The Unholy Three from My Hometown
I love my hometown. There are many like it, but this town is mine.
No, I will not go into specifics. My hometown is neither a hick’s hamlet nor a major metropolis. It is neither big nor small. Like Goldilocks and her pursuit of the perfect porridge, my hometown is just right. I love the way it looks in rain. I dream about it in summer. I love walking in my hometown until the flesh along my inner thighs is rubbed red and raw. I love driving in my hometown, even despite its notorious potholes and shoddy road repairs. For three or four months out of the year, I love swimming in my hometown’s dirty rivers and creeks. The filth never bothers me.
But as great and grand as the geography is, what I love most about my hometown are the memories and the people. Not all of the memories are beautiful. Some are caked in blood; others are surrounded by scum. But that’s life, cupcake. It is hardly ever peaches and cream, let alone baloney sandwiches. Some of my sweetest memories are about the sourest people from my hometown. The drug addicts (both alive and dead), the slackers, the liminal types, and lowlifes. These are the bums who tend to populate my daydreams. I do not know why. Maybe I have an inexplicable pull towards the ugly. That would explain a lot.
But enough about me. Let us focus on the stars of our show. I call them the Unholy Three.
The Unholy Three was originally a pair of movies, one silent and one talkie, featuring Lon Chaney, Sr. produced between 1925 and 1930. In both versions, the titular trio are sideshow performers who moonlight as jewel thieves. They are a ventriloquist, a strongman, and a midget. They are mostly sad and pathetic characters—they are dumb, jaded, and in one instance, psychopathic. One, Professor Echo, is supposed to garner our sympathy. He has morals, twisted though they may be. But he and the others are still criminals at the end of the day, and even under the purview of director Tod Browning (himself a liminal type with a background in the carnie world) they get their comeuppance. The law always wins, and crime does not pay.
My Unholy Three contain a criminal element, but they are not necessarily criminals. They are not professionals at anything other than being weirdos. Two suffer from obvious mental illness, while the third could stretch out the term “disability” to include rampant perversion. All three have their quirks. One is still alive and living it up in-town, while the others have either faded into the background, moved, or died. I think a lot about one of them. The other two I mostly make me laugh. All have provided the kind of color that makes life worth enduring. Every member of the Unholy Three deserves a little spotlight shining on them, and I am going to give it to them good and hard.
“Richard” is not his real name, but even the guilty need protection. Richard is guilty of a lot: multiple cases of public indecency, lewd and lascivious behavior, and entire library-worth of sexual misdemeanors. Richard is nothing short of a sex maniac. He is full of bestial lust for the fairer sex. Like a lion he is always on the prowl, and like a king he delights in surveying his conquered kingdom. For Richard, sex is a battlefield, and he is the ultimate boner warrior.
All things being equal though, there is no evidence whatsoever that Richard has ever had sex with anything other than his hand. I have heard rumors of a mysterious crack whore who has serviced Richard in exchange for favors, but these whispers cannot be independently verified. What is known for sure is that Richard is a feverish masturbator unencumbered by the desire to be furtive. Richard yanks it in the open, in the sunshine, and on cloudy days. Scattered screams or threats have never dissuaded him, either. Richard is a true artist of self-degradation. The police mostly just admire his exhibitions.
Richard’s age is unknown. I would guess that he is above fifty. It does not matter; Richard looks the same in 2022 as he did 2002. He is a short, chubby black man with a head the size of a swollen peanut. His large, carp-like mouth hangs agape at all times. His teeth are large and surprisingly clean. He frequents stubble but never a beard. His most noteworthy accessories are his large glasses with frames thicker than gravy and the large rope that he wears around his neck. The rope contains all of Richard’s daily necessities—his house keys, his ID cards, lotion, and a lighter. The man is prepared for anything, especially jacking off while smoking a fat one.
Richard is a local with a family who supports him. The family seems fairly well-off given that they have the ability to provide Richard with in-home care. Richard is left to his own devices most of the time, although the current scuttlebutt is that he is now living in an exurb with a nurse who keeps him on a tight leash. It sounds horrible, but necessary. Richard is the type that needs discipline…harsh discipline (wink, wink).
