The following morning at breakfast I told Crockett we had to go back. I half-expected him to ask me why, but he didn’t.
“When ya leavin’?” was his animated response; he almost seemed glad.
“After we eat.” I glanced at Bo, and she looked down at her plate.
Crockett asked me to pass him the sugar, then told Brooks to hurry so they could get to the mine before it got too hot. Bob and Juanita came in and sat down.
“See any mountain lions last night?” Crockett quipped.
“But I don’t want to go,” I blurted suddenly. “I like it here. I’d like to stay.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Crockett wanted to know.
“It’s Charlie and the Family… I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. I got to go back, but I really don’t want to.”
Crockett sipped at his coffee; then he looked at me. “What kind of agreements ya got with this man?”
“Agreements?… I don’t have any agreements.” As I spoke the words it dawned on me what Crockett was driving at – what he’d been driving at for the past three days. I realized that I had all kinds of agreements with Charlie. I’d agreed to Helter-Skelter; to spending the rest of my life – even eternity – with the Family; to Charlie’s philosophy, to all kinds of things.
Crockett leaned back in his chair and rolled a cigarette from a can of Bugler. “Why don’t ya go down and ask Charlie to release you of all yer agreements, then you’ll feel free to do something else.”
“Think he would?”
“How the hell do I know? Ask him and find out.”
I watched as Crockett exhaled two streams of smoke through his nose. “I will,” I said.
“Ask him to release me,” Brooks said. “Me too,” Juanita chimed in. “And me,” Bo sputtered, setting down her cup.
After breakfast Crockett and Brooks walked Bo and me down to the mouth of the wash and helped us load the pickup with mining tools Crockett wanted dropped off in Ballarat.
We climbed into the cab and fired up the engine. “Hurry back, Paul,” Brooks said.
“Yeah,” Crockett said with a grin. “I got a bunch more games we kin play out here.”
It takes ten hours to drive from
Spahn’s Ranch at night was generally quiet; the flies disappeared; so did the tourists. The wranglers went home. Walking along the boardwalk, I sometimes had the feeling that the hillsides were closing in. If you stopped in one place and listened you could hear the crickets, and intermittently the horses would snort and raise a ruckus. With the lights on – the lights from George’s house, the saloon and tack room – the movie sets looked even more authentic. Living on a movie set, you develop a consciousness of acting. That’s how I felt the night Bo and I drove onto the property, like an actor waiting in the wings to speak his lines.
It was dark, probably around nine P.M. when I parked Danny’s pickup beside the corral, and seeing a light coming from the semitrailer bed, walked over there with Bo. I could hear Charlie’s voice as we approached. I glanced at Bo, then climbed the stairway, pulled open the flap, and went inside.
Charlie was seated on a stool at the head of the trailer facing me from behind a low table. A gooseneck lamp to his right illuminated his face; nearly all the Family was present and sat in front of the table and along the sides of the trailer on mattresses; in one corner behind Charlie was a mattress on which Pooh Bear and Zezos were sleeping. Charlie grinned and got to his feet as I entered with Bo right behind me.
“Hey, brother, welcome back! Hi, Bo.”
We greeted everyone and Charlie sat down, still smiling, “How’s things going at Barker’s?”
“Brooks and Juanita?”
“They’re doin’ fine.” I leaned against the side of the trailer with Bo beside me. Snake and Ouisch sat directly in front of us.
“So are we, brother. Danny just delivered a whole shitload of dune-buggy parts; Clem’s bringing in a rebuilt engine for the big semi. We’re ready now… ready for Helter-Skelter.”
Before Charlie could say another word I broke in. I heard myself speaking, but it was as if I had no control over the words.
“Hey, I found out why we had all that trouble getting our shit up to Barker’s ranch, why we had them breakdowns and busts.”
Charlie gave me a quizzical look.
“There’s this old prospector up there, a guy named Crockett – a far-out old dude – said he put a psychic gate across the canyon. No one can get in unless they have true love in their hearts.”
Charlie sniggered. “Oh, yeah. So what else is new?”
“No much, ‘cept I’d like to ask you something.” I felt Bo flinch.
“I’d like to be released of all my agreements.”
The eyes of the Family turned on me.
“Me too,” Bo said.
Charlie’s hesitation was only momentary; his eyes were hard on mine; then he laughed. “Agreements? Oh, sure, brother, I release you of all agreements.”
“Brooks and Juanita too,” Bo declared, her voice barely audible.
“Sure… sure… I release you… ain’t no agreements.” As Charlie spoke, I felt all his attention directed on me; but he didn’t break stride, he went right on talking about Helter-Skelter and what was coming down and that it wouldn’t be much longer before we’d be going to the desert. It’s hard to tell what Charlie was thinking, but what I had said clearly disturbed him. He may have thought that I was testing him, and probably figured, rather than start a scene in front of the Family, he would confront me later – which is what he did.
Just minutes after the gathering in the trailer adjourned, Charlie came looking for me. I had left the trailer and walked down to the saloon to see if my BSA was still parked inside the door. I found it under a canvas tarp and wheeled it out on the boardwalk to check out the ignition switch. When Charlie knelt beside me and asked what I was up to, I told him I wanted to take the bike back to Barker’s and use it to shuttle supplies up the canyon.
