That Time I Almost Won Michael Jackson’s Guitar.

What is my biggest regret in life, you might ask?

Well, I have a few.  That one pair of track pants to start with.  The in-depth AIM conversation about the “ass-to-ass” scene in Requiem for Dream, in which I described in detail to a fellow ninth-grader, would be up there as well, mostly because my mom got on my computer and read it in full, then broke this news to me before my first job interview.  Sweet timing, mom!

But I would say, by far, my biggest life regret involved Michael Jackson’s guitar.

When I was a kid, in the pre-internet days, or at least the pre-internet-for-anything-other-than-dancing-baby days, people used to rely on TV for two now defunct concepts: music video and call-in contests.  Not of the QVC variety, mind you, but of the “please dear God keep sitting through these La Bouche music videos for the next hour” variety.

One such call-in contest took place on VH1’s cable channel, and promised a Michael Jackson autographed guitar to the 100th caller, or something arbitrary like that.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about what Michael Jackson meant to my childhood.  The first thing I ever purchased with my own money, a collection of birthday and Christmas money piggybanked for a year or two, was Michael Jackson’s History compilation.  I don’t know what it was.  Jackson wasn’t even necessarily still cool when I was a kid; he’d bleached himself bonkers.  But I remember counting down the days until that album release date, and having my dad drive me to Best Buy to cash in my savings, and I remember the world video premiere for “Man in the Mirror”, and “Scream”, and generally feeding my boombox nothing but Michael Jackson and the Space Jam soundtrack.

So, I must have been around eight years old, and of course I’m calling in to every damn contest.  I never get through, not even to local radio stations to make requests.  It’s more for the thrill of the hunt.

And then, something happens that day, during that concert.

I get through.

The first thing the woman on the line asks me is for my name.

8-year-old me blanks for a while, but manages to stammer and spell it out for her.  Now, in retrospect, am I sure there is some rule that you have to be 18 to win these?  Yes.  But that interrupts the story flow here, so let’s ignore that for a second.

She then asks for my address, where they can ship Jackson’s guitar to me.

Lady, I’m 8 years old.  What is an address?

I start freaking out.  I’m on the phone just stammering for a while, and then I just keep saying some variation of I don’t know, how do I find out my address?  And eventually I realize nobody is around to help, so I just kind of start crying and hang up the phone.

I could have had Michael Jackson’s autographed guitar.  Did Michael Jackson even play guitar?  I don’t care!  It was Michael Jackson.  And all I had to do was provide my address.  Instead, I cried.  A lot.  Like, a lot more than I should have even.

To this day, I get nervous when I have to spell out my address on the phone, which thankfully only applies to pizza deliveries and mail-order brides.  Also, exercise equipment I use for 48 hours before remembering that napping feels a lot better than exercising.  And it’s because of that damn dark day from my childhood.

Sometimes, I think about how that might have changed my life.

“Hey Sarah, do you want to go to the mixer with me?”

“Sorry Collin, I’m already going with Nick.”

“Oh yeah, does Nick have an autographed Michael Jackson guitar?

“No.  I just like his face a lot better than yours.”

“Oh.  Right.  Well, I guess that’s fair.”

Well, okay, junior high is never the best judge of anything.  Let’s try something else, rewind a bit:

“Hey Kyle, do you want to spend the night at house this weekend?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ve got an autographed Michael Jackson guitar!


“…and we can put on Channel 78 after my parents go to sleep.  If you wait 10 minutes, you can kinda see through the static!”

“Awesome, what night did you say again?”

So, see, it would have made a world of difference.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure it was my one shot to ever win a contest.  I have won no contests of consequence ever since.  No call-in contests.  No fantasy football or college basketball bracket money pools.  Of the three times I’ve been to Vegas, my best trip was a break-even.

(To be fair, I did win a contest in eighth grade where I could pick a friend, and our principal would take myself and said friend out to lunch one day.  My friend was Hindu and practiced a vegetarian diet, so naturally we went to Burger King and said principal drove like a freaking madman to get there.  But bonus points for being allowed to bring that large carbonated plastic diabetes goblet back to English class and have the teacher tell me to throw it away — naw, Mrs. N, the principal said I could … and he’s your boss, so if you got a problem with it, I guess you can take it up with my man Rog or just start packing your stuff now.  I didn’t say any of that, of course, I just threw the Coke away as I was asked.)

I’m the guy who fate selected to win a Michael Jackson guitar as my only stroke of contest luck across my entire lifetime, and I didn’t even get the damn guitar.

So what did I miss out on, pricewise?  I’m looking at eBay and there are autographed Michael Jackson guitars going for $5,000.  5,000 dollars?  That’s like 15 percent of what I still owe Sallie Mae!

Anyway, the lesson here, parents, is to teach your kids their address by the time they start watching VH1.  Actually, no kids watch VH1 anymore, so that lesson no longer applies.  I guess it’s just my handgrenade to fall on in the end.

Oh well.  At least I had Channel 78.