A Peek Inside the Abode of a Has-Been…

Brentwood was definitely not my neck of the woods. The conventional wisdom about this upscale ‘hood was that it was a place where people air-kissed, compared implants, and did lunch. During my stint in Beverly Hills, I discovered that the cliches were pretty much true.

The hills north of Sunset were jammed with multimillion-dollar estates hidden behind many millions more dollars’ worth of landscaping. All to create the illusion of privacy. The farther north you went, and the higher you climbed into the hills, the narrower the streets became, and the more obscure the street signs were. I strained to find Rockingham Drive.

There was a cruiser parked up ahead, where a uniformed officer directed traffic. A few civilians milled around outside an iron security gate. Some of them had the nervous, unfed look of reporters. Still, the scene was not exactly bustling with activity. I got the impression that the main show had come and gone.

I slipped unnoticed past the press and through the gate, where I got my first look at the larger Tudor-style house overhung with old eucalyptus trees. The manicured grounds seemed to glow an unnatural shade of green in the midday light. In one corner of the lawn stood a child’s playhouse. O.J. Simpson might be a has-been, I thought, but he must still be bringing in serious bucks to manage the upkeep on this place.

A white Ford Bronco sat nosed into the curb on Rockingham. Extending up the driveway from the rear of the vehicle was a trail of reddish-brown spots. The rust-colored droplets stopped several yards short of the house. The front door was open and in the foyer I could see more droplets. They appeared to be blood. Gingerly, careful to disturb nothing, I stepped inside.

Search warrant or no, it always felt weird to me to walk into the house of a stranger. But there’s also a voyeuristic fascination: what a person chooses to surround himself with tells you a lot about him. This interior of O.J. Simpson’s house was exquisitely appointed with overstuffed white furniture, Lalique glass, and Berber carpeting. And yet the place gave off a faint odor of mildew and neglect.

“Hey, Marcia, come upstairs. I want to show you something.” It was Brad Roberts. I followed him up the spiral staircase, where the wall was lined with photographs, mostly shots of O.J. Simpson with various fat cats.

It was on that stairway that I got my first look at the face of Nicole Brown Simpson.

She was blond, with handsome, almost mannish, features. Her hair, teeth, and skin all had that gloss peculiar to the West Side elite. In some of the photos she was with a pair of lovely brown-skinned children, a boy and a girl. They all wore ski attire. Her face was difficult to read. The expression in all the photos was uniformly happy, but her eyes were glazed. She had – how would you describe it  – a thousand-yard stare.

By now,  I knew that the Simpson had been divorced for two years. I found it peculiar that he still had her pictures everywhere. The photos of my ex were long gone from the walls and end tables.

I peeked into the master bedroom suite. From that vantage point I could see only the top and one side of the bed. Brad Roberts knelt on the floor. He reached under the box spring and, using his fingertips, pulled out a framed photo. It showed Nicole and her husband in evening dress.

“Is that the way you found it?” I asked.

“Yep,” he replied. “Just like that. Facedown. Under the bed.”

“Make sure they get a photo of that.” I told him.

Marcia Clark Without a Doubt (New York: Penguin Books 1998)

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Get a Life! A Brentwood State of Mind…

Brentwood, California, population 35,798, is the Los Angeles district where Marilyn Monroe’s ambiguously debated death occurred thirty-two years previously in the early evening hours of August 4, 1962.

Brentwood is also the psychic nexus of the O.J. Simpson/Nicole Brown saga, somewhere between 10.00 p.m and 11.00 p.m., June 12 1994.

Brentwood does not exist. Not technically. It is a hilly, canyoned Los Angeles suburb – a ZIP code: 90049. Letters sent to Brentwood will be returned to sender. Roughly 250 letters a day end up in the small, Northern California town of Brentwood, ZIP code 94513.

In the daytime, Brentwood is almost exclusively a city of women old and young, focused on a small band of retail strip along San Vicente Boulevard. There are women peppered with hunky aspiring actors and slinky actresses springing about from auditions to gym.

Brentwood gives the impression of being a 1970s future utopia, one with a secret at its core, perhaps a pleasant secret and perhaps an unpleasant secret, but a secret that nonetheless remains fiercely protected. Brentwood, like Palm Springs, offers a version of an alternative future that might have occurred had certain factors not continued unchecked, futures that daily seem less probable.

It was into this neighborhood that Nicole Brown Simpson landed after her divorce, in a $650,000 condo near the noisy southwest corner of Bundy and Dorothy, on Bundy, a condo that would cost maybe $350,000 were it in most other parts of the city.

One Brentwood resident who grew up in Brentwood Heights (above Sunset: equidistant from Monroe’s and Simpson’s houses), now in his twenties, calls lower Brentwood a divorcée ghetto. Three of his best friends from high school had parents who divorced, and all three mothers ended up “in the ghetto. Only my own mother [also a divorcée] got to keep the house. She’s the exception.”

If people here are annoyed with O.J. Simpson, possible double murder aside, it is only because he broke the covenant of invisibility. The corner of Rockingham and Ashford is going to be a tourist attraction for the next one hundred years, like it or not. Will this effect land values? Yes. But in which way, who is to know? Michelle Pfeiffer, although she lives below Sunset, has already chosen to move away to avoid the hubbub.

Just outside the Union 76 station at the corner of Bundy and San Vicente, a donation of a dollar, say, purchases you a photocopied sheet of “Poems for Nicole Simpson” by a local street entrepreneur wearing a felt-tip-pen-on-cardboard sign saying: MORE POEMS ABOUT NICOLE SIMPSON. Business in brisk. Locals say, “At least he’s offering something original and new.”

On San Vicente Boulevard, dark rumors float about Brentwood’s no-fat cafes, phone machines and the brightly lit aisles of the Vicente Market – rumors too dark, too dreadful to mention, for to speak the word is to give life, and who will spawn this monster?

Perhaps these rumors are true. Perhaps time will tell. Perhaps it will all be forgotten.

Meanwhile to hinder the “lookie-loo’s”, thru-traffic is blocked on both sides of Dorothy. An LAPD officer beside his motorcycle keeps traffic flowing.

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The front of the alleyway in which the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were found has been screened off by a dozen or so dwarf plantings of Australian tree ferns and Nile lilies behind a new enclosure of green-plasticated chain-link fence that separates the walkway from the sidewalk (this part of Brentwood has sidewalks).

Signs put up by agitated neighbors saying “GET A LIFE” and “GO HOME THERE IS NOTHING 2 SEE” have been taken down. By August 4, late afternoon traffic no longer concertinas to a grind the way it did in the initial sensationalist frenzy of a few weeks ago. But it still slows down.

There are a few joggers and dog walkers – Brentwood’s only two species of residential pedestrian – and all are wearing Walkmans.

It was a dogwalker who first found the murdered bodies.

Douglas Coupland Polaroids from the Dead (London: Flamingo 1997)