“Yeah, sure,” Charlie said, dismissing my remarks. “What’s all this talk about agreements… who’s this guy Crockett?”
“Just a guy that’s livin’ up there with Brooks and Juanita… him and a friend named Bob. They’re mining gold up behind the ranch.” I stood up, and Charlie stood beside me.
“What are they, pigs?”
“They been fillin’ your head with this agreement stuff… what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It just means I don’t want to get hung-up, man. I want to feel free to come and to –”
“You are free… anyone hangin’ onto you?” Charlie’s voice tightened. “I don’t see any chains on you; look, brother, I’m one guy who knows what free is… and what it isn’t. We’re all free here… we’re not locked in the joint or in the heads of those straight piggie ratfuckers from Bel Air. We’re free to lead the young love when the shit comes down…” He flicked the hair from his eyes. “Yeah… yeah… maybe you’re right… maybe we have been a little hung-up… waitin’ around… but the time’s comin’… it’s now, man. We’re gonna have to show blackie how to do it; then we go to the desert… and there ain’t no psychic gate that’s gonna keep us out.”
Charlie rubbed his hands across his face; his eyes were bloodshot; he looked frazzled and wrung-out. He said, “Get some sleep, brother… that’s a long drive.”
I got the BSA running, then grabbed a parachute out of the trailer and hiked up to the outlaw shacks. I’d no more than wrapped myself up inside the chute when I heard someone coming, then a voice.
It was Snake.
“Yeah… over here.”
I could see her figure silhouetted in the doorway as she stepped inside, then walked over to the corner of the room where I’d laid down. She lay beside me and I put my arm around her.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
“I guess so.”
“I’m not sure. I don’t –”
“But Helter-Skelter is coming down.”
Snake took off her dress and crawled inside the chute. Her body was cool and firm. She told me the scene was getting heavier but that Charlie had said it “wouldn’t be long.” She said too that she had missed me. I knew Charlie had sent her, but it didn’t matter. What I had going with Snake didn’t depend on Charlie. We made love and talked and listened to the crickets. Holding on to Diane Lake, her beauty, her innocence, was like holding on to all that was left of the Family – wanting to keep it and preserve it, but not being able to.
I slept only about four hours. By sunrise the next morning I was riding my BSA through the Antelope Valley, bound for the Barker ranch. It was July 11, less than a month away from the Tate-La Bianca murders.
I arrived at Barker’s late in the afternoon and slept all that night and most of the next day. When I woke up and staggered into the living room round five P.M., Crockett was sitting at the table playing solitaire.
“Coffee in there,” he muttered. “Hot.”
I went into the kitchen and poured a cup, then walked in and sat down across from Crockett.
Crockett finished the game and grinned. Then he scooped up the cards, stacked them, and stuck them back in the box he kept in his shirt pocket. He lit a cigarette. “Well?”
I told him what had happened with Charlie and that I wanted to stay at Barker’s for a while. I told him I didn’t know whether I was leaving the Family for good but that I wanted my freedom and I wanted to learn some things from him, maybe about mining… maybe about music.
“What can you do?” he asked at last.
“What do you mean?”
“What are ya good at?”
“I can hustle.”
“You kin what?” Crockett squinted.
“I’m good at hustling things… I can get things.”
“Ya mean stealing?”
“Naw, I don’t have to steal.”
“Kin you hustle some food? We need supplies… it means driving to Vegas.”
“Sure… sure… no sweat.”
“Good… you kin take Stanley’s truck.”
“Bob Berry’s brother; he loaned us his truck. It’s down at the base of the wash.”
“That’s it.” Crockett got up and fished inside his pants pocket. He pulled out some change and handed it to me.
“That’s all the money I got.”
“Twenty-nine cents! Gee, thanks!”
“And no stealin’… just hustle.”
“What about gas?”
“Some gas drums in back of the truck, enough to get ya there.” Crockett handed me the keys and we walked to the front gate. I told Crockett I’d be back in a couple days with all the food he could handle. Then I started down the canyon.
I found the truck at the base of the wash and drove it to Ballarat; from there I traveled by way of Shoshone, then cut across the Pahrump Valley to Vegas on the Blue Diamond Road, arriving late in the afternoon.
Coming from Death Valley into Las Vegas is like leaving one dream to enter another – an oasis or nightmare, depending on your point of view. At night from a distance, it seems like one of civilization’s crowning achievements; on closer inspection it’s nothing but a surrealistic mirage. By day it looks like what it is: a string of casinos and motels flanked by run-down suburbs and a man-made lake. It has a border-town ambience and enough vice to soak blood out of a turnip. A safe way to come to Vegas (and the way many people leave it) is the way I arrived – broke. It was dark by the time I entered a casino on the strip and “cashed in” my twenty-nine cents for a quarter. With it I played a slot machine and lost before adjourning to the parking lot to sleep in the pickup.
