I can. And it was from this experience that I can lay claim to my share of Andy Warhol's famous dictum about how in the future everybody's going to be famous for fifteen minutes.
I once got to be famous for longer than fifteen minutes. Try a whole weekend.
My late father, by the way, (since we're playing this game) was a personal acquaintance of Vincent Bugliosi, the district attorney who prosecuted Manson.
But no, I have never actually met Charles Manson. He was almost a neighbor for a while. But that's only because I lived and worked in Vacaville, California in the early-to-mid 1980s, and Manson was an inmate at California Medical Facility Vacaville for some years.
Don't let the name of the place fool you; CMF Vacaville is not a hospital. It is a prison. It got the name "Medical Facility" back in the days when psychopathic killers could still be called "criminally insane." I don't know what they call such people now, probably something like "upbringing-challenged," since sociopaths usually turn out to have had bad childhoods, and in our current culture somebody else, usually your parents, is always responsible for whatever stupid or evil thing you might do. CMF Vacaville was a prison specifically for the "upbringing-challenged" crowd. I've been inside it, but only as part of a media tour of its remodeled facilities in 1984. Among my fellow tourists that day was then-California Governor George Deukmejian. Deukmejian made a speech. I just looked around and thought about the dreadful claustrophobia I would get in one of those eight-by-four cells.
As a writer for the Vacaville Reporter newspaper in 1981, I got to listen to a tape of one of Manson's parole hearings at CMF. Manson, as I remember, was channeling Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, playing with a couple of rubber balls during the hearing and asking pertinent questions like "Why are we here? What's all this about?" He was trying to freak everybody out by acting crazier than usual.
The "other" killer in this tale is much lesser-known than Manson, but every bit as vicious. I mean, this guy tried to kill Manson. He must be bad.
His name was Jan Holmstrom. Not as famous as Manson, no, but a pretty bad dude. In 1974, in Pasadena, Holmstrom killed his father with four blasts from a shotgun, then handed the gun to a Cub Scout who was standing nearby, and walked away.
Believe it or not, Holmstrom was a Hare Krishna. That's right, one of those people you see prancing around at airports, barefoot and baldheaded, shaking jingle bells and passing out religious literature.
I don't think the Hare Krishnas would want to make Jan Holmstrom their poster boy.
On the morning of September 25, 1984, inside the grounds of CMF Vacaville, Manson and Holmstrom got into a "religious argument." Holmstrom complained, specifically, that Manson had objected to his Hare Krishna chanting, and threatened him. Not to be outdone, Jan poured some paint thinner on Chuck and set him on fire.
That's where I come into the picture. You see, at the moment that all of this was happening, I was doing my laundry.
Well, yeah, I was. Doing my laundry. I was a radio news broadcaster at KUIC, 95.3 FM, upper Solano County's only FM radio station in those days. Yes, you can stream my alma mater on the Internet now, if you care to: http://www.kuic.com/. The last time I checked, one of the deejays who worked there way back when I did, Rick Batiste, was still on the air at "Quick-95." Not much ambition, I guess.
As I remember, I was temporarily without a car. My 1975 Ford Maverick had been totaled in an accident on the Oakland Bay Bridge not too long before, when my roommate, Doug Parker, on his way to pick up two friends of ours at San Francisco International Airport who were flying in from Philadelphia, got rear-ended pretty badly in heavy traffic. The maypole-dance with the insurance companies was still in progress, and for the moment I had no car. I was going to and from the studio on a bicycle.
As I was sorting my socks and underwear, I got a phone call from my boss at the station, news director Paul Hosley. Something had happened at CMF, but he was in the middle of his morning news block and didn't have time to look into it himself. He asked me to call the prison and talk to the public affairs officer.
I don't remember the guy's name. But I got him on the phone. "I hear you have a news item for us," I said.
"Yeah, and you're going to want to run tape," he said.
"Well, I'm not at the studio, I'm at home. I can't run tape from here. Whaddaya got?"
"I'm telling you, Kelley, you're gonna want to run tape," he insisted.
"Why don't you tell me what it is first? I don't have a car, and I'd have to ride my bike down to the studio to run tape."
"Okay," he said. Then he started reading the release. "At eight-eighteen this morning, inmate Charles Manson was attacked and set on fire by inmate Jan Holmstrom..."
