Book 1: 1968
Chapter 2: Topanga Beach
It’s a Batgirl kind of night, the sky purple, moon yellow. Even though it’s spring, 1968 is a year when every season feels like September. Wind rattles leaves high in the trees, and moonlight shines off the top of so many teenager heads. Kids clown around by the bonfire, driven to dance to records by the Wildcats and other surf groups whose drum fills last forever, and the ghostly reverb on the guitar drives the kicks. Their arms and legs co-mingle and fly akimbo as if they are trying to throw and kick their limbs away.
It’s three girls. They step into the fire’s light, plain to see: Babysitter pretty, brown hair, sleepy eyes, pants that flare below the knee, no shoes. One has a denim purse with rhinestones forming the shape of a butterfly.
When the girls appear, it’s the boys without dance partners whose hearts flutter.
--Go talk to her.
--The one with long, straight hair.
--They all have long, straight hair.
--The one with bangs. The purse. Do it.
The one with long, straight hair, bangs, and purse couldn’t hear their hushed whispers over the new record playing but extends her hand to greet them. --Sadie, she says.
--Pleased, says the boy whose hand she shakes.
--Man, you freaks look like you stepped off another planet, says another of the boys.
Sadie pinches her nose and in a raspy nasal tone proclaims, --Take me to your leader! which draws the kind of laughter that helps them all relax.
--What brings you three lovely ladies out tonight?
--We heard the music, man. No need to get uptight.
--Yeah, we saw the fire and wanted to check it out.
--It’s a gorgeous night.
--Beats staying inside.
--You gals live up in the hills?
--We’re crashing at Dennis Wilson’s pad.
--Get out of town. Help me, Rhonda, yeah!
--Dennis is on tour with the Beach Boys. We’re just crashing at his pad.
--Would you like a soft drink?
--Do you have a beer? Sadie asks.
--What kind of scene is this? An L.A. beach party and not a freak in sight.
--Can I get you a bottle of Seven-Up?
--I just need a light, Sadie says.
--We’re on a creepy crawl, she says, blowing the smoke out of the side of her mouth away from the others.
The other two girls converge on Sadie, hushing her, which stokes the boys’ curiosity.
--Put that back! says one of her friends.
--You girls are far out! says the boy with the ho-daddy hair.
--Is this a stick up? asks another boy.
--I told you. It’s a crrrreeepy crawwwwl, Sadie says, putting the knife away. --We sneak inside the houses of rich pigs while they sleep, make ourselves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, steal petty stuff, that kind of thing. Charlie likes knives, so I always bring him back a knife. We set their clocks back an hour, mess around their silverware drawer, put their spoons where their forks should be, pour bacon grease down the drain, flush a hand towel down the toilet.
--That takes some nerve.
--The part where it gets good is when we sneak around their bedrooms.
--How do have the stomach to do that?
--It's about creating the fear, man. Putting yourself in the fear brings on a higher awareness. You see everything like it really is.
--What do you do if they wake up?
--That's what the knife is for, Sadie says. Then after a long, squirmy silence, continues, --You take things too serious. You should see your faces right now. So tell me what this scene is about, all these kids and no beer.
--It's Jimmy's going away party, a boy says, gesturing his head to an unseen kid on the other side of the fire.
--Uncle Sam wants you, Jimmy! Sadie calls out.
--No, it's nothing like that. Jimmy’s a singer.
--I didn't know singers got draft deferments.
--Jimmy’s not drafted. He got a part with a musical act, Up With People, the Sing-Out Explosion. He's going with them on tour around the world for a year.
--Oh, God, they are so square. My great-aunt loves them, says the young woman standing beside Sadie.
--I didn’t catch your name? says the ho-daddy haircut.
--You can call her Squeaky, Sadie says. --We all do.
--Pleased to meetcha, Squeaky.
--Why do they call you Squeaky?
--It’s not polite to ask that in mixed company, Sadie says.
--We’re singers, too, Squeaky says.
--Are you in a group?
--We’re more like a family.
--Like the Beach Boys?
--Don’t I wish!
--Do you have a recording contract?
--That’s Charlie’s thing, Sadie says. He’s got a head for business. We’re going to be backup singers on Charlie’s album. We’re going to record it in North Hollywood at Universal Studios. Dennis Wilson set that up for us.
--Charlie’s our savior, says Sadie.
