It's a slippery slope

The Jackson trial pollutes everything it touches: Peter Pan, motherhood, circus elephants — above all, American justice. One presumes the man (man?) is innocent. But does anyone think that even if guilty, and the convicted monster of Neverland spends the rest of his days banged up in a cell with a tattooed biker, any child in southern California will be safer?

Now even the household jar of Vaseline has been defiled.
The ‘smear” was spewed out on their websites last Thursday by those two reverse sewage spigots, Matt Drudge and Smoking Gun.

For the ‘grand finale” of the state’s case, Drudge breathlessly reported, the prosecution ‘hopes to present a shocking story of Vaseline and alleged sex abuse”. In 1993 a former Neverland security guard, Abdool (everything about this trial is surreal), was instructed by an ‘aroused King of Pop” to bring some Vaseline from the glove compartment of the star’s vehicle to the bedroom where he was hanging out ‘wearing only his pyjama bottoms” with a kid who Abdool ‘believed was Jordie”.

Once it had been leaked from supposedly sealed court documents, news agencies were duty-bound, sanctimoniously holding their noses, to put the Vaseline story into the public domain.

The PR people at Unilever must have groaned. The multinational company bought the brand name in 1987. It has put millions into burnishing Vaseline’s image — particularly with schoolchildren.

Unilever did not invent Vaseline. That credit goes to Robert Chesebrough, an English chemist who emigrated to the United States in the 1850s. Young Chesebrough went into the kerosene business and was quick to see that the future of the fuel that lit and warmed America was in Pennsylvania, where the first American oil fields were being drilled.

When he went there, Chesebrough noticed that roughnecks who worked the rigs were maddened by a gelatinous black gunk that clogged up their drills. They called it ‘rod wax” and were constantly having to wipe the stuff away. But these same working Joes, Chesebrough was interested to see, slapped ‘rod wax” on their cuts to help them heal faster.

Chesebrough took some jelly to his lab and tested its healing property on himself. It worked. He soon had a fleet of wagons trundling around the country distributing Vaseline (a barbarous combination of the German ‘wasser”, and the Greek ‘elaion”: ‘water-oil”).

Chesebrough was an evangelist. In front of rapt audiences he would burn his skin with acid and then anoint the wounds with his wonder-jelly, pointing to earlier scars Vaseline had healed. Next day, every druggist in town would have bought a wagonload.

Chesebrough’s patented jelly was translucent. Unlike vegetable or animal oils, it didn’t go rancid or smell, except faintly of hospitals. It had that quality that all pharmaceutical products aspire to — purity. Vaseline was so pure it was virtually Platonic.

The distinctive property of Vaseline is its resistance to water. It will weatherproof footwear, safeguard wounds, and soothe chapped lips. It has innumerable household uses. It is the base ingredient in a vast range of cosmetics and pomades (Jackson must have used vats of the stuff in his Jeri-Curl days).

Beauty queens dab Vaseline on their teeth for that flashing smile. Bulls in the Spanish corrida have Vaseline smeared on their eyes, to make them charge wildly (bull’s eye-smearer must be one of the less desirable offerings at the Madrid job centre).

Cross-channel swimmers slather themselves with it. Japesters daub it on lavatory seats (you wipe it on, they can’t wipe it off).

Photographers get artistic effects with Vaseline on the lens.

Chesebrough, a man who believed in his product, swallowed a spoonful of it every day. He lived to be 96.

Notoriously, it has less salubrious uses. But ‘rod wax” is the one thing Vaseline shouldn’t be used for. It does bad things to latex condoms and has other disadvantages as an intimate lubricant. It’s not, as Talking Heads naughtily implied, the sand in the Vaseline that does the damage. It’s the Vaseline in the Vaseline.

Would a man as morbidly nervous as Jackson about things medical not know that? Would someone as pampered as Jackson remember what one of his chauffeurs had stuffed into the glove compartment of one of his cars?

If Abdool is the best the prosecution has for its ‘grand finale”, the show’s over. —

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