The family friend who was once referenced consistently as a point of pride was distinctly re-categorized in June 1994. Our family was split on how we should feel about the most famous and infamous man of that year, O. J. Simpson. The way we negotiated our relationship through the trial of the century represented a significant marker in how I perceived my father. The man whose opinion I treasured more than anyone else's now believed something that was so unfathomably incorrect; it dealt a crushing blow to how I viewed my father's credibility and left me forever changed.
Walking down an impossibly narrow staircase into the basement of my parents’ house in Buffalo, NY, the first thing that will catch your eye is a row of industrial Singer® pedal sewing machines to your left, and a large workbench for cutting fabric directly in front of you. Above the waist-high workbench is a corkboard where, if you look hard enough, you'll find one Christmas card. That well-worn Christmas card originally had snowflakes made of glitter, but at some point over the past twenty-seven years they've fallen off. It simply reads, “To Sam and Fam, Merry Xmas, O. J. Simpson.”
O. J. Simpson was a family friend who I never met, but he knew my name. My father is a tailor who ran his own shop, and being that football players have a tough time buying off-the-rack at local menswear stores, my father became the unofficial official tailor for the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s. The only name from that football team that still resonates is O. J. Simpson, for whom my father made suits for throughout the 70s, 80s, and until right about… June 1994. For the uninitiated, that's when O. J. killed two people, allegedly.
My memory of the chase in the white Ford Bronco, the trial, the acquittal, and the civil suit include an immutable commentary track, courtesy of O. J.'s tailor, my father. I remember during the trial, when the channel turned to CourTV, I'd hear my father exclaim, “I made him that one!” signaling that one of Dad's creations was being seen by millions. We couldn't really figure out how to monetize the publicity though…. I remember making the joke that my father should put a sign in the window of his old shop: “John Granelli Ltd., the preferred clothier of celebrity murderers.”
Dad turned to me, and in a flippant but direct tone, he said, “What? He didn't do it.”
“Dad! Yes he did! Have you been watching?”
“No he didn't. He's a nice guy. He could never do those things.”
“Apparently he could, and he did. O. J.'s guilty.”
“You have no idea what you're talking about, you don't know him, I've talked to him; he didn't do it.”
“Just because you've talked to someone doesn't make them innocent. His blood was at the crime scene.”
“He's a really nice guy. He always asked about you guys. Remember he signed that picture for you?”
As the trial progressed I watched Dad dismiss DNA evidence by saying, “They screw that stuff up all the time.” I heard him say, “His hands were all screwed up from football, he couldn't hold a knife,” and the pièce de résistance, “They say he beat her before, but she looked happy when I met her.” When O. J. was found not guilty, I was in the middle of a school day, and remember dreading the inevitable “I told you” that would come as soon as I got home. Dad carried a self-satisfied look when I did see him, and before he spoke I mumbled, “He still did it.”
This marked the first prolonged disagreement that I had with my father, and remains a point of contention twenty years later. The man whose words had been canon for all of my life had a chink in the heroic Dad armor for the first time. All at once he was stubborn, unwilling to listen, and now I had to take his perspectives with a grain of salt. The disagreements come much more frequently now as he parrots conservative talk radio and dismisses academia as “heaven for liberals.” I think back to that stupid trial, that stupid murderer, those stupid suits, and that stupid Christmas card hanging over my father's workbench as a reminder of the time I stopped believing everything he said, and for the first time, saw him as dead wrong.