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Everybody has a story to tell

Yogi Berra was right: It is déjà vu all over again. After a 16-year absence from this column, I’ve now had four submissions accepted—an honor not lost on me, especially as it comes nearly four years into my return to City Weekly.

As publisher, John Saltas gets first crack at the space each week, and Private Eye is his exclusive title for the column when he writes. I’ve often told him of my admiration for his writing, which makes my inclusion in this club all the more appreciated.

It’s not that my getting the opportunity (nor Saltas keeping his writing position) follows the saying, “Youth and ambition are no match for old age and treachery”—even though I am the oldest person on staff. It’s simply that Saltas has lately opted for less-frequent print appearances, and I was lucky enough to be invited by the editor to join the pool of contributors, my writing deemed at least a cut above hack.

In Saltas’ absence, the column is tagged Opinion. The title is not in the vein of the masthead of The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial page but rather allows for a wide variety of topics. One common saying disparages opinion in likening it to the fact that everyone has one, the same as possessing a certain body part. One can only hope that readers view the column’s content more charitably.

I know from editing the columns that most of the writers are all close to my age (and three of us—Saltas, I and regular contributor John Rasmuson—share the same first name). These weekly musings come from authors with more years lived than years remaining. As the prime rule in penning essays is to write what one best knows, what we have are stories accumulated with the earned perspective of the experience of all those years. I hope the articles don’t come off as some gummers reliving the I-remember-when glory days of the past.

Most all cultures highly value elder members, if not by making them leaders, then at least acknowledging the importance of their life experiences by providing them a forum for relating their points of view for the benefit of the group. The West African griot—storyteller—is my favorite embodiment of that. Some Americans who have carried that torch include the late Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, Andy Rooney and Paul Harvey, along with Dave Barry, who is alive and well and has a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. I once received a welcome word of encouragement from songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, who admonished me not to refer to myself as “just a writer.” Still, I’ll no doubt be pulling the wagonload of all those esteemed gentlemen’s boots for some time.

We all have stories to tell of our lives; now that I’m in my seventh decade, naturally, I’ve amassed a bunch. The trick in presenting these to readers is to find the thread that allows a connection, whether through revealing truth, evoking a memory of a similar event or in simply being able to share the marvel of the experience itself.

Some random thing will shake my mind’s cobwebs and trigger a memory, like newspaper articles that appear from time to time—one just recently noting that parole again had been denied for an incarcerated Manson Family member.

The Manson Family was an ersatz Los Angeles commune headed by Charles Manson, whose members were all convicted of a pair of horribly brutal mass murders committed in the summer of 1969. Their crimes had come on the heels of the “Summer of Love” and pretty much ended the halcyon-days view of hippies as peaceful and loving.

I was about to start my senior year in high school in Los Angeles the summer of ’68. Hitchhiking was then a common mode of transportation for me and my friends, mostly for getting rides to the beach. We could always count on some longhair to pick us up, as we knew they were “cool.” It’s just how things were in those seemingly innocent times.

So, it really was a surprise one June afternoon when a cool long-haired guy all by himself in a white dune buggy with leopard-print seats passed by the three of us in Topanga Canyon without even so much as a “sorry” wave. He got an earful—we were pretty vocal with our displeasure at being left behind.

Manson had just relocated then to Los Angeles from the capital of “peace and love,” San Francisco, and had made friends with the late Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. He now had together the core group of mostly young women to whom he would refer as The Family. Twelve of these folks were living with Wilson, I later discovered through the media accounts and photographs from the murder trial. A terrifying surprise was that that white dune buggy had belonged to Wilson, and it had been Manson behind the wheel—the guy we’d yelled at, who (because we weren’t teenage girls?) had left us standing with our thumbs out by the side of the road that day.

The direction of a life can hinge on the most insignificant of moments, fate the impetus for a journey on, as Robert Frost wrote, “The Road Not Taken.” 

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John Paul Brophy

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