During his heyday, which coincided with my prime years in the town, Richard was a local celebrity. Everyone had a story about seeing Richard for the first time. The more mundane ones focus on his inability to speak. Richard is mute and can only communicate through gestures and high-pitched grunts. A happy Richard is hard to differentiate from an annoyed Richard. (A horny Richard is permanent.) One time, at the old Pizza Hut a mutual friend got to encounter a rare Richard. The incident occurred in the summer when most of the town empties out. Some flee because of the humidity. Others are transients anyway owing to the fact that the local economy begins and ends with the university. All college towns are like this. Well, on that sunny summer day, my friend was busy manning the store all by himself. He was cooking, cleaning, and delivering those corn sludge-infused pies with gusto. He was so deep into his duties that he did not see Richard enter the store. Normally, this would not be an issue. Richard is typically harmless.
However, on this day, something must have been in the water. Richard dumped a few quarters into the Ms. PAC-MAN machine in the lobby. He did not finish a full game before he started to pound on the machine’s hard plastic exterior. He slapped the screen, kicked the controls, and smashed the buttons. He caused a ruckus loud enough to bother the clothing store next door. The cause of Richard’s displeasure was never learned, although I am sure Richard tried to tell them. The scene that was seared into the minds of all in attendance was the image of Richard squaring up to fight an inanimate object. He apparently taunted Ms. PAC-MAN, flexed his chest and muscles, and did a little circle around the arcade game in a basic intimation of a pre-fight ritual. The judges are still deciding who won fifteen years later.
Another memorable moment came when Richard decided to direct traffic during game day. Like all college towns with a decent local team, my hometown fills up with motorists on game day, especially during football season. Football is famously a religion in our state, with every high school boy, from square-jawed chads to pale goths, spending at least one season on the gridiron. I was no exception. Richard might have played too, but game day usually found him doing his usual stunts. You know, pulling his prick while wearing nothing but a bathrobe or standing on campus and rubbing his abused appendage through the mesh of his shorts. But Richard decided to be adventurous one game day. He donned his best Batman mask and homemade cape and stood proudly in traffic. Richard probably saw himself as a brave and efficient guardian of the road, but everyone else saw a mentally challenged person in a mask running back and forth underneath a stoplight. The locals tolerated it, while the out-of-towners and old alumni honked their horns. One man, a worker at a local restaurant that Richard frequented, barked at the black Batman to cease and desist his activities. To unaccustomed ears, the commands sounded harsh and made with malice. They were not; it’s just that said worker, like a lot of other restaurant staff in the town, were tired of Richard’s antics. You would get tired too if the local oddball showed up at your establishment and humped and bumped his crotch on your chairs while watching women’s tennis. Now imagine that scene accompanied by overcharged howls and you get the idea. Well, some bleeding heart had the nerve to correct the worker by telling him that his comments were too mean. The reply was so chaotic yet so hilarious that I still remember it to this day:
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that we are all supposed to let the mentally retarded guy get run over by grandpa in a Chevy. My mistake.”
I do believe Richard was physically removed from traffic before his brains painted the sidewalk. Still, even without the gruesome ending, it was quite the sight. Too bad he never found his Robin.
To my diseased mind, the most Richard-esque story of all time came about when one of his “friends” (see: a hapless pizza restaurant worker) decided to donate some old items to our fearless and cum-stained crusader. The generosity had a self-serving streak, as the fellow was moving and needed to shore up some space. Among the items donated to Richard was a small and portable TV with a DVD player. A Space Jam DVD was inserted into the TV in the hopes of showing Richard how to properly operate the device. One can never be too sure. From what I heard, Richard jumped up and smacked the DVD out of the player and began grunting with passion. It seems he was dissatisfied with the choice of film. Space Jam was removed and set aside. After a brief sojourn to his dark and dank room, Richard returned with an armload of pornographic DVDs. Every single one of those films had been purchased by the taxpayer. The police, who had grown tired of constantly arresting and releasing Richard, had devised a system whereby they pooled petty cash and bought the miscreant as much filth as he could handle. Richard could handle a lot of it, and all kinky kinds too. Space Jam was replaced by a film dedicated to the sexual prowess of “granny trannies,” otherwise known as the aged trans. Richard did not wait until he was alone to start enjoying himself. The credits were not quite done, and yet Richard was apparently pulling so hard on his penis that he was lifting himself off of his threadbare couch with each pull. Smooth muscle control need not apply when the self-love is this rapturous.