--Sounds like a pretty swell guy.
--I said, he’s our savior. He’s my savior. You look surprised.
--The church where I go has a savior named Jesus Christ.
--Charlie is love, says Squeaky. --He changes you.
--Charles Manson is the second coming of Jesus Christ, says Sadie.
--Then why ain’t I ever heard of him?
--You will. Everyone will.
--Charlie is beautiful and gives out lots of love. In our family, we are always kissing, hugging, and making love. It’s what a family is supposed to be.
--Not in my book.
--Jimmy, get over here, Brian calls out to his compatriot on the other side of the bonfire. --Wait until you get a load of this.
--Jimmy, meet Sadie and Squeaky, and ...
--Pleased to meet you ladies.
--You’ll be happy to know that Sadie and Squeaky here, and Katie, know Jesus Christ personally.
Jimmy looks Sadie in the eye and takes one of her hands into his. With her other hand, she hides her cigarette behind her back. --Isn’t it a warm feeling that reaches down into the depths of your being, Jimmy says. --The feeling of knowing Christ. I’ve been trying to talk to this dingle-berry here, he says, pointing toward Brian with his thumb, --into going back to his faith for ages.
--Watch who you call a dingle-berry, dingle-berry.
Sadie pulls her hand away. --It’s not like that, man. You got it all wrong. I don’t dig your pig church.
Jimmy flinches, tears away his gaze, squints. Then he gets it: --I know all about kids like you. Running in the streets, protesting the war. I have news for you. It’s not the war you hate, oh, no. It’s patriotism. Long-hair kids like you hate America.
--Shit, man. You got it all wrong. I looove America. I love Russia, too, and Red China. I looooove the whole world. I don’t give a fuck about the war.
--I don’t appreciate your French.
--Can we talk about something else? Can we talk about music? He said you’re a singer?
With the scene calming down, Squeaky and Katie, as well as Brian and his friends slough away to other conversations around the fire, leaving Sadie and Jimmy alone to talk about music.
--Sure, I’m a singer. What do you sing?
--The songs Charlie writes. How ‘bout you?
--I just sing high.
--I bet you do.
--Did you get a load of my knife?
She pulls it out of her purse again. --I don’t know why people make such a big deal of it. It’s an ordinary kitchen knife.
--It’s a strange item to carry around in your bag.
--If I was slicing tomatoes, no one would bat an eye.
--The beach isn’t exactly a kitchen, he says.
Sadie bursts into laughter, she can’t hold still, and her appearance turns strange in the twisting shadows thrown by the fire playing across her face.
Jimmy knows it should not be this way. He can’t explain it. He likes her.
--You know, you're something else when you laugh, he says.
--Really, you think so. No one's ever said that to me before.
A girl who had been standing several feet away pulls Jimmy aside and says to him in a harsh whisper, --No sooner do I turn my back and I see you talking to her with those big cow eyes.
--We're just talking!
--That's all you better do, Jimmy Sorensen!
He slips back to Sadie. --Now where was I?
--I was showing you my creepy crawl knife.
Sadie bows her legs and bounds around the fire, wielding the knife over her head and slashing the air like Tony Perkins with ants in his pants. Her dance draws hoots of laughter from the boys.
--How many times do I have to say this? Put that thing away, will ya? Squeaky calls to her from the other side of the fire.
Sadie sneaks back to Jimmy and shows him the knife. She strokes it up and down with her fingers. --Charlie's a knife freak. He taught me how to toss knives. I’ll show you. Go stand by that tree and light a cigarette.
--Sure, that sounds like fun. The only problem is I don't smoke.
Sadie again bursts into a fit of laughter, and this time, he joins her.
They search for something to say.
--Someone's out there in the woods, he says.
--You saw a man?
--A man without a face?
--I didn't see his face, but just because I didn't see his face doesn't mean he doesn't have a face.
--Charlie this, Charlie that. Charlie the Tuna.
In a sing-songy voice: --You don't want to call Charlie a tuna when Charlie's around.
--If he's a friend of yours, why doesn't he come down here?
--Charlie's like that, man. He's shy. Is he still there?
--I don’t see him.
--Then he’s gone.
--Can I tell you something private?
--Lay it on me.
--I don’t know what I’m getting myself into.
--It’s all right. I don’t bite.
--No, I mean with Up With People. There’s something strange going on.
