When I moved to Seattle in the mid-’90s, two months AC (After Cobain), I worked downtown at a large boutique toy store. It was an impressive place, two floors, multiple rooms and secret passages full of toy overstock that extended out under the street. To get the job I had to talk to a stuffed gorilla and endure the humiliation of being referred to as one the “Elves” that worked there. Even the break room had a sign that said, “Elf Break Room.” Being 6′ 5″ tall and called an elf added an extra schmear of humiliation on the bagel of hopelessness that was my life at the time.
One of the nice parts of the job was getting to meet the celebrities that shopped there. The biggest of those was Mick Jagger. It was during the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge tour, not that I had any idea they were in town or that they had an album out called Voodoo Lounge. I was a young snot at the time, unimpressed with the Rolling Stones. They were nothing compared to The Pixies or Guided By Voices, why should I be impressed with Mick Jagger? Hell, he’s not even a Beatle.
I was alone in that opinion at the toy store. The other staff scattered, terrified to talk to him, in awe of his fame, whispering about him behind piles of stuffed bears and shelves full of puzzles. I volunteered to help him because no one else would. I introduced myself and he indicated that I should make myself available to him while he shopped. He did this not through speech, but through a series of minute facial changes that wealthy British people have developed over centuries of colonization and oppression of the lower class. One twitch of his famously over-sized lips and I knew my place.
The female owner of the store approached him and I thought her head was going to split in half from the size of her smile. “Mr. Jagger,” she said, “I just have to tell you how much your music means to me. I lost my virginity to one of your songs in the back of a 1965 Chevy convertible. ‘Jumping Jack Flash!’”
“That’s very sweet of you,” he muttered, indicating with a slight flare of his right nostril that the conversation was over and that she should leave him alone. But, to her it was as if he had swooped her off her feet, carried her out side and made love to her. That simple sentence flushed her cheeks and made her eyes roll back in ecstasy.
Then he began to shop. At first, I didn’t understand his method of shopping. As he entered each new room of the store, he would begin taking things off the shelf and stacking them in the middle of the room. As he left, I would start putting them back, cursing at him under my breath for making a mess. Then, it dawned on me I was supposed to be carrying these items to the register for him.
Three times during this process women stopped him and described a sexual experience they had had that somehow connected to his music. I imagined that this must be his life — middle-aged women describing sex to him as he went about his daily business. To him, it must be like the sun shining or gravity, an unavoidable part of the landscape. I wondered if he even heard them anymore or if it was just a staticy buzz that surrounded him like the low hum of a swarm of mosquitoes.
Only once did I feel that he broke through this cloud and spoke to me not as a sales clerk but just a human. In the book room he turned to me and said, “Is this the latest Magic Eye book? I love them, but I can’t remember if I have this one.” Magic Eye, if you don’t remember, was a series of books with pictures of a seeming series of random lines and dots that if you stared at them in a particular way formed a three dimensional picture of an object.
I told him it was.
“Don’t you love these books?”
I had to admit that I couldn’t see the pictures in the abstract mess on the page, and he looked at me in a very concerned way.
“You just need to relax your eyes and not stare directly at it. Let them unfocus. Yes, that’s it, just like that.”
He held the book open and I looked, following his instruction. There, in full three dimensions, stood a unicorn.
I told him I saw the unicorn and he smiled and shut the book. He went back to his aloof manner.
I checked him out and he wrote a check. (Oh, I don’t need to see ID from you, Mr. Jagger!) As soon as he stepped away from the counter the owner grabbed the almost $1000 check and said that she would never cash it, she would have it framed and hang it in her office as art.
My eyes turned to the sidewalk. A chubby 45-year-old tourist in a track suit had stopped him. Her face was flushed under her overly-moused hairstyle. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I imagined she was telling him about heavy petting to “Mother’s Little Helper” in the back of a pickup truck on her parent’s farm.
If I met Mick Jagger now, I wouldn’t relate a sexual experience to him. I would tell him that he is the person who taught me how to see the picture in the Magic Eye.