Saturday Fiction Encore – “Sluggo, Peeto, And No-Face Charlie” Part Two
This piece was originally created as a performance piece. It was presented on several stages in the San Francisco Bay Area. Try to imagine it that way.
Saturday Fiction – “Sluggo, Peeto, And No-Face Charlie” Part Two
It had become an ongoing rite of passage for local boys to go out “Charlie Spotting” with their favorite girl friends. The idea being that, if you spotted Charlie, your date would be frightened by his looks and cling tightly to you for comfort.
Charlie always carried a large walking stick and if you slowed down and gave him a bad time he’d take a swing at you. Whenever you saw a car in Beaver Falls with broken headlights or a crease across the roof you knew that someone had gotten too close.
Once, in the steamy summer of 1963, three of the local football hero types got closer to Charlie than anyone ever had before and a lot closer than they had planned on.
It was the kind of humid summer night when, if anyone had any ideas at all, they were bound to involve trapping things in glass jars and watching them die.
It was just about sunset, 8:30 – 8:45, when the three boys headed out to look for Charlie, well armed with beer and a mean streak. They spotted him walking slowly down a lonely stretch of county road, dressed all in black and leaning heavily on his walking stick. “No-Face Charlie” was drunk early. Easy.
That Charlie had a drinking problem was not altogether surprising given the circumstances.
When the headlight beam hit him, Charlie jumped off the blacktop into the scraggly brush that lined the road on both sides. The car rolled closer, slowing as it neared the spot where Charlie had disappeared.
“Charlie. Hey, Charlie.”
“Hey, Charlie, come on, man. We just wanna talk.”
Silence and then a soft rustle in the brush. Charlie was slowly moving further away from the approaching car.
“Hey, Charlie, you seen my cat”?
“Yeah, and what about my dog? His name’s ‘Lunchtime’.”
All the boys laughed and Charlie froze as the car passed right by him, not three feet from his dark and shining eyes.
When it became obvious to them that they had missed him, the ringleader called out,
“Hey, Charlie, come on man, I’m sorry about that dog and cat shit. We were just kidding. It’s my birthday and we wanna celebrate. I got some cold ones here, Rolling Rock and Iron City.”
Charlie turned softly toward the car.
“It’s in bottles, man, long necks, just the way you like ’em. I know you have trouble with cans, no lips and shit.”
Charlie silently broke cover and stepped out onto the road right next to the car.
The boys jumped in surprise. They got out of the car with the beer and all of them sat down on the pavement in front of the car, bathed in the gold glow of the headlights.
Charlie listened as the teenager verbally strutted and preened, drinking more beer than he was used to and bragging about how glorious his High School career had been and how he saw no reason why the future shouldn’t be even better. Charlie sat cross-legged, making a neat row of his empties and saying nothing.
“When’s your birthday, Charlie?” asked the boy with the bottle opener.
“My birthday? Oh …it’s today, just like yours. Gimme a beer.”
“Jesus Christ, Charlie! Happy Birthday, man. Come on, we really gotta celebrate now. I’m starving. Let’s go get something to eat. Let’s go down to ‘Hank’s’, man.”
“No, that’s alright boys. I don’t want to go. I can’t go there.”
“You ever been there, man?”
“No, I never have… What’s it like?”
“Oh, it’s great, man. Great burgers and shit. All the cars and all the girls. All the girls in the world are there, man. Shit, Charlie, you gotta come. There is this one chick that works there, man. She is the best looking thing you ever seen Charlie. And I hear she’s been talking about how she’s always wanted to meet you, man. Christ, Charlie, you’re famous, man, and you don’t even know it!”
“Yeah, Charlie, famous”, said one of the other boys. “Come on, you can stay in the car, no one’ll even see you.”
“You know”, said Charlie, “I’ve always wanted to see that place. Do they… This may sound silly… Do they sell onion rings there? I have never in my life had an onion ring. I’ve seen pictures. They look so good.”
“Hell, yes, they sell onion rings. Big crispy ones, Charlie, you’ll love ’em. Get in the car, man. Get in the car.”
And so, deeply drunk and deeply hungry for something he’d never tasted, Charlie crawled into the back seat of the car and they headed off down the Beaver Valley toward “Hank’s”.
Driving through the Beaver Valley at night only three things could be seen in the sky: the Moon, the steel mills when they were pouring ‘Hot’ and the electric glow of the neon lights ghosting off the clouds above “Hank’s”.
You could see the place for fifteen minutes before you got there. The lights cut up into the sky like a pink and white pillar of flame there to guide you through that desert, toward that deep fried Promised Land. Say Amen somebody! And for the last half mile, the smell of hot grease, sour milk and car exhaust sat up and pointed the way to the twin steel obelisks that marked the entrance.
“Hank’s” didn’t have carhops. You had to send someone up to a little cinder block building in the middle of the lot and yell your order through a sliding screen in the window to some sixteen year old kid who had just gotten his work permit.
The car with the boys and Charlie pulled into “Hank’s” a little after 11 o’clock. The lot was almost full. They cruised slowly looking for a parking spot and at all the people criss-crossing in front of them carrying cardboard trays of greasy food. Charlie huddled in the back seat, stealing wide-eyed peeks at the New World.
The boys hung out the windows talking and waving to their friends as the car slowly scaled the large speed bumps that Hank had put in to discourage anyone from “laying rubber”.