Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Kind Words

Monticello Vineyards, Napa Valley, California, USA

June 25, 2009

"The King is dead. Long live the King!" ... traditional originally French proclamation, circa 1422

This essay, Kind Words, is the four hundredth in this Conversations For Transformation internet series. That doesn't mean anything. It's just what's so.

It is also the eighth in an open group on People: I am indebted to Michael Joseph Jackson who inspired this conversation, and to my sister Anthea "Anth" Sarah Platt Haupt who contributed material.

Lopping The Tall Poppies

Oddly enough, we human beings are thrown mostly to deal with  each other's stuff  while tacitly ignoring who we really are. We've got it completely bass ackwards.

Just as odd is we mostly wait until people die before we acknowledge them for what they contribute to us, rather than acknowledge them for what they contribute to us while they're still alive. All too often we withhold I Love You  from people during their lives. And then we say great things  about them at their funeral. That's bass ackwards as well. It's also too late.

As the human tide, we're not only likely to withhold real, deep, profound  acknowledgement from people who contribute to us while they're alive - we go further than that. We're known to overtly criticize, spite, tease, and debase our heroes while they're alive for the very artistic expressions they most deserve our acknowledgement for but ironically only get from us after they die. We've got it completely wrong, this "lopping the tall poppies" ...

You dispute this? Next time you're in the supermarket checkout line, thumb through any of the tabloids on the rack placed handily nearby. They make millions  spewing sleeze and innuendo about people while they're still alive. Then when they die, they make millions more bringing us sensitive  stories, suitably bloated with fake shock and dismay, about their demise. You could say this is the job  of a tabloid. But it's you and me  who foot the bill for the millions  they rake in. In other words, that's not really tabloids on the supermarket checkout line rack. That's really us.

Family Business

Michael Joseph Jackson
For a year I worked with the Jackson family, eventually producing an art auction at their home (Michael offered it for the venue) on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino, Southern California to benefit the Reverend Frank Chikane's South African Council of Churches and people displaced by apartheid. Producing the art auction with them was, as expected, an awesome experience, especially given its beneficiaries, not to mention its hosts. But what I took away with me from that event was something completely unexpected, something which forever changed the way I had, in the past, naïvely accepted as factual  anything I read in a newspaper or watched on television news channels. After the art auction I would never read a newspaper or watch television news channels in quite the same way again ever.

The Jacksons are truly a great family. Great individuals. Great family. One evening in the kitchen after work, Michael's father Joseph, his mother Katherine, brother Jermaine and sister Janet (sans  makeup yet still muscularly beautiful) and I were talking. I was sharing after working with them I would be taking some time off in Paris when the art auction wrapped. Jermaine got wistful, saying "Do you know how much I wish I could go somewhere and just relax and be unrecognized?". That was during the peak of the Jackson Five fame.

"That's something" I thought to myself. "You have unimaginable wealth and fame and everybody loves you. But you can't live a normal life and walk down the street to the grocery store and show your face in public for fear of being mobbed ...".

If Joseph is the driver of the Jackson family music machine, Katherine is the glue holding their hearts together. Their estate is a big one given its location. It's quite a few acres. Katherine was walking from the pool house over to the manor, carrying an assortment of things precariously in both arms. "Here" I said. "Let me help you with that.". I walked over to her, reaching out to take some of the things she was carrying. "Thank You" she said. "I'm alright but please take this from me.". With a nod of her head, she indicated a large black book slowly slipping from the top of her pile. It was a Jehovah's Witness Bible, the "New World" translation. Of all the things Katherine Jackson was balancing, she wanted me to carry her Bible for her.

The Truth Behind The Lies

At the time, the bass ackwards tabloids, attack media, and shock jock  TV and radio hosts had (having discovered it, no doubt, through meticulous, honest, truthful, fully fact checked research  ... I'm being facetious, of course) announced Michael had created a scaled down version  of Disneyland's famous Pirates of the Caribbean  ride for his own private enjoyment - where else but in the basement  of his home. Of course! Isn't that where you  would build a scaled down version  of Disneyland's famous Pirates of the Caribbean  ride for your own private enjoyment? In your basement? Of course.

I was in the basement getting a soda from the refrigerator. Joseph was there. I said "So tell me, Joe: where's the Pirates of the Caribbean  ride?". At first he looked as if he wasn't going to answer. Then he smiled, and this is what he said:


Laurence, I come down to this basement every day. I've also heard them say that boy built a Pirates of the Caribbean  ride down here. Well, let me tell you something: I've looked for it and I've looked for it and I've looked for it. I've searched everywhere ... and I can't find the damn thing anywhere..


Stairway Of Stars

I was about to leave and had already reversed my Ford Bronco  out of its allocated parking space when Joseph walked over. "You're leaving?" he said. "I'm just going back to my hotel to shower. I'll be right back" I replied. "You can shower in Michael's room" he said, pointing across the yard to another smaller building on the compound built in the same architectural style as the larger manor house.

A ten second gap of silence ensued. "Excuse me?"  I said, stopped in my tracks by his suggestion. "I can shower where?". "In Michael's room" he repeated blandly. "You'll find fresh towels in the bathroom closet. Leave the ones you use in the laundry basket when you're done.". Then he turned and walked back into the manor house.

I parked my Bronco  again. Not knowing quite what to expect, I walked over to the smaller building, opened the door, and very slowly, started to climb the stairs.

