Beaver Falls was an interesting place to live. Beaver Falls is located in Beaver County. The County Seat of Beaver County is the town of Beaver. There is a river that runs through Beaver Falls called the, (EVERYBODY, NOW!) BEAVER!
There are no beavers in Beaver Falls. There haven't been any beavers in Beaver Falls within living memory. There aren't any real falls either. What there is in Beaver Falls are: five steel mills, air the color of peanut butter, and a gene pool just deep enough to reduce the risk of everyone being born with extra thumbs.
There isn't a chromosome within thirty miles that hasn't been put through a genetic meat grinder. Those little strands of DNA twang like cheap guitar strings every time somebody announces their engagement.
Living in Beaver Falls was like a Near Death Experience. Living in Beaver Falls was swooping down dark, sooty, streets like tunnels toward the blinding bright light of the blast furnace. It was encountering the dark, smoky faces of people you knew who had passed on to old age too quickly.
"Hi, your Dad find work yet?"
"Hi, new shoes? Wow!"
"Hi, did you see Sluggo and Peeto last night? Christ, they're both nuts."
Sluggo and Peeto.
Sluggo and Peeto were brothers. Sluggo was a rather large man, a bit like a couch. Looking into Sluggo's face was like looking into an open-face sandwich: meat, nothing but meat, with some kind of juice.
Brother Peeto was sans jus. He had a thin, pinched face with dark eyebrows and a vaguely pained expression which made him seem the brighter of the two.
Sluggo and Peeto seemed to be everywhere at once. No matter what was going on in town they were sure to be there and somehow involved. If there was an auto accident either Sluggo or Peeto would be on the scene, usually before the Police, standing in the intersection directing traffic. They would direct traffic even if it wasn't called for. Those boys just liked directing traffic.
One autumn day, when the leaves were just beginning to turn the same reddish-orange as the glow from the mills, an albino owl, for its own reasons, decided to fly into town and perch itself on a power line crossing the busiest intersection in town. It sat there looking down at the cars and at the pedestrians and at Sluggo who had seen his civic duty and was trying to direct traffic and look up at the bird, all the while smiling widely for the photographer from the local newspaper. When the picture ran in the next edition it showed Sluggo grinning fiercely into the camera and, sitting neatly on his skull was, thanks to the acute angle of the shot, the owl. Peeto was there too, glowering at them both, looking the second most intelligent of the three.
Sluggo and Peeto made the NBC Nightly News one time.
Back in the late 1960's the New York Jets won the Super Bowl. Joe Namath was the winning Quarterback and Media Darling. Joe Namath is from Beaver Falls.
To celebrate the victory Beaver Falls threw a big to-do. A huge parade down the main street of town with Joe Namath sitting, triumphant, in the back seat of a new Chevrolet convertible supplied by the local GM dealer. The same local GM dealer who had once had Joe arrested for being on his showroom roof at three in the morning and running his football pants up the flagpole.
That evening the whole nation watched the conquering hero's parade. Joe, smiling, his dimples setting off his hawklike nose. Joe, waving at the Beaver Fallsians as they waved back. Joe, recoiling in shock as Sluggo and Peeto launched themselves from the crowd onto the hood of the new Chevrolet convertible, waving wildly and mugging for the cameras. They rode there on the front of the car for the rest of the parade while Joe kind of slumped back in his seat and remembered why he was now living in New York.
That evening, at a banquet held in Joe's honor, Howard Cosell, who was there as an honored guest and had witnessed the Sluggo and Peeto episode, took the dais and in front of the assembled masses called Beaver Falls a "One-horse tank town without the whole horse."
Sluggo and Peeto were ... "funny". Funny "Ha-Ha" and funny in the sense that one sidesteps a strange dog in the streets. The town laughed but never had them over for supper.
At least they had each other. "No-Face Charlie" only had himself.
"No-Face Charlie" was a man in his forties who, when he was a teenager, according to the local legend, flew his kite into some high tension wires. He climbed the pole, reached for the kite and slipped. He was badly burned but somehow survived. His face took the brunt of the damage, leaving him without a recognizable nose, lips or eyebrows.
The accident happened back in the 1930's and those who were around then said that the state of the art in plastic surgery wasn't up to the task of giving back to Charlie a face that he could live with comfortably.
He lived alone in a small house way out in the sticks, about 10 - 12 miles outside of town. His baby sister looked in on him twice a week to bring groceries and books and to serve as his conduit to the world.