--You’ll have fun. Not a lot of kicks but fun.
--Here, I’ll show you what I mean. Billy, get your rear end over here, he calls out to a chubby kid on crutches. --Billy, what did you think about the show last week at Fort Hood? Sadie, this is Billy. Billy’s got a part in Up With People, too. He broke his leg skiing, which will keep him off the stage for, how long?
--The next six weeks, Billy replies.
--Billy, what did you think of the show?
--It was spectacular! When you fellas broke into "We Are With You, Mr. Washington," it hit me like a bombshell. I was sitting there with tears in my eyes flowing from my eyes like two rivers. I just couldn't get over how terrific it was. I wanted to be up there on stage with you so much, this busted leg of mine better heal up quick.
--Thanks, Billy, now go get yourself a Seven-Up.
Billy hobbles away, leaving Sadie and Jimmy to talk in a hushed tone.
--Sounds like you really knocked them out, Sadie says.
--That’s just it, says Jimmy. --We were awful. We stank up the place. All those G.I.s, man, they hated us.
--I’m sure it wasn’t that bad.
--They were screaming obscenities, throwing things. I smiled through it. Everyone did. The whole show, all I could think about was how I wanted to quit.
--Then quit then.
--The thing is, I picked up the newspaper the next morning on our way out of town, and there was a review of the show, saying how the G.I.s gave us five standing ovations. It didn’t bug anyone else, how the paper got it so wrong. It’s like if the newspaper says that the audience loved us, then that makes it true. Somebody out there wants us to look good. I don’t know who or why.
--You should be more like me. I get down with people.
--I don’t get you freaks and all your peace and love mumbo-jumbo.
--Shit, man, peace and love are over, in case you hadn’t noticed. Our family has moved past peace and love.
--What do you believe in then?
--We believe in what Charlie teaches. Charlie says there is no good. There is no evil. Kill is a thing, and you can’t kill kill. If you’re willing to be killed, you should be willing to kill.
--That last part sounds like my old man. He fought in the Pacific.
--Charlie says it’s the pigs turn to go up the cross.
--Now there’s something my old man would never say.
--We’re not so different. I used to go to church, but it’s not like I ever felt God, or whatever, not like I feel the fear. With Charlie, it’s life or death, man. Charlie makes it that way.
--You look like someone good at keeping secrets.
--I don’t know about that.
--Please don’t tell anyone. When I’m praying, I know I’m supposed to feel the spirit of Christ our savior flowing through me, but I don’t feel a damn thing. So I do catch your drift. I do feel it when I’m singing, and I’m not supposed to say this, but I feel it when I hear the Rolling Stones. Their music makes me want to sing and dance. God, Mick Jagger is just what I imagine Christ would be if he lived today. You’re the only person I can tell that. The only way I can ever hear the Rolling Stones is in my bedroom with the sound turned down.
--Then why don’t you ditch Up With Pigs and join the Rolling Stones?
--I don’t have that look. My parents would kill me if I grew my hair out.
--Charlie digs the Beatles. They send messages to each other in their songs.
--Charlie doesn’t sound half bad.
--You know, if it doesn’t work out for you in Up Yours, you could always come sing with us, you know, be part of Charlie’s family.
--Sorry, nailing pigs to the cross ain’t my scene.
--There are pretty girls. It’s like two girls for every boy, but we have even more than that. Everyone gets off on each other. Everyone gets loaded.
--No, thanks, that’s not for me.
--If you really can sing, Charlie might even give you the best parts.
--I can sing anywhere I go. I could sing to the ocean and moon all night, if I wanted.
--You would change your mind if you could see Charlie dance.
--What’s so special about that?
--He dances like he’s on fire. You can’t take your eyes off of him.
--It doesn’t sound like anything I want to see.
--Charlie has a way with animals. He can zap a snake with his stare.
--I can zap them with my .38.
--Charlie will zap you with his .38.
--All the more reason for me to stay put. Hey, do you wanna dance?
--I thought you’d never ask.
He puts his hand in the small of her back. She reaches behind her and takes it. They make their way past the others toward the patch of beach where the kids are dancing. They face each other and begin to move in time with the music. She performs a watusi, her arms reaching up and down in the air vigorously. He tries out the James Brown moves he learned from the T.A.M.I Show, his feet moving so fast they turn invisible and never touch the ground.