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Member of the Family: Manson, Murder and Me

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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As I walked into the kitchen, she was cracking eggs into a flour mixture and pouring in sugar and chocolate chips. She wasn’t measuring anything and she had a strange look on her face.

“Hi, Mom,” I said. I must have startled her, because she knocked an egg off the counter. I was expecting her to become upset, but instead she started laughing so hard she ended up sitting on the floor next to the yellow mess. I sat next to her and started laughing too, even though I had no idea what was so funny.

She handed me the bowl and told me to mix it.

“I’m making cookies,” she said between giggles.

“I can see that.” I mixed the flour and sugar into the egg mixture and watched her catch her breath. “Mom, are you okay?”

“Yes, I am very okay,” she replied, wiping some flour off her cheek. “If you must know the truth, I am just a little bit stoned.” She held her thumb and index finger an inch apart to indicate how little she was stoned and then started laughing again.

“Mom! You’re stoned? How did that happen?” At the time, I really had no idea how people got stoned.

“Marijuana. I smoked some marijuana with our neighbors,” she said, working her way up to a standing position. She didn’t look drunk like my grandparents after a few drinks at their bar. She just looked happy and silly. And she was really hungry. This was not like her. She was never a big eater, but tonight she was making cookies without a recipe and snacking on all kinds of things we had in the refrigerator. I turned on the oven for her and we sat at the table.

“I can’t wait to tell your father about this,” she said. I wasn’t sure how he would take it. Sure, he’d been listening to Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg talk about LSD and mind expansion, but that sounded serious and profound. This just looked like fun and silliness, though it did make my mother more relaxed. She even left the dishes in the sink to soak instead of immediately washing and drying them before my father came home.

My mother went to sleep, so I made sure to tidy up the kitchen, leaving the strange cookies on a plate for him to see. Then I went to bed and listened for him. He didn’t seem to notice the cookies and nothing else was out of place, so he just went right to bed.

The next night I overheard them talking about her experience. She showed him a marijuana cigarette the neighbors had given her and I watched them get stoned. My mother got silly right away, but it didn’t affect my father at all. At that point I didn’t know that the first time people smoke pot, they don’t always experience a high. He seemed very disappointed, so they made plans to go over to the neighbors to try it again. My mom thought maybe it was also the atmosphere that helped her get high. My father seemed all for it. That weekend they went over to the neighbors and came home arm in arm and laughing.

From then on, the change in my parents was not gradual. After they started smoking pot, their attitudes toward a lot of things changed. I liked that they seemed happy together, but the more nights they went out and came in stoned, the more absorbed they were with getting high instead of what was happening at home. My mom started relying on me more and more to take care of my brother and sister. She seemed very preoccupied with when my father would be coming home so they could indulge in their new hobby together. They would also often disappear into their bedroom before we were asleep and close the door. I knew not to bother them, so I would have the task of getting my sister bathed and ready for bed and seeing that my brother had finished his homework and brushed his teeth. On the one hand, I was so happy that they seemed to be in love with each other again, but on the other hand, it was lonely. I could feel them slipping away from me.

Some nights my parents would sit on the couch smoking a joint together and my mother joined in with my father discussing things like Beat poetry. I don’t know how much my mother was really interested or if she understood the poetry, but they seemed to be on the same wavelength. They became much less physically active when they smoked. They would often just sit together not talking or doing anything that I could see.

One weekend, my father was sitting on the couch smoking a joint and I was reading one of my teen magazines. He held in the smoke as he spoke to me, breathing it in between words.

“You want to try some of this?” He held out the hand-rolled joint to me. I always felt my father thought I was a square. I was a good kid and didn’t talk back. I liked school, and at the school dances we had at the beginning of the year, I was clearly a wallflower. When he offered me a puff, I took it as a bit of a challenge.

“This is not like a cigarette, Dianne.” He showed me how to hold the joint between my fingers. I had already secretly tried smoking cigarettes with my friends after school by stealing some half-smoked butts we found in my backyard. Since my father was still a chain-smoker, that was easy. But I hated smoking cigarettes; in fact, it made me feel sick. I took the joint and hoped that I wouldn’t get queasy. Then my father would know for certain how square I was.

“You want to inhale the smoke deeply into your lungs and hold it there if you can. It might burn at first, so try not to cough.” I inhaled the marijuana and held it in my lungs as long as I could. Then I let out the smoke with a cough, just like he’d warned.

“Good job for your first time,” my father exclaimed. I was surprised by his praise. I didn’t feel anything from the pot, so I took another drag. This time I held it in longer. He told me I might not feel anything the first time. I thanked him and walked outside with my magazine and sat on a lawn chair. After a while I opened the magazine and all the words looked like they were in little trains on the page. I closed the magazine and opened it again. No change. The words were still in little trains moving on the page. I then closed my eyes and waited for the pot to wear off.

My mother had been out shopping with my brother and sister. When they got home, my sister ran out to see me. I opened my eyes and she was looking right at me.

“What were you saying?” she asked. I guess I had been mumbling something that I couldn’t remember. I know I wasn’t sleeping.

By this time, the pot had worn off, but my mouth was dry.

“I thought you might get some cotton mouth,” my father said, offering me a cold soda. The soda felt great on my parched throat. I looked at my family sitting in the backyard and was content with everything. My mother stood by him smiling at me. He had obviously told her that I was now turned on to the pot. We grilled hamburgers that night, and I ate two of them. The picture seemed perfect, but I was completely unaware of how quickly my life was going to change. It was only a small marijuana cigarette, but it opened the door to a new way of thinking and a new way of life. When we stepped through, there would be no turning back for us and especially for me.

Our family wasn’t the only thing changing in 1967. Almost overnight we embraced the happenings around Los Angeles. The counterculture was in full swing in San Francisco and was moving down the coast to our neighborhood. In 1967 over thirty head shops cropped up to support the growing demand for pot-smoking paraphernalia. The sale of pipes, hookahs, and fancy roach clips became part of the local economy. We were in the center of the hippie movement, with all its lofty goals of love and freedom to believe in whatever you wished. At the first Human Be-In at Griffith Park on January 14, 1967, people were encouraged to bring incense, pictures of their own gurus, flowers, and anything the color of gold as gifts of the magi. Like those the wise men presented at the birth of Christ, these gifts were to represent the birth of a movement where people could be brought together in bonds of love.

There was a small crowd at that first gathering, about six hundred people, and my family blended right in. There was no central organizer. People simply created a makeshift bandstand to the north side of the Greek theater in the park and did their own thing. Attendees played acoustic guitars, banged on drums, and plunked out tunes on African thumb pianos. I had never seen anything like this. People were scantily dressed, but there was no full nudity—not that I would have been surprised. Everyone was caught up in the same fever and no one was a stranger.

For this be-in, my father shirked his typical work clothes—slicked back hair and shoes—for a fringed suede vest, blue jeans, and sandals. Freed from the greasy pomade styling of the workweek, his hair stuck up in tufts as if it had been waiting for the right opportunity to express itself. My mother adapted to the dress code of the fashion free by wearing a long, flowing skirt with a cotton peasant blouse. She also wore a beaded headband across her forehead and made one to match for Kathy. I wore plain shorts and sneakers, but when someone handed me some beads I gladly wore them around my neck.

This was a be-in in which everyone was encouraged to just “be” themselves. Most people were older teenagers and people in their twenties. While there were little children running around with their faces painted, they fit into the scene as naturally as the beads and feathers. My parents were probably older than others there, but they looked the part, so no one made them feel unwelcome.

Meanwhile I felt like one of the few awkward young teens barely through puberty, but people were passing around joints and tangerines and no one questioned my age or asked me where my parents were. When I was offered a joint, I looked over to see if my father would approve of me smoking with strangers, but he wasn’t even watching what I was doing.

By early spring that year, after I turned fourteen, it was obvious things were changing at home, and it wasn’t just because my parents had started smoking pot. The agitation in my father was coming back, first in smaller ways and eventually in bigger ones. One day I walked into the dining room to find my father sawing the legs off our dining room table, one that he had made from a solid core door.

“Dad, what are you doing?” I asked. He was so focused he didn’t see me watching him.

“Check it out! The table wanted to be shorter. It told me so. Shhh, I have to be careful so I do it right.” His eyes were glassy and dilated, staring intently at the table. “There, isn’t that better?”

I wasn’t sure if he was addressing me or the table. He walked around the table admiring his work. Then he looked at the barrel chairs, which were now towering over what used to be our dinette. One by one he sawed the legs off the chairs until they matched the height of what now resembled a Japanese chabudai. When he took the chair legs off, each chair was tipped back. Somehow this seemed to work with the new design.

When Jan and Joan saw what my dad had done to our table, they thought it was hysterical, but not for the same reasons I did.

“Holy shit, Dianne,” Joan said. “Either your father has lost his mind or he was totally tripping.”

“What do you mean he was tripping?” I asked.

“LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide,” she replied.

“What is that?” I asked. Though I’d heard my father’s Timothy Leary records, I really didn’t know what LSD was for.

“LSD is a drug that causes hallucinations,” Jan explained.

“Some people say it opens your consciousness and makes you smarter,” Joan said.

I’m not sure if this remodeled table was a sign that my father was smarter, but the table did become a central gathering place for our little family and my best friends. My parents invited different kinds of people—artists, musicians, actors—over to the house for large potlucks. Before the meal, they would pass around joints. I was used to smoking marijuana by now and often got high with Jan and Joan. We had fun together and were now hanging out at the A Be & See Head Shop near our homes; we were becoming part of a cool group of people who all got high.

