Thursday, November 26, 2009

it can SUCK to be an expatriate American here!

My youngest needs a new passport. Sometimes these things just sneak up on you and that’s what happened this time. My ex sent me a text a couple months ago telling me it was time to replace our youngest’s unexpectedly expired one, so I did the research using information on the RAO website maintained by our local embassy warden. It all seemed pretty straight forward. I looked at what is required for children in the custody of one parent and there didn’t seem much to it—an extra simple form and a legal custody document.

One of the FEW good things, as far as I am concerned, about the American embassy here is that periodically they do outreaches to various sites around the country so that we don’t have to go there. That’s always a good thing since going to the embassy in Manila is painful. Aside from the ugly downtown traffic I hate the way I feel when I’m there in the embassy—I certainly do NOT feel welcome. In fact, just the sight of that building causes my blood pressure to go up; and I’m not the only American living here that feels that way.

Many of us get the impression that WE are a pain in their collective ass. How much easier would their job be if WE weren’t here? I’ve asked expatriates from other countries living here if they feel estranged in their own embassy and they have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m sure it’s because ours is so big and always full of “customers.” “Besieged” is the word that comes to mind whenever I see the hordes of people trying to get inside whenever I pass by that place. And when I’m one of those unfortunates trying to get in I always get an uneasy feeling, like that of an untrustworthy farm animal being processed into a factory for rendering.

Travelling with small kids to the heart of Manila is NOT fun and can be risky if not dangerous. For example, just last week one of my elderly and physically more fragile veteran clients was forced by the VA to go to the outpatient clinic for a pension exam and had his wallet lifted on the train. He was lucky that something worse didn’t happen, for there are many potential pitfalls in making one’s way through that town.

Wanting to avoid that sort of possible unpleasantness, my ex and I were determined to get our girl’s passport application done in one fell swoop here at the outreach. My ex even called the embassy customer service line several times just to make sure all was in order. Reassured that all SHOULD go smoothly I went ahead and scheduled a full line up of veteran clients at my morning gig at the VFW on the day of the outreach.

Alas, it was almost 10 am when my ex showed up at the office looking stressed out and tightlipped. She asked if I couldn’t go with her back to the outreach from where she had just come. Things had NOT gone well for her there evidently. I should have known.

‘Oh great! THAT figures!’

Luckily, my replacement-in-training was there, and, thankfully, he's an exceptionally quick study to the service officer business. I handed off to him and took off with my ex. In the car she explained that the Filipino fellow that she ended up in front of took a quick look at her forms and then stubbornly insisted that “The father MUST come here. If he can’t make it then you’ll have to come to the embassy some other day. Besides, it’s almost 11 o’clock and that’s when we shut down.”

My ex said he refused to look at any of the papers she had, including her American passport and the divorce decree showing that she had custody of our girls; and in the condescending fashion that local bureaucrats typically affect here he sent her away. By the time I got there I was in a silent rage. She pointed out the smug fellow and I stood in front of him trying to maintain control of myself; however, I ended up doing a horrible job of that.

I got a terse sentence or two out and he stopped looking at my face. I’m sure it’s because he could see the fury there that matched the trembling anger in my voice.

“I don’t understand the problem,” I told him. “We are divorced. The decree states that SHE has custody of the girls, so WHY must I be here? That’s not the information we got from your customer service or from the internet!”

At that point he passed the papers over to the American woman sitting at his side. He mumbled something that I could not understand. He dismissed me the same way that he had dismissed my ex earlier. I needed to get away from that man before I exploded. I walked to the front of the table to remove myself from his indifferent galling presence. I didn’t like him and he obviously did not think much of us. From the looks of him lunch was foremost on his mind.

The attitude of the female American consular officer was like day to his night. She was wonderfully professional. Within seconds my seething anger was doused into submission. She listened to us, read through our documents and in a courteously friendly fashion explained what was needed.

“Sir, I’ve read through this decree and although it says she has custody it doesn’t mention sole legal custody, which is the requirement if she is going to be able to be a single parent signer. Maybe you can find where it says that and show it to me?”

“Maam, let’s not parse. If we don’t have what we need there to make the mother the sole signer then what do we need to get my girl her passport so she can get the heck out of this country?”

