Friday, June 16, 2006

My Life With Charles Manson Chapter the Seventh

Chapter 7

If acid does anything, it dissolves filters and buffers through which perceptions are ordinarily channeled. Three-dimensional physical reality is suddenly expanded. It puts you in direct contact with the energies all around you; nothing is dead or inanimate. It magnifies and expands your awareness in all directions at once—a grain of sand becomes a planet, a single voice becomes a symphony. If you resist it, the slightest fear can become a nightmare. These energies fuse and you see yourself, not as separate, but as part of the great kaleidoscopic whole of life, melt-twisted and free of pretension in timeless spirals of movement. You see that what was and will always be, is. With these filters removed, you are no longer divorced from what you perceive. Knowing this makes it easier to understand how Charlie was able to get inside people's heads; there were no barriers to obstruct him; his energies moved in and out like the tide; he was everywhere at once. When he said, "No sense makes sense," and "I am you and you are me," he was, in terms of acid consciousness, absolutely correct. When he came to you in love, there was beauty. But when the demon took control, it was frightening.

I would not forget the look on Charlie's face the night he choked me. The episode confused me, made me more fearful and at the same time more committed to Charlie, or if not to Charlie specifically, to what was happening to me in the relationship. Years later, I read The Autobiography of a Yoga and was struck by the story of a young man who went into the Himalayas searching for a guru. When he found the guru he asked to become a disciple, saying that his life had lost all meaning. He said, too, that he had ultimate faith in the guru's knowledge and powers. As a test of that faith the guru said simply, "Then jump off the mountaintop." The young man did so, and his apprenticeship began.

Charlie had taught me something. I had faced my fears and had gained knowledge. Yet, there was always the enigma of contradiction—love and hate, elation and rage. Somehow the resolution of those opposites seemed at the core of my own spiritual growth, and while I little understood the dynamics of it, I was instinctively drawn to it. I had seen the split in Charlie, had observed him as both saint and Satan; perhaps it was those elements of my own psyche which responded. While there was never talk of revolution or murder during that first summer (Helter-Skelter didn't materialize until three months later), I had certainly tasted Charlie's rage as well as the intimations. I had seen the monster. But because my own ego was under such assault via the programming session within the Family, I wasn't sure just who I was looking at: was it Charlie? Was it me? Was it the rest of the Family? Or was it something more awesome than one of us?

The morning after my acid trip, I took the pickup into town for George. I was still uneasy and spaced-out, driving down the Ventura freeway. I started to change lanes and glanced into the rearview mirror. I started to change lanes and glance into the rearview mirror. Suddenly, all the headlights behind me became glassy, glaring eyes and the cars took on their proper proportions. I saw them for what they were: living, breathing robots. Their grilles twisted into leering smiles—the gleaming chrome teeth of civilization. And there I was sitting inside one of them myself doing sixty-five mph. I pulled off the freeway onto Ventura Boulevard. I felt sick. Yet, even after I had parked, I was aware of cars everywhere—stationed in lots, along curbs, hoisted atop hydraulic jacks, lurking in closed garages where I couldn't see them—thousands, millions of them in every color. The world had been transformed into concrete to accommodate them. The air was polluted by them. I got out of the truck and puked in the gutter outside a market in Canoga Park, then I drove back to Spahn's on the back roads. When I told Charlie later that morning, he took me down to Malibu and we sat on the beach and watched the sea.

Months later, it occurred to me that nearly everyone in the Manson Family came from the L.A. area or someplace like it: cemented in by freeways, tract homes, shopping centers, and parking lots—living in an atmosphere polluted perhaps beyond redemption by machines and the corporate monster. No wonder the youth of the sixties had flipped out to go searching for their souls. They had lost contact with their parents, their blood, their roots, with nature and the very air they sought to breathe. Humanity had become an echo chamber in the middle of an L.A. freeway.

One of the most beautiful experiences of that summer happened early in August, just two weeks after the acid trip. I was sitting outside the ranch house with Clem under a eucalyptus tree, playing the guitar while watching a handful of blue jays squawking among the branches. I was feeling better about myself at that point, feeling as though I'd become stronger, yet more vulnerable to my own destiny. It was not a feeling of independence from Charlie, since I attributed much of my own growth to my relationship with him. Neither was it subservience to him. More, it was like a precarious balance that I had paid dearly to achieve.

