I’m what you might call a beachcomber of the city. Only, instead of gleaning what the tide has brought in, I take my pick of what other people have thrown out. While strolling I can never resist investigating a pile of ‘rubbish’ or a dumpster, and have made some great finds in the past. Most of the clothes and shoes I wear, and practically all the stuff in the room in Istanbul where I recently lived – chairs, carpet, cushions, oriental rugs, bookcase, tables, mirrors, curtains, etcetera, were found in the streets.
Two of my favourite discoveries were a huge black and red silk Anarchist flag which I spread on the floor to do my yoga first thing in the morning, and a shiny yellow plastic duck (actually a floating radio.) You twist its head and it plays. Great reception. After yoga and my muesli breakfast, I’d listen to music with a coffee on the little sixth floor balcony overlooking the jumbled jigsaw valley of old dilapidated houses and streets in the ‘slum’ area of Tarlabasi, which stretched towards the tall hotel buildings of Taksim on the horizon – ‘The Seagull’, ‘The Elite World’, and ‘The Cartoon’. Smoking my first spliff of the day, I’d browse some books, watch the sparrows, the pigeons, the swallows, the doves and gulls flying over the red-tiled roofs in the wide blue sky, and feel peaceful and calm. I’d finish the day on the balcony in a similar fashion, smoking a last joint with a glass of wine, listening to the radio and looking at the stars. Apart from Turkish channels there were some great Western music stations, progressive and pop, and I usually listened to them.
Earlier in the year one night I’d discovered a large sheet of soft plastic crumpled up by the side of the road. When I unfolded it I found it was a huge poster for the Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour’ directed by Jamie King, which had played for five nights at a Sports Arena in Istanbul in March. On a red background of sky and stadium it showed Michael Jackson dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, his arms stretched out, his pale face thrust back, framed by long black hair, his mouth wide open in an angry defiant shout. His body was haloed with an exploding cloud peopled by dancers, butterflies and flowers. ‘MICHAEL JACKSON THE IMMORTAL’, read the huge letters.
I folded up the poster and took it home, initially with the idea of cutting out the name we both shared – ‘Michael’, and vainly sticking it on my wall, but I didn’t get round to it, and the poster had lain in a corner of the balcony ever since. Several months later, in early September, however, coming upon a tube of superglue, I decided to stick up the whole thing on the wall next to my bed. I wasn’t a particularly huge fan of Jackson, and the poster was rather obtrusive, but it was colourful, and there were other big pictures on the other walls, an advert for Prada sunglasses on the lenses of which I’d stuck Anarchist symbols, and one of Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in a scene from ‘The Kid’, they timidly peering out from behind a corner, unaware of the policeman towering threateningly behind them, so I decided to let it stay.
A couple of nights later the gang of young Kurdish guys from whom I used to buy my grass in little bags for 10 lira, down a dark alley near where I lived, told me that their supply of ‘ot’ (grass) had run out for that day, but they had ‘Bonsai’ for the same price, and claimed that it was “from Jamaica”, “chok iyi” (very good). I didn’t know anything about it, but decided to give it a try. I handed over the money and was given a tiny square of tin foil. When I opened it at home I was annoyed to find such a minute amount of grey powdery substance with twigs and little dry leaves. I sprinkled most of it into some tobacco, rolled it up in a cigarette paper, and took it out onto the balcony to smoke, curious as to what the effects might be.
After a couple of drags I began to relax. A bit too much. My head rolled round several times on my neck and then my chin slowly fell forward on my chest and my body went limp and heavy. Then I suddenly thought: “Why not jump off the balcony? You’re on the sixth floor. It would be the end to your problems instantly. Look at the state of your life. It’s disastrous. Don’t you want to end it quickly?”
“No, I don’t,” I replied to myself. “Things change. If I killed myself now, who knows what I might miss?”
A song from the 80’s came on the radio – Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. The chorus went –
“Might as well jump. Jump!