Richard must confine his lovemaking to the toilet these days, as I and the rest of the town do not see much of him anymore. There are occasions when a fellow lounge lizard or bar hopper makes mention of seeing his misshapen head out walking to the Dollar General or some other place. Where once he was a type of local attraction, Richard is now cousins with Bigfoot—a mysterious creature only a select few talk about. For those who know, Richard is the source of endless entertainment. Any townie above thirty has at least one Richard story. I love hearing all of them even though they all sound the same. Remember that time Richard pulled his dick out in the library? Yes. Remember that time Richard played pocket pool during the parade? Of course. Richard is the epitome of single-minded determination, and although his member has paid the price with endless hours of abuse, we, the citizens of the town, salute him.
But yeah, we’re not going to shake his hand. We know where it has been.
Although his name is Larry, most know him as Lester. To be more specific, Larry is best known as Lester the Molester. He is in many ways creepier than Richard, although his rap sheet is much, much shorter. Larry did not get his kicks from public displays. No, Larry, aka Lester the Molester, liked to ply handsome frat boys with questionably mixed drinks and then offer them a ride home.
Yeah, he was that kind of guy.
Larry was a squat, dumpy man of Italian heritage. His eyebrows were thick and black caterpillars that hung like gargoyles from the cathedral of his face. It was not a pretty face, but not unforgivably ugly either. The most noticeable thing about Larry’s appearance was his insistence on wearing the world’s most obvious toupee. The dark-as-soy-sauce rug never fully connected to the salt-and-pepper sides, thereby giving poor Larry a head that looked like an unsolved puzzle piece. Larry’s bad genetics were passed down to his son Quincy, a misshapen lad with a curly pompadour, glasses, acne, and an ever-present fanny pack full of asthma supplies. Quincy never had a chance, and our high school let him know by outright shunning him like a leper. As for Larry, aside from his terrible headpiece, he enjoyed all the outward signs of middle-class respectability. He drove a nice SUV, had a plain-looking but younger wife, and owned a home in one of the more well-heeled parts of town. Everything on the up and up. Full Americana with a chicken in every pot.
The only problem was that Larry liked boys. Not young ones, mind you. Larry was a creep, but not a pedophile. Some might be pulling back right and wondering aloud why I am profiling such a villain. The answer is simple: Larry was the world’s most incompetent date rapist. I saw and heard a lot about his attempts, but nobody has ever heard of Larry succeeding. The usual scenario went like this: Larry would walk into one of his local haunts around town. These tended to be bars and restaurants. It was also no coincidence that Larry shared his favorite eateries and watering holes with college students, especially all the handsome male undergraduates. Larry had a type—athletic, tanned, and well-dressed. One could call these intended victims “preppy” and not be sued for slander. Either way, Larry liked ‘em and loved ‘em but feelings were not mutual.
Larry would saddle up next to one of these fellows and offer to buy them a drink. The first two were always beer. By the third Larry would offer something more adventurous like a martini or vodka tonic. Larry always paid. That is how he earned their trust. But, by the fourth of fifth drink, a bartender or a patron would pull the college boy aside and say into their ear, “He wants to rape you. You know that, right?” Some would react with shock. A few got angry. Most just laughed. They would keep laughing until the majority of the bar confirmed Larry’s intentions. Larry further dug his own grave by always forcefully and loudly offering to take the drunk boys home. “Loudly” needs an asterisk here, for Larry’s voice was a weak one. He tried hard to hide his lisp, but it was always there. Larry spoke in a soft singsong that nobody found charming. Instead, our ears heard his effeminate lilt as the hiss of a viper. Larry was a sneaky snake, but too inept to fool even other fools.