“No problem sir. Just sign here."

It was as easy as that. I signed on the line and all was well. In fact, I finished signing and looked up at her with a nod of my head. She then went one step further which made me a fan for life—she smiled at me and apologized. Completely tamed and even chastened, I in turn, also told her that I was sorry. THAT is how things SHOULD be done. THAT woman should be an ambassador some day. I love her!

So two things:

1) Why are there locals doing the work of “assisting” Americans applying for American citizens services, especially one like THAT fellow? In this case in particular the man was dismissive and officious, something that I’ve gotten used to in dealing with local government institutions as a second class non-citizen here, but I shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of indifferent attitude when dealing with my own embassy.

2) If you are a single parent here with custody of your children, before trying to apply for a new passport for them, ensure that you have a certified legal document showing “sole legal custody.” If THOSE THREE WORDS are NOT included in your divorce documents and you show up with an application for your child’s new passport, they will shrug and tell you to come back with either the other parent or with a document showing “SOLE LEGAL CUSTODY.”

Oh, and there is a third thing: Mr. smug man insisted that my ex come up with a photo album showing my girl as she has aged from the time of the first passport. No one informed my ex of that requirement when she called embassy customer service and I saw nothing like that in the embassy warden’s info site. It was explained to me that we have to suffer with this "extra" requirement due to the extremely fraudulent nature of this place. I’m positive parents in the US don’t have to worry about doing such a thing. I have no idea what they would do if no pictures like that exist, perhaps simply deny issue of the passport in that arrogantly dismissive, infuriating way that this round faced guy did. My ex had to send someone all the way back out to her far distant town to get an album of photos. I was just leaving the outreach as it neared the 11 am closing when my ex’s husband hurried through the hotel door with the necessary album. It had taken him more than two hours to make the round trip.

Like I said, that professional consular lady notwithstanding, my embassy sucks; or on the flip, it can SUCK to be an expatriate American here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

"The Spear Farm" meets "The Great Thumb Fire of 1881"

My father has been gone for more than a year now. Acknowledging that no one lives forever, nine years ago I spent several days interviewing him, mostly interested in hearing about his early life in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

During that period a major part of his life took place on “The Spear Farm,” a plot of 160 acres a few miles east of Kingston, Michigan on the north side of M46. For most of my childhood this farm was a mystical, almost legendary place; I’d listen intently whenever Dad spoke of life there, what it was like during his boyhood summers working on the farm in the 30s and 40s. To this day that sandy rolling parcel of Michigan’s central “Thumb” region continues to be an important part of the Spear family legacy; even though it was sold off 30 years ago by greedy opportunists in the family, most of them not even Spear’s.

Occasionally I open the transcripted interview, and I did so again about a week ago. Near the beginning of it Dad and I discuss a few memories about the old place where he had been born in a big old feather bed in a downstairs bedroom on May 10, 1928.

Phil....... I remember the area way out in the back...the cedar swamp. It was so spooky...all the skulls, ribs and white bones from the skeletons of all the animals that had been hauled back in there since...when did they start hauling their dead animals in there? From the time the farm first started, right? What year did the farm start?

Dad..... It had to be in the the late 1800's. I remember that it was declared a centennial farm, but I can't remember when. My dad was born in 1897 and he was still a young man when they were still clearing land. They didn't actually buy that place till after the fire of.... 1893... was it?
Phil..... There was a forest fire?

Dad...... Yeah. In the late 1800's a forest fire swept from one side of Michigan all the way across to the other. And all the massive white pine forests just roared with flame.

Phil..... I remember seeing a stump right behind the house (toward the north side) was a huge thing, at least 5, 6 feet across.

Dad..... There was a bigger one, the charred remains of a stump that was so full of pitch, because it was pine, that it never did decay, even after all those years. It was from that big Michigan fire way back in the cedar swamp. It came from the time when there was nothing but giant white pine all across the state

For years I’ve been meaning to research this mysterious forest fire spoken of by my dad in the interview. Other than his occasional mentioning of it over the years, I had never heard of such a thing, even during the four plus years that I’d lived in that state back in the 70s while attending high school. According to family lore carried forward by Dad, the alleged conflagration had apparently ravaged much of Michigan sometime towards the end of the 1800s.

