08/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Supermen of Manhattan, Part I

"It's not oversharing if it's done on TV," Naomi said, then she walked to Clark, and because she was in a "1930s kind of mood" said, "Cigarette me, Big Boy."

We stood on the roof of the Flatiron Building, the steroided bottle rockets and Roman candles coming across the sky. Below us: a queue of cars facing west; a forest of folding chairs at the pier; the river like pitch; sulfur in the air.

Naomi wore a dress made of tulle but neither I, nor Clark, nor Anwar, nor Memphis, nor Memphis' brother Michael, can remember its color, though Michael would say much later, "It was like a tongue of flame." The women -- Phoebe Simone; Sandra DuPlessis, whom we had finally managed to wrest from her man Baptiste; Illiara; and Illiara's sister, whom we all call Mrs. Khan, though she is our age and only married a month -- didn't try.

"Then, a revision," Phoebe said. "I think everything is oversharing, unless it's done on TV. Fine, Naomi?"

Phoebe Simone was one of a clan of rigorous black French, and we all knew her to be a woman of war. We were shocked at her reticence and glared our disapproval, if for nothing else, then for the fight we each expected. Phoebe ignored us in her fashion, making a pirouette on long legs to look out between the columns, four globes of light making her skin like bronze, breaking open the sky.

"Fine, but I was only expressing an opinion," Naomi said. "You don't..."

"They will try to tear down Sotomayor," Phoebe said.

"Good luck with that," Mrs. Khan said, as Memphis settled his head further into her apostolic lap.

"Who are they?" Anwar said.

"The Republicans, of course," Clark said. "Your talented Mr. Thomas is probably enjoying this."

"My talented? Clarence Thomas isn't my anything..."

"Justice Clarence Thomas," Clark said. "Give the man his due."

"Since when did you become such a fan of Justice Clarence Thomas?" Memphis said.

"The Buddha said that 'holding on to anger is like holding a hot coal and trying to throw it at someone else,'" Clark said. "So, I'm letting go. Besides, Clarence Thomas is the last living black radical. Black folks have always believed more in the Constitution than everybody else. Thomas is just a radical Constitutionalist."

"You're not serious?"

"I am serious. But to Miss Simone's point: the Republicans will try to tear down Sotomayor. Conservatives are already trying to brand her as a 'Latina Thomas' in the Spanish language press. That's not what they're calling her, but that's the message: she's not to be trusted."

"My cousin's father is Mexican-American, and he's convinced that Sotomayor is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Illiara said. "His words, of course."

"Of course," Phoebe said.

"What I don't get is how suddenly Sotomayor is not smart enough, she's not qualified. Clearly, she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, and edited the Yale Law Review, and has served almost 17 years on the federal bench because of Affirmative Action, because the only people who have ever earned anything in this world on their own merits are white men," Naomi said.

"People are still patting themselves on the back for voting for Obama," Sandra said. "I mean, this is the only country in the world where acting in your own self-interest is considered virtuous. At first I hoped the President would nominate Leah Ward Sears next, but now I'm pulling for Harold Koh -- before long the Republicans will have insulted every person of color in the country."

"Well, whatever they try, I'm predicting an Obamaesque performance from Judge Sotomayor," Phoebe said.

"So, no oversharing?" Naomi said.

"No oversharing," Mrs. Khan said. "Which is more than we can say about the NeverEnding Story."

"Now they're saying that Michael Jackson had an anesthesiologist putting him under every night," Memphis said.

"They haven't even buried the man," Phoebe said. "His three children have lost their father. Has anyone bothered to remember that?"

"I still can't believe he was allowed to have children..." Anwar said.

"Allowed? And why not?" Phoebe said. "What did he do?"


"Be original, Anwar," Sandra said. "We all think you're so cute when you're original."

"I don't believe he ever molested any children," Phoebe said.

"You don't...." Clark said.

"What did I say?" Phoebe said. "I don't believe Michael Jackson ever molested any children. You're telling me all those years and not one parent said, 'Forget it, keep your money, I'm pressing charges?' You want to point fingers at someone, look at them."

"There was the trial in 2005," Anwar said.

"That circus? And besides, he was acquitted. There was a time when that meant something in this country."

"Well, I'm with Phoebe," Sandra said. "It's only trotted out by the Elvis drones and the Beatle-ites to discredit Michael's legacy. I mean, did you see that ridiculous 'Bloggingheads' episode on the New York Times' website?",%20jackson%27s%20legacy&st=cse

"'Remember when he came out with the epaulets and the glove when he won all those, oh what do you call them, Grammys, I mean what was that? I mean, nobody wanted to be him,'" Naomi said. "I can't listen to Ann Althouse. She went off the reservation when she said that President Obama was so 'under qualified' that his election opened the door for people like Sarah Palin to run for president. As far as I'm concerned she's still out in the weeds, lost somewhere."

"And Robert Wright with his swinging hips analogy -- 'it was such a watershed moment when Elvis did it, but it was old hat by the '80s.' Take one look at those videos -- a sea of crying people pressed against a line of police, then falling away like spent rockets after a launch -- and you know that there was nothing old hat about anything Jackson did," Sandra said. "Let's not forget, he celebrated his twenty-third birthday while making Thriller. You know, the same Thriller that has sold more copies than any other album in history and was selling a million copies a week at one point. That one."

"And he had been a star for 13 years by then," Naomi said.

"My aunt in Boston told me not to call her on the seventh because she would be watching her Michael," I said.

"Do you still have your 45 record of 'Man in the Mirror'?" Mrs. Khan asked Memphis.

"Of course, I do," he said. "And I would still have those cassettes my Mom made of me singing 'Say, Say, Say' if someone hadn't pulled out the tape."

"I was two," Michael said. "Don't play games with my affection."

"Are we all still going to LA for the Memorial Service?" Clark said.

"As long as we're coming back on the eighth," Phoebe said. "I'm not missing my Maxwell. Not even for Michael."