I had read that MJ was always buying books and educational items for his children. If the children asked a question he would stop and say “Let’s find out the answer.” He would then go to his library and retrieve a book to give them the correct answer to their question, and if it wasn’t there he would look for it somewhere else.
I studied the muscles and layers of skin and exposed bones and turned to the nice man behind the counter and excitedly said, “I totally get why he would want these!” He gave me a puzzled, bewildered look and said, “He just liked to buy unusual and weird stuff.” I smiled but felt I knew.
I slowly browsed through the store seeing many wonderful items which I would have loved to purchase myself. I was drawn to the back right corner opposite the corner which held Michael’s last medical school purchase. There was a small glass curio sitting snuggly in the corner and nesting on the top shelf were some amazing rare, vintage Disney items. I was just thinking that Michael may have seen these very items when Dennis, the owner of Off the Wall, approached and readily began talking about Michael saying over my shoulder, “Michael loved all things Disney. He was always intrigued by anything Disney we had in the store. We helped him furnish Neverland and made many trips out to Neverland with our truck delivering the items he purchased.” Later at home when I checked out a website Dennis had mentioned I realized at first with a sense of excitement and then deep loss that that same day I had stood in the very spot where Michael had been.
As I continued to look about the store I was delighted to have Dennis walk next to me and relate stories about Michael’s visits to the store. He smiled and said, “He first started coming here with his sister Janet when they were young, when Janet was in the show Good Times. Do you remember that TV show?” I smiled and said, “Yes, I sure do. She was so cute.” A look of fond memories came over his face as he continued, “Well they both would come in and shop. She would film right down the street and they would come in after she was done working or on her breaks. Sometimes Michael would drop by himself while he waited for her to finish.” Dennis continued, “He came here for years. Those were the less hectic times. Later he couldn’t go anywhere with out security and a crowd gathering around him.” Motioning to the entrance door and shaking his head from side to side he said “We would always know when he was here because there would suddenly be a huge crowd outside, just cameras, body guards, people everywhere in a swarm at the door and outside. It was sad. He just wanted to shop. He loved to shop but he couldn’t go anywhere with out a crowd.”
It is a tiny shop, maybe 20 feet by 30 feet, with the front door facing west and the warm afternoon sun filtered through the door and across the shop like a spot light, gently lighting up several beautiful vintage items. As he spoke I pictured the large crowd which inevitably swarmed around Michael loudly milling, clicking picture after picture, pushing and crowding the front door, chocking out the warm afternoon sun. I suddenly felt great pain for Michael. I could feel the tremendous love and admiration so many felt for Michael but looming larger I felt that frenzied, life squelching, paparazzi madness that followed Michael everywhere shutting out the light in his life.
Dennis continued to talk about the crowds, “It was unbelievable. I’ve never seen anyone else ever be treated that way.” I commented, “He was so dynamic. He had a magnetism that just drew people to him.” Dennis responded with a puzzled look, as if I just didn’t understand, shaking his head from side to side, “I have had many famous people in my shop and no one was ever treated the way Michael Jackson was.” Curious I queried, “Really who are some of the other famous people who have shopped here?” I have to confess he relayed names but for some reason my mind was so wrapped around the thought of Michael Jackson I don’t remember who he mentioned and there were several. However I do remember Dennis seemed visibly upset as he talked. I was able to focus on what he was saying again and heard him say at the end of his list “The Beatles. Even the Beatles never got the kind of attention he got. Both Ringo and George Harrison have shopped here at different times. George Harrison would drop in to shop here when he was in the states. You know someone would say “Hey, there’s George Harrison!” He was big star too and the response would be “Wow!” but they’d leave him alone… but with Michael people were everywhere.” He again shook his head sadly.
