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ROBIN ABCARIAN

What's in a Name? The Trial of a Lifetime

August 20, 1995|ROBIN ABCARIAN

The woman whose life has been disrupted since the brutal Brentwood double murder rocked the country last summer is sitting in the high-rise headquarters of the huge advertising agency where she works as a senior vice president.

She gazes out her window and tells me her story, tells me how overnight, her life was upended by forces completely beyond her control.

Without ever knowing why, she says, she had always hated her first name. Even as a child. There were reasons for this. Years later, she discovered that she had been named, at her father's insistence, for one of his girlfriends. She must have sensed the pain this caused her mother.

She grew to despise her first name so much that years ago she filled out the appropriate papers and rid herself of it forever. This is a woman who knows from names and their emotional freight.

"The day I came back from the courthouse," she said, "it was like a burden had been lifted."

She chose her new first name from a list she had once made while dreaming about the children she might have one day. It was her favorite.

She loved it then, and loves it still, even with the hell it has brought the last 14 months.

Her name is Nicole.

Nicole Simpson.

*

Shortly after the bodies were found and the story broke, the phone of Nicole Elaine Simpson, 40, began to ring.

Tabloids and TV shows. Newspapers. Magazines. All calling the home of a woman they mistakenly thought was the ex-wife of O.J. Simpson. In the media frenzy that followed the slayings, they were looking for something, anything that would get them ahead of the pack. The number was, after all, listed in West Los Angeles. Close enough to Brentwood for desperate information gatherers to follow bad hunches.

"May I please speak to one of Nicole Simpson's friends?" asked the TV talk show staffer on the line at dawn the morning after.

Simpson was puzzled.

"Which one?" she asked. "And why?"

Within days, friends and business associates around the country were receiving phone calls: "We know Nicole Simpson was a friend of yours. We know she called here two weeks ago. We know you were on the phone with her for 42 minutes. Can you tell us what her mood was? What kind of relationship you had? What did she say?"

Her phone bill, she surmised, had been stolen and maybe even sold by a phone company employee.

Reporters showed up in her lobby, buzzing her condo interminably, bothering her neighbors: "We know Nicole Simpson owned a condo here. What can you tell us about her?"

Tabloid reporters were relentless. "Come on!" they would bark into her answering machine. "We know you're home, just pick up the phone!"

They tried to crack the code on her answering machine to access her messages.

Finally, she called police. But what could they do other than take a report?

"I was a basket case. I slept on the floor because I was afraid people were going to break into my house. I felt attacked, invaded. But I also felt stupid--you know, I am a grown woman, and it's just a few phone calls."

Of course, her pain was nothing compared to the trauma experienced by the Brown and Goldman families, but it was real.

"Everyone else thought it was funny, but I felt tormented."

When she called the police department back to get a case number (requested by the phone company in the course of its internal investigation), an officer exploded when she gave her name: "Lady, I don't have time for this!"

And she exploded back: "Nobody takes me seriously anymore! I don't exist anymore!"

Some time later, a department store canceled her credit card.

*

A dozen times a day, people snicker when she gives her name.

Restaurant reservations are routinely canceled.

Checks are questioned at the market.

Leaving messages is a nightmare. ("May I say who is calling? Uh-huh. And will he know who this really is?)

She feels like E.F. Hutton any time her name is announced on a loudspeaker.

Her plumber was berated when he dialed the wrong number and asked for Nicole Simpson.

Her single consolation: She nourishes a dream to do stand-up comedy. And now she has some fresh, topical material, which she tried out during a recent comedy showcase.

"I went on vacation to Anguilla, this tiny island in the Caribbean. I handed the lady my passport. . . . After she regained consciousness, she said, 'Your name is Nicole Simpson!'

" 'Yes.'

" 'But you're black! '

" 'Lady, I live in America. Don't you think someone would have pointed this out before?' "

The audience roared.

And somewhere, probably, a restaurant reservation was being canceled.

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