“Hurry up, goddamnit!” I urged. “This fucking truck is hot.”
It took no more than half an hour for us to load up with supplies: food, clothing, and several empty five-gallon drums. By the time Karate Dave and I and several girls pulled back onto the highway, it was about four A.M. The girls were still in their nighties and T-shirts and were excited as hell. I sensed their eagerness to be leaving for the desert; or was it my own projected delight? Dave and I sat in the front with Brenda between us. Dave and I sat in the front with Brenda between us. Dave wanted to drive, so I rolled a couple of joints and passed them back through the curtain behind the seat to Ouisch and Cappy. The back end of the truck, though spacious, was cluttered with pieces of hose, bricks, sacks of cement, and three or four well-stocked toolboxes. The girls pushed the stuff to the rear and sat in a circle just behind the seat. It was a beautiful dawn, and I rolled down the window to enjoy the fresh air as we droned north through
For some reason I flashed on Brooks Posten, who was then at Barker’s with Juanita. In my mind’s eye the changes in Brooks somehow reflected the changes in the Family. During our stay at
I smoked the last of the roach Brenda handed me and rolled up the window.
My feelings that night were even more confused. On the one hand, it was exciting ripping off the truck and running from the law. And I enjoyed playing commandos on the outskirts of
But that didn’t happen. Just outside Mojave, Dave shouted back at the girls, “Stash the dope; the heat’s on our ass.” Moments later we were pulled over by a highway-patrol unit for having no rear license plate, something no one had noticed in our eagerness to split.
One of the two cops scanned Dave’s driver’s license with a flashlight, then shone the light on me and Brenda.
“Hi,” Brenda said cheerily, waving her fingers.
“You people want to get out of the truck, please?”
“You mean all of us?”
“Yeah, all of you.”
Dave got out, and Brenda slid out behind him. I followed. Then the curtain parted and Snake’s shapely leg appeared as she climbed over the seat. She wore nothing but a T-shirt and her underpants, and the young cop who had opened the door to begin a search stood back and gaped. Then came Sandy, Ouisch, Cappy, Bo, Sherry, Sadie, and Crazy Patty.
The cops exchanged glances. While the older one eyeballed the girls with feigned nonchalance, the other searched the van top to bottom. He didn’t find any dope but he did uncover a license plate behind the back seat. After running a check on it, they took us all to Mojave. Dave and I were separated from the girls and spent what was left of the morning in a communal drunk tank. The next day they took me to L.A. county jail in a sheriff’s bus and booked me for suspected auto theft. I didn’t know what had happened to Dave or the girls. Two days later I was released. Apparently the truck had been stolen several times and they could find no registered owner. When I got back to Spahn’s, the girls were there. So was Dave; he had climbed out the bathroom window in Mojave during a court recess and had escaped the same night. A week later, Dave left the Family, and I never saw him again.
Returning to Spahn’s so suddenly, after anticipating a stay in the desert, made me even more aware of how degenerated things had become. Charlie was angry that we had not gotten there with the truck. Two weeks earlier he had sent another supply run to the desert, but the truck had broken down on the road and had to return. Charlie’s face reflected the tension; his capacity for patience, which had once seemed infinite, had all but disappeared. Walking around Spahn’s in the midst of a conglomeration of people – mechanics and motorcycle types, ex-cons and curiosity seekers – began to unnerve me. There was never a time when the Family was together as one unit; the communal acid trips and therapy sessions were a thing of the past, we were always disjointed, off on separate trips; when we were together, there was no longer a feeling of unity; there was only confusion and Charlie’s cryptic, acidic spiels about blackie and the shit coming down. I found myself alone more, roaming around the ranch in a state of detachment. I began violating Charlie’s rules, eating most meat and smoking pot during the day, like a child defying his parents. I did it unconsciously; yet, I flaunted it.
One afternoon in late June I found Charlie standing outside the saloon talking to Squeaky. When Squeaky walked back up the hill to George’s, I approached Charlie. He stood leaning against the building fingering his beard; his eyes were glazed. He didn’t see me until I was right beside him.