I was very intrigued and asked, “You saw him many times? You talked with him. What was it like to talk to him?” Dennis replied, “He was hard to sell things to. He always wanted a deal.” I laughed and said, “Well even stars like to work a deal.” He said, “Yes, he sure liked a deal. He never paid ticket price. It was hard to keep his attention. He would drift off and start looking at other things in the middle of a sale. He would loose interest and just walk away. He was quiet. He was shy so he didn’t really talk much. He was interested in looking around. He loved to shop.” I smiled to myself because I totally related. I do the very same thing when I am shopping especially for vintage items and antiques. I loose myself in those stores. You can feel the character and history in so many pieces and you just get pulled in. It’s a great escape.
Feeling sort of like a dweeb I shyly asked Dennis if I could take his picture. He very amiably agreed and plopped down on a very cool, cow hide bar stool from what looked to be the 50’s era and I snapped his picture. I continued to look around and asked him about a few of the beautiful pieces in the store. There was a 20’s era glass beaded purse that caught my eye and a gorgeous, round, bubbled glass table top which had been turned on its side. The light flowing through the door played with the glass and made it glow. He told me it was handmade and they had custom made the stand to show it off as an art piece. I then asked him about the name Off the Wall saying, “I heard Michael liked the name of your store so much he named his album Off the Wall too.” He gave me a wry smile and said, “Oh yeah, we asked him about that for years but he never would admit it. We’d go back and forth about it but he never would. Then a few years back he finally admitted that he liked our name and used it on his album.”
Dennis then slowly meandered out the front door with me and continued talking about Michael. As we left the front door he turned back toward the shop and pointed to an article taped in the window facing out to the street. There was a picture of Michael; it was the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine and a portion of the article referring to Off the Wall as Michael’s favorite antique shop, “He said you can read about us in the Rolling Stone article.” A reporter had come out to the store not long after Michael’s death and interviewed him. He pointed at it and also told me to check out You Tube saying, “On one of Michael’s last visits to the store the Channel 11 news crew did a news clip.”
I noticed Dennis now looked pensive and clearly wanted to make sure he finished our conversation by telling me about Michael’s beautiful children who had accompanied Michael on more than one occasion to the shop. He expressed with great admiration, “His children were just wonderful. They would come in to shop with him often. Very bright, asked a lot of questions and were very respectful, very intelligent children. He did a beautiful job raising them. You can tell what a child is like when you are in a living room setting and that was what it was like with them in the shop.” Nodding his head up and down saying a thoughtful and definitive, “Yes. Good children.” I thought about the paparazzi again and said, “Well hopefully they will be left alone and will not have to go through what their dad experienced.” Dennis responded, “Unfortunately they are in a fish bowl. It is really too bad. They are beautiful children. Very well raised, very considerate.” My heart sank as I sent up a silent prayer asking the Lord to protect each of them.
Dennis then detailed the story of Michael’s last purchase for me, “You know he bought the body parts just a few weeks before he passed away. He would just point out something and say he wanted to buy it and then leave. It would be delivered later. He had his eye on the body parts. He had been in several times and this time made up his mind to buy them. You know, they are real wax teaching tools from a 1900’s medical school. If they couldn’t get their hands on a cadaver they could learn from the wax body parts.”
Then he motioned and pointed from the door to the street where Michael’s assistant walked out of the shop one day with a purchase saying, “One time he was in and bought a big, shiny, silver airplane and his body guard carried it out to the car.” I asked him if it was for his children, and he shrugged and said “I don’t know why he bought it. He just liked it. It caught his eye. He would just buy different and unusual things. We helped stock Neverland with many, many items over the years. He would shop and then we would drive out and deliver them to him there.”
I thanked him for his time feeling in my own way a small sense of closeness to the King of Pop. A deep sadness filled my heart as I pulled out of the Off the Wall drive-way on to Melrose to make my drive home. I turned my music up loud and listened to Michael Jackson’s beautiful voice with the perfect pitch and incredible range. His gorgeous smile, kind eyes and his electrified dancing image moved across my mind. His deep love of art, history and beauty shared and indelibly etched yet deeper into my heart.
The Rolling Stone Magazine article which mentions Off the Wall antique shop can found in Issue 1084, page 50.
Michael and Blanket on a different shopping trip to Off The Wall