After all those at our potlucks were buzzed, we would eat heartily. We were now more vegetarians than meat eaters, but I don’t think that was on purpose. People were experimenting with new types of fresh health foods, so the contributions to the table were often dishes with nuts, seeds, sprouts, and tofu. Along with the new foods, there was also a gradual change in the people who were attending the potlucks. Previously there had been a lot of lively conversation bordering on the loud. Now some of my parents’ new friends, instead of talking, would spend a lot of time quietly staring off into space.

My dad enjoyed intellectual stimulation, so he would often start a discussion.

“Robert, what do you think a woman’s role should be?” Robert was a long-haired man who had been living with his girlfriend for over ten years.

“Why are you asking him?” my mom interjected. “He is not a woman.”

“I mean from a man’s point of view,” my father said, sitting back in his chair as my mother got up to clear the dishes. “See, that is what I mean. Is it the woman’s job to clear the dishes?”

Carol, Robert’s girlfriend, started to laugh.

“Why are you laughing?” my dad asked. He seemed genuinely curious.

“Why am I laughing, Shirley?” Carol shouted to the kitchen. She had been involved with my father’s theoretical discussions about how women’s roles were changing and how my mom should spend more time with him expanding her consciousness.

My mom returned from the kitchen with dessert and then got some plates and forks.

“Why do you think I am laughing, Shirley?”

“Because what Clarence is saying is not reality.”

“What do you mean? You read the papers. Women want to be liberated from the shackles of domesticity.”

“Yeah, right.” My mom sighed. “The women who are fighting for liberation don’t have three children to feed, clothe, and raise, and they don’t have a house to keep clean. And furthermore, when would I have any time to even read the paper, let alone contemplate my navel like that?”

“Don’t you want to be equal to men?” my father insisted.

“I am equal. But you say you are going to help me with the household chores. When is the last time you cleaned a dish or cooked a meal? What do you think would happen if I stopped doing all of these things?”

This is how their discussions went. My father would try to “liberate” my mother from domestic drudgery so she could be more passionate about the things he found interesting. Of course he wasn’t willing to make any changes to himself. While he talked a great deal about changing the order of things, when it came to his role in the family, it was just talk. Looking back, I can’t ignore the fact that they would have conversations like these while my mother was actively doing the housework while he sat and watched. He was never a participant in the household chores. Still, it never seemed to bother her. Much as she always did with him, she just shrugged it off and let him “philosophize,” as she termed it.

The fact that my father’s attitudes were changing so fast would have been amusing if it didn’t portend trouble. My father could never do anything halfway. Instead of being a casual pot smoker, he was smoking all the time, his cigarettes replaced with expertly hand-rolled joints. His eyes were always glassy and he was much more talkative unless he was being pensive. Then he could pontificate on one subject as if no one in the world could understand it with the intensity he could. He was not as excited about his work as he had been and was starting to grow out his hair. He kept it neat with Brylcreem for work, but it was beginning to appear incongruous.

As word spread of the scene happening every weekend at Griffith Park, the sea of happy hippies outgrew its environment. After the first be-in in January, there had been another one in February, a week before my fourteenth birthday, with more than five thousand people in attendance. Exciting as it was, it was like a warm-up to the main attraction. On Easter Sunday that year, March 26, 1967, the be-in moved to Elysian Park in Central Los Angeles. It provided more than six hundred acres for people to picnic, dance, groove, and embrace the counterculture.

The love-in as the “Be In” was now called, started in the very early morning and we got there with the sunrise. There were already what appeared to be thousands of people, including young families with small children and people embracing their muses. My parents set up a place to sit and listen to the music, but I didn’t want to stay in one spot. A chain of people passed by and reached out a hand to add me as a link. I turned to my parents expectantly, and they nodded and told me to meet them later back at the car. At least that is what I thought they said, and before they could change their mind, I was off.

There was too much going on for me not to explore on my own. The chain of people ran together along trails through hills, laughing and singing until we ended up somewhere on the far end of the park. We split up and I found myself in the middle of something special. The sweet smell of incense was intoxicating mixed with the pungent aroma of grass. The Doors were playing in the distance, but we were used to seeing them at these events. They weren’t famous yet; they had just released their first album in 1967. They were almost like a local band. As I walked through the path between blankets, people handed me joints and shared their bounty.

There was a circle of drummers oblivious to the music coming from other instruments just a few feet away. They were surrounded by a small tribe of men in loincloths who appeared caught up in the rapturous beats. Women were free of any confining clothing. Many were wearing muslin, and some were wrapped in blankets and not much else. There were people of every shape and size dancing together or alone as dogs wove in and out of the crowd. Little children, many golden-haired from the California sun, wore flower crowns. They were busily engaged in finger-painting on paper while their parents were decorating one another.
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