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The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Denton, Texas, was only fifty miles from Copeville, but it meant being on my own. North Texas State University was attended mainly by people with country Texas backgrounds a lot like mine, but it was away from home.
It was September, 1964, and I was going to be Joe College. My parents expected great things from me-after all, hadn't I graduated from Farmersville High with honors? I expected freedom.

In other places around the country, students were taking off in new directions that would not only lead a whole generation to a radical break from the comfortable fifties' womb we'd all grown up in, but would destroy that world forever. We didn't know or care about all that in Denton. For us, college still meant fraternities and hazing and driving down to Dallas with a fake I.D. that got you into German beer halls where you drank out of pottery steins and sang along with a polka band.

The only drug anybody knew much about was Dexedrine, brought over the border from Mexico to keep you awake for finals cramming. It wasn't until my junior year that dope was ever even talked about. By then rumor had it that one of the guys was smoking marijuana in his room sometimes, but it was not considered cool, and at N.T.S.U. there was nothing more important than being cool.

Cool meant parties and beer and women-the same as high school but more of each. Cool was dressing well. I started buying new clothes, wide ties and button-down shirts and a camel's hair blazer with metal buttons. I combed down the crew cut and let it grow a little-the barber called it the Ivy League look.

We weren't that interested in classes (my grades soon showed it), and if anybody ever talked about politics he meant civics lectures on a bicameral legislative branch, not people in the streets. We were proud to be Americans-if we thought about it. We would have undoubtedly said communism was bad, if anybody bothered to ask us-communists wanted to bury us. The world outside was simple; Lyndon Johnson was "a good of boy" from Texas and nobody really knew much about some kind of military assistance we were giving over in Southeast Asia.

It was a time when you thought of the Golden Gate, not the Haight, when somebody mentioned San Francisco. If we'd have seen a man with hair to his shoulders we'd have called him a "pansy," not a "hippie," and a beard was something you let grow over vacation on a dare, then shaved off.

After living for eighteen years in the same white frame house in Copeville, I suppose I felt pretty mature moving into a student residence hall near the campus. I woke up the first morning with the exhilarating realization that I could do whatever I wanted and nobody would care.

My roommate was a junior transfer from Texas State in Austin, and from the very beginning I got in with a group older than I was. They knew how to dress, where to take a woman, and had a reputation for being a little wild. I was impressed. I also learned fast. When frat rushes started during second semester, there was no question where I'd end up. I'd already been careening around campus in Pi Kappa Alpha's old fire truck with the rest of the boys for several months.

Part of the fraternity initiation was a scavenger hunt. It was more than a game; your being pledged depended on getting every item on the list. And PKA tradition made it clear that there was more than one acceptable way to pick up what you needed. My partner and I had to find, among other things, four typewriters. Through the beer-soaked fog that traditionally surrounded events like this, I remembered the typing class at Farmersville High School, with row on row of battered Royals. Getting them was easy-break the glass, open the door, giggle a lot, and shush each other boozily. It seemed extremely funny. The next day, with a throbbing hangover, four typewriters, and the certainty of being caught, it seemed extremely stupid.

Rather than have them find out from someone else, I went to my parents myself. They took it hard, and as we drove into McKinney, the county seat, to talk to a lawyer, I fumed to myself that they couldn't have been any more upset if I'd committed murder.

The lawyer was Roland Boyd, a Texas gentleman of the old school, whose family had been close to my mother's people for several generations. Because I turned myself and the typewriters in, or-possibly-because Roland's son Bill was county district attorney at the time, I was not even booked. But to be sure I didn't get the wrong impression, Mr. Boyd took me into his paneled conference room for a stern talk about staying out of trouble in the future. I assured him I would. As he sat talking to me about my fine high-school record and my parents' feelings, neither of us could possibly anticipate those same parents sitting in that same room four years later, asking him and his son to represent me on a charge of murder.

Back among the Pikes (our campus nickname), it started to seem a little funny again. It was, after all, part of our reputation to be riding just over the edge of the law occasionally. A year later, when a beer bottle tossed drunkenly out of a car destroyed a boy's eye, that reputation took on a darker tone. Even though I wasn't involved, my minister in Copeville took the opportunity to write me a long letter of concern. His major point was the assurance that he did not condemn the whole house through guilt by association, but what I noticed most was his comment that incidents like this were one reason the Methodist church opposed drinking. The rules again . . . . I wasn't interested in what he had to say about character and moral stamina. I wasn't interested in the counsel and prayers he offered. I was too busy having fun.

Life was a succession of parties, interrupted by a minimal amount of studying. Except for a fraternity track meet where I ran the high hurdles, I didn't get involved in sports at college; they took too much time and effort. Sitting over drinks at Lou Ann's in Dallas, or making a run to our local college tavern for beer, I'd think that this was what life was all about: having good times with your buddies. Swing-dancing to the Five Americans, or persuading a girl I'd still respect her, I'd think back to my last few years at home and wonder how I'd survived all my parents' rules and old-fashioned attitudes. Even then-fifty miles away with my own apartment and a new 1966 Coronet 500 and a boat and all the friends I could want-even then they were still in the background, checking up on me, asking about the girls I saw and what they were doing at my apartment so much, asking why my grades weren't what they'd been in high school, urging me to start going to church again. It was love that made them concerned, but at the time all I could sense was oppression. Even away from Copeville, the world I'd grown up in was stifling me, putting limits on my freedom. I began to think maybe I needed to get even farther away.

By the time I started my junior year, I even had an idea what "farther away" would be like: California. My generation wasn't the first to get hooked on the special, somehow magical appeal of the Coast. There had been the perfect climate, the orange trees, then Hollywood and the chance to become a film star (our democracy's answer to royalty). In the sixties, California meant beaches and surfing and endless summers. When I was still at home, my brother had collected almost every album the Beach Boys made and, although I wasn't that into music, I heard them from behind his door, singing about "California Girls" in a way that made Texas women seem a little less exciting than they had before, singing about the surfing that was some kind of golden fantasy for us, but a way of life in California. I could never have imagined that one day one of those superstars would take me into his home and introduce me to an aspiring rock singer named Charlie Manson.

Even if I didn't live the music the way some did, the message got through; the music was all around you. By the time the Mamas and Papas released "California Dreamin'," we were all doing it. Then Richard Carson one of the Pikes who'd gone through pledging with me and later moved to the West Coast, came back to Denton for a visit. You couldn't exactly put your finger on it, but he was different. We all noticed itlonger sideburns, a different way of dressing, an ease in his manner. We kidded him a little and made jokes among ourselves, but inside I envied him the freedom he seemed to have found.

I was living pretty expensively, between the parties and the women and the trips to Dallas and keeping up the boat and repairing my car after five or six different accidents-most of which involved a little too much booze. My new roommate during junior year was working for Braniff Airlines at Love Field outside of Dallas and he didn't have to say much to convince me that a job with the airline would beat the onionpacking plant at home hands-down. It was a glamorous world, exciting and new. You were eligible for free flights (I'd never ridden on a plane), you wore a good-looking uniform, and you got the chance to meet stewardesses. We all knew about stewardesses.

I was hired as a baggage boy, driving tractors loaded with luggage to and from the planes on the graveyard shift. I kept up with school halfheartedly during the day and squeezed parties in between. One weekend I scored impressive points with my friends by taking a girl on a three-day date to Acapulco. There were other trips down to Mexico as well, and those first few flights were some of the most exciting moments of my life. I'd grip the arms of the seat during takeoff and feel the rush of power go through me. Peering out the window, I'd watch the tiny, cramped world I'd grown up in disappear and I'd know that finally I'd gotten out from under everything that wanted to hold me down-all the small-town pettiness and ignorance and piety that my home and family represented. I was soaring, I was my own man, and I was very pleased with what I'd become.

I began work at Braniff in January 1967, and that spring, while I was taking off for Mexico and making the rounds, of nightclubs in Dallas with a series of stewardesses, Charles Manson was released from McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary in Washington and moved to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco where he spent the spring starting the Family. At that point in my life, if anyone had told me about this short ex-con who'd spent seventeen of his thirty-two years in penal institutions, I'd have written him off as a loser and gone back to the primary business of my life-having a good time.
I worked for Braniff all summer, and as my senior year approached, Denton looked more and more uninviting. I needed a change. Even Dallas night life and discounted flights to Mexico couldn't keep me free from that tight little world I'd grown up in. The final straw came when I totaled my car one night as I was leaving a nightclub and trying to make it through a yellow light. The remains of my Coronet 500, that moving symbol of all I was and hoped to be, brought barely $800 as junk. I decided it was time for a visit to my fraternity buddy Richard Carson in Los Angeles.

