I’ll never forget where I was when the OJ verdict came down. I was nine years old. We were on the playground. All summer the girls were playing OJ games, with clap along chants: “OJ OJ guilty as can be, if the ju-ry sets him free, John-ny Cochrane gets a win, and OJ OJ can kill again.” Of course I had the OJ playsets: Nicole Brown Simpson’s house, OJ’s house (not included was the Kato Kaelin guesthouse add-on, which was hard to find in toy stores), and the courtroom itself. The OJ doll came with knife, gloves, shoes, and ski mask. I remember I lost the ski mask, so my mother helped me make a new one from the fingertip of an old glove. My brothers spent most the summer playing “OJ’s White Bronco Rally” on Super Nintendo. We all had OJ fever.
The teacher shouted to us from the schoolhouse window: “Kids, everybody, they have a verdict!” We all started to scream. The school day ceased as we filed into the gymnasium. There was a buzz in the air. The only thing I could compare it to was when Dinosaur Jr played an ear splitting concert at school the year before. There was a screen set up on the stage, where teachers and staff were arranging American flags, Oakland Raiders memorabilia, and posters of OJ from his film and football careers. Mother Angelica, the kindly nun who served as the school nurse, was wandering about clinging to her rosary beads, muttering, “Please not guilty, please Jesus not guilty.”
What does it feel like to live through a great moment in human history? To sit in the audience at the Globe Theater for a premier performance of a Shakespeare play? To argue a point in the Roman senate? To be a foreman at the pyramids construction site in Egypt? This was one of those moments. I will tell my grandchildren where I was when the OJ verdict came down, and they will tell theirs. Someday, when I’m an old woman, I will knit a quilt of scenes from the OJ trial and perhaps that quilt will too be passed down, so that this wonderful story will never be forgotten.
The OJ trial is about who we are – the way we figuratively drive up to our ex-wife’s house, kill her and the waiter who happened to be there, drive home, stash the weapon and bloody clothes, try to flee when questioned, then hire an expensive legal team to get off. Who can’t relate to this? The OJ trial teaches us about life, the way society forces gloves upon us that can’t possibly fit. Every fence, wall, race, nationality is just another glove. OJ was teaching us a valuable lesson: when forced to try on gloves in front of a jury at a murder trial, act like they don’t fit then hold up your hands with a “Whaddya want from me?” face. It reminds me of that passage from the New Testament when Jesus advised a leper accused of murder to keep his damn mouth shut and get a good lawyer.
Because that’s what it’s all about: a good lawyer. Lawyers are the samurai of American society. Everyone should have a lawyer on call at all times. In relationships – when we must quickly invent some excuse for where we were the night before or whether that sexy text to a co-worker is a bit too much. In commerce – when we feel scammed by a sleazy Verizon rep over a phone bill or we just want to strongarm a car salesman down to a lower price. What are our spiritual leaders but lawyers arguing our innocence before God? When you die, you must have a good lawyer or you’ll be spending a long time in Purgatory. That place is like a cramped waiting room where the radio constantly plays a-Ha and Phil Collins and the only magazines are Guns & Ammo and Martha Stewart Living. There is no coffee in Purgatory, just light brown water in a coffee pot in the corner. But you drink it anyway from a little styrofoam cup. In Purgatory it is perpetually 3:23 PM on Monday afternoon. Names get called once in a while, but never yours. Yet you still feel that pang of expectation when “Take On Me” cuts out for that next announcement, even after a thousand years when you’ve read and reread every article and ad from every magazine, you still hold out hope that your turn is next. It’s never your turn in Purgatory. God bless good lawyers.
Today OJ is in prison for a 2007 robbery charge. A recent LA Times article detailed what life is like for him these days. It’s a depressing picture: “he likes cold cereal, with a muffin and fruit,” works out in the gym, and recently became the prison softball league commissioner. How sad to have fallen from those heights of the summer of 1995, when his murder trial captured our imagination. We will never forget. If 1967 was the Summer Of Love, 1995 was the Summer Of OJ. The case was our Sgt Pepper, with all the characters pictured on the cover – that’s Fred Goldman wearing a Ringo hat posing by the bass drum. “And though the news was rather sad, well I just had to laugh.”
(excerpted from Tonya’s upcoming memoir “If It Doesn’t Fit: Coping With Life After The OJ Trial”)