“What’s happening, Paul?” He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me an affectionate squeeze.
“When are we gonna go, man?… We gotta make it to the desert. Sometimes I think we’ll never get out of here…”
As we walked together toward the corral, Charlie still had his arm around my neck. “You’re right, brother, dig it. Helter-Skelter is ready to happen… it’s gotta happen soon. All the piggies are gonna get their jolt of where it’s really at. We have to stock supplies at the desert and be ready to boogie… I don’t know why we can’t get a truck up there. It’s startin’ to piss me off.”
We stopped at the corral gate and looked in at the horses. Charlie climbed up and sat on the top rung of the fence, looking down at me.
“I’ll tell ya, blackie never did anything without whitey showin’ him how.”
I looked up at Charlie, and he winked. “Helter-Skelter is coming down. But it looks like we’re gonna have to show blackie how to do it.”
My blood ran cold. The words echoed in my ear. “Show blackie how to do it!” I knew exactly what Charlie meant. All the horror I had been sensing flooded my being; it was like an instant nightmare lived out in silence. I did not look at Charlie, but gazed straight ahead at the horses, motionless save for their tails, which flicked intermittently at the flies. In that instant I flashed on the choking scene and the look on Charlie’s face. I saw Brooks Posten lying prone on the floor of the Gresham Street house. I saw the faces of the girls: Squeaky, Sandy, Ella, Sherry, Mary – all of them rapping out of the void of what remained of them, rapping all that was left: Helter-Skelter.
Without looking at him, I muttered, “When are we going to the desert?”
“I’ll tell ya what we’re doing.” Charlie hopped down from the fence and stood beside me, looking up toward the saloon. “We’re gonna load the fucking semi full of dune buggies and Harleys and we’re gonna take them to the desert; we’re gonna stockpile supplies up there right away.”
As he spoke, I felt a vague sense of reprieve, that if I could go to the desert it would be okay, that if I just got out of there, everything would work out. I did not want to think about Charlie’s remark, Up until that moment, I had gone all the way. I had believed in the beauty of what was once a reality. I had faced my fears, suffered countless ego deaths. I had loved Charlie and the others (I still did). I had done everything asked of me – pilfered credit cards, conned people, played the games. I had begged, borrowed, and stolen for Charlie. I had even seen and believed in qualities which seemed Christlike. I had submitted, accepted, and flowed with the love. I had said, “Yes, I am you and you are me. We are one.” I had swallowed Helter-Skelter. I had done everything to promote it. But unlike Sadie, Katie, Squeaky, Clem, and Tex, I had never really “ceased to exist.” And now from the deepest center of my self there was something that said, “No, good God, no!”
But it was all on the inside; it was all happening away from Charlie’s eyes. At the moment, I feared Charlie. But part of that fear was that he might be right; that Helter-Skelter was inevitable and that despite its horrors, we had to go through with it. I was equally afraid of myself, of the part of me which had become him. I didn’t really know who I was. I had little control. What moved me was an instinct to escape.
Charlie put me in charge of organizing the expedition to the desert. I went at it with gusto – getting the mechanics to finish their work and load up the supplies. It took several days to complete the work and get the Harleys and dune buggies ready for the trip. Sometime around the first of July, in the evening, we began hoisting the machinery onto the semi. I supervised everything, saw to it that the vehicles were well-secured and that all supplies were accounted for. It wasn’t until most of the loading had been completed that Charlie informed me I was to remain at Spahn’s.
By nine P.M. everything was ready. I trudged dejectedly back to the other semi trailer to tell Charlie. The trailer had become a central headquarters for the Family during the latter part of June; with all the parts and supplies pushed off to the sides, there was enough room to seat the entire Family. As usual, Charlie sat at the head of the group on a small stool, rapping out instructions, while Sandy, Ouisch, Mary, and some of the others were sewing buckskins.
