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In unusual Brentwood, a most unusual day Once-popular Simpson takes refuge at home in the eye of the storm


LOS ANGELES -- No longer behind bars, America's most famous acquitted man spent his first full day of freedom yesterday in a house that was ringed by TV crews, in a community that was chock full of police and among neighbors who wished him the very worst.

No surprise, then, that O. J. Simpson breathed in the sweet air of liberty -- suitably air-conditioned, naturally -- solely within the confines of his Brentwood mansion yesterday.

Sixteen months after his arrest in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman, the former football star is back home in one of Los Angeles' manicured neighborhoods. There were no welcome wagons yesterday, and there won't be any for a long time.

Can O. J. remake himself here, and find acceptance?

It's true enough that Brentwood, perched on a hillside above Sunset Boulevard, is a brazen triumph of the artificial over the natural. In a place that used to be as arid as everywhere else in Southern California, lush green lawns and Eastern flowers proliferate.

And it's true, too, that Brentwood is in a city that has always lived by the possibilities. If yesterday's promise turned sour, just dream up a new one for tomorrow. Los Angeles wasn't built by people who worried about what has already passed.

Nonetheless, Mr. Simpson may be in for a rough time.

"If I saw him here," said a neighbor, Julie Koblin, "I'd spit on him."

"I'd kick him as hard as I could," said another.

"I would start laughing," said a waitress, Mara Jeremic, in one of the faux-Italian cafes on San Vicente Boulevard. "He can't live here. He's a joke."

On Rockingham Avenue, the photographers and television crews pressed around the Simpson mansion, mike booms swaying gently overhead, waiting for an appearance that didn't come. The cameras had a terrific view of Mr. Simpson's ivy-covered wall, his shingle roof (which needs a little work), a single yellow rose blossom, a lemon tree and two eucalyptus trees. Overhead, the California sky was bluish, shading to tan around the edges.

The police -- with their emblazoned motto, "to serve and to protect," in nonjudgmental, lower-case type -- were cheerfully keeping everyone in line. Ms. Koblin came strolling by with a friend and neighbor, Marsha Brander.

"There couldn't have been a more charming man," said Ms. Brander. In the old days, everybody ran into Mr. Simpson on San Vicente Boulevard, where the cafes and stores are. Mr. Simpson, she said, was always friendly, always willing to stop and talk, always cheerful and gracious.

"Oh, he was a delicious man," said Ms. Brander.

Mrs. Simpson, before her murder, was considered by some to be too sexy and too snobby.

"Nobody liked her," Ms. Brander said.

But now, Ms. Brander and Ms. Koblin say they are determined to drive Mr. Simpson out of Brentwood. They say the neighborhood will never return to normal until he has left.

"The restaurants on San Vicente will never serve him," Ms. Brander said. "He must know that."

"Hopefully, he wouldn't be able to live here any longer," said another neighbor, who gave her name only as Alex. "Maybe that will be the cost of murder."

As a permanent Brentwood resident, Mr. Simpson also would have to live with the palpable memory of his former wife, whose home is nearby and which is now turning into something of a shrine for those who take exception to the verdict.

If he does decide to leave, Brentwood would still have its share of well-known residents. Two blocks away, on Bristol Avenue, is the Spanish-style home of Mayor Richard Riordan. A block farther, on Cliffwood Avenue, is the weathered-gray contemporary of Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles district attorney who failed to win the Rodney King case and the Menendez brothers case, and has now lost the Simpson case.

What would the Simpson house bring if placed on the open market?

"Three to four," said Ms. Koblin.

"With that pool and tennis court and the corner lot? Four to five," rejoined Ms. Brander.

"And we're not talking hundreds of thousands," Ms. Koblin helpfully pointed out.

This being Los Angeles, it seemed only prudent to head a few miles west, to the beach community of Venice, for another word on O. J. Among the roller-bladers, body piercers and hemp-legalization advocates -- all of whom seemed to be taking a more muted interest in the Simpson case than most in Los Angeles -- are astrologers, palmists, tarot card readers and psychics.

Vern Morton advertises his skill at prophecy, so the question of Mr. Simpson's future was put to him professionally.

"He's going to lose everything," Mr. Morton replied without so much as a furrowed brow or a hand to the temple. "He won't be able to handle it. He'll get sick and die."

But perhaps not for a year, he said, or even two.

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