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THE SIMPSON LEGACY: LOS ANGELES TIMES SPECIAL REPORT : Twist of Fate / HOW THE CASE CHANGED THE LIVES OF THOSE IT TOUCHED : ESSAY / CARLA HALL : The Brentwood Brushoff

October 11, 1995|CARLA HALL

O.J., you're home. You've kissed your relatives, ambled through your house, watched the flowers wheeled up the driveway. You've reportedly made your way to a local eatery--we don't call them bakeries in Brentwood, how caloric!--for scones. Another rumor has it that you're even working out at a local gym. It's only a matter of time before you're dashing into the Westward Ho for yellow bell peppers and milk. On your way out, you'll probably stop at the newsstand, check yourself out on all the local covers and maybe chat a bit with the stunned locals perusing Vanity Fair in one hand and holding a dog leash in the other.

But before you get too settled in, um, could you leave?

It's not my idea. It's your neighbors'.

Just listen to what Jeff Hall, editor and publisher of the community paper, the Brentwood News, wrote in his "Letter to O.J." that he put smack on the front page of the paper after the verdicts:

"Welcome home, I guess.

"Like many of your neighbors, I thought you did it."

Hall goes on to talk about how resentful and weary Brentwood residents have become, and offers a suggestion:

"Perhaps, you really would be wise to go to Mexico, at least for a while."

Brentwood folk don't mean to be rude. Once, they loved you. Even Jeff Hall writes about being utterly charmed by you when he saw you at a local restaurant, Peppone's. Genial, gorgeous, prosperous. Beautiful kids. You were what Brentwood is all about. For that matter, so were Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

But you have no idea how dramatically things changed in a community where the biggest street event until June of 1994 was the annual art show on San Vicente Boulevard. In one week, Brentwood was the site of a double murder and the destination of the most famous police chase in history. Suddenly, a community that reveled in being a sleepy little cozy oasis three miles from the ocean had turned into one of those murder mystery shows where the audience gets to participate by walking around the sets and trying to guess who did it.

Mezzaluna, where Nicole Simpson ate her last meal and where Ron Goldman worked, has been relentlessly besieged by tourists and the curious who took pictures, stole matchbooks and menus, and asked unseemly questions. As recently as late summer, there was talk that if it didn't abate the restaurant might do something drastic--like change its name.

The people who live around your ex-wife's townhouse were appalled at the steady stream of looky-loos parading past her house or just stopping their cars in traffic to gawk. The sightseers pulled plants out of the ground in front of the townhouse and tried to steal pieces of the house itself. Instead of only running into friends on their way to grab a cafe latte at one of Brentwood's several coffee emporiums, residents were likely to run into a stranger asking directions to the infamous Bundy condo.

As private and low-key as Brentwood residents usually are, they weren't shy about telling off the tourists. They honked their horns at cars idling on Bundy. One infuriated resident erected a huge sign on Bundy declaring: "GO HOME--THERE IS NOTHING 2 SEE."

They enlisted the help of the police who paid overtime to officers who volunteered to patrol the Bundy Drive and Rockingham Avenue areas each weekend to help prevent total chaos. The residents were just as demonstrative in their gratitude to the police. One officer on duty on Bundy for the first time was stunned to see a woman drive up in a Mercedes and get out to give him a roast beef sandwich and six-pack of soda. "I'm used to people yelling names and obscenities at me," the officer explained.

As for your street, O.J., in the most exclusive enclave of Brentwood, residents felt just as harassed. In an area where there are barely any sidewalks and every other house has a gate, residents are not used to unwanted foot traffic, let alone helicopters hovering over their back yards.

"People call our office and you can hear the helicopters over the phone," said Dan Kahn, a deputy in Councilman Marvin Braude's office. And it really didn't go over well when residents had to show I.D.s to separate themselves from the outsiders trying to get up their streets.

So you see, no matter how your neighbors feel about the verdicts, they are loathe to see the circus get any more frenzied. True, the regulars are slowly going back to Mezzaluna, but the tourists haven't stopped dropping by the Bundy murder site.

Oh, and another thing. Don't call or write complaining about how I don't know anything about Brentwood, how I'm just some hit-and-run reporter. I live there too (in a considerably more modest apartment). In fact, I didn't even know you lived there until the week you ended up leaving for jail.

Once, in Laguna Beach, a guy asked me where I lived. I said Brentwood. "O.J. country," he replied nonchalantly.

O.J., you have added a tag line to Brentwood. And whether you stay or go, Brentwood will lie uneasily for a while in the shadow of your controversial fame.

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