I’ve said this before, but it gets truer every time I say it: the internet is a wonderful thing. My very first search provided two possibilities—the Great Michigan Fire of 1871 and the Thumb Fire of 1881. From my internet reading I ruled out the 1871 event as having been the cause of the blackened stumps on The Spear Farm. Considering the areas affected in both fires I figure that the fire my father must have been referring to was The Great Thumb fire of 1881. Then again, it’s possible that the farm was affected by both, but surely the stumps resulted from that in ’81.

It had been extremely hot and dry toward the end of the summer of that year; in fact newspaper accounts of the fire talk about the extreme drought conditions. Wikipedia sparingly describes the fire, its causes and effects as follows:

Thumb Fire From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The great Thumb Fire took place on September 5, 1881
the Thumb area of Michigan in the United States. The fire, which burned over a million acres in less than a day, was the consequence of drought, hurricane-force winds, heat, the after-effects of the Port Huron Fire of 1871 and the ecological damage wrought by the era's logging techniques.

The blaze, also called the Great Thumb Fire, the Great Forest Fire of 1881 and the Huron Fire, killed 282 people in
Sanilac, Lapeer, Tuscola and Huron counties. The damage estimate was $2,347,000.

The Thumb Fire, which reportedly began in Tuscola County, was allegedly the first natural disaster served by the
American Red Cross.

A more detailed account of The Great Thumb Fire is on this website, titled “The Great Fires of 1871 and 1881.” From this and other sites it’s obvious that it was the 1881 fire that rolled through The Spear Farm and left the ancient blackened pine stumps still in existence a century later. The 1881 fire was no small-scale disaster; indeed, it was one of the first great “natural” calamities ever to befall the United States, although, in reality, its causes were anything but natural. The death and destruction was horrendous, the human interest stories are horrifically spellbinding and heartrending. You can read about them on this site, with excerpts posted by Tim Taugher of the 1881 national newspaper accounts of the time.

In trying to find out if any actual Spears had been much affected by the inferno I became frustrated realizing how little our family knows about the early timeline of The Farm’s developmental period. I suppose not many of the farming Spears ever gave much thought to it; being practical folk, that stuff just wasn’t important to them. In fact it’s only been relatively recent that we began to learn about our ancestry at all, a real shame considering how extraordinary it’s turned out to be thanks to the outstanding efforts of the family genealogist, Ted Spear. Thanks Cousin Ted.

The entrance to The Spear Farm taken from M46. There wasn't much left. The barns and house had long since burned down by arsonists. Only a few collapsing outbuildings remained when this was taken in September 2000.

It was in the late 1840s that the very first land deed ever issued on that particular plot of land was issued to my Great Great Uncle Seth Lount. Seth had volunteered at a very tender age, at only 17 or 18, to fight for his country in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). He survived that adventure and upon his return to Michigan was compensated with the 160 acres that would eventually become The Spear Farm. I suppose it could have been called The Lount Farm, or The Seth Lount Farm; but I doubt that Uncle Seth ever actually worked its land.

In 1849, at the time that Seth took possession of those 160 acres, it was likely still covered thickly with Great Easter White Pines, gigantic trees that grow upwards of 150 feet high and 5 to 6 wide at the base. Fully mature they are towering monsters, the Sequoias of the East. Thousands of square miles of forests of these massive behemoths would block the sun from reaching the ground. In the days before hordes of lumbermen cut them down en masse, walking through those primeval forests would have been a dark, almost menacing experience; nothing at all like the pastoral Michigan that exists today. An irony is that back then, compared to today, settlers would have had a lot less wild game to shoot at; thick lightless forests do not support woodland creatures like turkey and whitetail like the tamer deciduous woodlots and sunny fields of today do.

