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Me and Michael Jackson 

Ranger Rich

Boy, did I pick a bad couple of weeks to go on vacation.

First I missed South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's staff thinking he'd be "hiking the Appalachian Trail" when he'd apparently actually said "hunting some Argentinian tail." A reminder that communication is crucial and that all male politicians should be encased from head to toe in gigantic condoms.

I was also away when Sarah Palin appeared on news networks to say she was quitting as Alaska's governor, which shocked the estimated 247 Republicans young enough to still hear the television or operate the remote control.

Palin said she was quitting because she played basketball and a point guard drives through the full-court press and keeps two eyes on the basket and the third on teammates, unless the wind blows dirt or a chunk of salmon into one of your three eyes, and then you have to rub it like crazy. The point: Palin is passing the basketball despite having salmon in her eyes, and she thinks this will help her become president of the United States. And I think I speak for most Americans when I wink with my eye that does not have salmon in it and say, "You betcha' there, Sarah."

And I was gone when Michael Jackson died. It stunned and saddened hundreds of millions, causing many of us to look skyward and, in voices choked with grief, ask, "Hey, whatever happened to that monkey he lived with?"

The answer, and I am not kidding, is that Bubbles, who spent several years with Jackson and often wore a matching outfit, is now 26 and lives at the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Fla., where each day the other monkeys give him half of their banana if he'll moonwalk across the cage and sing "Billie Jean."

For me, Jackson's death took me back to 1994, to an unforgettable day in a Denver courthouse. Jackson had been sued by a woman who claimed he had stolen her song. Outside the courtroom 10 minutes before the trial began, a slight and frail hand reached out and touched my arm gently and a man with a high-pitched voice said, "Excuse me." I turned to see Jackson himself, arm outstretched, his right hand resting on my right forearm region, sliding past me toward the door.

I was covering the trial for the local daily newspaper, which back then was known as the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph Evening News Herald Beacon Globe and Observer but is now known simply as "that thing."

Michael Jackson actually, honest to God, touched my arm. Today, in the sadness I share with so many of you, I say, unabashedly, that I went to the men's room and for 15 minutes I washed that arm with hot water and soap, and yet still, to this day, when I bring that arm close to my nose I swear I can smell Macaulay Culkin.

Footnote: Presiding at the trial was esteemed federal judge Edward Nottingham, who resigned in 2008 amid revelations that in one night in 2005 at Denver's Diamond Cabaret adult club he spent $3,000 on strippers, although he claimed he didn't remember because he'd been drinking heavily.

Anyway, the trial focused on Jackson's hit song "Dangerous" and whether the song was actually written by Denver entertainer Crystal Cartier, who appeared at the trial with her large breasts spilling from her tight leather dress in a shocking way. Judge Nottingham, citing the landmark case of Schmidlap v. Dirkenstein, slipped a $5 bill into her panties and crushed a beer can against his forehead. Judge Hypocrite, I mean Nottingham, actually pretended to be offended, ordering Cartier to cover up. She donned a fur coat that her publicist said was, and I quote, "otter, I think."

The highlight came when Jackson, later found not guilty, took the stand and began to sing, pounding out the rhythm of "Dangerous" with his hand on the oak railing of the witness box as Judge Nottingham tried to make him stop.

And so I sat in my living room on Tuesday, reliving that day some 15 years ago, staring at the sad scenes of a memorial service for a man who literally and figuratively touched me, and I began to write my own tribute.

It's not done yet, but it begins, "So Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin, Judge Nottingham, large-breasted Crystal Cartier, Gov. Mark Sanford, Bubbles the chimp and a rabbi walk into a bar ..."

rangerrich@csindy.com

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