"Hold it," I said. "I want to run tape."
"I knew you would."
"Let me call you back in fifteen minutes." Socks and underwear forgotten, I jumped on the old Huffy and got myself down to the studio as fast as I could pedal.
As subscribers to the Associated Press, we at KUIC radio could also be contributors. Once in a great while the AP might be interested in something we had to offer them, usually something involving a death. We'd get a credit line, and five bucks, for a wire story. For example when our good friend Toby Johnson, one of our disc jockeys who had been fired months earlier, got killed in a head-on collision between his car and an RV early one morning on Highway 29 over near St. Helena in the Napa Valley, AP picked that up from us. I phoned it to them, and a few minutes later, here it came over the wire, slugged "FROM KELLEY DUPUIS, K-U-I-C VACAVILLE." We were all in shock over Toby's death, but traffic fatalities were traffic fatalities, and the AP liked them.
A story on the wire would get you five bucks. But a voicer, that is to say, a 30-second audiotape segment, would get you $25 if the AP wanted it.
Needless to say, they wanted the Charlie-and-Jan barbeque story from CMF. And they wanted a voicer.
I'd taken the call, cut the tape and written the copy, so if anyone was going to do a voicer, it was going to be me. The guy from AP in Sacramento was explicit, though: 30 seconds. No more.
He and I must have spent half an hour on this. My voicer kept coming in at 36 seconds, or 34. It took several tries to get it whittled down to an exact 30.
I was allowed no "intro." Local stations, if they used the item, would provide that themselves. The voicer was just me, reeling off the facts of the incident in 30 seconds. My "outro" as we called the tag line at the end, was simply, "Kelley Dupuis, Vacaville." AP was one big family. One big cheap family. Local stations that might use the clip would do their own intro, something along the lines of , " Convicted killer Charles Manson, serving a life sentence at Vacaville state prison, was attacked and set on fire this morning in what was apparently a religious disagreement. Kelley Dupuis of KUIC Vacaville has details." Then they'd roll the tape of me.
Given the fact that we were all living on starvation wages in those days, I smacked my lips over the 25 bucks I was going to get for this. Other than that, I didn't give it much more of another thought. Who, outside of our area, was going to be interested in such a thing?
Silly question. Lurid sells. Radio stations all over California picked this item up. In fact, as far as I know, AP stations in other states may have run it as well. After all, this was Charles Manson we were talking about, the Mariah Carey of killers.
I got a surprise the following Sunday. Okay, it was a pleasant surprise, although I can see where a lot of folks would hesitate to use the term "pleasant surprise" in connection with a story like that. What can I tell you? Reporters have big egos. Why else would we be willing to work like galley slaves for the kind of pay that forced most of us to share quarters with other reporters?
The surprise came during a telephone conversation the following Sunday with my mom. Mom had a monthly appointment to have her hair done, always on Saturday. Since it was a regular appointment, she usually saw at least one person at the hairdressers' whom she knew. Now I was living in Vacaville, which is about 35 miles west of the state capital, Sacramento. My folks lived way down in Chula Vista, where I grew up, about 600-some miles to the south. Mom was not, by any stretch of the imagination, in our broadcast area.
She said, "I saw Mrs. So-and-So at the hairdressers' yesterday. She asked me, 'What's the name of that boy of yours again, the one who's a journalist?'"
"Oh," my mom replied, "You mean Kelley."
"Yeah, Kelley!" her friend replied. "I heard him on KSDO this morning, talking about Charles Manson."
KSDO, one of the oldest AM radio stations in San Diego. They'd picked up my voicer!
Damn, I'd hit the big time! San Diego!
It was the only time I ever did. My voice never got anywhere near a big radio market again, that I know of. I had to take my 25 bucks, plus the knowledge that my own voice had been broadcast over Greater San Diego for 30 whole seconds, giving everybody the hottest news item of the week. (Get it? The hottest news item? Rim shot.)
The following year I gave up radio and joined the State Department, giving up humiliating pay in exchange for a humiliating job. But I did get a dozen or so years of world travel out of that deal.
Manson, as far as I know, has traveled no further than the trip from Vacaville to his new home in San Quentin, to which he was later transferred, in all the years since he and I made a showbiz team together.
And he's been famous for most of his life.