I spent the next day hustling food. First I hit the supermarket garbage bins and salvaged a few canned goods; there was some fruit and very ripe avocados, but without ice they would never survive the trip back. After that I cleaned up in a restroom and began a door-to-door campaign soliciting donations in food for a needy group in the desert. I got all I could handle. By eleven A.M. my truck was loaded with vegetables, fruit, boxes of cereal, spices, and poultry. I had three live chickens, a rooster, two watermelons, and two dozen eggs. That afternoon I drove to Shoshone, listening to reports of the Chappaquiddick incident on the radio. The following morning I gave a guy a chicken to fill my gas tank and headed for home.
Four hours later I parked the truck at the base of the wash. After loading all the food I could carry in a makeshift backpack, I stuffed two chickens in my shirt and started up the gulch on my motorcycle, eager to show Crockett what I’d gotten and slightly vexed (at myself) for undertaking the project without some assistance. I was chugging at a good clip along the alluvial fan, my mind on Crockett and Charlie and all the changes that were coming down, when I hit a rock. The chickens squawked raucously as I flew ass-over-elbows and came down nose-first on the rocks. Cursing, I got to my feet and began hobbling around to retrieve what I could – boxes of dried food, cans, fruit, and a few eggs that had miraculously survived. I finally managed to corral the chickens, one of which was only half-alive, and laboriously made my way up the wash on foot.
Crockett and Brooks were on the porch when I got there, Brooks strumming the guitar, Crockett playing solitaire.
Brooks came running down to meet me. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah… take some of this shit, will ya?”
Crockett greeted me with a bemused smile. “Did okay, huh?”
“Yeah.” I slumped to the porch and leaned against the wall. “Dumped my bike down there… still some stuff in the truck.”
“I’ll go down.” Brooks grabbed a pack from inside the house and started toward the wash.
“Hurt?” Crockett wanted to know.
“Yeah… yeah. I hurt,” I said sharply, clutching at my ribs.
“Wanna fix it?”
“What you got in mind?” I retorted sarcastically.
“Know a game.”
“Come on.” Crockett got up and walked into the ranch house. I followed him.
For the next half-hour we played his game. He instructed me to sit across from him at the table.
“Now, ya just pick a spot in the center of the room, an imaginary spot, and put all yer attention on it. Got it?”
“Just concentrate on that spot… good. Okay, now, where did it happen? – the accident. Put yer attention there… visualize it… see it?”
I nodded, I could visualize the rock clearly. I saw the bike.
“Now come back to the center of the room.”
Again I focused on the imaginary spot.
“Now, where did it happen?”
“On that rock.”
“Put your attention on that rock.” Several minutes went by. “Now, come back to the center of the room. Now, where did it happen?”
Each time I focused on the scene of the accident, I saw more. I reexperienced the pain as the bike twisted and I brushed the handlebars, then came down on my ribs. I felt my face scrape the ground, and the chicken beneath me.
“Now, come back to the center of the room.”
Again and again we repeated the exercise, and each time I saw more.
Finally Crockett said, “Well, where are ya now?”
“I’m at that rock.”
“Well, I told ya come back to the center of the room… why don’t ya just leave that experience there and come on back here?”
I looked at Crockett. Then I rubbed my hands across my rubs. I lifted up my shirt and checked my side. I felt no pain at all. There was only a small welt on my left shoulder.
“When an accident happens,” Crockett explained, “and pain comes on, ya have a tendency to reject it, ‘cause no one wants it. But once it’s there, ya can’t really reject it; ya have to experience it. It’s like trying to unexperience something that already happened.”
As he said this I remembered times on acid, during a bad trip, when I saw something I didn’t want to see and tried to unsee it. It didn’t work.
“So if that happens and ya feel pain later – if ya carry pain ya didn’t completely experience at the time – that pain is locked in yer mind, so ya got to go back and relive that pain in its proper time and space, focus on it so that you can leave it there where it belongs. It’s just a way of makin’ ya conscious… only reason ya had the spill in the first place was most likely that ya weren’t there… yer head was someplace else… maybe thinkin’ about me up here in the shade… huh? It’s a hundred and twenty-five degrees today, ya know?” Crockett grinned.
I picked up Brooks’s guitar and went back out of on the porch. Crockett’s words on pain reminded me of what Charlie had said about fear – “you have to accept your fears and experience them… so you can go beyond them.” Lessons I had learned in the Familyh were proof of that. Much of what I had experienced in the Family prepared me for what Crockett was soon to teach me. But there was a difference between Charlie’s teachings and those of Crockett: while Charlie asked that we accept and submit to his love, his will (without thinking), the assumption being that he was truth, Crockett demanded that we discover for ourselves what that truth was by being totally conscious. “Ain’t nothin’ I can tell ya, only thing I can do is steer ya in a good direction; it’s yer eyes and ears and attention that got to do the findin’.”
Charlie asked that we submit to him (be unconscious); Crockett, that we listen to ourselves and be conscious. What Charlie sought to create were extensions of himself (I am you and you are me); what Crockett encouraged was the opposite – the discovery of individuality.
That night at dinner I told Brooks and Crockett I was staying. A few days later I headed back to Spahn’s to pick up my belongings. I found the mood even more chaotic and foreboding. What had evolved into a bad dream was about to become a nightmare.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD