middle school

Where were you when the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced?


Where were you when the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced?

KPCC – which is, I regret, a long-distance listen for me these days – asked that question on their website the other day. Other than being abruptly reminded of the OJ fiasco by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a few months back, I hadn’t consciously or intentionally thought about all this since – gosh. I can’t even recall. Which is something I’m sure I would’ve thought impossible at the time given how OJ’s trial coverage was non-stop through every media venue that existed from the first moment every channel’s broadcast was interrupted to follow his white Bronco’s storied freeway drive.

My question for you: What is a current-day equivalent to the OJ trial? Is there anything happening today you’d place at that level of prominence or notoriety?

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I was in 8th grade and had gone to get something from my locker during class, when I passed an office with the door open and a radio on. No one was inside at the time, so I stood in the doorway and listened as the verdict was delivered.

My interest in the whole ordeal was actually fairly limited. Because the trial had been such a huge part of all avenues of media for such a long time by that point, however, it was still shocking to finally hear a verdict, even if for no other reason than that it meant this was all (basically) over. It was like getting a surprise finale episode of a show everyone had been watching, but which they feared might never go off the air and they’d be stuck with it forever.

I was only there listening for a minute or so since I happened to have passed that door at exactly the right time to catch the announcement, so as soon as it was over I went back to class – Mrs. Doty’s social studies class on the second floor of the old Heritage Christian High School building in West Allis, WI – and blurted out something about how they’d just said on the radio that OJ wasn’t guilty.

I remember believing the whole time that he really *was* guilty, but the feeling in my chest at the news was something like… relief?

Shortly thereafter, the principal made an announcement to the whole school about it over the intercom system, since the trial had been such an enormous part of everything for so long by then and so many people were eager to hear how it turned out. It would’ve been like suddenly hearing news today that the primary elections were being cancelled.

It was just such a constant ordeal, the ubiquity of which almost cannot be overstated. You would have had to TRY to not hear about this trial, and even then it would take some spectacular luck to be successful in that attempt. Well – spectacular luck and perhaps more than a pinch of willful oblivion. There just wasn’t as much new news flooding in at the same speed then as there is now that anyone can record, report on, and share their stories and findings. This trial wasn’t *all* there was on the news then, but most days… boy you sure wouldn’t know it.

Tomato: A dream


“True love is the greatest thing in the world. Except for a nice MLT– mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich– where the mutton is lean and the tomato is ripe.” Miracle Max (William Goldman)

Always a bridesmaid…

I dreamed last night it had been arranged that three other women and I should marry four boorish young brothers from a wealthy family that was having trouble marrying off its sons. I found myself in a church I didn’t know, using a poorly lit room that had been converted into a dressing room for the four of us and our bridesmaids. All the girls were talking and laughing except me. I didn’t know what was happening and had no one to ask as I stood there alone with no bridesmaids.

I slipped my dress on over my head. Where the other girls were putting on traditional, white gowns with lace and delicate embroidery, mine was an ill-fitting smokey blue taffeta. As soon as the other girls were engrossed enough in their chatter to not notice my absence, I ducked out through a side door and into a dimly lit hallway. I was sneaking out because I had to find someone to whom I could tell the truth and seek help. The truth was: I didn’t know which of the four brothers I was engaged to and I didn’t want to go through with the wedding. I had to find someone to ask for the name and appearance of the brother I was to marry so I could at least walk up to the right one when my turn came.

I don’t know why I didn’t choose to just leave. Maybe I couldn’t?

As I walked the hallway in search of someone to talk to I remembered a home movie I had been shown of the oldest of the brothers. In it he was sitting in an easy chair in the living room of one of the family’s summer cabins. He wore a shabby, pale blue sweatshirt from the 80s bearing an old Pepsi logo on the middle of the chest. His blonde hair was greasy, thin, and spiked. His doughy face was mostly expressionless in its perch above his myriad chins and his stomach slipping out past the hem of his sweatshirt. The video ended when he got up to check on some activity happening behind the person with the camera. I hoped this wasn’t the brother for me.

Squirrely boys will be squirrely boys

I found a young man helping out back stage for the service. He seemed laid back and fairly unconcerned about the whole event. Thinking he was probably uninvolved enough not to rat me out, I confessed I didn’t know which brother to go to  when my turn came and asked if he could advise me. He was able to tell me I was engaged to the youngest of the four who it turned out was little more than a child. I asked what he looked like so I would know him when I saw him. He said he was “short, kinda squirrely,” and that he was being brought over with his small, black poodle on the family’s helicopter at that very moment.

My heart sank. My stomach dropped. My head maintained altitude. I thanked the young man and kept walking.

I never did find the boy.