But Larry tried. God, how Larry tried. For a while Larry would prowl with his wife by his side to show that he was not a homosexual predator. It did not work. Larry also tried to dress young and hip, but that damned toupee ruined his chances. He looked like a caricature of a midlife crisis, and in some sense that is exactly what he was—a graying geezer uncomfortable in his own skin. One might feel sympathy for him except that Larry’s inner turmoil manifested in attempts to bugger boys against their will. The fact he was never successful does not diminish his intentions. I heard that the frats even circulated memo of sorts among themselves to warn pledges and brothers alike from consorting too much with Larry. The first couple of generations who accepted Larry’s drinks gave way to new breeds who shunned him outright like we shunned his son. In Larry’s Kafkaesque world, he was punished for failing to do something bad. That punishment lasted until Larry’s death. I read about it in the same issue as I read about the deaths of two guys I went to high school with. One of them died of a drug overdose (not stated in the obituary, but rather implied by the vague language), while the other succumbed to a bee sting. Poor bastard survived the Marine Corps just to succumb to anaphylactic shock. As for Larry, he “passed away quietly in bed.” No cause of death noted, but I’m sure it was a kind of poisoning. No man can withstand blue balls that long without the untreated horniness seeping into his bloodstream. Larry went to meet his Supreme Maker with a lifetime of unrequited lust. I’m sure he had a lot of explaining to do.
I have but one coda to the Larry story. Last summer, during an extended stay with my family, I saw Quincy at a local Panera. Seeing him struck me like thunder and left me speechless. It was not because he had changed, but because he hadn’t. He still looked exactly like the same pudgy mound of awkward from the early 2000s. Everything fit, from the sweat-ringed t-shirt to the khaki shorts and white, off-brand tennis shoes. His gut seemed bigger, but that was about it. Even the fanny pack was still there. As I sipped my overpriced coffee, I thought to myself, “This is Larry’s legacy.”
Some of the sweetest souls are forsaken. They say that the kindest people get their hearts stopped more often because they’re pure. The most cliché adage simply states: the good die young. Point is the girl we called Chipmunk Cheeks was the warmest and friendliest person I have ever met in my many decades of life. She was also the most autistic. Chipmunk Cheeks found nothing weird about going up to total strangers and talking to them like an old friend. She did that with everyone, including me. One time, while I was busy killing time and plotting ways to kill myself after yet another almost-was rejected me, Chipmunk Cheeks walked next to my seat. The fact that we were in the university library did not stop her from gently putting her hands on my shoulders and massaging them. She whispered “Hey” in my ears and flashed a smile so bright that my retinas burned. I cannot remember what we talked about, but I do remember being turned on, and uncomfortably so. She did not ask me to stand, thankfully. Chipmunk Cheeks was not attractive at all, as evidenced by her ugly moniker. Yes, she had puffy and round cheeks that made her small eyes even tinier. Her sickly skin was dotted with zits, too. Yet, something about her whispering in my ear and being familiar made my blood pressure rise. It was weird all around.
Chipmunk Cheeks was one of two mentally imbalanced Asian women who roamed our hometown. The other, Monica or Mariah or something to that effect, is more, shall we say, functional. Chubby and chipper, Monica or Mariah can still be found wandering the pizza joints and saying hi to the crew. She is a regular, you see. The girl loves to eat. That is one of her compulsions. The other is being far too friendly and honest about herself with strangers. She is the type of rare bird who will peel the flesh from your ear with stories about her favorite yearbook photos or her most recent yeast infection. The only way to save yourself is walking away. But that is hard because, like Chipmunk Cheeks, Monica or Mariah is a sugary sweet girl who most people in the town adore. They protect her too, as my only notable story about the young lass involves a scumbag high schooler who began “dating” her. The dude just wanted sex and figured that a slower girl would be an easy lay. When word got around to the young lady’s favorite pizza place, a few of the workers, including an acquaintance named Cletus (yes, really), paid the young man a visit. The next day Monica or Mariah talked about how she was single again.
