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Day with O.J. juices up search for real killers

MIAMI, Sept. 9 – O.J. Simpson’s new Miami home rests at the end of a suburban street and is flanked on one side by trees – on the other by a cozy rambler. After ringing the bell a few times, I hopped over a short fence and found Simpson chipping golf balls at a small metal garbage pail.

“I’m always out here playing golf,” Simpson said. “You can ask my neighbors.”

Simpson started on a diatribe about fame, his former fortune and the quest for the real killers.

“Golf is one way I blow steam when I can’t find any clues,” he said, filling an ice-less glass with warm Kamchatka Vodka.

He threw the empty bottle at the porch, where the container pinged off a dozen other plastic bottles of vodka scattered on the concrete.

“It’s important for me to blow off steam,” he said. “Because sometimes I just get so mad that I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Simpson found fame through professional football and acting. In 1995 he became a cultural icon for being put on trial and acquitted of the slayings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a friend of hers, Ronald Goldman.

Inside his home, we talked for more than an hour about politics.

“Bush winning the election was the crime of the century,” – and sports, – “I won the Heisman, you know.”

Though his voice remained steady, Simpson never stayed still. He continually scoured for booze, sifting outside through the pile of empty Kamchatka liters twice before discovering a half-full bottle of vermouth between the cushions of a couch.

He expressed amazement at his former neighbors’ apparent lack of interest in the couch. They moved shortly after Simpson began leasing the house next door more than a year ago, and their old home has yet to be sold.

“It’s a perfectly good couch, and I don’t know why they left it,” he said.

He spun the cap off the bottle with his thumb and downed the vermouth with a few deep swallows. I asked him how his life has changed since the trial.

“Women sometimes confuse me for Ö” he trailed off, searched for the right words and looked to his barren walls, eyes glazed with alcohol. He slumped onto a rusty folding chair.

“I get maced when I talk to girls,” he said and closed his eyes, head dropping to his chest.

Unsure of Simpson’s condition, I remained still and glanced around the room. Pizza boxes, dirty socks and unopened mail littered second-rate furniture and moving boxes. Post-It notes bearing Simpson’s signature were stuck to dirty kitchen utensils and empty bottles of Mountain Dew. The house lacked any sense of order except for a well-polished trophy case carefully centered in an otherwise empty dining room.

A low growl resonated from deep inside Simpson’s chest when a police siren sounded a few blocks away. He snapped into a halfback’s crouch and bounded through the room, breaking the end of the vermouth bottle on his 13-inch black and white Zenith television. Pouncing on an ottoman, he repeatedly sunk the bottle into the fabric until the glass was in shards. He took a knee and sucked air deeply into his lungs, occasionally exhaling an indecipherable mutter.

Knuckles white with fear, I let him breathe for a few minutes. I saw his hand was bleeding and told him.

Simpson stood and slowly lifted his gaze to meet mine. His face was eerily calm.

“My hand isn’t bleeding,” he said and grabbed a jacket. “Did you know I won the Heisman Trophy in 1968?”

Confused, I said I had to leave for some unrelated business and asked if he would like to finish the interview by phone.

“We’re going to the liquor store,” Simpson said, seemingly unaware of my intent to leave. He gave me a set of car keys on a key chain that read “Juice.”

“Why don’t you drive,” he said.

Driving with Simpson is unlike any driving experience I had ever had. He sat in the back seat with old fast food wrappers and repeatedly told me to drive slower. The stereo played Tammy Wynette’s version of “Stand by Your Man” on a continuous loop, and stacks of California phone books were jammed into the front passenger seat.

The phone books, Simpson insisted, where the key to proving his innocence to the “non-believers.”

“Somewhere in these books is the answer,” he said. His voice had grown ragged. “I just need something to trigger my memory, the name of a person I have forgotten, and then the world will know.”

After stopping at a liquor store and buying Simpson a fresh liter of vodka, we drove around Miami for hours. I fearfully watched Simpson in the rearview mirror, but his rage never returned. He reclined in the back seat, sucking vodka through old McDonald’s straws he found on the floor, which he fastened together into “my (Simpson’s) extra-super straw.”

He finished most of the bottle, and finally succumbed to alcohol’s gentle kiss. I took him home and carried him to his front door, where I left him under the porch light’s soft, yellow glow.

When I started walking to my car, Simpson called to me.

“I’ll pay you back for the booze A.C.,” he said. “I’m gonna be back in the movies, man, just you wait and see. The Juice is a star. The Juice is a star.”

I pulled out of the driveway and looked at Simpson one last time. He had pulled off his shoe and placed it under his head as a pillow, clutching a near-empty bottle of vodka to his chest. His dreams and reality distorted into a world where he was still on top.

Phil Partner has a variety of problems,
and finds comfort pointing out the
flaws of others.

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