I remember clearly one large pine tree, still original to the early days of the farmstead. It stood alone and proud in the center of a field at the end of “the lane,” the only reason it was allowed to continue to be there was due to its position exactly in the center of a huge pile of field stones. This cairn was massive in its own right. Over the years, as the stones came to the surface from each season’s plowing and tilling, the Spear boys would carry them to the center of the field and toss them up around the tree. I used to wonder what existed first—that pile of stones or the tree. My money was on the tree. I figured that rather than spend the effort of cutting it down and uprooting it; they opted instead to pile each year’s harvest of stones around it. There is no reason why that amazingly beautiful tree standing atop its mini rock mountain wouldn’t still be there today. I wonder if it is. I hope so.

"The Lane, Sep 2000"

Standing at the entrance of what was once the access road leading into the heart of the Spear Farm.

Anyway, as I said, I doubt that Uncle Seth ever worked the place. Sometime in the late 1850s, when he sold it to his sister and brother-in-law, Uncle Seth was still only in his late 20s and not yet married. The fact that Seth was still single is what tells me that he hadn’t yet tried to cultivate that land located just inside the western border of Sanilac County within shouting distance of Tuscola County. I’m pretty sure it was located in the township of LaMotte. A single man would have been completely overwhelmed by the immense tasks at hand. Settlers attained farmer status only after getting a patch of land cleared of trees and stumps enough to get some seed into the ground; the more people working at getting that done the better. Thus, a primary duty of a farm wife was to produce children to help work the farm—no wife meant no kids, which meant no farmhands to clear fields, plant crops and tend animals.

It was just as well, as his land received for his wartime service became his ticket to adventure. Seth got word from his two brothers out west that gold was to be had; they urged him to join them. Gold fever, once caught, is a powerful thing; so, he unloaded his 160 acres to Mary and Moses Spear, my greatx2 grandparents. Seth used the money to go to California to seek his fortune. Alas, he never returned and he definitely did not make his fortune. (More on Uncle Seth in a future post).

The next question that remains unanswered: Were Grandma Mary and Grandpa Moses the ones to first settle that acreage just inside the Sanilac County line? I’m thinking that they didn’t, since both are buried in Pontiac in the Metropolitan Detroit area.

Pontiac was Mary and Moses’ home for much of their lives. A son, George (my great grandfather), was born to them in their apartment over the Oakland County jail in the county seat of Pontiac in 1850. His birthplace became the source of a lot of family jokes, that according to my dad. At the time of George’s birth, his father, Moses, was the sheriff of Oakland County.

Moses, born in 1807, died in 1890; while Mary, born in 1822, daughter of the Canadian patriot martyr Samuel Lount, died ten years later in 1900. Both Moses and Mary are buried together in Pontiac. That tells me that they probably never made their home up north on the land they bought from Seth; although, I do notice in the family bible that Mary did pass away in Lamotte Township in Sanilac County. From that, it would seem that Mary died on the Spear farm with her son, George, in attendance; or very close to the farm, since I believe that is where it's located.

George, the Spear boy born over the Pontiac jail in 1850, married late in life. In 1893, already middle-aged at 43, he said his “I do’s” to a woman 19 years his junior. That woman was 24 year old Hettie Green, my great grandmother, born in 1869. I believe it was the two of them that finally began the arduous process of clearing land to turn Seth’s original property into a working farm. Chances are either Seth or Moses had already sold off most of the pine to the lumber companies; even so, it would likely have been covered with stumps and unsightly piles of snags and old waste wood, although much of that was likely consumed by the 1881 fire. Much of Michigan was made ugly by the aftermath of the hungry axes and saws of her famous lumberjacks. It was up to the settlers to clean it up and make the newly exposed land suitable to grow crops and raise pasture animals.

George and Hettie’s first child, a boy, was born in 1894; for quite some time after that much of the work must have been done by George alone or with the aid of neighbors and family, or even with Grandma’s help. The boys, along with one girl, kept coming, eight children in all, with the last one, named after his Uncle Seth, arriving in 1910.

Now then, I think I have my answer to the question that started me on this quest for family knowledge, that question being whether or not any Spears were affected by The Great Thumb Fire of 1881. My father’s answer was certainly correct, that his Grandpa George probably didn’t buy the land from his mother until AFTER the fire of 1881, and so, most fortunately, there were no Spears present when that intense firestorm swept across the land that would eventually become The Spear Farm. If there had been Spears present, it’s a certainty that the memory of the event would have been seared into our family lore, but other than those charred ancient white pine stumps, it isn’t—case closed.

