The Life and Sins of O.J. Simpson

From the November 1994 issue of Esquire magazine:

The living room is dim, the shades drawn—against what? Bright sunlight or a storm of scandal? Outside, dozens of well-groomed stucco homes accumulate row after row to form the black middle-class San Francisco suburb of Bayview. To the north lies the ghetto of Portrero Hill, boyhood home of the Juice. I am not sure how I ended up on Mama Simpson's couch. Back at Union Square, I hailed a taxi and gave the driver O.J.'s mom's last known address, never for a moment thinking she'd be here. I guess I figured she would have been evacuated to quarters safe from predators from the press. But when I arrived, visitors were making their way up to the little house for a prayer meeting, and I was sort of swept in on a wave of brotherly love. Shirley finishes reading the formal statement with a flourish. She hands me a photocopied sheet with instructions on how to send a prayer to the family. "If you refer to a scripture out of the Bible," it reads, "please write it out." Her eyes burn with something of a fervor, ignited either by a faith in God or a similarly strong faith in her superman brother. Her position, of course, is that the latter is innocent of the charges against him. Does she believe it? Once, in his youth, O.J. boasted to his family, "Someday you're gonna read about me." To which Shirley rejoined, "In a police report." Eunice Simpson told this story to journalists covering her son's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Back then, it was safe to joke about how easily O.J. could have gone to the devil. He was born Orenthal James, the namesake, it is said, of an obscure French actor. Only his mother ever called him by that peculiar appellation. To his contemporaries, he was O Jay and later O.J. or simply Juice. His father, Jimmy Lee Simpson, worked as a porter at a private club. He abandoned the family when O.J. was scarcely more than a toddler, leaving Eunice to support four children on her earnings as an orderly in a psychiatric ward. By all accounts, Eunice displayed a fierce maternal solicitude toward the baby Orenthal, who had developed rickets soon after his birth, a condition that left him bowlegged and pigeon-toed. "The doctors kept telling me that they should operate to straighten his legs," Eunice once told a reporter, "but I didn't like that idea and said so." Instead, she massaged his limbs daily with oil and put him in braces (which, legend has it, she fashioned out of scrap metal). He shuffled around the house in the contraption until the age of five. His deformed extremities earned him the nickname Pencil Pins. He was also called Headquarters and Waterhead because his head was too large for his body, making him appear hydrocephalic. In 1976, O.J. admitted to a Playboy interviewer that he had been "very sensitive" about these taunts. "But then my legs improved," he recalled, "and I got to be a very rowdy character." Rowdy is a euphemism for something, though just what is now obscured by the cobwebs of mythology. O.J. would describe himself variously as a fun-loving rascal or the "baddest cat" on the Hill" depending on the public-relations needs of the moment. It is probably accurate to say he was not a hardcore hoodlum. It is also fair to assume that he was a genuinely obnoxious punk. This impression was confirmed by lifelong buddy Al Cowlings during their days at USC. "We played a lot of sandlot football together," Simpson's lifelong buddy Al Cowlings once said. "But I never liked to play on the same team with O.J.... He was a halfway bully." In a subsequent interview, O.J. weighed in with an equally unflattering view of A.C. "Al ran around with the submissive group," he joked. "I ran around with a bunch of cutthroats. They didn't want to mess with us." At fourteen or so, they joined their first "fighting gang," the Persian Warriors. There, O.J. got his sexual initiation at the hands of the ladies' auxiliary, the Persian Parettes. He also got busted stealing from the local liquor store. A neighborhood youth leader

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