Friday, March 11, 2005

Jacko, PJ's, and Sympathy?

Years ago, I was the supervisor of pages for the Ohio House of Representatives in Columbus. Pages are college-age students, each sponsored by a member of the House, who really are go-fers. One of the pages I supervised was a slight, ethereal young man who spoke with a high-pitched voice. In short, he was a bit like the Michael Jackson of today.

While there were female pages willing to take on the more robust weekly activity of checking House members' bags into and out of neighboring hotels as sessions began on Tuesdays and ended on Thursdays, it was felt best not to tempt fate (or the local media) by having young college co-eds in the rooms of middle-aged male legislators, however innocently. (This was right after the scandal that toppled Wayne Hays from his place in the U.S. House of Representatives and his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Hays, in fact, was serving his first term in the Ohio House when I worked there.)

With ninety-nine representatives, each of them feeling that immediate attention was owed to them, I had about forty-five male pages, not all of them on duty at any given time, to take care of this weekly rite of hotel checking-in and checking-out.

For several weeks after he first came on board, I assigned the slight, Michael Jackson look-alike to the task. But one afternoon, I got a call from my boss. It seems that the guy had come to him, appealing for mercy, claiming that he simply couldn't lift that luggage like the others. I believe that who his sponsoring legislator was had more to do with his being given a pass than with any physical limitations he had. (The sponsoring legislator was a powerful man, allied with the Speaker.) I frankly resented the guy a little bit, as did his fellow pages: We all felt, I think, that he believed that he was exempt from the duties and responsibilities others took for granted and that he attained his special status by being pathetic.

I couldn't help but think of this guy when I read of Michael Jackson's trial on Thursday. Jackson, already having been hospitalized for the flu earlier, simply didn't show up today. When the judge angrily ordered him to report for the trial within one hour or else, Jacko showed up at the court in pajamas and a sport coat!

Mr. Jackson seems to believe that he is exempt from the duties and responsibilities we all have simply because we're citizens. In addition to his physical attire, he also wore what appeared to be a look of complete mystification as he approached the court house: Why, his expression seemed to say, was he being made to do this?

If Mr. Jackson was trying to arouse sympathy with the jury, proving that he was sick by what he wore, I doubt that it worked. In fact, he may have done more harm to his case than he can imagine. Perhaps, like the pages who worked for me so long ago as they considered the guy who went over my head to get out of doing his job, the jurors may be asking themselves, "Who does this guy think he is, anyway?"

Jurors are human beings. While I'm sure that the jurors in the Jackson case will do their best to be fair and impartial, Mr. Jackson's antics of yesterday--first going AWOL from the trial and then, showing up in PJs--may be seen as corroborating evidence for the notion that he thinks himself above other people's limits of propriety. A guy who claims to be innocent can't afford to give that impression of himself.

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