The walls of the stairway are completely wallpapered  with meticulously mounted and framed photographs. They cover the ceiling as well. Inside the three roomed suite, all the walls and ceilings are similarly adorned. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds  of photographs, each of Michael with well known worldly figures. Here he is with celebrities. Here he is with politicians. Here he is with presidents. Here he is with musicians. Here he is with actors. Here he is with scientists. Here he is with sports and athletic titans. Here he is with royalty. It's almost unbelievable. If you read the catalog of who's who  in the world today, he's here with all of them. And interspersed everywhere, here he is with Joe Sixpack, with "everyman", with you and me also.

And then, like an optical illusion  of recognition, something turns around. I was seeing the photographs as photographs of him with all those people, famous and otherwise, from all walks of life, from the hallowed halls of privilege down to the tenement corridors of the ghetto. It looked like a collection of photographs of him and all those people. But then I see what it really is. It isn't a collection of photographs of him with all those people. It's not him  with them. It's a collection of photographs of all those people, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds  of them with him. It's them  with him. They all want to be near him. Princesses, presidents, football stars, movie stars, rock stars, janitors, the guy who pumps gas at the corner gas station. They all want to be near him.

"Amazing!" I think to myself. "Totally amazing! Everybody  wants to be around this guy. Everybody. The closest human being following him on this scale is Nelson Mandela. And, truth be told, on this scale Nelson Mandela doesn't even come close.".

Room To Create: You Wanna Be Starting Something

The bedroom is immaculate. Perfectly tidy. Not one thing  is out of place. Everything is arranged just so. There's very little furniture. A comfortable yet unostentatious bed is placed with a view out of the window. Very conspicuous by it's total absence is one hyperbaric chamber. There's not one in this  room (and neither, as I soon find out, is there one anywhere else on the property). The closest one is probably at Bangor submarine base in Oregon in case it's needed to treat cases of rapid decompression. The man who sleeps in this  room obviously sleeps in a bed - like you and me.

Fully extended on the polished hard wood floor, instead of carpets or rugs, is a fold up dance floor. Next to the dance floor at the side of the bed is a simple table on which a yellow legal tablet and three or four sharpened HB  pencils lie. Next to the legal tablet and pencils is a simple battery operated tape recorder. Nothing fancy. Nothing professional, you might say. Rather, the kind you might buy in a Wal~Mart. And beside the table, standing raised on its own four legs, is a very basic electric keyboard.

Not much of a dance floor ... except on this  dance floor the moonwalk  was carefully, meticulously worked out and practiced for the first time. Not much of a legal tablet ... except on this  legal tablet the words of Beat It  were first written - first this way, then that way, then erased and written this way  again - for the first time. Not much of a tape recorder ... except this  tape recorder captured a hummed what was to become Billie Jean  ... the first time Billie Jean  was ever hummed. Not much of an electric keyboard ... except on this  electric keyboard the melody of We Are The World  was teased out - plink  ... plunk  - for the first time.

Presence On The Balcony

I walk through a pool of sunlight across the dance floor over to the window, outside of which is a tiny balcony encircled by a wooden balustrade. The branches of a tree growing up from the garden below overhang the balcony adding shade like an au natural  umbrella canopy. I grab the balustrade and lean slightly forward, my arms taking my weight. Standing in this special spot, looking out onto the world from this special spot, I have no thoughts, no concerns, no fears. Just peace, and a kind of what I later distinguished as a compassionate calm. And at that moment I feel a tap on my shoulder.

Someone, it seems, has entered the room behind me and must be standing quietly near me. "God, it's him" I say to myself before turning around. Then I turn around ... and the room is empty.

No!  It's not possible!  Someone (or some-thing)  definitely tapped me on the shoulder. Of that I'm certain. Yet there's no one in the room except me. Then I see it. At my feet. A twig, a stick from the tree had dropped and tapped me on the shoulder. I was tapped (or dubbed  like a knight) on the shoulder by a stick from that shade tree in that special place.

Exchanging Gifts

The art auction was over - successful way beyond anyone's wildest dreams, but over. It was time to say goodbye. With a broad sweep of his hand, Joseph showed me an array of artwork in the vestibule of the manor house.

"What would you like? Take anything you like. I'd like you to have something you'll remember us by.". I said "Thanks Joe. May I please take this with me?". I held up the stick. A look of puzzlement slowly crossed his kindly face. "But that's a stick, Laurence. That's  what you want? Take something else. Please.". "It's not just a stick, Joe" I said. "It's the  stick. It's the  stick which tapped me. And yes, if it's OK with you, this is the only thing I want.".

Some months later when I was traveling in the Transkei  region of eastern South African, I came across an African tribesman at the side of the road making bowls from tree trunk sections. It was painstaking work, especially given the primitive tools he used. But the finished bowls were works of art. It suddenly occurred to me "This would be an ideal  gift for Joseph and Katherine", so I bought one and took it back with me to the United States.

I called Joseph from San Francisco to ask if I could drop by to deliver the gift. He countered by offering to take me out to dinner. I flew from San Francisco to Van Nuys airport, hired a car and drove back to their Encino home on Hayvenhurst Avenue - now no longer an outdoor art gallery, now just a family home once again.

Joseph and Katherine were like little children with the wooden bowl. They asked all kinds of questions (what was the sculptor like? where did he live? what other pieces did he make?). It was a fitting gift for a great family. Then, accompanied by a bodyguard, Joseph took me to a tucked away restaurant I would never ever  have discovered by myself. It was black owned (there's nothing significant about that - it just happened to be black owned), and the food was basic, delicious home cookin'  soul food. Clearly Joseph ate there often. The people there were very respectful of his privacy: "Hi, Joe" as he came in, and that was it. No mob scene here.


Now the moral of this story is

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