“Hey,” I called in, “ready to go.”
Everyone filed out and gathered around Charlie in front of the saloon. Danny De Carlo and Bill Vance were lashing rope around the tailgate of the truck. “I need a couple of girls to go along with me,” Charlie said. All the girls jumped up and down. “Take me… me, Charlie!”
“What is this?” Charlie barked. “Am I some kind of schoolteacher or something?” He ordered Ouisch, Stephanie, Snake, and Brenda to get in the truck, then moments later drove out the driveway and disappeared down the road. What I felt then was a combination of confusion, anger, depression, and fear. After they had gone, I walked up to the outlaw shacks alone and sat on the steps. For some reason I thought of my old girlfriend Mona, a pretty blonde I’d known in Topanga Canyon before joining the Manson Family. In retrospect, I realize that this thought was not so unusual; unconsciously, I was grasping for a way out, even if it meant returning to my past.
But I didn’t have long to ponder the situation. In less than half an hour Charlie was back; he said the trailer wouldn’t trail the truck and had to be rerigged. He was furious.
“Goddammit, we just can’t get a motherfuckin’ truck up to Barker’s!”
I stood beside Brenda and Bo, near the rear of the rig.
“Look, Paul,” he barked suddenly. “Take Danny’s pickup and run some of these supplies up to Brooks and Juanita. They’re gonna wonder what the hell happened to us. He can use your truck, huh, Danny?”
“Be my guest.”
I was delighted! “I’m gonna need someone to go with me.” As I said this, the girls began to fidget and edge forward, wanting to go but afraid to speak up for fear Charlie would object. At that point, it became all too clear just how hung-up they were, how dependent on Charlie. Only moments before they’d reacted like a bunch of eager kids; now they were mute. Charlie saw it too and fell into a rage.
“Motherfuck! What’s happening around here? Everyone has to ask permission to breathe!”
I didn’t wait for him to finish. “Come on, Bo… you go with me.”
Charlie didn’t say a word as Bo and I climbed into the cab of Danny’s truck. There was a rule in the Family that only girls carried dope, and since we were taking some seeds up to Brooks and Juanita, we needed a girl to go along.
Charlie told me to deliver the supplies, stay a couple of days, and then come back to Spahn’s. I drove out the highway and headed for the freeway.
Danny’s truck had been recently tuned, and I tromped on it. The more distance I put between myself and Spahn’s, the better I felt. Bo, meanwhile, had begun to whimper and then to cry. It was nothing new for Bo. She seemed to have a predisposition to tears; it was her way of handling stress. During earlier scenes in which she became the center of attention – going through some ego death – her emotional output was extraordinary. All you could do was let it run its course. But I knew from our earlier conversation what she was feeling. At one point she put her head on my shoulder and clutched at my arm.
“Come on, Bo… Jesus… what’s wrong?”
“I feel heavy things coming down. It scares me. Charlie scares me.”
I didn’t really say anything. I just put my arm around her. Neither of us really know how to handle what was inside us; we’d both been so heavily programmed by that time that all natural impulses were trapped, blocked off. The desire to escape, to run, was being satisfied by being on the road. Yet, deep down, we were both tied to Charlie in ways we couldn’t begin to understand. We had come to believe in Charlie so deeply that truly doubting Helter-Skelter was impossible. Helter Skelter was coming down; our life at Spahn’s – disjointed, confused, fragmented – was an expression of it; it was happening. Charlie was causing it. There was more fear than before. Charlie had always told us fear was good and that we should submit to it. I remember the night he took Bo before the mirror and made her look at her body; I had learned that there was truth in his words: “Face your fears” – that by confronting fears I had gained knowledge. Had Charlie sensed my feelings, he would probably have told me that fear of violence is just another fear – that death is merely a release to the love. “Dying,” he had said, “is something like orgasm… it leaves you in a state of calm, a state of bliss.” The implication was that he had died before.
