The Real O. J. Story

By Jackson, Bruce | The Antioch Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Real O. J. Story


Jackson, Bruce, The Antioch Review


Family Feud

A few evenings after O. J. Simpson was arrested for the murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, a waiter at the Mezzaluna Restaurant in Westwood, California, my wife Diane and I had dinner with our friends Bruno Freschi and Vaune Ainsworth at Just Pasta, a restaurant on Buffalo's West Side. Like nearly everyone else around here that summer, we talked about the murders and the preliminary hearing on due cause, which was just beginning. O. J. had played for the Buffalo Bills in the seventies and he was still a local hero. A lot of people here partied with O. J. in those glory years, or know people who partied with him.

Bruno is an architect, so he spends a good deal of time moving pieces of information around, trying them out in different juxtapositions and combinations, making them big, making them small, seeing what seems to work and what doesn't. The two of us got to spinning scenarios that seemed consistent with what we then knew about the murders and O. J.'s movements. We came up with what we thought were three or four plausible narratives. Not narratives we thought were true or even likely; just plausible.

The first was the most obvious: the movie actor ex-husband finds the sexy ex-wife with a Hollywood hunk and in a jealous rage slaughters everything in sight, then rushes home, cleans up, and catches his plane to Chicago where, in his hotel room the next morning, he receives a phone call from the Los Angeles police and feigns shock.

That was what nearly everyone we knew was already saying, so Bruno and I concentrated our imaginative plot-making energies on alternative narratives. We were playing, as when you see how many different things you can make out of a fixed number of Erector Set or Lego pieces.

We were so deep in play that neither of us realized until it was far too late that Diane and Vaune were seething with anger. They were saying things like, "But you know he's guilty! We all know he's guilty! Why don't you admit that you know he's guilty?"

"All we're saying is there are other ways the same evidence might be explained," Bruno said. I said that we weren't talking about ultimate truth or anything like that; we were just playing with the very small number of ostensible facts that were at that time available. "We're being hypothetical," I said.

Diane and Vaune had no interest whatsoever in play or hypotheses. Diane said, "What happened can't be explained like a game. It isn't a game. You two are just making stories. You know he's guilty!" Vaune concurred. It got rough, there on the Just Pasta patio on that warm evening in June 1994.

Later, I realized that the four of us at that table were having two totally different--and mutually exclusive--conversations. Diane and Vaune were behaving as if we were talking about real life, so they were talking about what they believed had happened; Bruno and I were behaving as if we were filmmakers or novelists or lawyers in court, so we were talking about what we thought might have happened. We were all using the same words and the same apparent facts, but we weren't talking the same languages or imagining the same kinds of stories.

Kinds of Talk

The two kinds of talk, might-have-happened talk and real-life talk, aren't the least bit compatible. Sometimes they coincide, but when they do it's just luck.

In point of fact, neither Diane nor Vaune nor Bruno nor I, nor any of the television stars commenting on the murders or reporters reporting on them knew what actually happened in front of Nicole's condo at 875 S. Bundy Drive in Brentwood the night of June 12, 1994. We didn't know it then; we don't know it now. The only living person who knows for sure is the person who murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. No one has ever come forward to say, "I did it." No one has ever been able to say, "I saw that person do it." Every living person but one who has touched or been touched by this story has been operating on assumption, hypothesis, and speculation. …

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