In Laguna Beach, the onetime residence of O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson, one expects to find the accused innocent until proven guilty. After all, many Lagunans were happy to have the Simpsons in residence here not all that long ago.
"Yeah, O.J. has a house at Victoria" had been an oft-heard phrase. The marriage of this well-muscled celebrity and our artsy little town had been too exciting for any but the most smug to ignore.
I ventured into downtown Laguna last week, curious what the residents of this storm-battered beach town might have to say now, as opening statements were being heard in Simpson's trial.
I expected to find the locals glued to television sets. The pubs and taverns, I assumed, would be packed. I figured to run across some of those miniature screens that crop up around World Series time. I even had visions of the curious standing in front of an appliance store window to watch the display sets mutely flickering away behind the glass, though Laguna has no such stores.
But competition for the attention of Lagunans is fierce these days. Floods and mudslides. A bankrupt county government lurking around like some slobbering pickpocket. Developers smashing through Laguna Canyon (during the wettest month in the history of the county, yet) in order to build a toll road that blights one of the most beautiful coastal canyons left in Southern California. And people still are trying to repair their way out of the pestilential fires of just over a year ago.
So, not only did I find but a few desultory viewers/drinkers at the local taverns, but a surprising lack of patience toward the whole subject of the trial, the accused, the outcome. Lagunans are resilient but, seemingly in this case, not sympathetic. "I just want to hear him admit he killed her," said a thirtysomething female shopkeeper.
"He did it," offered a fiftysomething male. "If he didn't do it," a woman asked, "why does he act so guilty?"
I settled down in a neighborhood tavern with its television tuned to the trial. "Seems like this damn trial has been going on (forever)," yawned a fiftyish male.
"Yeah, I think he did it, but he wasn't alone," said a twentysomething male. And so on.
A prophet gets no honor in his own country; a suspect gets no mercy in a town in which he once paid a sizable property tax. It seemed strange to me that the neighborhood bar wasn't filled with spectators, Roman forum-like. True, it was early for a lunch crowd. But after the noon recess there were plenty of front-row seats available.
On the streets of Laguna Beach it was obvious why. Merchants were sandbagging their stores for the next round of storms. The UPS man was unloading his treasures from the back of the shining brown truck. An art gallery was remodeling. A clothing store owner stood in her shop, assessing the garments being proffered by one of her suppliers. The burger joint manager stood on the sidewalk in his white apron and white cap, kibitzing with the guy at the magazine stand.
In short, the business of Laguna was business, and this was business as usual. Truthfully, how many citizens, even in a town seemingly replete with the idle both rich and poor, have time to sit in a bar and watch television all day?
Briefly, the sun came out. It shone on the wet cars and dripping trees, on the sandbags and the leftover mud. It was ordinary and magnificent. It drew people out of the buildings, onto the sidewalks and streets.
In Laguna Beach, a riveting tale of murder--even of one of its own--can't hold a candle to the sun.