Inside, I was torn, my thoughts divided from my emotions. My instinct was to run, and I was running, so that looking out the window that night made me feel hopeful. But I was still locked into the programs, still a part of Charlie. I found myself rationalizing his words: “We’re gonna have to show blackie how to do it.” Maybe there was another way of showing him; maybe he meant something else. Charlie is a man of love; we are all submitting to his love; Helter-Skelter is to program the young love to come to the desert. I remembered the good scenes – feeling close, being loved. Outside, the night seemed infinite, opening wider as we drove on. I pushed harder into the center of the night, with Bo beside me, wanting to feel free, wanting to send my spirit beyond the horizon, sensing that if we could just go faster it might happen. But physical freedom was not enough; my insides were tied to Charlie and the Family in ways I hadn’t begun to sort out. I found myself latching onto phrases Charlie had taught us, like, “I am you and you are me,” and “No sense makes sense.” My mind would rest on one thought until another thought emerged to replace it; then another, and another, until it felt as though I were going mad. It was as if my being had been inhabited by so many contradictions that all thoughts and feelings – the very flow of my blood – was blocked. Who was I? What was left of me? Only the highway, straight and nearly empty of traffic, provided the illusion of direction and freedom. Yet, while all this raged in my psyche, I found myself soothing Bo with words which came from still another part of myself.
“It’s okay, Bo… we’re on a good trip now. We’re going back to the desert, just you and me… no bad vibes there… just the desert. Look at the sky, Bo.”
We watched the sun come up just outside Ballarat and stopped there to buy coffee. By eight that morning we were hiking up Golar Canyon toward the Barker ranch. Somehow, climbing the rocks lessened the tension, as I scrambled ahead of Bo, stopping every few minutes to wait for her. The closer we got to Barker’s, the faster I climbed. I found myself again anticipating seeing Brooks. I didn’t know why. It wasn’t as though Brooks and I had ever been close. But I believe, looking back, that I envied his being in the desert, away from what was happening. I also made a subconscious connection between Brooks’s “zombied-out” state while a Gresham Street and what was coming down in the Family. My urgency was also prompted by the fact that in less than a month’s time we’d sent three expeditions’ to the desert. None of them had arrived.
We rested midway up the canyon, then completed the hike without stopping.
When we reached the gate in front of the ranch, Brooks appeared on the porch.
“Hey Paul!” He called something into the house, then came bounding down the hill like a frisky goat. He wore Levi’s, a loose-fitting T-shirt, and worn-out Hush Puppies. I’d never seen Brooks move that fast or with as much agility. I couldn’t believe it was the same person. His blue eyes were clear. There was color in his cheeks. Even his shaggy blond hair looked healthy. He gave us both a warm hug.
“I was hoping they’d send you,” he said.
“Hey, man… you look good! This desert life must agree with you… what you been eatin’?”
“I’ve been climbing mountains.” He glanced over his shoulder toward the ranch house. “Met this far-out old prospector dude… he’s a trip.”
“How’s Juanita?” Bo wanted to know.
“Okay. She’s up there making some vegetable concoction. We got a little garden going.”
While Brooks spoke, I saw a man step out of the bunkhouse and sit down on a rock just outside the door.
“What’s goin’ on at Spahn’s… how’s Charlie?” Brooks asked both questions at once.
My answer was automatic and only half-conscious. I was still watching the man on the hill.
“The shit’s coming down.”
“Comin’ down fast,” Bo added.
“Hey, that’s him.” Brooks’s eyes followed my gaze. “Let’s go up, then I’ll help you bring in the supplies.” As we walked up the trail toward the house, the man stood up and lit a cigarette. He was of medium height, had short salt-and-pepper hair, and appeared slightly overweight. Dressed in Khaki pants and a plain short-sleeved shirt, he looked like the classic redneck pig, and I found myself growing suspicious as we approached him. Still, the transformation in Brooks was a strong recommendation of this man.
“What’s this dude’s name, anyway?” I muttered under my breath as we drew closer.
“Paul… Paul Crockett.”
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD