By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Alan Goldstein and his wife, Lynn, remember they were busy getting ready to take a nice family vacation with their youngest son, Brock, and his best pal, Mac, when they overheard Brock on the phone with Mac, saying something to the effect of yeah, sure, bring him along, too.
This is how pop superstar Michael Jackson appeared at their hotel in Bermuda with a bandage on his nose, a shy smile on his famous face, and a trunkful of squirt guns, race cars and stink bombs on his bed in the VIP suite.
Nice to meet you, the Goldsteins said, or something to that effect.
Fourteen years have passed, but like some postcard from the edge, the Goldsteins' vacation has now come under the scrutiny of 12 strangers sitting in a California jury box.
And once again, Michael Jackson has popped into the lives of a hotel executive, his teacher wife and their son, now a 24-year-old bartender who finds it all "just so crazy."
But what the jury in Jackson's child molestation trial recently heard about that week in Bermuda and what the Goldsteins remember prove to be two entirely different stories: One evokes the image of a creepy predator using a gold Rolex to bait a starstruck kid; the other, of a lonely celebrity trying to reclaim a forsaken childhood by lobbing water balloons at tourists.
The surreal island idyll began when Brock Goldstein, a sometime actor in Orlando, met Macaulay Culkin on a movie set and the two 10-year-olds became fast friends. After his hit "Home Alone" was released that year, Mac Culkin made another new friend, as well: Michael Jackson.
"That sounds like fun. Mind if I tag along?" Culkin would remember Jackson saying when he mentioned the upcoming Bermuda trip with his buddy Brock.
Although prosecutors would later suggest that Jackson crashed the party, Alan Goldstein recalls that the family had been in Bermuda for a few days and had just gotten off their mopeds when the hotel relayed a message to please call "Mr. M. Jackson."
The world's best-selling voice came on the other line. "Well, I just need a break," Jackson explained. "Would you mind?" Goldstein, who grew up in Wheaton, started scrambling to find suitable quarters, until Jackson called back and said he had it all arranged -- two suites at the luxe Hamilton Princess. Goldstein swallowed hard.
"I can't afford that," he admitted.
"Don't worry," Jackson assured him, "everything's on me."
He turned up the next day in "his standard red shirt, black pants, yellow socks and wide-brim hat," Goldstein, now 60, recalled in a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas. Jackson invited the gang up to his suite.
"He'd brought this huge trunk. He threw it up on the bed and opened it up," Goldstein says. "It looked like he'd raided a Toys R Us. He's got water guns, race cars, chewing gum that made your mouth turn black, snap-and-pops . . . "
While Lynn Goldstein mopped up behind them with Turkish towels, the two grown men and two small boys raced around the suite in a Supersoaker war.
It was great fun, the Goldstein menfolk now reminisce.
"It was a nightmare" is how Lynn good-naturedly puts it.
Jackson came to Bermuda alone, and the role of surrogate-manager fell to Lynn, who made sure the star's meals were vegetarian and that hotel management kept away fans. Jackson's trip made the local press, and then the international media.
For nearly two weeks, first in Bermuda and then back in Orlando at Disney World, the Goldsteins found themselves immersed in the other world of stardom with a benefactor they considered both weird and wonderful.
But with Jackson on board, dreams of sunny days on the beach disappeared, and they all became Vacationers of the Night, venturing out in the wee hours to protect Jackson and Culkin from being mobbed. That meant 2 a.m. dips in the hotel pool, room service instead of restaurants, shopping trips arranged after stores closed to the public.
Jackson tried to compensate for the inconveniences.
"We were talking one day about how it might be fun to try diving," Alan Goldstein said, "and next thing you know, we've got a dive boat to ourselves with some dive masters to teach us."
When the family wanted to see a variety show at one of the island's resort hotels, the cast put on a private performance at 1 in the morning in an otherwise empty auditorium, the Goldsteins said. "There was a Michael Jackson impersonator, which was a little awkward, but Michael was fine with it," says Alan Goldstein.
Brock Goldstein remembers the "once-in-your-lifetime" excitement of his favorite music star suddenly becoming a playmate. He remembers Jackson pulling out a small laser light and taking the boys out on the balcony to shine the beam down on bewildered beachgoers.
"We'd try to get them to follow it," Brock recalls. "We'd be calling out: 'Follow the red liiiiight, follow the red liiiight. The red light has a present for you! Look, it's a red balloon!' " The three would then hurl water balloons at their targets, ducking behind the balcony to collapse in laughter.
The vacationers headed back to Orlando, where the Goldsteins then lived, and holed up in separate suites at a Disney World hotel to enjoy the theme park for a week.
Summer after summer drifted by. The Goldsteins tucked away their photo albums and lost touch with both Jackson and Culkin.
They returned from vacation this week to find a phone message from a Santa Barbara County sheriff's investigator. What he wants they're not sure. But their names have already become part of the court record in People v. Michael Joe Jackson .
Prosecutors -- allowed under California law to introduce unproven allegations from Jackson's past to bolster the present charge that he fondled a 13-year-old cancer survivor -- cross-examined Culkin last week. Had he not slept in Michael Jackson's bed? Had he not spent unchaperoned hours with Jackson at his Neverland ranch? And what, they wanted to know, about that trip to Bermuda? All perfectly innocent, Culkin asserts.
The prosecution team would suggest in their questions to Culkin that the Goldsteins had been wary of Jackson. Had they not confronted him about the inappropriateness of giving the child a Rolex when he greeted Culkin with one engraved "From Michael Jackson"? Culkin drew a blank.
So do the Goldsteins.
Nor do they agree with the prosecution's portrayal of them putting their foot down over Jackson taking Mac on private side-trips in Bermuda. "That never happened," declares Lynn Goldstein, now 61, her recollection mirroring those of her husband, her son and Culkin when he took the witness stand. Further, the Goldsteins complain, no one bothered to ask them what happened before making their vacation a footnote in a major criminal trial.
Investigators did question them back in 1993, they said, after allegations surfaced that Jackson had molested a young boy.
"They said, 'We have a victim, we believe him, and we're going to get [Jackson]. He fits the profile.' I didn't like that. I wanted to know what evidence they had," Lynn Goldstein recalls. She told them then what she repeats today: Nothing improper ever happened, the kids slept in their own room in the Goldstein suite on a separate floor from Jackson's, and Jackson "never once tried to get the guys alone. The boys would have sort of like sibling rivalry over his attention, and Michael's the one who would step up and say no, we're doing things together, with all of us."
As a teacher at Laurel High School, and then later in Florida, Lynn Goldstein noted, she knew the warning signs of child abuse, and "I've even had to report it on occasion." She felt sorry for Jackson, not frightened.
During one conversation in Bermuda, she recalled, Jackson turned to her and said wistfully: "'You know, kids are different than adults. Kids are honest with you. You can trust them. I haven't met an adult who has been my friend without ending up wanting something from me.' "
"He was like one of us," Brock Goldstein says of Jackson, now 46, and his childlike antics in Bermuda. "It makes perfect sense to me because he never had a childhood. Obviously he's not normal. He had a twisted upbringing."
Like his parents, he hates the sinister questions being raised now about a fond memory. "I'd like to be done with it, but at the same time, if people are saying things we didn't say, it needs to be cleared up," Brock says. He figures nothing will ever top that magical summer when he hung out with the biggest pop star in the world.
"I mean, where do you go from there?" he wonders.
And more to the point, who comes along?