The Transition of Wilbert
I almost didn’t notice him, the man leaning against the wall like a piece of abstract art, alone in the hallway, his eyes were closed, deep in meditation. He was older, draped in a black sweat suit and sports cap. He seemed mysteriously out of place. I wondered who he was as I offered him some water. I almost thought I should alert security. Could he be an industry big shot? That thought never crossed my mind. Was this the beginning of a life changing moment for me that just lurked in the shadows? No way, not a chance.
I was just an intern, one in a million young girls who landed in Hollywood with big dreams. I was interning for one of the top PR Firms to get my foot in the door and I saw everything as a golden opportunity. This was the best way for me to learn so I could eventually set up my own business.
Interning allowed me great freedom most of the time, but not that day. That day, I was locked out of the room with zero chance of seeing a worldwide news conference with my idols, the Jacksons. Because of my low credentials, I had to settle for watching their exciting news on the television even though there was only six” of plaster between us. I owned one, maybe two, of the six million copies of the Jackson Five’s greatest hits album. I was alone in the office tangled with disbelief, disappointment, ambition, and strain. I hated being locked out of the room, despised not being part of the action, and was frustrated that my technique had not landed me on the other side of the wall. Where, along with his brothers, Jermaine, announced a world tour.
I felt a strong connection to The Jacksons’ music that it was more than just music to me, it was a rhythmic mentor and a guide to my religion. Their songs made me believe that anything can happen and opportunity is truly all around us. Similarly, to the Jackson’s, the Rolling Stones, Chaka Kahn, Bowie, Aerosmith, Skynyrd, Zeppelin, Hendrix, Dylan, and Heart produced lyrics that preached to me and gave me direction and hope. They helped me to keep my dreams alive.
The Jacksons song “I’ll be there” became the theme song of my childhood. My best friend used to lip sync it to me when things were not going as planned. We built a childhood fantasy around the song on top of a stoic hill in the town of Lincoln, MA . Ironically, that hill faced West; which was where we planned to go as adults to chase the American rock n roll dream. Unfortunately, I had to force myself to make that journey on my own, as his life ended too early. I chased our childhood dream solo as I listened to the wind whisper…
“I'll reach out my hand to you- I'll have faith in all you do. Just call my name and I'll be there. (I'll be there)”
Meeting the Jacksons was like meeting God, I had to get inside that room. I wanted to be able to go home that night, look up at the stars and tell them “I did it.” However, instead, I was on the outside looking in. I was left to administer the events on the other side of the wall, answer the phones, give water to strangers along with taking or giving packages to those coming and going.
I'll be there to comfort you, - Build my world of dreams around you, I'm so glad that I found you. I'll be there with a love so strong, I'll be your strength, you know I'll keep holdin' on.
Which brings me back to the mysterious man in the hallway, unsure of what he was here for, all I could think to say was, “Are you here to pick up or drop off a package?”
He opened his peaceful eyes as a calm mystical smile emerged on his face. He spoke with a twang that grooved like a blues riff, the way a soul singer warms a cold soul. A small smirk leaked from his face, “Yes, I have delivered the package, the boys and I are starving. Do you think you can get the boys and I a few refreshments?” He handed me a massive wad of cash and stared at me with complete trust, faith, and intuition.
I bolted down Sunset Blvd, a street I barely knew, and slapped an impressive deposit down on silverware, plates and glasses at one of the swanky restaurants in Sunset Plaza. I told the bewildered cashier that in a few minutes my entire life would change. I bought a selection of beverages and sandwiches, making sure I had every option from mustard, relish, and ketchup to salt and pepper. I ran back to the office, terrified that I would return and he would be gone. It was a simple mission, but I could not fail. This was my chance, my beginning. As I ran I tried to look in every limo that passed me, every Rolls Royce, every billionaire styled auto (which in Sunset Plaza is every other car) trying to see if I missed my opportunity. I got back to the office, he was there waiting for me, “Thank you baby, I’m Wilbert” he said.
This was my moment and I needed to calm down but I couldn’t. I sat down next to Wilbert and poured him a cold drink as I tried to hide my shake pretending to be in total control. He started to laugh and shook his head because I had designed an elegant dinner table for him in just seconds.
The doors opened and the boys poured out, they magnetically drifted to the table where we talked and they treated me like I was part of their team. Wilbert introduced me as his friend and that one single sentence was all the collateral I needed to validate me as part of the team. They each gave me a huge hug and said thank you as they stuffed their faces. I was in awe. I was frozen. I was so shocked that I couldn’t even react when I asked how to return his money. Wilbert squeezed my hand shut and said, “don’t work for free in this town for too long.” Then with great elegance, he thanked me in front of the entire office and disappeared. I am not sure how long I stood in the lobby, but by the time I regained sanity all my coworkers were back at their desks like nothing had happened. I was about to shrug it off before my hand reminded me that something large was in its grip. I opened my hand and realized that I had a lot of cash. How and when did he organize this? Did he have an accounting team under the table? I desperately needed the cash as I was living off of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. However, I felt it was much more urgent for me to return the cash to this stranger, who had been so kind to me all afternoon.
