I had the pleasure of visiting the residence of Dr. Arnold Klein- “king of Botox”,”discoverer of the first human gene”, Beverly Hills collagen expert, voracious bear slayer and self-insinuating father of Prince Jackson- for a bankruptcy induced estate sale recently. Klein, at the height of his powers, had been known to spend up to 20000 dollars a day on Versace pillows, mid 90’s Star Wars collectibles, signed Baldessari prints and laser-molded lucite statues depicting grizzlies and abstract patterns. In addition, many of his possessions had been imbued with a special power by their close association with Michael Jackson, who had been a frequent patient/guest in a particularly lush upstairs room. The public sifted through his material remains with great appetite.
When I first attended the sale I knew little of Klein, only that he was King of Pop’s plastic surgeon, and that he was having an estate sale while still living. Strolling through his mansion without knowledge of the dark narrative of which this current indignity was the interminable denouement, I allowed myself to be transfixed by the refracted aura of celebrity exploited in certain otherwise worthless items by his executors to achieve a slightly higher price. Photos of Arnie with Cher, with Bill Clinton, an airbrushed denim Elvira jacket, Tom Petty’s platinum cassette, some art by artists I had heard of: “Hmm”. Klein had been famous among the famous, without my knowledge. He had achieved his fame by injecting strange substances into well known faces, making sure to keep it looking like the faces were still regular things. He had maintained his fame apparently through displaying tremendous wealth and buying items that loudly asserted their price (now ignominiously reduced, handwritten on little dangling sticker or torn piece of masking tape). But something must have gone wrong, because here are the unknown, disdaining to buy even the cheap in the vulgar public marketplace that used to be his home.
I amused myself mildly with the items (a hologram ticket stub for “The Matrix”, a picture of Frederico Fellini signed by Bob Kane) and reveled in the diminishment of the rich (dangling cords where flatscreens had been ripped out of walls, a strange scent on the carpet of the guest house) for as long as possible before returning empty handed to the car. But there was something about Klein’s proximity to the throne of celebrity that kept me intrigued. I had noticed pieces of computer paper with “Michael Jackson’s bedroom” taped to the walls of a room in the house that contained an enormous painting of UFOS circling in a blue sky. The fifteen foot David LaChapelle photograph of Christ cradling a dead MJ that adorned the entranceway disturbed me. On a tip from my friend Daniel, I decided to research Klein further.
All you need to know about Arnie can be pieced together by a rudimentary Google search and a thorough reading of Mark Seal’s “The Doctor Will Sue You Now” (originally published in Vanity Fair). His story is dark. A fraud doctor in the grand tradition of Fagon (who bled the dauphin to death and would not admit Louis XIV was ill when he was visibly dying), Klein gradually refined his cosmetic surgery business into an instrument of personal prestige, forming a symbiotic bond with the ‘King of Pop’. Klein, it seems, provided MJ with an endless flow of narcotics and flattering surgeries in exchange for tremendous influence in the King’s personal affairs and a great deal of money. In 2013 he has become a raving bankrupt maniac loudly asserting that his famous lineage remains meaningful and that he himself is a good man wronged.
Cultivating power by mastering a superfluous medicine is no longer as safe as it once was, and Rasputin was poisoned and shot a century ago. When MJ slipped into narcotic death and the stars’ faces began wrinkle weird, Klein draped himself in innuendo and held forth arrogantly. His insinuations that he was Prince Jackson’s genetic father pleased no one – the documented fact that he was more obviously daddy’s dealer for two and a half decades he left either unacknowledged or lazily justified by appeal to his own personal authority in the matter. He was publicly rebuked by Elizabeth Taylor, forced to recant the (quite possibly true, do an image search) fatherhood claim and fell completely out of favor with the elite. Squandering the last of his immense fortune, he now creates blogposts where he rants about having his medication tampered with in the crucial moment where he signed his bankruptcy papers and being the victim of embezzlement by the same underlings who used to tirelessly procure him anonymous sex.
Klein’s blog was a revelation in terms of situating myself within the psychic landscape of the estate sale. In many such sales nostalgia is encroached upon by the faintly macabre, and it is slightly sad when no one wants the corpse’s things. Here, with an angry Klein still brooding about the hidden values of his repossessed ephemera somewhere, the nostalgia (itself a kind of artificial nostalgia for the things depicted in the background of the homes of the rich in 80’s and 90’s sitcoms) was tempered by a slight elation at the fact that we were unwanted guests in a wealthy man’s home. By ambling in a consumerist stupor through the house and dickering for his old clothes we were irrefutable witnesses to his decline. While Klein alternated between furious online denunciations of the auction company running the sale (“where are my life masks of Prince, Paris and Blanket? Where is my solid gold pen?”) and accusing them of selling his precious artifacts for too cheap, we refused his tacky pendants even at the reduced price.
I give Klein credit for a thorough understanding of humiliation. What after all, is the big deal about a garage sale? What’s so humiliating about going broke even? Achieving great wealth at an early age, Klein remained ambitious. The sealed prestige-edition laserdiscs stacked in the garage were as worthless to him the day they were bought as they now are to the public. Wealth without fame is provincial, but Klein could shape the lips that would speak to world. The purely transactional nature of the doctor/client relationship was insufficient; Klein wanted more, and this is what endeared him to Michael. MJ’s insatiability was spoken of in hushed tones during his lifetime, but it is by now very easy to see the contours of the excess which shaped his life. He was as close to a God as capitalism has yet produced, but in order to don this mantle he had to ritually validate appetite beyond desire, rote expenditure free of aesthetic guidelines, and elitism to the point of isolation and psychic devastation. This (mostly) private process withstood the eager trespasses of exaggeratedly aghast TV bureaucrats and insufficiently remunerated witnesses and led to his noble/pathetic destruction. A lifetime of excess will certainly blur the edges between reality and fantasy, and Klein apparently shared his houseguest’s theory on the relationship between extravagant spending and personal validation. But while Jackson’s legend has only grown since the curtain has been pulled off of his stoned faith in childlike positivity and nostalgia as an appropriate response to the self-hatred engendered by decades of morbid speculation in global pop currencies by an ultimately cynical public, Klein can hope for no such permanence. His trade, especially since it shifted from the ambitious exploitation of an emerging market for permanent youth by an elite no longer suspicious of the obviously fake into a merely a means of sustaining a faltering prestige by making lavish personal expenditures, will not grant him immortality. And now that the purple velveteen curtain has been drawn back and his shriveling property has been exposed to the same desperately clutching public Jackson strove for so long to avoid, Klein has no other choice but complete disavowal. Klein views the presence of the public on his (former) property not as a testament to his own inability to ‘handle his shit’, but as a mistake arising from an unjust and illegal act. To him the estate sale was a nightmare fiction- a lie perpetuated by his persecutors. To combat this, Klein employs the dream logic Freud noted in regard to his nightmare of Irma’s injection (in which Freud’s personal guilt regarding the excessive use of cocaine is concealed by a fellow professional who offers his opinion that Freud could not possibly be at fault for his patient Irma’s poor health, offering up logically incompatible reassurances). “I’m not bankrupt” says Klein “and in any case I’m bankrupt by mistake and injustice, and furthermore the prices at my bankruptcy sale are too cheap”.
So from Klein’s perspective all attendees at the sale were attesting to the reality of a situation which is untenable within his worldview, and the intense reaction which continues to this day (“My Four Million Dollar Rug”- the title of the most recent entry to his poorly named blog “The death of Michael Jackson: Putting it all together from the father of minimally invasive aesthetics who experienced a bank embezzlement which was attempted to be concealed by Federal Officialdom Corruption” ) is his only possible response as long as he clings to the conception he has of himself as a member of the creative elite. His buffoonish defensiveness is informed by the same belief in cultural hierarchies safe from the influence of an indifferent and unpredictable market economy that made the European aristocracy appear completely ridiculous by the end of the 18th century. Arnie Klein has spent a lifetime altering surface appearances; it is understandable that he now steadfastly asserts the primacy of carefully constructed images over contingent reality. Flexible prices and uninvited guests- we were witnessing not only Klein’s defeat but the defeat of Hollywood’s ‘images are immortal’ trope as well.
I thought of this as I pondered a strange ziploc bag of moss that sat unpriced and unlabeled on a table in the garage. What was this thing? Some weird artifact imbued with a meaning now lost to time, or just some moss in a bag? How would Klein react specifically to the moss? Would he be enraged? Saddened? Would he put it in his car or throw it away? Slowly, too slowly, I began to realize that Klein’s relationship with the moss bag was by now completely irrelevant. Here I was pondering a rich guy’s trash- the only way to redeem myself was to assign my own meaning to it. So I did: the bag of moss represents Klein’s doomed battle with satiety, it is his comforting talisman in his quest for power beyond time and circumstance, it is a symbol of his dark friendship with the Flamboyant King of Hidden Excess. Stripped of his talisman, Klein is nothing but a ranting psycho too weak to prevent even me, a humble serf, from revealing him. But even the meanings which i assigned his treasured moss meant little to me, so I flipped it back onto the table and went out by the pool to note how shabby the dying foliage looked.