Chipmunk Cheeks’s disability was more obvious. She smiled and skipped wherever she went like a damn ray of stupid sunshine. She also dressed the part, with a wardrobe consisting of leftovers from the public library’s lost and found. Think sweatpants and sweatshirts in colors that stopped existing in 1996. A backpack followed her wherever she went. This can at least be explained—she was a college student. Or at least the assumption was that she was a student considering that she practically lived on the campus. All of my experiences with her involved either the university library or the student union. I have no idea what she majored in. I never saw her in class. We all thought she was a secret genius or something, so we did not ask questions or look too closely.
We made up a lot about Chipmunk Cheeks, actually. We said that she went to our rival high school; we said that her ultra-friendly disposition came as a result of her delayed socialization brought about by a stereotypical “Tiger mom”; we believed that she had grown up behind the counter in one of the town’s Chinese restaurants, and college allowed her to live a little without worrying about tips or restocking the plastic spoons. We weaved tales about her and yet never bothered to learn her name. “Chipmunk Cheeks” came from a cruel-minded Facebook group that used as its profile picture the most unflattering candid photo of her. I remember reading the comments and wanting to commit murder. Making up stories that lean heavily on stereotypes is one thing but posting cruel comments about a stranger’s anatomy or outright calling a sweetheart a “retard” is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Or maybe I am just being sensitive. For reasons that I cannot articulate, I always felt like a big brother to Chipmunk Cheeks. I watched her time and time again walk up to random strangers and strike up conversations. There she would be grinning ear to ear and occasionally waving her small hands. Most just nodded along and smiled. A few looked puzzled. The rare ones sat stone-faced until Chipmunk Cheeks skipped off somewhere over the rainbow. That is it—that’s all I ever saw. But I thought much darker things. What if she gets taken advantage of? What if she’s mocked, kicked, spat upon, or worse? A spirit so trusting and unencumbered by cynicism would be easy prey for a beast. My town has those, from the hillbilly who set a girl on fire after a one-night-stand to a former nurse who pumped her ex-husband full of veterinarian drugs prior to decapitating him. More common predators abound too, especially boys full of beer who would gladly drop their already loose morals to feel up a small girl all alone on a dark night. I had at least one nightmare involving Chipmunk Cheeks and a pack of braying hounds dressed in sports merch. I tried to reach out and save her, but the thrusting, ripping, and tearing continued. Chipmunk Cheeks smiled through it all, but tears streaked her face too.
My feelings towards Chipmunk Cheeks will always be awkward, especially since all of our interactions come nowhere close to an hour in total. Mostly she would say hello and then go off on a non-sequitur for five minutes. No, my true experiences with Chipmunk Cheeks came alone and from afar. Most can be summarized as watching and thinking—watching a special girl enjoying a world so impure and yet be oblivious to the impurities. At times Chipmunk Cheeks seemed like a testing angel out to separate the good, decent souls from the sinful ones. Maybe I passed the test considering that I still think about her. I am wondering right now, as I write this, about where she is. Is she still in the town? I have yet to see her in ten years of return trips. If she is still there, I hope her family is taking care of her. I have a grudge against them for letting her wander around all day, but then again, they probably wanted her to taste a little bit of freedom for a change. Does she have a family of her own? It is possible. I would be overjoyed to hear that she is happily married and with kids. I would also settle for a long-term boyfriend. I just want to know that she is happy and safe and far away from the uncertainties of the campus. At the end of the day, I would like to stop writing about her in the past tense. I only do so because I do not know if she is dead or alive. All I have left are memories, and memories are like ghosts—they belong to the past tense.
That’s all, folks. That is my recollection of the three oddballs in my hometown. Like Flintcraft’s decisions, there is no rationale here. It is me spinning my wheels aboard the daydream express. Kind of masturbatory, isn’t it? I’m sure Richard could weigh in as an expert witness. Whatever. God bless him and God bless them all—all the local yokel dorks and dinks. I love them all in my own way, though unholy they may be.
— Arbogast is a poet with a blog. He is the author of, most recently, The Shanghai Horror.