It became clear that I enjoyed a level of awareness that few shared. Clem, for example, was at the other end of the spectrum; in some sense, he was the "dodo" of the Family. He acted most of the time like some bumbling vapid-eyed hippie who didn't care what happened. It wasn't that Clem was dumb, it was just that he adopted Charlie's program of playing the idiot (playing beneath the awareness of people) so completely that he became an idiot.

Still, he was always a likable character—unkempt, lanky, and awkward. He had long blond hair, freckles, and was fair-complexioned. Before joining the Family (shortly before I arrived at Spahn's), he'd lived with the hippies in the back ranch house. He played the guitar and sang pretty well, and unlike Brooks and Tex, was able to survive the sex scenes without undue trauma. He didn't tune in much to the nuances of the group sex, but when it came to a one-on-one situation, he could balls his brains loose.

We were both in good spirits that morning, feeling lucky to be alive: the day before, we'd borrowed Dennis Wilson's Ferrari, to make a garbage run and then to drive around the mountains near Spahn's. Clem was at the wheel, hauling ass up the mountain on Santa Susana Pass, speed-shifting and burning rubber on the curves. We came blazing up the hill into the steepest curve on the grade, doing about eighty. Clem was beside himself: "Yeeya-hoo! he bleated. I knew instinctively that we'd have to accelerate to make the turn. "Go for it, Clem…tromp the son of a bitch!" We boogied into the turn and my heart leaped into my throat. "Yeeow!" Clem bellowed. The tires squealed and Clem lost it, hitting the brakes. We skidded onto the shoulder, then spun out into the middle of the road before smacking into the guardrail. I thought it was all over. But we bounced of again and came shuddering to a halt in the middle of the road. The car looked like a crushed tin can, nothing left but a twisted mass of glistening metal and broken glass. Miraculously, we were both unhurt. We climbed out through the windows, then hiked back to the ranch. Dennis and Charlie were sitting under a tree in front of the ranch house along with Brenda, Snake, and Sandy, when Clem and I ambled down the road.

"Hey, man," Clem said to Dennis. "Like we kinda had an accident in your car…"

Dennis lay supine on the ground beside Charlie. He raised himself to his elbows. "What happened?"

"Totaled it, man," I said. "Completely."

Charlie drove us back up there in the pickup. But when we got to the curve, the wreckage was gone—not a trace of it except for the long set of serpentine skid marks. "Looks like some motherfucker come along and grabbed up your wheels, man," Charlie mused. "Too bad, that engine's probably worth some bucks."

Later we called the highway patrol. They knew nothing about it. Dennis filed a report, but to no avail—that was the last he ever saw of his car. I figured we survived the crash simply because Clem was too do-doed out to get snuffed.

We were discussing the accident that evening under the tree when we spotted Sadie riding by on one of George's old geldings. I yelled at her but she didn't seem to hear. Minutes later she came trotting up the road on foot. She was wearing faded Levi's about three sizes too big and an old sweater pulled over her plump belly. After nearly six months of pregnancy, her breasts were huge, bouncing gingerly beneath her sweater as she hurried past us toward the house.

"Where's Charlie?"

"Up at the outlaw shacks. Why…what's up?"

"I think I'm going to have my baby."

Clem and I exchanged glances as Sadie disappeared into the ranch house.

"Go get Charlie!"

Clem sprinted up the hill toward the outlaw shacks. I raced to the house.

The girls had gathered around Sadie in the middle of the room.

"Get the towels and boil some water in the big pot…Let's pull these mattresses together so she can lie down." Mary Brunner took charge immediately. Just four months earlier, she'd given birth to Pooh Bear under similar circumstances.

"Give her some room, dammit," Katie said, tugging on the mattress.

Sadie lay down in the middle of the floor. The girls helped her off with her clothes and Brenda brought her a pillow. Snake perched on a chair like a little bird, her eyes wide with anticipation, her face all but hidden behind her hair. The other girls gathered around like Mexican women in an open marketplace. I looked over the tops of their heads.

"You okay, Sadie?"

"Yeah, Paul…but the baby is coming…I know he's coming. Where's Charlie?"

"I'm right here!" the front door slammed behind Clem and Charlie. They'd both been running.

"Back off a little and give her some room," Charlie ordered, kneeling down beside her. "How you makin' it, honey?"

Charlie was shirtless, his body filmed in a light perspiration. He wore Levi's, cowboy boots, and a red bandanna tied around his head.

Sadie grimaced. "Uh…ahhh…okay, Charlie…okay…"

"Paul, why don't you play some music, dig…we want this little motherfucker to come out dancin'…right?"

Charlie went to the bathroom to wash his hands. Sandy and Squeaky came in with two buckets of hot water and a tray full of steaming towels, setting them on the small table. I picked up the sitar. It didn't take long: soon the contractions were less than ten minutes apart.

Mary, Ella, Squeaky, Sandy, Stephanie, Katie, and Ouisch lifted Sadie up to support her body—just raised her up into a half-sitting, half-reclining position, two girls on each leg, two holding her upper body. Gypsy held her head.

"Ahhh…ahhh…oh, Jesus, Charlie! Charlie!" Sadie groaned.

"Nice and easy, Sadie…just go with it…go with the motion." Charlie squatted between her legs, laying his hands momentarily on the inside of her thighs.

"Somebody sterilize a razor blade and bring it in here."

Snake bolted off the chair, got a razor blade from the bathroom, then took it to the kitchen to sterilize it. She was still in there when Sadie's water broke in a gurgle, spraying Charlie and the girls holding her legs. "Shit, the little dude is taking a swim," Charlie quipped. Sadie grinned. Sweat poured off her face; the veins in her arms stood out like tendons as she squeezed Brenda's hands.

The next contraction was a doozie.

"Ahhh…ahhh. Oh, God…aghhhh. Charlie!" Strands of wet hair hung across Sadie's forehead. Gypsy brushed them back and wiped the skin with a towel.

"Push, honey," Charlie urged. "Give it all you got…push…he's starting to come now…Damn!"

I stood directly behind Charlie, watching over his shoulder.

Snake handed him the razor blade.

"Easy," Mary soothed. "It's coming fine. It's coming real good. You're about to be a mama!"

"Hang on, honey." Charlie leaned over, his face flushed. He made a small incision at the apex of Sadie's vagina. Instantly blood spurted from the tiny cut, drenching his hand.

"Aghhh…ahhhh…Charlie!" Sadie wailed. Katie reached in to soak up the blood with a towel.

Moments later, I could see the top of the baby's head pulsating in the opening, enveloped in a quivering glutinous film.

"Push! Come on! Push…Sadie, have your baby…he wants out!"

Then we could see his shoulders, and his little arms.


"Here he comes, Sadie!"

"Come on out of there, brother!"

Suddenly the top part of his body tore free in a spurt of crimson.



Then, as though he understood the command, the baby pushed off with his arms and more or less delivered himself into Charlie's outstretched hands. Sandy wiped off Sadie's face with a towel; her eyes were glazed. Dried white mucus clung to the corners of her mouth. But she was smiling.

I couldn't believe how small he was! He just sat there for a second in Charlie's hands, then blinked with those big, foggy, steel-blue eyes, as if to say: where the hell am I? The he closed his eyes. Snake reached over and snipped the umbilical cord. Charlie tied it off with a piece of guitar string, then handed the baby to Brenda, who began to suck the mucus out of his nose. Finally Charlie gave him a pat on the ass and he started to sputter and cry. Charlie grinned: "Dig this little dude, will ya, mama!" He held the baby out to Sadie.

"He's beautiful, honey," Sandy cooed. Isn't he just perfect!"

Moments later, the afterbirth plopped out like some amorphous jellyfish. The girls cleaned Sadie up, then made the bed for her in the back room. Charlie began dancing around the room with the guitar, composing capriccios and rhymes in honor of the "new leader." Manson always claimed that the children were the real leaders. Unencumbered by well-developed egos, their responses were more instinctive and pure; they were always "at Now," which is where we wanted to be. Later he took me aside and suggested we go someplace and figure out a name for the boy. So we piled into the pickup and drove around Chatsworth concocting names and sobriquets of all kinds. By about three a.m. we'd considered hundreds of names. We were both exhausted.

"Hey, why don't we just call him Caesar," I finally suggested halfheartedly.

"Uh…uh…hey, that's good, you know…I like that…yeah, maybe just Zezo."

"How about Zezos ZeZe?"

"Right on." Charlie laughed. "Yeah, Zezos ZeZe…Zadfrak. How's that, Zezos ZeZe Zadfrak."

"Zezos ZeZe Zadfrak…sounds good to me."

"Dig it, that way he'll always be at the end of the line…and the lines will be so long, he just won't wait in them…you know?"