Might as well jump.
Go ahead, jump. Jump!
Go ahead, jump.”
“What the fuck?” I thought, and quickly changed the station. The song was ‘Meds’ by Placebo, and these lyrics stuck out –
“I was alone, Falling free,
Trying my best not to forget…
I was alone,
Staring over the ledge,
Trying my best not to forget…”
I slowly got up, (it was difficult), and decided to go to bed, but when I stood I felt as though a strong magnet was pulling me towards the edge of the balcony. I staggered sideways towards it. Luckily it was the side where I had hung a fishing net which I’d found on one of my scavenging adventures, and it would have prevented me from falling, but nevertheless it was unnerving. I wasn’t drunk at all. I went into my room and lay down on the bed, stultified.
The next day I thought I needed a break and decided to go to the cinema. I checked out what new films were showing in Istanbul. There were two I hadn’t seen. When I read the synopsis of the first, ‘Apartment 1303’, I decided against it. It sounded too much like my experience of the night before.
“In Detroit, Janet Slate is happy since she has just rented the apartment 1303 of the Lake View Residence. She calls her sister Lara to tell the news and she meets Emily, her next door neighbor. Emily says that a girl, Jennifer, killed her mother many years ago and jumped off the balcony, committing suicide. She also tells her to leave the apartment.Janet hears strange noises in the apartment and she calls her boyfriend to spend the night with her. When he leaves the apartment, Jennifer throws Janet off the balcony. The detective in charge of the investigation tells Lara that there are several cases of women committing suicide in that apartment.”
Instead, I decided to see the other new film on release, ‘The Conjuring’.
“In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Perron move their family into a dilapidated Rhode Island farmhouse and soon strange things start happening with escalating nightmarish terror. In desperation, Carolyn contacts the noted paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. What the Warrens discover is a satanic haunting. To stop this evil, the Warrens will have to call upon all their skills and spiritual strength to defeat this spectral menace at its source.”
I didn’t enjoy the movie very much, but little did I know that my own haunting was about to begin that very night.
On the way home from the cinema I found my lads still hadn’t got any grass, so I decided to have another try of the ‘Bonsai’. Pissed off again at the size of the packet, I nevertheless handed over the dosh and rolled up the (seemingly) meagre amount when I got home and went out and smoked it on the balcony, ignoring suggestions to jump off.
I felt very heavy as I got up to go back inside, as though I were wading through water, and then, as I passed through the doorway I felt my body buzz, as though I had forced my way through a strong invisible electric force field. I emerged into the room with a gasp and a loud involuntary shout of relief. Then I was whirled around the room and and hurled backwards towards the poster on the wall, my arms outstretched, and pinioned as though crucified against the image of Michael Jackson. After that I was thrown forcibly face-down on a big cushion on the floor and held there, unable to move, apart from a rocking backwards and forwards. I felt as though I was a twelve year old boy being violently raped. I sobbed and moaned, shocked and bewildered.
I was shocked, but extremely interested in such a strange phenomenon. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. Was it hallucination? Could it happen again? I wanted to find out more. Next day, when my street guys said that grass was back on the market, I chose the Bonsai again instead.
And it did happen again several times. After smoking the stuff on the balcony, always the strange force field as I re-entered my room which took my breath away, like entering a different dimension, pulled helplessly like a magnet towards the defiant image of Jackson on the wall, thrown onto the bed, forced over the back of an armchair, followed by the rocking thrusting movement, sometimes collapsed into the position of a frog with my forehead pressed on the floor, moaning and groaning “Allah! Allah!” I wondered what the neighbours downstairs thought was going on.
Sometimes I lurched around the room swearing gruffly, at others I danced, but danced fantastically, without effort, like a puppet, as though controlled by the spirit of Jackson. I could even do the moonwalk. Always I felt like a young boy. It was as though I was his private student and he was giving me classes. I liked that, but I didn’t like the rough stuff.