I'll reach out my hand to you - I'll have faith in all you do.
Just call my name and I'll be there (I'll be there)
I stared at his number for a few days before I called. I was skeptical and apprehensive, but I had to return the cash and answer the energy that was telling me that I needed to see him again. I called the number and as soon as I heard his voice my fears incinerated. I was calm, controlled, and professional. We had a mini interview on the phone and he invited me to Venice Beach.
He had a grey house on the beach where the beautiful strolled by in day glow bikinis every few seconds. A Chow greeted me at the fence with unnerving suspicion and a girl who acted like she knew me said Wilbert would be right back. I stared at the beach while a million thoughts bounced in my brain. I was struggling to keep my confidence, but as soon as I saw Wilbert coming up the path I felt invincible. I knew I was going to land a job with Wilbert, and then I saw the man behind him. My knees buckled and my mouth went dry. It was Jermaine Jackson. Feeling overwhelmed, I leaned against the fence for support and prayed not to make an ass out of myself. Don’t get me wrong I love Jermaine, but I would lose this job if I lost my composure. Tour managers need to be completely discreet, entirely in control, and cannot have moments of star struck insanity.
Just call my name, I'll be there (I'll be there) Just look over your shoulders honey, ooh! I'll be there, I'll be there, Whenever you need me, I'll be there (I'll be there)
Jermaine said hello and good bye in one quick, soft, dreamy sentence. I have no idea how I kept myself from fainting. I could not let Wilbert get suspicious. I had to keep it together because I did not want him to assume I was one of millions of fans trying to breach myself into these surroundings. I knew that he could not take a chance on unstable intentions. I was there to solidify my very first business relationship not stutter to Jermaine Jackson and beg him to sing “I’ll be there.”
Wilbert was a good man. He was like a crystal ball, spiritually gifted with the ability to predict an event before it was a moment. This made him one of the greatest tour managers for the biggest celebrities in the world. He was capable of insulating high-profile individuals, the top talent from around the world without ever rubbing the fans or the media the wrong way. He had the unique ability to make room for all, extracting a threat from the shade and soothing the trouble as the thunder began to rumble. He was a man with immaculate intentions; the perfect gentleman and mentor. These special qualities made him one of the greatest friends I have ever had.
Without Wilbert, I never would have had a career in Hollywood or made the friendships that have kept me company all these years. He never missed a birthday, or forgot to call when he was in town. He always shared a few humble words of advice. He was a brilliant mentor. What I learned most from Wilbert was the art of silence, because in the silence he could feel the omen, hear the fracture, and react to a faraway motion. His job was to take care of things, to shelter, to mentor, to listen and problem solve.
Wilbert was one of the first people in my professional life who told me that I had great potential. Wilbert invested his time, wisdom, tools, and love in me. He wanted to train me to start a business, so he took me along when Dick Scott Entertainment opened LA Offices. This experience started my life-long friendship with Patti Austin, and Barry Orms, who I met there. Now we run a mentoring non-profit called The Over My Shoulder Foundation together.
When you lose someone close, I find that in your sorrow you begin to analyze all the moments. You arrange and rearrange the categories of regret, rejoice, and gratitude. Loss makes us think of the things we wish we had said. Did we not see the person was ailing? Did we not see despair leaking from their sparkle? Did we ignore that their pace had slowed just a tad or the color in their face had dimmed to something opaque? If only we paid more attention.
We all know that we begin to die the day we are born, but few of us admit that our days are numbered. We are all older now and are thus experiencing a physical show down seeing our youth in the rear-view mirror. This is our time to reflect and show gratitude before it is too late.
I hope my conversations with Wilbert truly expressed my feelings of gratitude towards him. I am angry I didn’t write this letter to him earlier and that I didn’t get to LA to say goodbye and to say one last thank you. I hope my text messages reached his bedside and that he could hear my prayers. In my gratitude, I want to celebrate his life now, the way he helped mold mine, and the drive that he sparked inside me to help mentor others.
You and I must make a pact-We must bring salvation back, Where there is love, I'll be there. (I'll be there)
I'll reach out my hand to you - I'll have faith in all you do. Just call my name and I'll be there. (I'll be there)
I'll be there to comfort you, -Build my world of dreams around you, I'm so glad that I found you.
I'll be there with a love so strong- I'll be your strength, You know I'll keep holdin' on.
Let me fill your heart with joy and laughter -Togetherness, well it's all I'm after, Just call my name, and I'll be there. (I'll be there)
I'll be there to protect you, (Yeah baby) -With an unselfish love that respects you. Just call my name, and I'll be there. (I'll be there)