And Ted, and any other family members who happen to read this, if you can make this account more detailed and correct, please contact me at my email or comment right here on this post. Thanks!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Major Hasan, traitor, defector, murderer, dead man walking?

Officers and enlisted men are evidently coming out of the woodwork now, all describing their own individual run-ins with Major Hasan when they personally experienced this American Jihadist’s pro-suicide bomber proclamations and anti-“War on Islamic Terror” tirades. Evidently, this murdering double-crossing traitor had been spouting off like Bin Laden on Al Jazeera for years now; yet the US Army in all its PC wisdom decided not only NOT to investigate his loyalty and reliability, but to award him with the rank of major.

(Were they trying to modify his obvious questionable allegiance by “giving” him rank? Was it a “bribe?” If so, it didn’t work!)

I can guarantee that along the way to his 100-round shooting rampage (just two buildings away from where my daughter and son-in-law were at the time!) that a lot of troops complained to their superiors about this Islamic nut job. Not only that, but I’d be totally surprised if more than a couple of them subjected to his sickening invective didn’t challenge him from 6 inches from his grill. I’m a hot head, so you can bet I would have.

Hasan’s family (who have described their disgraced family member as a “great American) say that he was under a lot of pressure due to what they term as harassment. Well, no wonder! THAT would have been ME—a harasser—a BIG TIME harasser. I would have “harassed” the Jihadist hell out of him. The wonder is that no one did MORE than harass him. Someone should have knocked him on his treasonous ass.

I have been known to engage in this kind of “harassment” before, if by harassment you mean speaking out against bullshit once identified as such. The last time I did this is while I was on active duty late in 2001 at the Air Mobility Warfare Center located on Fort Dix, New Jersey. As it turned out, I had only a half year left until the end of my 27 year career. Read on:

Not long after 9-11 when I was still in the Air Force I attended a class on terrorism given by one of our security forces sergeants. At the time I was a senior master sergeant with well over 26 years of active service under my belt. The class was pretty predictable. It all went exactly as expected, UNTIL the sergeant flashed up onto the screen his PowerPoint slide entitled “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter!”

‘Uh oh.’

Suddenly, I became extremely wary. This sergeant was regurgitating the kind of moral equivalency crap that so-called progressives love to use when making their typical anti-American invectives. I could feel every muscle in my body abruptly tense up. I held my tongue to see where this was going; but I knew it wasn’t going to take much to set me off. And sure enough, the very next slide did exactly that.

The sergeant’s next slide contained two pictures; the top one was George Washington, underneath that great man was Yasser Arafat. At that, the bile literally leaped into the top of my throat. ‘NO WAY!’

Unbelievably (to me) the staff sergeant actually began to make the argument that there was no real difference between Washington and Arafat, at least as far as how the Brits saw Washington as compared to the way the Israelis see Arafat. (The corrupt Arafat was still alive the time).

I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and stopped the lecture.

“Excuse me! Do you know ANYTHING at all about George Washington?”

“Yes senior, I believe I do…”

“NO, I don’t think you DO! How many acts of terrorism did George Washington plan, carry out or encourage? The answer is NONE! Arafat IS a terrorist. He embraces it; to him, it’s a valid political and tactical tool. General Washington was a great man that would NEVER even contemplate such a thing. He never attacked innocents. He was a man of honor…”

With Washington being my favorite American of all time, I was definitely on my high horse by this time and just getting started. I noticed several of the officers attending the class were actually angry with me; they turned in their seats and stared at me as if I was an impertinent petulant child. One of them, I believe he was a major or lieutenant colonel, interrupted my outburst.

“Sergeant, I think he’s got a point. I mean he’s talking about how their people LOOK at THEIR leaders and THEIR heroes. We look at Washington the same way that Palestinians look at Arafat. That’s all he’s saying.”

“Let me get this straight sir. Do you REALLY think it APPROPRIATE in an official US Air Force class on terrorism to make a moral equivalency comparison between the greatest American of all time and THAT contemptible ACTUAL terrorist Arafat? Are you kidding me Sir! Are you really saying that?”

