It was 15 minutes before 10 Tuesday morning and six men, all white, sat on sofas around the big-screen TV in the "Auditions" lounge at the Sheraton Universal. If there's trouble after the verdict, one man asked, will it be called a riot or a rebellion?
Mild chuckles. One man, however, didn't seem to understand this was a joke. It would depend on the verdict, he said. A conviction could mean rioting; an acquittal wouldn't.
A few minutes later, the lounge was filled. On my left stood Denise Martin, a 26-year-old hotel secretary from Palmdale. "It's going to be not guilty. And that's too bad." Why? "Because he did it! . . . Now he'll go home to his mansion and get his children back."
How could she be so sure? "Because they played the race issue and many of the jurors are black and they have to go back into their own communities. Maybe they don't want to repeat the riots."
Denise Martin seemed to anticipate a question. Her features are light, her ethnic identity not readily obvious. "You can put down that I'm black," she said.
Well, I thought so. But it was nice not to have to ask.
I had embarked for Universal Studios and CityWalk, hoping I might find a tourist who was blissfully unaware of O.J. Simpson. Last year, I shared a lunch table in Washington, D.C., with a Scandinavian woman who told me she had arrived in America, checked into her hotel, turned on the TV and seen this strange police chase. "I thought, 'Who is this Simpson?' "
Her ignorance was somehow reassuring. On Tuesday morning, however, it wasn't long before I realized that my search would be fruitless. So I just ambled about, collecting reaction and occasionally offering my own.
Outside the entrance to Universal Studios, children clamored to pose with Fievel, rodent hero of "An American Tail." This warm and fuzzy lawman refused comment.
Beth Harwood of San Francisco, watching her daughter and niece pose with Fievel, expressed mild surprise. "Personally, I thought he did it." Harwood, who is white, thought an acquittal was a strong possibility, but said, "I wasn't sure because Judge Ito didn't let the jury know Fuhrman had pleaded the Fifth."
To this I offered a pet theory: What if the jury knew that Fuhrman had invoked his right against self-incrimination and that "the system" was denying them this information? What could be better for the defense's conspiracy theory than to have the jury believe "the system" was out to get Simpson?
At All Star Collectibles, Leonard Croskey, who is black, was one of four people I met Tuesday morning who theorized that Simpson didn't commit the killings, but knows much more than he has said. O.J. was guilty of something, they thought, but for some reason they couldn't picture him as the man with the knife.
At Out Takes Photography, Frank Gamboa, a 19-year-old sales rep, expressed no such doubts. "A sad day for the judicial system," summed up Gamboa, who is Latino.
Near him was a blue background against which customers can pose in movie scenes. One was "Friday the 13th," with the hockey-mask-wearing villain, Jason, holding a blade to a victim's throat.
"Some people," Gamboa said, pointing to Jason, "say we should put O.J. here."
"I truly believe in the criminal justice system," Jack Fry had told me shortly before the verdict was read. "I believe in the integrity of the citizens on the jury."
Fry, who is white, is a paramedics captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department, and is based in South-Central. He was standing to my right in the "Auditions" lounge. He was attending a firefighters conference at the Sheraton. Now about 80 people had gathered.
"From what I watched--and I watched fairly close--I believe he's guilty."
Moments later, we learned that the jury believed otherwise.
"No!" gasped a friend of Denise Martin. "I told you," Martin whispered in reply.
Mostly, there was silence. "Well," one man asked, "do you think he'll be on Monday Night Football?" Nobody laughed.