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Completely unrelated to The Herald . . . I've been cooling my heels at the national convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Francisco this week. It's been an overwhelming experience; so many great people and so many difficult issues.
The highlight of the week, at least for me, was an appearance by Nathaniel Ayers, the fellow that inspired Steve Lopez's "The Soloist." Ayers performed for about 20 minutes after being presented with a NAMI award for breaking down the stigma of mental illness and thanking the crowd with a rambling speech.
That he was there at all and was able to play his violin in front of a couple of thousand people was an act of courage.
There's nothing there, really. Just a bunch of guys selling t-shirts, MJ stickers and commemorative publications. By now, the U.S. news crews are gone, replaced by a dozen TV production crews from far-off lands, like Spain, the Middle East and Japan. Regular people show up with their cameras, their flowers and their posters. Everyone who shows up is guaranteed an interview by some news personality.
We happened to be in Santa Ynez this weekend, 10 minutes from the gate. I've always been ambivalent about Michael Jackson, but we're only a short drive away, so what the hell . . . We're staying with a fellow who used to deliver monkey chow and camel food to Michael Jackson's playland. The exotics are gone now, replaced with polo ponies. The amusement rides have disappeared.
But we wouldn't know. From the front gate, there's nothing to see but the gate and the people at vigil and the t-shirt hawkers. The mansion and what's left of the place are down the road, over the hill and past another gate.
There's an old hippie guy at the gate; looks like he's been there for a while. He plays Michael Jackson hits on his flute. Nice touch, but it seems meaningless.