I’ve only had two fights in my life. I know that’s not too impressive for the Fight Club type of people, but the truth is I don’t like to fight, and I don’t like the thought of fighting. It feels icky and makes me queasy. So there were only two “opportunities” to actually engage in this activity. The first was in Junior High with this boy named Danny Rosen. I have always been called Tony, a nickname derived from my middle name, Eric Anthony Kallins. When formally registering in school, the teachers would use my real first name, Eric. But to friends and students, I would call myself Tony. So Danny would follow me through the hallways, walking right behind me, saying my first name in the most annoying way.
“Eeerrrick! Eeerrrick!” he’d whine in my ear, over & over. I knew the time had come, time for my first fight. It was my destiny, something that every boy must face at least once in his life, or as you shall see in my case, twice. So Danny & I agreed to have a fight, negotiated in a surprisingly civil way. And we decided to have this fight in the best possible place – on the front steps of the school – right in front of the Principal’s office window. What could be a better location?
So Danny got in one punch, and I returned one, and the Principal came running out of his office and broke it up. What a victory! We both got our “fight”, no one was hurt, and as I recall Danny stopped following me around screeching my name. We both had to sit on the bench next to each other in front of the Principal’s office. A Win/Win if there ever was one (for both of us!) My next fight was a little more complicated.
I moved from Cleveland to San Francisco right after my father’s death in 1969, with aspirations to become a professional hippy. I read about the Summer of Love, and was anxious to join the tribe. At the SF airport I told the cabby I wanted to go straight to Haight-Ashbury, and the cab driver turned around and said, “Kid, you don’t want to go there”, but I was determined. Upon arriving on the Haight, the first thing I saw was a parade of Hell’s Angels thundering up the street in formation. I found a hippy sitting in a stairwell smoking a joint, which I shared with him. He told me that the scene had gone downhill, that smack & speed had replaced grass and LSD, and that everything had gone to pot really fast.
Luckily, I ran into this girl I knew from Cleveland who threw me in the back of her jeep and we drove to Santa Cruz. Evidently, all the hippies decided to move there, taking the Summer of Love with them. I lived up & down the redwood towns on highway 9: Felton, Ben Lomond & Bolder Creek, crashing at other people’s homes and generally feeling my way around. Soon, I ran into this fellow named Ed McClear who took me under his wing, becoming both my mentor and surrogate big brother. I played finger-picking guitar, as did Ed, so Ed showed me around and taught me how to be a hippy.
Ed found a cabin in a place called Holiday, which was built in the 20’s as a vacation retreat for people from San Francisco who wanted to train or drive down for a weekend in the redwoods. Holiday had been abandoned for many years when the hippies discovered it and rented the whole place, each hippy getting a cabin and everyone sharing the cookhouse. Paying about $25/month, it was very affordable on a hippy budget for both Ed McClear and Sam Heller.
Sam was the other person I remember, but for a different reason. Sam was one of those men I loved to hate: Sam was a true *chick-magnet. *You’ll have to excuse me using the word “chick” but we were hippies and hippies talked hippy-talk, like “far out”, “groovy” and “bummer” Sam had long, blonde “surfer” hair and a pretty face. All the hippy girls wanted to sleep with him. They’d wait for the next & nearest opportunity, then jumped right in. They didn’t even want to be his “old lady” (hippy talk) or pin him down, other than a chance to straddle him.
In the mean time, I couldn’t get laid if my life depended on it (which was probably the real reason I moved to California & became a hippy). One day a strange school bus pulled into Holiday, it was certainly different. This was the time of hippy school buses painted psychedelic colors on the outside and fixed up as campers on the inside, with stoves & beds & such. This bus was painted flat black on the outside and gleaming white on the inside. The inside was also starkly empty; only a driver’s seat and the back bench remained as furnishing; and three hippy chicks within. Me thinks to myself, “Oh Boy”, but the 3 girls soon tried to hustle me for $50. Their story was some guy up in Santa Rosa got busted, and they needed the money to bail him out. My Cleveland background kicked in, and they didn’t get a cent.
Later that day, I was playing my Gibson guitar on a boardwalk between the cabins. This guy came up and asked if he could play my guitar; I said sure. He was skinny and a little shorter than me, although I was only 5 foot eight inches at that time and weighed about 128, he was a bit smaller. I still remember him well – he had shoulder-length dirty black hair and these rat-like beady eyes. He took my guitar, and for the first time, I witnessed “air guitar.” He squinted his eyes, contorting his face in the pained expressions of a rock guitarist. The trouble was he didn’t know how to play, at all! After a few minutes of this, I got bored and asked him to return my guitar. I’ll never forget his words, “I like this guitar, this guitar is mine.” “No it’s not” I said, and tried to take my guitar back. What ensued was essentially a tug of war over the guitar neck, which escalated into some pushing & shoving. I don’t know how rough it got, but no blows were exchanged. I may have pushed him over, but I ended up getting my Gibson back. He being a bit smaller than me gave me the courage to engage him in what I’ll call my second “fight”, but you don’t take a man’s guitar away, and I called my 2nd tussle a win, since I got my prized possession back.
About four years later I moved to Marin county, and found out that Sam Heller was up there too (remember Sam?), still attracting pretty girls by the dozens. While visiting him one day, he said, “Remember when the Manson family came by Holiday?” He then went into detail – a black, empty school bus painted white inside. He said Charles Manson walked up to Ed McClear’s cabin, pointed at an oar leaning against the wall, and said, “I like that oar, that oar is mine.” Ed said, “Take it”. Manson took it and came back with a carton of chocolate bars, giving one to Ed. Then Ed McClear took Charles Manson from cabin to cabin giving away chocolate bars. They walked into Sam Heller’s cabin while Sam was playing his guitar. Manson said, “I like your guitar, that guitar’s mine!”
“No it’s not” Sam said, and proceeded to physically throw Charles Manson out of his cabin. In between my Santa Cruz & Marin years, the Sharon Tate & La Bianca murders took place in Hollywood, the ensuing trials and press. I didn’t pay that much attention. But now, listening to Sam, the pieces started to come together about my altercation with that miserable, hippy rat and my guitar.
So evidently, I’ve had two fights in my life (if you could call them that). First with Danny Rosen who followed me through the hallways of Wiley Jr. High school mocking my name; and my second was with Charles Manson, the most infamous name in American criminal history. The funny thing is, at the time, I thought nothing of it. Charley was no different than dozens of crazy hippies I met back then: Self-declared shamans or gurus, spouting their self-important gibberish to everyone or anyone who would listen to them (and there always were those). Oh, and the Manson girls never got my fifty bucks!
The above story is true; I could not make this up.