Brentwood, California, population 35,798, is the Los Angeles district where Marilyn Monroe's ambiguously debated death occurred thirty-two years previously in the early evening hours of August 4, 1962. Brentwood is also the psychic nexus of the O.J. Simpson/Nicole Brown saga, somewhere between 10.00 p.m and 11.00 p.m., June 12 1994.
Brentwood does not exist. Not technically. It is a hilly, canyoned Los Angeles suburb - a ZIP code: 90049. Letters sent to Brentwood will be returned to sender. Roughly 250 letters a day end up in the small, Northern California town of Brentwood, ZIP code 94513.
In the daytime, Brentwood is almost exclusively a city of women old and young, focused on a small band of retail strip along San Vicente Boulevard. There are women peppered with hunky aspiring actors and slinky actresses springing about from auditions to gym.
Brentwood gives the impression of being a 1970s future utopia, one with a secret at its core, perhaps a pleasant secret and perhaps an unpleasant secret, but a secret that nonetheless remains fiercely protected. Brentwood, like Palm Springs, offers a version of an alternative future that might have occurred had certain factors not continued unchecked, futures that daily seem less probable.
It was into this neighborhood that Nicole Brown Simpson landed after her divorce, in a $650,000 condo near the noisy southwest corner of Bundy and Dorothy, on Bundy, a condo that would cost maybe $350,000 were it in most other parts of the city.
One Brentwood resident who grew up in Brentwood Heights (above Sunset: equidistant from Monroe's and Simpson's houses), now in his twenties, calls lower Brentwood a divorcée ghetto. Three of his best friends from high school had parents who divorced, and all three mothers ended up "in the ghetto. Only my own mother [also a divorcée] got to keep the house. She's the exception."
If people here are annoyed with O.J. Simpson, possible double murder aside, it is only because he broke the covenant of invisibility. The corner of Rockingham and Ashford is going to be a tourist attraction for the next one hundred years, like it or not. Will this effect land values? Yes. But in which way, who is to know? Michelle Pfeiffer, although she lives below Sunset, has already chosen to move away to avoid the hubbub.
Just outside the Union 76 station at the corner of Bundy and San Vicente, a donation of a dollar, say, purchases you a photocopied sheet of "Poems for Nicole Simpson" by a local street entrepreneur wearing a felt-tip-pen-on-cardboard sign saying: MORE POEMS ABOUT NICOLE SIMPSON. Business in brisk. Locals say, "At least he's offering something original and new."
On San Vicente Boulevard, dark rumors float about Brentwood's no-fat cafes, phone machines and the brightly lit aisles of the Vicente Market - rumors too dark, too dreadful to mention, for to speak the word is to give life, and who will spawn this monster?
Perhaps these rumors are true. Perhaps time will tell. Perhaps it will all be forgotten.
Meanwhile to hinder the "lookie-loo's", thru-traffic is blocked on both sides of Dorothy. An LAPD officer beside his motorcycle keeps traffic flowing.
The front of the alleyway in which the bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman were found has been screened off by a dozen or so dwarf plantings of Australian tree ferns and Nile lilies behind a new enclosure of green-plasticated chain-link fence that separates the walkway from the sidewalk (this part of Brentwood has sidewalks).
Signs put up by agitated neighbors saying "GET A LIFE" and "GO HOME THERE IS NOTHING 2 SEE" have been taken down. By August 4, late afternoon traffic no longer concertinas to a grind the way it did in the initial sensationalist frenzy of a few weeks ago. But it still slows down.
There are a few joggers and dog walkers - Brentwood's only two species of residential pedestrian - and all are wearing Walkmans.
It was a dogwalker who first found the murdered bodies.
Polaroids from the Dead
(London: Flamingo 1997)