June 30, 2009


Over the next two days, we’ll be unleashing exactly what the word doesn’t need: more Michael Jackson tributes. First up, Douglas Martin will be starting something.

Sometime during either 1987 or 1988, I was standing on a playground. Clad in a black shirt, one of those plastic fedoras that came with an old Halloween costume, and high-water pants that showed a pair of white socks, I turned the boombox on. The drum fill at the beginning immediately turned every head within earshot as I did a little front-kick and started strutting around the blacktop. Halfway through the first verse, everyone on the playground stood three feet away from my stage. Parents off in the distance kept an eye and a safe distance away, but the idea of a four-or-five-year-old Douglas Martin lip-syncing, “I’ll pick you up in my car,” made them chuckle aloud.

I was at full-swing by the time the chorus came up, and was unexpectedly joined by a couple of new friends eager to sing backup during the call-and-response chorus. Upon the breakdown, I stomped my feet on every downbeat, screaming, “GO ON GIRL!” as six girls around my age strutted past me, waving their makeshift fans made of wide-ruled notebook paper, all shimmying to the drums. The thing I undoubtedly miss most about my prepubescent life is that I could nail those “hee-hee’s” every single fucking time. By the last note, the enraptured playground audience gave me a round of applause. I probably would have gotten a standing ovation if they, um, weren’t already standing.

Fast-forward to June 23rd, 2009. My 25-year-old self, while arranging items at my current gig as a stock boy for a supermarket, hears that instantly-recognizable drum fill over the store’s speakers. A shit-eating grin fills nearly my entire face as I start nodding my head and passively reenacting the dance moves I made up two decades ago. Right in the middle of Aisle 4. At 5:30 in the morning. While customers are shopping. I’m singing along as loudly and as passionately as I can. Whenever a customer rang the bell at the checkstand, I walked up and only stopped singing to greet them. I literally grooved along to the song in front of other adults, some of which I caught tapping their fingers along to the beat. I want to reiterate that this was before Michael Jackson died.

For those few minutes, “The Way You Make Me Feel” made us all feel like kids again, singing into our hairbrushes and wowing playground audiences in clothes that would normally get a person beat up. More importantly, “The Way You Make Me Feel” made us feel that we could be stars ourselves.

I suppose there’s nothing left to do but sing louder next time.

MP3: Michael Jackson-“The Way You Make Me Feel”

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