It took thirteen years, repeat viewings of The Naked Gun, and a hastily ghostwritten confession passing as fantasy, but I’ve finally come around to O.J. Simpson’s position. Oh, I still believe he savagely murdered two human beings, miraculously found a dozen jurors who confused irrefutable DNA evidence for a honky plot to fluoridate Crenshaw’s water, got away with it, and has spent his free days being as arrogant and unfeeling as possible, but I no longer blame the guy for cracking under the pressure. Maybe it’s me, or the weather, or being in just the right celestial moment to believe such things, but if ex-wife and pumpkin carving Nicole were even one-tenth as bad as the portrait contained in If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, she’s lucky to have gotten off so easy. Let’s be frank: this isn’t an issue with Ron Goldman, who was truly an innocent victim that night, and who, through a noble sense of honor, stayed to defend the decidedly older woman he himself was going to split like a ripe banana in exchange for a pair of glasses. His heroic actions deserve our condolences to be sure, and for that alone, Simpson deserved a last dance with Old Sparky.
But in the matter of Nicole, a woman not even remotely sympathetic before I started this apologia of a book, there is little here to contradict the official story: a beautiful young woman, all of eighteen, meets the handsome football star one fateful day while waiting tables for what would have been a lifelong occupation had the Heisman Trophy winner not intervened, and the two are soon inseparable. And so begins a 17-year affair, one defined by tears, anger, fists, and the requisite sadomasochistic dependency that seems to follow around the American spirit like a gloomy shadow. For most of the book — and it is a short one, all of 208 pages — O.J. recounts this disturbed relationship, exempting himself from nearly all criticism, of course, but sparing no expense in his utter dismantling of Nicole’s character. In turn, she is herself abusive, a liar, a tramp, a manipulative bitch, and yes, a fucking whore. She cheats, begs forgiveness, cheats again, blows relative strangers within earshot of her children, runs around Mexico like a horny teenager, and even straddles Marcus Allen, as if consciously trying to collect sperm samples from Southern Cal alum. It is O.J. who wanted to end it, and out of pity and a sense of duty, he kept coming back, putting up with the erratic broad because his children needed a happy home. Killings aside, if you believe the source, we’re either dealing with the world’s most deluded sociopath, or a disciple of Gandhi.
And yet, either through O.J.’s atypically astute acting skills or the genius of the actual writer, these scenes with Nicole are astoundingly convincing; a portrait of a sad, incompetent woman who screeched her way through 35 years of absolute irrelevance save the honing of her skills as a fellatrix. Her endless litany of complaints — more jewelry, newer jewelry, more vacations, bigger homes — sounds exactly like the rumblings of a kept woman lacking the imagination to do anything for herself. Even O.J. resents her laziness and later, while immersed in the glow of his love for Paula Barbieri, he notes that he’s impressed with her ability to bring home a paycheck. Women can (and should) work! I imagine it wasn’t easy for the Juice, what with the endless travel and press junkets, moving from movie sets to television studios, all so that Nicole could stay home and flirt with the UPS driver. And if we take O.J. at his word, he was steadfastly faithful during this stretch, which is believable given his hectic schedule. And through it all, he was always a concerned father, good provider, and honorable gentleman, proven in a truly chilling phrase destined to stand as his epitaph for all time: “I never once raised my hand to her — never once — and if Nicole were alive today she’d tell you the same thing.”
And as the book pushes on, through the misconstrued police visits, obsessive phone calls, and yes, even Nicole’s inevitable slide into drugs, we sense a decent, sensitive man’s despair and confusion. Throughout, O.J. tried to protect his wee ones from the stink of this behavior, and we sense that as June 12, 1994 approaches, something has to give. Simpson, then, has set the table brilliantly. The bitch is out of control, never leaves him alone, is increasingly haggard and cruel, and if not stopped, may actually harm the kids to get back at him. It’s an important approach, as the “big chapter” — the one that sold the book to HarperCollins in the first place — must appear to be a last, though necessary resort, rather than the vindictive ravings of an assassin. Chapter Six, “The Night in Question,” comes 116 pages into the book and while grim, could not possibly live up to the hype. It’s never as detailed, or honest, or even as bloody as you had hoped, and that’s certainly the case here. But it is revealing, despite the letdown.