Years later, I would reflect back on the joy of that night: the unity of the Family; the birth of Sadie's child—only to be jolted and repulsed by the chilling realization that just oen year later (almost to the day), Sadie would butcher Sharon Tate and her unborn son.

Even though we were pretty firmly ensconced at Spahn's, during the first three months, Charlie always had his eyes open for alternative headquarters. The Family had moved frequently in the past and we never knew when we might have to do so again. Bad vibes between Charlie and some of the cowboys had become increasingly apparent. It was for that reason that we cultivated a religious order just over the hill from Spahn's called the Fountain of the World.

The Fountain was a nonprofit spiritual order of men and women (primarily women) just north of Spahn's in Box Canyon. It was an impressive complex, built at a bend in the gorge by a stream (almost hidden) by oak trees and a sprawling well-irrigated garden. The buildings, all constructed of hand-worked stone, included a chapel, two dormitories, and a small auditorium where daily meetings were held. To the right of the auditorium on a knoll above the garden, a wooden cross was cemented into the ground. From a distance the Fountain looked like an ancient fortress hewn into the base of the canyon wall.

One morning not long after the birth of Zezos, Charlie woke me up and told me to come with him. I pulled on a pair of Levi's, a T-shirt, and my boots and followed him out of the ranch house. We hiked up to the saloon where the pickup was parked and climbed in.

"Where we headed?"

Charlie fired up the truck and backed it out onto the highway. "The Fountain of the World."


Charlie told me what he knew about it as we wound our way up Santa Susanna Pass to Box Canyon and turned left. "It might be a good place to hang out…yoou know, hide under the cross when the shit comes down at Spahn's. And the way Shorty's been running at the mouth, it might be anytime."

We got there around ten a.m. and parked the truck on a hill, then trudged down the path to the auditorium. The place was about half full, and one of the brothers was already into his rap. He acknowledged us with a smile as we sat down. After a long uninspired spiel proclaiming the virtues of moderation and human compassion, the speaker—tall, stoop-shouldered, and clad in a full-length robe—told the history of the Fountain and Krishna Venta, its founder, had undergone a rigorous purification process, part of which included hanging on the cross for three days.

Charlie sat beside me fingering the beads around his neck, his hair long and uncombed down his back. He sniggered to himself as the speaker raised his arms to symbolize the crucifixion.

"For three days the honorable Krishna Venta remained pinioned to the cross you see there on the hillside." He gestured toward a window which fronted on the ravine.

"For three long days…"

Charlie couldn't contain himself. "Hey, brother, that ain't nothin'," he blurted out smiling.


"That's nothin'…three days ain't nothin'. Paul here could hang on the cross for a week. No problem…right, Paul?

The audience, most of them brothers and sisters of the order, gawked at us. I was a little startled by Charlie's boast at first, but I knew his games pretty well by then and I went along with it.

"Sure," I grunted. "Sure, I could do that."

"Come on!" Charlie urged, getting to his feet. "Let's go on out there. Paul, so you can hang. Come on!"

I got up and started up the aisle with Charlie right behind me. But as we stepped out the door, one of the brothers stopped us. "I'm sorry, but I don't think that's such a good idea. It might elicit some unfavorable publicity…you understand." He gave Charlie an imploring yet conciliatory smile.

Charlie chuckled. "Sure, brother," he said. "Maybe some other time."

After that little episode, Charlie began sending contingents of girls to the Fountain to work with the sisters—soliciting donations, passing out literature and spreading the precepts of Krishna Venta. Sometimes they remained for days at a time, posing as devout and pious ladies of the cloth. But the Family, as a whole, was never warmly received and things didn't work out as Charlie had planned. We finally gave up on the Fountain. We didn't learn until later that Shorty had paid them a visit.

The irony of that whole scene (I later learned) was that Krishna Venta's Family bore a striking resemblance to Charlie's: according to the records the order was started when the honorable leader (sometime in the 1950s) recruited a nucleus of women and a few men to enlighten the world with his spiritual teachings. But Krishna Venta's teachings were never, it appears, divorced from the pleasures of the flesh. Under his leadership, group sex, or what he likened to tantric, transcendental self-realization, was a common practice. Most of his critics, however, including an irate husband of one of the sisters, didn't consider this form of "self-realization" quite kosher. One night, during a small service held in the chapel, that same husband arrived with a case of dynamite and blew Krishna Venta, himself, and thirteen others to kingdom come. The ruins of that explosion were left intact as a monument to the order's founder.

Charlie always thought that a hilarious story.


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