I had a date with one of the stewardesses I'd gotten to know at the airport a few days before I left, and when I picked her up that night there was a strange smell in her apartment.

"That's just a pot burning," she winked. I didn't know what she was talking about. Later in the evening, while we were at a dance club, she explained to me that what I'd smelled was marijuana and that we could buy some good stuff from one of the band members. I was intrigued and I was scared. I wanted to please her-and even if weed hadn't been cool at Denton, apparently it was cool here, so I approached the musician nervously and a few minutes later we were on our way back to her place, the proud owners of fifteen dollars' worth of stems and seeds. I'd never seen grass before so I didn't know the difference.

Like most people, I didn't get much out of my first smoke except a scorched throat, but I liked the feel of it, passing the joint back and forth, relaxing, having an excuse to hang loose. When the girl suggested that much better grass was available in California, I agreed to try to bring her back a lid.

A few days later I was leaning to look out the plane window as we started the descent into the Los Angeles Basin. It was smoggy as we crossed over the mountains and the slanting sun turned the haze into a kind of blazing, thick red stew. It was like sinking into the mouth of a volcano. The city seemed to go on forever, and I liked it even before we landed.

From listening to the music you sometimes got the impression that there was nobody in California over thirty. The first thing Richard showed me was Sunset Strip and I began to think the songs were right. The rows of discotheques and clubs and psychedelic shops were packed with young people, and they looked different from any people I'd ever seen before. The men wore beards and long hair and beads; the girls danced along with nipples outlined beneath their thin blouses. People played flutes on the corner and walked barefoot on the concrete. A girl brushed by me murmuring, "Grass? Acid? Speed?" Rich took me into the famous Whiskey a Go-Go, and as the rock blared I stared at the dancers, couples moving to the beat in the most unabashedly sexual movements I'd ever seen in public. It was a long way from Texas and if freedom was what I'd been looking for, I was certain this was it.

Richard's tour included a visit to a buddy of his named Paul Williams, a young songwriter nobody had heard of at this point. He lived in a tiny little room under a garage on the side of a hill and couldn't even get anyone to listen to his music. He played us one of the songs he was working on. In a few years, he and I would both be famous-for very different reasons.

It seemed like the whole weekend was a rush-we drove all around Los Angeles. We partied and smoked dope, and the California grass did what it was supposed to. The lid I'd promised my stewardess friend was easy to find. The pace was faster than anything I'd ever know back home and the people seemed looser, freer. I felt as if I fit in pretty well, though later Rich would tell me I'd really blown away a girl he knew, when she stopped by his apartment and I stood up and called her "Ma'am" when she came in the room.

Sunday morning Rich's brother Willis, who wanted to be an actor and had changed his name to Ben Brooks in hopes of sounding more professional, took me to church. Knowing my background, I guess he thought it would be what I expected. It was a Religious Science congregation and seemed pretty similar to church at home: lots of talking that meant very little to me. I half-dozed through most of it. On the way home, Willis told me that what he was really into was something called Scientology. The way he explained it, it was a whole new kind of trip that combined the wisdom of some of the Eastern religions with new scientific understanding of brain waves and energy. He threw around a lot of terms like "aware" and "beta" and "karma" and I tried to act interested, but what I was really thinking about was the girls we were planning to see that afternoon. The last thing I wanted to hear was something as complicated and crazy sounding as Willis-Ben's new religion. I couldn't have suspected that later some of these same concepts, reworked by Charles Manson for his own peculiar purposes, would end up directing my whole life.

By the time the weekend was over, I knew what I wantedbut it took three more trips before I finally went home to my parents and confronted them with the fact that I was moving to California. They objected all the way up to the moment I got on the plane on August 28. But I knew what I was doing. At last I'd be totally my own man, totally free, without anyone telling me what to do. That was what it boiled down to: I didn't want anyone, ever again, to tell me what to do. It sounded so good. But in twelve months, Charlie Manson would be telling me what to do.

Chapter Three Table of Content Chapter Five

(Will You Die For Me? Copyright 1978, by Ray Hoekstra. Published by Cross Roads Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

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