First, the “confession” is tempered by the addition of Charlie, a figure never really identified, but clearly O.J.’s doppelganger, if not a physical manifestation of his conscience. Charlie not only accompanies Simpson to the murder scene, but actually provides the inspiration, as he informs the pained Juice of yet another tale of Nicole’s loosening morals. Recounting a visit to Cabo, Charlie states, “There was a lot of drugs and a lot of drinking, and apparently things got pretty kinky.” Simpson is outraged: “Why are you fucking telling me this, man?” He continues, “Well, I don’t fucking want to know! I’m sick of hearing this shit!” The rage builds, and suddenly Simpson tells Charlie to get in the Bronco. “We’re going to scare the shit out of that girl,” he says, in typically understated fashion. Charlie is reluctant, but after some words are exchanged, Simpson lowers the boom: “I’m going to take care of this myself.”
And so he does. O.J. grabs the knife, gloves, and cap, and with Charlie in tow, slinks towards Nicole’s back gate. This is where Goldman comes in, and what begins as macho posturing, soon turns deadly once Nicole’s dog acts friendly towards the young man. This is O.J.’s cue that he is no mere friend, and so begins the process that will consume the nation for a better part of eighteen months. Charlie pleads for good sense, but O.J. won’t listen to reason. Then, suddenly, the prose turns chickenshit. Simpson writes, “Then something went horribly wrong, and I know what happened, but I can’t tell you exactly how.” Yes, the convenient blackout. And within a moment, “The whole front of me was covered in blood, but it didn’t compute. Is this really blood? I wondered. And whose blood is it? Is it mine? Am I hurt?” The last bit is vintage, self-obsessed O.J., but the detachment appears authentic. I firmly believe that Simpson has put that night out of his memory forever, and not a trace of guilt or culpability remains. He likely believes his own story (or that of his lawyers) that Nicole was killed by Colombian drug lords, or some crazed burglars fleeing a botched robbery. It’s more chilling, of course, to think that Simpson knows and accepts his guilt and continues to live as he does — and that scenario is possible — but in his own twisted way, he now believes that whatever “happened” (always a passive voice), it was for the best.
Sure, Simpson adheres to a sliver of denial by passing off the infamous chapter as “hypothetical,” but it’s clearly his way of defying Nicole, the Goldman family, the legal system, and most of America who believe in his inescapable guilt. The whole sordid project, as expected, was about money and a return to the limelight, but deep within O.J.’s psyche, that tortured male ego that won’t ever give up the fight, it’s also a matter of justification. A warning, perhaps, to women who never tire of playing the victim card while benefiting directly from those they curse. No one’s doubting O.J.’s status as a self-serving scumbag, but it must irk him most of all that Nicole’s lasting image is that of saint, rather than, at the very least, a co-equal powder keg. It’s curious indeed that then, as now, the Brown family has stayed in the background, because they too were part of the problem, and would rather not revisit their own sense of guilt. Nicole’s parents kissed O.J.’s ass, looked the other way during her alleged abuse, willingly took money, and were so entwined as to be under the covers. Denise, Nicole’s sister, no doubt also worshipped at his altar, and who’s naïve enough to believe she too didn’t sip a bit of the Juice from time to time? But at bottom, the greatest tragedy of all is that a man like Simpson married exactly the sort of woman who would bring out his most unfortunate tendencies. It was only a matter of time. What was it Nicole once said to O.J. in one of many self-pitying letters, There was no couple like us? Sadly, no. It’s the familiarity of the tale that’s so depressing in the end.