One time as I was hurled backwards and pinioned against his image I shouted “I understand! I understand!” But I didn’t really. I tried to learn more.
I wrote ‘Michael Jackson’ on Youtube, and of course there were hundreds of choices of videos. In one, ironically called ‘Ghost’, he’s wearing the same clothes as in the poster. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh9Cp4rd7mI
And then there was the recent story in the British tabloid Sunday People with the screaming headline: “Michael Jackson paid $34 MILLION buying silence of at least TWO DOZEN young boys he abused over 15 years.” The paper claimed to have “seen secret FBI files” that reportedly revealed how the superstar had bought off parents of his alleged young victims to ensure silence.
Sometimes the magnetic field wasn’t there, and I walked into the room from the balcony in a normal way. I began to feel disappointed when that happened, as though the other times had merely been my imagination. One night I was sitting on the bed reading, leaning on some cushions. Suddenly a song called ‘Reflektor’ by Arcade Fire came on the radio. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrEl6oW6u-I
Glancing across the room, I noticed that the full length mirror on the other side of the room was reflecting the image of Michael Jackson, and behind him, just over his left shoulder was an image I’d never noticed before. It was a grinning death’s head skull in a hood – the Grim Reaper. I crawled across the room, staring at it as the disturbing song played. How come I’d never seen the skull before? What on earth was it doing there? Because of the ‘Ghost’ video of course, I told myself. It looked like it was about to embrace Jackson from behind. I turned and looked at the poster on the wall. The skull wasn’t there. It was just the petals of a flower. But looking in the mirror again, it was the death’s head, only seen reflected in the mirror. Extraordinary.
A friend who I’d written to tell about my disturbances replied: “Stop the dope and get rid of the poster. It sounds to me like a combination of internal and external forces and you are in danger of self harm or harming others. Is there anyone outside the city you can go to before irreparable harm is done?”
A couple of nights later I came across a pile of stuff being thrown out of a nightclub which was being renovated down a backstreet in Istanbul. Rummaging through the rubbish I came across a big plastic folded up wall poster.
“Ah!” thought I. “This could be the poster to replace the Michael Jackson one.”
I unfolded and inspected it. It was a montage of large black and white photos of famous stars partying at the famous New York night club, Studio 54, in the late seventies. Amongst the selection of personalities there were two of a young black-skinned Michael Jackson with an Afro hairstyle, one with him chatting to Woody Allen. How different he looked back then. I folded up the poster and took it, but I didn’t replace it with the ‘Immortal’ one. I also took a wooden sign with the words ‘Blood Cafe’ painted in red letters on it. I put that over my bedroom door.
Last month I noticed that the metal dumpster at the top of my street was full, somebody obviously having moved home and got rid of old stuff. Having found some useful and interesting stuff there in the past, I decided to have a quick rummage. I saw the edge of a wooden tabletop sticking out of the side. As I pulled it out I noticed it had an an advertisement for a Turkish beer that doesn’t exist any more. The image that accompanied it was of Michael Jackson dancing, white socks on his feet, his hand up holding the hat on his head, his face in shade. I took it home.
“At this rate I could open a Michael Jackson museum,” I thought to myself.
A couple of weeks later I was arrested and deported from Turkey for overstaying my visa, and so my ‘haunting’ story was curtailed.
By the way, I discovered that it wasn’t my imagination about the electronic force field that existed on the threshold of the balcony door. Carrying my duck radio in as it was playing one morning, the channel automatically changed to another as I entered the room without my touching the dial. I tried it again, and it did the same. Then I walked round the room with it and found that it crackled and was disturbed and changed channels in different areas. It was weird. Near the door a voice suddenly came on and said in Turkish “Lanet Insan” (“Cursed Person”.)
When I held it in front of the image of Michael Jackson the channel changed to a distant pop station. The words of a song faintly crackled through – “Pray for me”.
Michael Dickinson can be contacted via his website.