We all have one. A story we tell, over and over, that always gets better—exaggerated, embellished, fleshed out—with a beer or two, and with every successive tipsy retelling. It’s not a long story, or even a true one. Does it have a moral? Not always. Is it fun? Yes, always. The barstool story is a literary genre in and of itself—or at least it should be. That’s why we bought beer for five of our favourite Canadian writers and had them jot down their own. So grab a cold one, grab a stool and enjoy.
This isn’t my story. But, I did earn the right to tell it honestly.
I spent 1999 on a study abroad program in Adelaide, Australia. In that entire year I made one Australian friend, a guy named Mark who ran the student radio station. Before I left, Mark suggested a strange trade: “We’re probably never going to see each other again,” he said, “so I want you to tell me your best story, and I’ll tell you mine, and then you can only tell mine ever again, and I can only tell yours.” So, as per the deal, here’s the story. (Mine was just as good. I hope Mark uses it.)
Michael, like some kind of exceptionally smooth criminal, had already come and gone.
The day of Mark’s grade eight graduation was also the day that Michael Jackson was coming to Adelaide. And Mark was—and remains—the biggest Michael Jackson fan I’ve ever met.
But, it was his graduation. Mark was going to miss the concert. He was devastated, so his dad agreed, on the way to the ceremony, to take him by the hotel where Michael Jackson was staying. Michael was going to appear briefly to sign autographs, and if they timed it perfectly Mark would get to meet his idol.
Except traffic was terrible. Eventually, realizing he was going to be late, Mark got out of the car, told his dad to pick him behind the hotel and started running down the street in his rented tuxedo.
But at the hotel the crowd was dispersing. Michael, like some kind of exceptionally smooth criminal, had already come and gone, and Mark had missed him. And now, totally dejected, he had to get to his graduation. He headed around back to the hotel’s loading and disposal area.
Parked between the dumpsters was a car—not Mark’s dad’s car, but a limousine. And, before Mark knew what was happening, the door of the limo opened and out stepped the King of Pop.
Mark was stunned. Michael was on one of those old car phones with a spiral cord connected to a terminal in the backseat of the limo. At first he didn’t notice Mark standing there, just a few feet away.
But then he did. They met eyes. Michael lowered the phone, put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, “Hey, kid.”
Something took over—some primal instinct, something subconscious. Without fully realizing what he was doing, Mark started singing “Beat It” at the top of his lungs. And not just singing: the full “Beat It” dance routine—the moves, the spins, the crotch-grabs, while his idol watched.
Four and a half minutes later, Mark faded out with some jazzy snapping. Michael nodded. “That was great,” he said. “Keep it up. One day you’re gonna be a star.” And then he got in his limousine and drove away.