The man who met Manson sat down at the bar and ordered a scotch neat. He was a thin sort of man – thin build, thinning hair, thin lips. He left such an impression of thin that people would always say, “You know. That thin guy.” As if nothing else need be said. Indeed, no one had ever mentioned anything else that was memorable about him. Even his thinness faded from any given memory almost as soon as it took up residence. He was, apart from the thinness, completely nondescript.
Earlier that morning, as he perused the daily paper, he had run across an article written for the anniversary of the murders. There he had seen a photograph of Charles Manson, the young Charlie Manson, and the moment of recognition came upon him with a physical jolt, like one of those times when you feel you are falling even as you’re sitting quite securely in a kitchen chair. He caught himself. He drew a breath. “Oh, it’s been years since I thought of him!” The man who met Manson exclaimed. “I met him that one time. What an excellent encounter it was, too. ”
The man who met Manson sat for a while, bringing to mind some details of his meeting with Manson, more that forty years ago he realized with another shock. He had hooked up with a group of musicians working in the L.A. area. He wasn’t an intimate member of the group. If truth be told, he was a hanger-on, following them from gig to gig, sitting quietly in corners as they partied, passing joints and hash pipes around. Strangers were accepted, even expected, in those days. “Peace and love, man.” That’s what people said back then. Everyone was welcome everywhere.
That particular night they were lounging around in someone’s basement room. Brightly colored bead curtains were hanging in all the doorways. Heavily perfumed incense was burning in a brass burner shaped like an elephant. All the guys had that slightly scruffy, hippie look – long hair, unkempt beards, wrinkled caftans. The girls looked a bit neater with their bell-bottomed jeans, long ironed hair and braided headbands. He couldn’t remember exactly what music was playing then but he inserted Days of Future Passed into the memory because it had been one of his favorites, the lyrics of Late Lament especially resonant for him with their references to loss and cold hearts.
It was into this iconic scene that Charlie Manson had suddenly appeared, pushing aside the colorful beads with a decisive clack, whirling around the room with a kind of manic energy that seemed out of place in the laid back groove that had been established before his arrival. He appropriated a guitar from one of the musicians but played so badly that he soon lost any hold on his audience. He tried, tried hard, to take center stage in the group. The groove flowed on around him as if he were a momentary disruption that could be safely ignored, a short bearded gnat. The man watched with keen interest as Charlie’s anger grew beneath his social facade, watched as his eyes grew harder with the deepening night. Charlie, it seemed, did not like to be judged inconsequential.
Around one in the morning, the man who met Manson caught Charlie’s eye with a nod and a smile. He gestured to the empty seat beside him, gratified when Charlie stumbled over and sat down.
“So, Charlie – that is your name, right? So, how are you enjoying the party? I’m finding it a bit stuffy myself.” He provided that small opening and waited to see if Charlie would jump through it, an amused expression on his face.
“Stuffy? These cats are all stuck up jerks as far as I’m concerned. They look down on people like me. Makes me mad, man!”
“How mad, Charlie? And what do you plan to do about it?” The man leaned forward to make sure he had Charlie’s full attention. “Don’t you want to make them pay?”
“Yeah! Yeah, I do. They deserve it.”
“Then do it. You have the anger inside you. Build it, feed it, turn it into something formidable and undeniable. Use it. When the time is right, let it loose to destroy them.” The man held Charlie’s gaze for a long moment then rose from his seat, ready to depart.
“Wait,” said Charlie. “How will I know when the time is right.”
“You’ll know,” said the man. “Hold tight to that anger and you’ll know.”
Remembering his meeting with Manson was quite refreshing for the man. In recent years, he had grown quite tired of his work, often wondering if the results of his labor were worth the effort he expended. True, he had an affinity for the work. Why else keep at it all this time? But still. Sometimes he wondered.
Remembering his meeting with Manson had restored his enthusiasm. What a glorious success that had been, he thought. He had known the little man was harboring the right kind of anger but who could have predicted the form it would ultimately take. The stuff of legend and nightmare. Never to be forgotten. Finding another Charlie was a certainly a worthwhile pursuit.
So it was that the man who met Manson entered the bar that afternoon with a new spring in his step and sat quietly sipping his scotch. He observed those who came and went, most closely watching those who stayed drinking a bit too much, those who muttered angrily, those who sneered at the bartender and other customers. Later in the evening, the man moved down to one end of the bar in order to sit next to a young woman whose rage had been steadily building. He felt something special in this one.
“Hello, Julie,” he said. “I did hear the bartender call you Julie, didn’t I? You seem very angry about something. Want to talk about it?”
© Karen Kleis – All Rights Reserved
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