Tuesday, April 27, 2010


[Summer, 2009] CHARLES MANSON showed up at the writers’ conference I was attending. Perhaps he, like others beholden to the bankrupt State of California, was on furlough from normal obligations. Seemed odd, however: The lovely environ in which we were meeting was a bit far afield from the “B and B” in Chowchilla where I’d assumed he was so securely residing. Or was it Vacaville?

Anyway, I could tell it was Charlie right off the bat: by the hair – still amazingly true to its original color after all these years – and those signature, sunken cheeks. The eyes, however, threw me for a moment. They appeared calm, even placid. Not drugged or anything like that, but not crazed, either. And certainly no match to his most recent photos in the San Francisco Chronicle of a few decades back.

CONFERENCE ATTENDEES of my generation drew, I think, a connection similar to mine and chose to sit none-too-close to him in the auditorium.

Younger folks: not so.

My contemporaries appeared taken aback by Charlie’s presence. You know, uncomfortable. The communal aire of warmth, openness and artistic acceptance condensed into something more reserved: clammy, damp-blanketed – perhaps even phobic. During passing periods between workshop sessions, I’d pick up on diverted eyes and hushed conversations – whispers – accompanied by cloaked yet pointing fingers.

I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to be so concerned. I simply figured that, hell, like the rest of us, Charlie had a novel or a book inside of him and that conference participation with its attendant feedback was one of the necessary steps in getting the damned thing out.

Still, I sat none-too-close.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

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