Oops, that made him mad. He turned away, shaking his head disgustedly as if I was some kind of thickheaded moron. I didn’t care.

At that point I turned back to the instructor.

“Tell me this Staff Sergeant, did you come up with this slide arrangement, OR, are these official slides from Command? Because regardless, I intend to make a formal complaint. There’s no way that George Washington should EVER in ANY shape fashion or form be called a terrorist or be compared to one. You tell me ONE act of terror that he or any of his troops was EVER involved in. Just ONE!...”

It was then that the sergeant admitted that he was the one to write in those particular slides. Seeing the depth of my outrage and realizing that I probably had a pretty good point, he became placatory. Either that or he just wanted me to shut up so he could continue his class. He did make me a promise though. Relenting, he held his hands up in supplication.

“Senior, I will definitely take out the offending slides. I will no longer compare Washington to Arafat.”
“Thanks, that’s all I’m asking. I’ll sit down and shut up now.”

I wonder how many times Hasan’s fellow officers had similar “discussions” with him? I hope many. I would bet there were a lot. If so, THAT could be the reason his hatred finally congealed to the point that he sought to kill people like me, who dared to confront and challenge him. The shame is that the army allowed this defective defector to continue to serve in OUR uniform. Someone needs to be fired over this, more than one in fact.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Michael Jackson’s “This is it.” And IT really IS!

I had no intention of going to see this flick. But, my girls were over for a visit and my oldest asked if we could go see a movie.

Checking the online Robinson’s movie schedule I told her, “No Isabel, they are only showing three scary ones and the Michael Jackson movie.”

In a heartbeat they began to jump up and down and tugging at my T-shirt in unison they shouted excitedly, “Yes! Yes! We want to see Michael Jackson! We want to see Michael Jackson! Yes! Yes! Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson!”

Using the old chanting ploy, they destroyed my will to resist. I have a hard time saying no to my girls anyway, but when they chant… well, it’s hopeless. So, that was it. The Michael Jackson movie would be the one we’d watch.

I used to think the world of MJ, loved his music big time, but two things changed how I felt about the guy: first, when he went through that crotch grabbing phase, made all the more raunchy when he wore that bright yellow codpiece diaper thingy on stage—Geez that was just creepy; and of course second, when all the pedophile stuff came out. With all that, he pretty much became a joke to me, a punch line on The Tonight Show. It got to the point that I didn’t even care to hear his music anymore.

So, when the news came out last June that he had died, I was only a little surprised and mostly just shrugged off how I felt about it, lumping him in with all the other super rich self-indulgent drug-taking dopey celebrities who have passed on similarly. Elvis Presley, Heath Ledger, Jimi Hendrix, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix; geez, the list goes on and on. The fact that MJ died of drugs merely confirmed my dislike for him as the weak-willed person he apparently was. I believe my first reaction was, ‘What an idiot!’ and, ‘Serves him right,’ was my second. I think I thought those mean things because I was MAD at him for being so foolish.

I have to say though, that all my preset negative attitudes began to break down as I watched this documentary. First, the music got to me. I had forgotten how amazing it is, especially the old stuff. For one last time he had intended to perform all his brilliant original hits in this final hurrah 50-event London show, especially songs from “The Big Three,” those being his “Off The Wall”, “Thriller” and “Bad” albums.

From the look of the rehearsals this was going to be an amazing show, because the clips that made it into the movie certainly were. In spite of myself I immediately started singing along to all the songs with my girls. It wasn’t long before they stood up and danced in sheer joy. I’m telling you, it’s that kind of a show. I was pleasantly surprised at how utterly delightful it was to take in. I recommend you go with kids; it will increase the fun of it by at least a factor of four.

Then there was Michael. This is the first time I’ve seen him where he just acted like a regular person for an extended period. There was nothing strange or weird about him. Actually, he struck me as a genuinely nice guy (an extremely talented one!). He was respectful to everyone around him and even in the face of his young co-performers’ continuous adulation he seemed humble and grateful for their appreciation. Occasionally, when the singing and dancing carried him away, these incredibly gifted youngsters in their own right would reverently clap and cheer. He always responds with a heartfelt “God bless you.” If only he could have come across like this throughout those strange times of his, during the decades that he wore the masks and bizarre get ups.

