One day in Nevada, 2017
Oct. 1, 2017, in Nevada will be remembered, at least as long as anything that finds a place in the collective memory of Americans.
O.J. is paroled
If you’ve perused the Internet over the past week, you’ve probably seen “The Juice is Loose” on a few hundred unimaginative postings. The reference, of course, is to the fact that O.J. Simpson was released from Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada this past Sunday morning. Mr. Simpson acquired the nickname — a reference to Orange Juice and his “O.J.” initials — during his years as a football player, a running back for University of Southern California (USC) in college and the Buffalo Bills during most of his years in the N.F.L. “Juice” is also a colloquialism for “electricity,” and the Bills’ offensive line was known as “The Electric Company.”
In Simpson’s case, “O.J.” stands for Orenthal James. I’ve never known anyone else named Orenthal. Many people assumed his middle name was “Julius,” perhaps because of the association with “Orange Julius.” I’ve only known of a few people named Julius. Of course, there was Julius Caesar, the leader who was stabbed to death by the Roman Senate. Then, there was Julius Marx, who used the name “Groucho” to make his mark in show business. And finally there was a fellow named Julius LaRosa who is probably best remembered as being the only singer to have been fired on live television. He had been a regular on Arthur Godfrey’s shows until LaRosa hired an agent and appeared on other venues, both having been strictly forbidden by Godfrey.
I confess to having been a fan of O.J., starting when he was at USC. O.J. was a winner of the Heisman trophy (1968) and an inductee into both the College Football Hall of Fame (1983) and the Professional Football Hall of Fame (1985). However, I rarely watched his games for the Bills. Buffalo reminded me of the cold winters that I lived through during my childhood in New York. The worst being when I was a cadet at Xavier Military Academy and was required to attend our football games on Randall Island where the wind-chill factor made igloos seem like desirable abodes.
After O.J. retired from football, he developed a successful career in television and, especially, movies. I watched his performance in “The Towering Inferno” when my ex and I occupied a room on the 46th floor of the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, in the mid-1970’s. The movie was about a disastrous fire in a high-rise building. I didn’t sleep that night.
About a year later, I admired his performance as Kadi Touray, the father of a girl in Africa who is being courted by a young Kunta Kinte (supposedly the ancestor of American author Alex Haley) in the television mini-series “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” based on Haley’s wonderful novel.
Simpson also had significant roles in a number of movies through the 1970s and 1980s. Aside from his acting career, he provided commentary for “Monday Night Football” and appeared on “The NFL on NBC.” During its third season, O.J. was a “guest host” for “Saturday Night Live.”
In the early 1990s, Simpson played the leader of a group of former U.S. Navy SEALs in a two-hour pilot for NBC. Before the show, called “Frogmen,” was scheduled to be aired, O.J. was arrested on suspicion of murdering his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. The ensuing trial has been called “The Trial of the Century.” I watched every televised minute of the fiasco and believe that he was guilty. However, his “dream team” of attorneys managed to secure a “not guilty” verdict from the jury. Simpson’s prison stint was due to a verdict concerning an armed robbery in Las Vegas in 2007. Now a free man, on parole, he is theoretically bankrupt, although he may still be receiving a $28,000 annual pension from the NFL. And that can be claimed by the Goldman family.
Gunman shoots hundreds
Later in the day, about 22,000 people were attending a concert at the Route 91 Harvest Festival adjacent to the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. While country music artist Jason Aldean was performing “When She Says Baby,” the first shots were heard. According to videos that were monitored after the incident, the volley lasted 9 seconds.
People seemed to think that the noise was caused by fireworks or a glitch in the sound system because the initial shots were followed by 37 seconds of silence from the weapon. However, there was some panicked screaming from the crowd. Then, the firing began again. When CNN interviewed Jack Owen, a country singer who was onstage at the time, he said, “This is not an exaggeration: This shooting was going on for at least 10 minutes. It was nonstop.”
Police identified the shooter as Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old multimillionaire who lived a quiet life with his girlfriend in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada. On Oct. 1, he occupied Suite 32135 of Mandalay Bay, a room that had a sweeping view from its two windows of the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds, where the concert was held.
A total of 23 guns was recovered from his room, including automatic rifles. On Monday, an additional 18 firearms were found in the Mesquite house, along with explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be mixed with certain fuels to make a bomb, was found in his car. After searching a second house near Reno, police came up with a total of 49 guns.
Sheriff Lombardo of Clark County said, “We believe the individual killed himself prior to our entry.” Additionally, police believe that Paddock was a “lone wolf,” not connected to any terrorist group. At this time, there is no apparent motive to his killing spree. But, according to ABC news, 59 people are dead and 527 are injured, some by gun shots, some by having been trampled, some by accidents connected with the attempt to flee the killing field.
I wish that I could say that none of my heroes, like O.J. Simpson, will turn to violent criminality. I wish that I could say that there will never be an event as horrendous as that which just occurred in Las Vegas. But, I’ve lived too long, been disappointed by too many heroes, and seen too many senseless slaughters to be so naïve.