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Famous houseguest passes throguh town likw a blond fog PLANET KATO


Some four hours into the early morning gig, his famously frazzled mop even more Oster-ized than usual and his voice fading faster than a West Coast tan taken east, Kato Kaelin was given a couple of bottles of juice. One grapefruit, one orange.

He didn't touch the O.J.

Kato -- does even Marcia Clark call him "Mr. Kaelin?" -- apparently was serious about his self-imposed moratorium yesterday on any form of O.J. crossing his lips. In Baltimore to appear on 98 Rock's morning show, the former Simpson houseguest refused to talk about the murders that catapulted him into stardom. Nor would he talk about the just-published book, "Kato Kaelin: The Whole Truth," which he initially cooperated with but now disavows; parts of it contradict his testimony in Mr. Simpson's trial for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend.

Instead, Kato just did his Kato thing -- his little Kato jokes (riffs on, predictably enough, hair and houseguesting), his little Kato mannerisms (caught-in-the-headlights eyes that dart around, exhaled phews of relief that seem to punctuate every successfully answered question), and simply his utter, total, sui generis Kato-ness.

Which proved more than enough to draw about 400 looky-sees to the Baja Beach Club downtown, some arriving even before the 6 a.m. start of the show, for a fleeting brush with one of biggest acts in the circus that surrounds the trial and threatens to submerge it. It was a mostly youthful crowd -- who else can drink beer when the rest of us haven't even had our first cup of coffee -- with a good dose of women with fuchsia nails and even worse bleach jobs than Kato's. Many snatched up the $20 T-shirts or $5 postcards 98 Rock printed to commemorate his visit -- the money went to a children's charity and entitled the buyer to stand in line to get an autograph, pose for a picture and exchange a bon mot or two.

Talking to Brian "Kato" Kaelin is like talking to a parent whose young child is in the same room, a pesky one who interrupts every attempt at a complete sentence. Except that Kato is both the adult starting the sentence and the child interrupting it. Odd little voices suddenly appear in mid-thought, funny accents, words you don't understand, jokes that are either beyond your comprehension or from an entirely different planet. You ask him his impression of Baltimore, and he starts to do . . . an actual impression.

Of course, a noisy, cavernous nightclub/bar -- the kind of frat-boy place where big-cupped brassieres dangle from one bar and equally endowed women stand on platforms selling beer from ice-filled tubs -- is hardly the place to study and scientifically assess the Kato phenomenon. Not with a local band, Honor Among Thieves, grunging away in one corner, 98 Rock's morning team of Byrd, Mark and Lopez raucously holding forth on a stage and Kato in the middle of it all, facing a whole line of people who, whoa, each have a pen and each seem to want, like, an autograph.

"Everything's great," Kato says of his visit to Baltimore, which began with a Sunday-night trip to the Orioles game. "The city's really . . ." Kato pauses, thinks, thinks some more, and comes up with the right word: "Clean. Isn't it clean here?"

For all his spacey, thoughtus-interruptus ways, Kato has a certain feckless charm. While some think he has exploited the situation for his own considerable ambitions, he still seems an innocent abroad in the land of celebrity, wondering how the heck did he get here even as he's thinking, hey, I kinda like it here.

"We went to the ballpark last night and within eight seconds all these people are yelling, 'Kato, Kato,' " says 98 Rock newsman Bob Lopez. "How does this guy ever go to a 7-Eleven for a Slurpee anymore?"

For his part, Kato says fame hasn't changed him. "I think if the person knows who they are before, it doesn't matter," he says. "If you have a good base to start with . . ."

Station officials declined to specify how much it cost them to fly Kato and a security person in to town, first class, put them up at an Inner Harbor hotel and pay his appearance fee. It probably paid off in publicity. Kato, in a black 98 Rock T-shirt, was photographed and videotaped by all sorts of local and national media, including "Hard Copy" and "Extra."

Kato arrived in town hot off an interview with Barbara Walters that aired on ABC's "20/20" show Friday. He was asked to account for the discrepancies between his trial testimony and the new "Kato Kaelin" book that author Marc Eliot says is based on 17 hours of taped interviews with the famous houseguest. In the book, Kato is quoted as giving a much more negative picture of O. J. Simpson than he did on the witness stand. He is quoted as saying Nicole Brown Simpson feared that her ex-husband would kill her one day, and that Mr. Simpson was angry at her for her attire and behavior at their daughter's dance recital the day of the murders. On "20/20," however, he accused Mr. Eliot of putting words in his mouth and insisted that his testimony was entirely truthful.

With Kato declining to discuss the book or the trial while he was in Baltimore, the sideshow aspects surrounding the case took over. Bizarrely enough, a 28-year-old Baltimorean named Mike Gabriel strolled the Baja Beach Club crowd and claimed to be engaged to Rosa Lopez, the maid who testified, though not very convincingly, that the former football star's white Bronco was parked outside his house the entire time the murders were committed. Mr. Gabriel's proof of his engagement? Well, it's as definitive as it gets in this case: He passed out copies of the June 6, 1995, edition of the Globe tabloid that tells his story, accompanied by a picture of him, Ms. Lopez and -- yes, it gets weirder -- a wooden dummy of Robin Quivers. (Mr. Gabriel, you see, looks like Howard Stern, which is why . . . oh, read it yourself if you're so interested.)

But Kato remained the star of the show, albeit a not-easily-explained star, even by those who came to see him yesterday. He is like Everest; They came to see him because, well, he was there.

"I can't even believe I'm here," says Donna Hansen, a recent University of Baltimore law school graduate. She does have a bit of an excuse: She is from pre-L.A. Katoland, suburban Milwaukee, and her older siblings actually went to high school with him.

"I just wanted to make sure he wasn't made of plastic," says her friend, Jennifer Kutcher.

Indeed, for many in the crowd, seeing Kato in real life after watching him on television was the draw. And guess what: Kato is one of those rare people who look exactly like they do on TV, neither taller nor shorter, fatter nor thinner, older nor younger. (Some of the layers of his shaggy hair seem to have grown out since last we saw him on the stand, although perhaps that's only in relation to the much longer and blonder locks of 98 Rock disc jockey Byrd.)

To everyone but DNA nerds, Kato has been the most interesting witness to date, or at least that was the consensus of this crowd.

"You get a lot of time to watch O. J.," Gino Hassan says of his job managing Vizzini's pizza in Joppa. "I got sucked into the whole thing."

For some reason, he brought a picture of a woman's breasts (in a bikini top) that he took at the Preakness for Kato to autograph. "I had to tell him how to spell 'Gino,' but he was still looking kind of spacey, so I also spelled, K-A-T-O," Mr. Hassan says with a laugh. Kato added his own little message, "Fresh produce, aisle 6!"

The only real body part that Kato autographed appeared to be the bare chest of Brian McDonald of Dundalk, although casts and at least one pair of crutches were also proffered.

After four hours of signing his name and trading one-liners with the radio jocks, Kato was off, whisked away in a white stretch limo and headed for a photo shoot with Interview magazine. What is left, now that he's done Baltimore?

Rolling down the tinted window, he of course came up with the perfect response.


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