Lillian Crocker couldn't get waited on. The salesmen at Circuit City off Route 40 in Baltimore County were crowded around televisions watching the O. J. Simpson hearing.
And so, it seemed, was everybody. The preliminary hearing from a Los Angeles courtroom permeated homes, offices, shops and bars throughout the Baltimore region for the second day yesterday.
Some viewers were hooked by the mystery of the thing. Others were intrigued at seeing an actual courtroom drama unfold -- minute details and all -- instead of a scripted, sanitized Perry Mason version.
Still others had made up their minds about Mr. Simpson's guilt or innocence and watched to root for their side.
Some simply got sucked in because nothing else was on.
Mrs. Crocker, 37, a West Baltimore resident shopping for a television for her daughter, who just graduated from high school, eventually got waited on. But first she watched a few minutes of testimony and said:
"There's a good mystery story here, and I'm anxious to see how it comes out."
Two salesmen in the video department of Circuit City already have written the ending.
"The media have already convicted the man," said Gary D. Sollers, 27, of Owings Mills. "I think you've got the prosecution and the media against O. J. It's not the people against O. J. Simpson.
"The people who believe he did it are probably racist."
Although Mr. Sollers and his co-worker, Demetiry Johnson, 23, also of Owings Mills, watched intently, they said they resented the fact that a black man's troubles dominated daytime TV.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn't be such a big deal," Mr. Johnson said.
The one television at McKoy's Barber Shop in Edmondson Village was tuned to the hearing. It didn't take two barbers long to explain why everybody was mesmerized.
"Because of who he is," Winfield Taylor, 22, said succinctly.
"Because he's a superstar," added Sherrod Foster, 33.
From those two declarations, however, an uproarious debate erupted. At times five young men shouted at once.
Statements such as these emerged clearly:
"The whole country is based on money and power. If you got no money, you got no power. If you got no power, you got nothing."
"They look down upon us. We're black. We're poor."
The discussion escalated in a flash from the O. J. Simpson case to the plight of black people.
You couldn't hear what was being said on television. That no longer mattered in this city barbershop.
At the Judge's Bench, a bar in Ellicott City, Bobby Roche, 44, a former quarterback at Towson State University, watched because he had met Mr. Simpson twice -- at the Touchdown Club in Washington and at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore for a Christmas party.
"O. J. was one of the few athletes you thought of as pure," said Mr. Roche, who lives in Elkridge and owns an insurance company. "He was like the All-American person -- always cheerful and upbeat.
"I never even knew about the wife-beating until this came out."
Mr. Roche said he watched for another reason as well: His children have peppered him with questions about the case, and he's trying to keep informed. He has three sons -- one 16 and twins age 10.
"They want to know how a person like him could do that," Mr. Roche said. "And they want to know: Is he getting the same treatment as any other person would get?"
Mr. Roche said he's answered as clearly as possible, but the explanations become murky.
And that's as it should be, said Barbara Parkinson, because the judicial system is murky. Ms. Parkinson, who lives in Columbia and does title searches, said she's glad Americans are getting to see the real justice system, warts and all, and not "the Perry Mason view."
Mr. Roche chimed in that not everyone agreed. People complained about missing their soap operas.
"This is just another version of a soap opera," said Teresa Bildstein, the bartender at the Judge's Bench. "Anyway, it beats the hell out of watching golf."