I came upon a set of wide double doors that led into a room that was a cross between a concert stadium and a sanctuary. I wandered in the semi-darkness looking for the youngest brother while listening to the ceremonies of the first two girls. I expected the ceremonies to continue as I hadn’t reached my own unfortunate turn yet, but then, abruptly, it all ended. Two of the brothers had never shown up, so two of us didn’t get married. I was instantly relieved because I hadn’t wanted to marry this person, this boy, when I didn’t even know him, but humiliated I’d been left at the alter with thousands of people present to witness my abandonment by a child.

I went back into the dressing room to change and found that all of the girls were gone and the furniture had been changed back to suit the room’s original purpose. It was a choir classroom and a young woman with dark hair was directing a choir of school age boys in dark ties and white dress shirts. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone in the room. I said I just needed to find someone and promised to keep out of their way if they’d just let me through. All eyes were on me. I heard the students whispering, talking about what had just happened in the ceremony, snickering. I felt the teacher’s glare on the back of my head as I hurried by.

I passed through a door on the other side of the classroom and found myself in the back hallway of a small coffee shop. I made my way through it into the light of the coffee shop proper. To my right there was a girl reading at one of the tables, and straight ahead of me there was a man about my age working behind the counter. I walked up to the counter and explained my frustrating situation to the man; that it had been arranged that I should marry a young boy I didn’t know, that he’d never shown up, and that now I couldn’t even find the other girls I’d been with before the ceremony since they all left while I was away. He told me the same thing had happened to his boss,  a woman named Bonnie whom he spoke of with great affection. He said she owned the coffee shop and had been engaged to be married to one of these four brothers as well even though she had a good thirty years on even the eldest of them. He said she hadn’t even shown up herself.

Knowing that, it suddenly all seemed so silly now. So forgettable. Knowing I wasn’t alone, and that the situation could’ve been even more bizarre, did so much to soothe my worry as I gratefully accepted the fact that I hadn’t gotten stuck in something horrible and so could go back to normal life at my own pace.

I thanked the man and turned to leave when somehow I found myself talking to him on my cell phone. He was so pleasant, so friendly, such a change from these strangers I kept running into who didn’t know me, who made plans about my life on my behalf, and who then disappeared before I could get any satisfactory resolutions to my concerns. He felt like a friend.

We hadn’t been talking long when the man asked if I’d come over the next morning before work for some gum.

“Gum?” I laughed.

“Yeah, you know. Just– come on over before work and hang out. It’ll be fun. I’m afraid all I’ve got on me is gum so it’s all I can offer.” I could hear him smiling.

“…the lamb was sure to go.”

While still talking to him on my cell phone I wandered back down the hall I’d first entered at the shop and saw a door that was open just a crack. Through that gap I saw I had reached the shop’s office, and there inside was the guy I was talking to seated at the desk, talking to me and grinning. I opened the door and said it was just too hard to meet before work but would he like to hang out now? He said he would and suggested he could show me around the building. On our little tour we came upon a mysteriously cavernous storage room, like a warehouse designed by Mark Danielewski. My new friend called me over to see a red toy piano he’d found and excitedly began dinging out songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Several keys were missing, however, so none of the songs sounded quite right and we ended up not staying very long.

Before I knew it we were back at the outside door of the shop and I was saying I needed to head home. I realized I held in my hands a white piece of paper and a yellow CD I’d picked up in the warehouse. I handed them back to the man saying I didn’t even realize I’d taken them when he offered to walk me to my car. Thrilled to have finally found a friend in a dream I said yes. We walked outside into a bright summer day where I discovered we were near a harbor full of sailboats. The surrounding park was dotted with children on bicycles, sun bathers, and ice cream stands. It was idyllic. I never wanted to leave.

When life gives you tomatoes…

As we walked my new friend offered me a few pre-cut bites of tomato so sweet and ripe his fingers were dripping with juice and seeds. It wasn’t something I’d normally eat as a snack, but I was so happy for the company and the beautiful day I accepted a few pieces and popped the first one into my mouth. It was sweet, and melted on my tongue like soft chocolate. We kept walking, laughing, trying to talk between bites.

As we neared a line of trees separating the park from the rows of cars that were our ultimate destination, I found I couldn’t talk around the tomato at all now. As I’d chewed it had begun to swell, mutton-like, in my mouth with each bit, and had lost its pleasant flavor to the point where it tasted like nothing at all. I turned my back to my friend so I could spit my current piece out into the grass. He didn’t mind; he just laughed.

He asked if we could meet again and I was suddenly overcome with sadness because I knew we couldn’t. I wracked my brain for ways to make it work, half aware I was dreaming and so this was impossible, half confident this was reality and there was no good reason I couldn’t return. I smiled, said I’d try. “But you shouldn’t wait for me,” I explained, feeling like a heel for not being honest with him by admitting I’d never be here again.

He thanked me for our nice afternoon and asked if he could give me a kiss goodbye; I nearly cried. “Of course,” I said. He gave me a a quick kiss, smiled, and turned to walk back through the park to the coffee shop. I kissed the back of his shoulder as he took his first step away, turned towards my car, and forced myself awake.