When I was in my second year of college living on campus (at Columbia in NYC) with 4 suite mates, every time the phone rang, there was a race to answer it. Everyone wanted to be the guy to hear the "hello" on the other side just in case it was my friend Michael Jackson calling.
Most of those days, Michael was holed up on top of the Four Seasons, roughly 60 blocks away from where I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan just near Harlem. I'd happily drift downtown, gain clearance from security downstairs who knew I was allowed free access to Michael's suite, take the elevator all the way up and start ordering room service and watch movies on Mike's tab. Eventually, Michael and I would get down to work. He was working on a new album and asked me to help him write lyrics for songs. It was an informal relationship - I'd wander downtown with a backpack full of dictionaries, and thesauri, and rhyming books. Michael would hum songs and talk about what he wanted to say with the song and we'd try and marry our skillsets and come up with something. We came up with great stuff. Michael swore me to secrecy those days. I happily complied.
After we were done with those sessions - they'd usually go until about 2 AM or so - Michael would wander into the bathroom and come out with a sack he'd pulled out from under the toilet. In it, he kept several thousands of dollars. He'd ask me how much I wanted. I just sort of shrugged and he'd hand me a couple of thousand dollars. Soon, I'd be packing my dictionaries and thesauri and rhyming books in my backpack, calling my friends and telling them to meet me downtown. Within an hour, we'd be at Flashdancers "making it rain."
Michael was always envious when I told him about my adventures with my friends. More than a few times, he'd get dressed up - dawning some sort of quasi-disguise - preparing to go with me, only to back down at the last minute or be held back by his security who would shake their heads and plainly say no to his misguided ambitions. Instead, he'd pour himself a tall glass of orange juice and settle in for the night to watch an old movie on TV, telling me to spend a few extra bucks for him. I happily complied.
My friendship with Michael was very special to me, and I like to think it was the same for him. Over the last few years, it always felt awkward to explain the origins of our friendship - that I met him initially when I was fifteen-years-old and that we instantly hit it off. I'd spend days at his Neverland Ranch, my sister, cousins, or other friends joining us in fantastical stretches filled with candy, arcade rides, late night movies and the absolute best chocolate chip cookies of all times. Likewise he'd visit our house in Massachusetts (he was very close to my father as well) where he'd sleep in the guest room. My mom got a great kick out of the fact that every morning Michael stayed, he'd try to make the bed (very badly) and offer to cook breakfast (very badly). Then when I was about 17, Michael invited me on the road with him - he was heading out to Europe on the biggest rock concert at the time (Dangerous tour) and wanted company. I begged and pleaded with my parents to let me go and they eventually said yes. Not a bad way to spend your summer vacation between junior and senior year of High School.
Over the years, as Michael faced his scandals, I often reflected on my own experiences with him as a teenager. People would ask me if I had endured anything strange or awkward with him. I'd answer truthfully that in all of my years with him, in every single moment, Michael was nothing but dignified and appropriate, never once doing anything that would be deemed scandalous with me. It was really that simple.
Check that. Back to those college days. One night he did call me in a panic. He had just gotten married to Lisa Marie Presley and needed advice - sex advice. He was incredibly nervous and said that he wanted to make sure that Lisa was impressed with his "moves." He asked me if I had any advice. I answered with one word: "foreplay."
"Really?" He answered. "Girls really like that?"
Over the last few years, Michael's and my relationship evolved and matured greatly too. We both became fathers and that was the centerpiece of our most recent conversations the last few months. Returning the favor from my days as his "lyrical advisor," he's the one who monikered my half-Indian, half-Chinese son "The Chindian" which little Krishu Chen Xing Hua Chopra will now forever go by. We'd talk about how great it would be for our kids to grow up together, become as good friends as us, and set the world on fire. Michael admired the fact that I was able to find a wife, keep a wife, and gain her trust. I'd joke it was all about the foreplay! When his daughter Paris befell an accident a few years ago, he called my wife Candice (a physician) pleading for us to come to his house to check her out.
We did - Paris had fallen from a tree and cut herself deeply beneath the eye. Michael was devastated and confessed to me that he felt like the world's worst father. I calmed him as Candice helped Paris get up from the bed where she lay so we could take her to the Emergency room to get some simple stitches. When I advised Michael of the plan, he pulled me into the bathroom, pulled a sack filled with thousands of dollars from beneath the toilet and asked me how much I needed for the Emergency room.
I shook my head: "this one's on me."
RIP in peace my friend.
Gotham Chopra regularly blogs at www.intent.com