But what really impressed me was his intense professionalism and complete attention to stage detail. There was no aspect of the production that he did not seem to take an interest in, especially if it had to do with the way he wanted HIS music performed. No matter what though, when MJ corrected or explained how it SHOULD be done, he never got cranky or bad tempered; although who knows, maybe they edited that kind of stuff out. Somehow I don’t think so.

I was really curious to watch how he looked as he performed on screen. The rehearsal footage was shot over the month or two leading up to his untimely end. Was there any hint that he was not much longer for this world? To me he definitely looked semi-skeletal, especially in the upper body; aside from that, his legs also appeared to be much more slender than in times past. Ten, fifteen years ago he had willowy yet muscular dancer’s legs, but in the documentary they seemed on the scrawny, almost bony side. It appeared to me that he purposely wore extra loose layers of clothing to try to conceal this gaunter final version of himself.

All of MJ’s live singing comes across in the film as strong and in perfect pitch and key. I suspect that the sound editing folks made sure to make that happen, and if so they did a magnificent job. Like I said, he sounds great, almost studio quality great.

But it was the dancing that I really paid attention to, being a bit of one myself, even if I do say so! He does most of his signature moves in these practice sessions, although not with the old masterful intensity he probably would have had during an actual show. He is most inspired when he performs to Beat It, as well as to Billy Jean. He tried a very short moonwalk and only managed two and half pitiful backward pumps before it seemed as if pain shut down the attempt. I was disappointed, since I excitedly told my girls, “Watch for it! Here comes the moonwalk. I can FEEL it!” If you aren’t watching carefully you won’t even see the attempt. He mostly seems intent on practicing the easier to do sideways moonwalk, which doesn’t have near the impact as his signature move. For me, his failed moonwalk was evidence that his 50 year old body was seriously compromised, and most of us who have reached that mark will say, ‘who can blame him?’ Regardless, his stage presence is overwhelming. The eyes are drawn to the man, whether in full form or not.

And concerning the dancing, the one thing I was antsy about in taking my girls was that he might do all the raunchily revolting crotch grabbing that he was into during that his last big tour in the 90s. I needn’t have worried. Maybe it was the fact that he was a dad himself that broke him of that nasty habit, but there is barely a hint of it in all his routines. The only place it got stark was a short bit where the male dancers mockingly learn how to do it as a group. And yes, they look just as ridiculous as Michael used to. The movie would have been better without it, but there it is.

Anyway, it wasn’t his old dancing injuries that put Michael Jackson into the ground. I’m convinced of that after seeing him do “his thing” in this flick. Overall, for a 50 year old, he seemed fairly fit, if not slightly underfed. However, I’ve been reading that he was having problems sleeping, something I can definitely empathize with. After all, it’s almost 3am as I write this. If I was lying in the bed behind me I’d be staring at the ceiling fan wide awake. As for me, I don’t even worry about it anymore, but in MJ’s case he was desperate for sleep, for any kind of sleep evidently; and when you have the kind of money he had, all he had to do was ask and “sleep” was provided. I’m sure that if one of his doctors said no, then he’d just find another one that would say yes. Thing is I just can’t imagine using a general anesthetic like Propofol to attain sleep. I’ve been put under twice for surgeries and both times I woke up deathly sick. Michael must have been absolutely desperate for unconsciousness if he was willing to put up with those kinds of queasy side effects. Sigh. If only he hadn’t been so rich; maybe he’d still be around.

It’s amazing, for I NEVER would have cared about such a thing if I hadn’t seen this film. Seeing it definitely changed me. At several points I actually felt grief, wiping real tears from my eyes, finally realizing that the man is gone and I deeply felt the utter shame of it. There are times watching him perform that he seems so joyful in being alive and creative—obviously the man did NOT want to die. He was loving life. There was one song that he did about the environment, a song that he wrote, that was particularly poignant, especially hearing him talk about it.

I can honestly say that I enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. I’m glad my girls “forced” me to see it.