HEARTS OF THE CITY: Exploring attitudes and issues behind the news. : O.J. Terminus

Remember the time--only last summer, wasn't it?--when the days of O.J. seemed to stretch toward the horizon like the caribou in Alaska. Like the cod in the sea. No end in sight. You couldn't count them, there were so many.

But one by one, the trial days have dropped in their tracks. Kato, gone. Rosa Lopez, gone. Bloody glove, gone, gone. And now the days of O.J. have withered down to a few and taken on the pitiful look of a species pushed to extinction. We have gunned them down, one after another, sliced them up--pardon the phrase--and we will pay the price. Soon, we will all wake up one morning and face life without O.J.

What will happen to us then? We don't know. The situation has no precedent. All we know for certain is that one day soon we will rise from our beds as usual, pad down the hall to the TV room, click to the E! channel, and there will be reruns of "I Love Lucy." No O.J.

Believing the E! channel has suffered a technical glitch, we will click to Court TV. And there we will see Joey Buttafuoco at a probation hearing, smirking at his judge. No Marcia. No Johnnie. Just the smirking Buttafuoco, looking for all the world like the second feature in a Saturday matinee.

And that's when we will begin to feel it. O.J. gone, finito, for real. We will look at each other and not know what to say. How will we pass the time without O.J.? How will we get through dinner parties or ride in elevators?

Probably, in those first days, some will forget that O.J. is gone. They will get onto elevators, turn to the person next to them and say, offhandedly, "Hey, wattaya think, O.J. gonna walk?" And a quiet will fall over the elevator as everyone gets embarrassed because, of course, they will all know whether O.J. walked or not. And the faux pas-person will realize his mistake and stare at the doors, praying for his floor to come quickly.

So sad. O.J. has given us suspense, a family, a story to fill our lives, and lots of social lubrication. O.J. came to us free of charge, like a gift, and we have no replacement. How do we get along when the gift is taken away?

A mystery. Maybe we will stall out completely, like streetcars waiting for a restart. After O.J., why get up in the morning? Why go to bed? Why talk about the kids--where did the kids go, anyway?--or taxes or Newt or anything, since we already know the answer to the only question worth asking.

Oh, sure, a few will try to get interested in other stuff. Some will try Sunday football until they discover that L.A. has no Sunday football. It disappeared somewhere mid-O.J. Then, more desperate, they will notice that the usual suspects are running for President again, right on schedule. And they'll say to themselves, here's something we can use to forget our loss of O.J.

About that time, President Clinton will propose a weekend talkathon on the deficit, Bob Dole will disclose his no-entitlement approach to kiddie moms on AFDC, and everyone will remember why they switched to O.J. in the first place.

Of course, the Menendez brothers will try gamely to fill the void. Their retrial will start and all the reporters laid off from O.J. will show up, hoping desperately that the brothers have the right stuff. The reporters will write long stories full of rumors about more bloody gloves and beautiful, blond girlfriends.

But somehow it won't click. After O.J., the Menendez brothers will seem like methadone maintenance. No rush. The brothers will be convicted as media flops and hauled off to a minor league venue in Fresno. No one will understand why they failed anymore than they understand why O.J. kept his power over our lives.

It could be, too, that Marcia and Johnnie, missing O.J. even more than us, would do dramatizations of especially poignant moments in the trial. They could call it "O.J. Classics" and yell at each other the way people do on "The Capitol Gang." In the end, though, it would just put off the day when we must face life without O.J.

In the end, it's my guess that we will need something like a 12-step program to break O.J.'s hold and get on with our lives. Perhaps every neighborhood could form a group. People will stand and confess that sometimes in the hours before dawn they sneak into the TV room and replay old tapes of favorite days. Or tune in to a chat room on the Internet that pretends the trial never stopped.

And others will nod, yes, yes, they have done the same. Finally someone will suggest that everyone cut their grass the next Saturday as a kind of group therapy, a diversion from O.J. depression, especially since the weeds now stand four feet tall, not having been mowed since the day O.J. tried on the gloves. And everyone will nod weakly, agreeing that it's worth a try.


So they will cut the grass and the next weekend the fathers will take their sons out to play softball. Someone will notice how good the sun feels and how you can smell the leather on your hands after a hard game. Slowly, life will return.

Finally, many months later, a couple will be watching TV and click on the E! channel. "Talk Soup" will be playing. The wife will make a distant connection in her memory and say to her husband, "Isn't that the show that Kato once hosted?"

The husband, staring at the screen for a long moment, will reply, "Kato who?" And then they will be free.


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