He stopped attending school after the accident. From the age of fifteen Charlie had educated himself. He read voraciously. He read anything his sister could get for him. By his twenty-first birthday he had run through just about every book in the Beaver Falls Public Library.
Charlie supported himself and lived in relative comfort on royalties from his small, but impressive, list of inventions. Charlie held patents on close to two full pages of the Lillian Vernon catalogue.
Charlie was the inventor of the "Reusable 'Beauty-Gel' Facial Pack". Charlie was the inventor of the "Danish Wrap Electric Hot Towel". Charlie was the inventor of the "Gentlemen's Rotary Nose Hair Clipper".
His first invention, the "Hollywood Contour Bath Pillow", patented on his seventeenth birthday, sold several hundred thousand units and continued to generate enough income to pay the mortgage on the seventeen acres of land around his house that served as a buffer zone between himself and his neighbors.
Very few people in Beaver Falls knew any of this. The rumors said that Charlie got by on a small pension from the government. The rumors also said that most of the missing dogs and cats in the area were his doing and that they were just delicious, Thank you.
One of the few things that people knew for sure about Charlie was that he liked to take long walks at night along the quiet country roads near his home.
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".
They found a spot near the rear of the lot and backed in so that they could survey the scene. Moments after they pulled in, a group of about four or five boys wearing jackets sporting large orange appliqué footballs and high school letters, swaggered up to the car, smelling of "Wild Irish Rose" and telegraphing danger like a gun that wants to go off.
"Hey guys. How's it hangin'?"
"Just great, Tony. Hey, check out what we got in the back seat."
The biggest of the jacketed boys leaned through the window. Charlie lifted his bottle in a toast of greeting.
"Oh, Jesus Christ. How's it hangin' Charlie?
"Whatcha gonna do with him?” whispered one of the other jacketed boys.
"I got some ideas... stay close", said the driver.
The jackets left but Charlie didn't notice the leaving, only his empty bottle of Iron City. After a moment of quietly scanning the scene the boy in the driver's seat turned and faced Charlie.
"Well, Charlie, this is 'Hank's'. Pretty neat, huh?"
Charlie said nothing out loud, but his eyes said that Hank's was "neat", the neatest spot on the face of the Earth.
"Well, we came here to eat, so let's eat. Who wants what?"
"Burgers, fries, shake."
"Burgers, fries, shake."
"Burgers, fries, shake."
"Burgers, fries, shake... and onion rings."
While one of the boys went for the food Charlie settled back in his seat and watched the neon lit world of "Hank's" revolve around him. In silence, they all watched the mating dance of teenage America play out in front of them.
After a minute, the 17 year old spoke again.
"Yeah, Charlie, there's one chick down there who'd really like to meet you. Little brunette. You can see her from here. The last window on the right, see her? The one with the ponytail just giving that kid in the green jacket his food and shit? See her, Charlie, see her?"
"Yeah, I see her", said Charlie, wishing he really believed that it was true. Wishing that the pretty girl with the quick smile and smooth skin really did want to meet him. To sit and talk with him.
"Give me another one of your goddam beers, kid."
When the boy returned with a tray overflowing with the hot, greasy food and sweating drink containers everyone in the car grabbed and began to eat. As Charlie reached forward for his onion rings the 17 year old stuck out his hand and bumped Charlie's arm. The onion rings flew out the window and onto the dusty blacktop.
"My onion rings!"
"Hey man, I'm sorry. Too bad, Charlie."
"Damn it, that's the only thing I really wanted. Go get me some more."
"Hey, I'm eating, man. If you want 'em so goddam much, go get 'em yourself."
"Then I guess you're shit out of luck. No onion rings, no girl and no face, Charlie."
The boys laughed and Charlie sank down in the seat and took another pull on his beer.
"All I wanted was some goddam onion rings."
"Shut up and have a French Fry", shot back the boy, throwing a piece of potato
over his shoulder, hitting Charlie in the forehead. Charlie punched the back of the headrest, jolting the boy and making him spill his drink.
"God damn it, that's it. You drink my beer. You stink up my car and now you spill my shake. That's it. Get out!"
"You heard me. You still got ears. Get out of my car!"
"What? I can't."
The boy threw his food out of the window, got out of the car and opened the back door.
"Get out of my car."
"Take me home."
"If you want to go home you can walk or maybe that little brunette down there can take you. Now, get out of my car."
"Please, close the door."
"Damn it, you son of a..."
He reached in, grabbed Charlie by the sleeve and dragged him out onto the ground.
"You goddam freak!”, he screamed and punched Charlie in the ribs.
Kids from the other cars heard the yelling and looked over.
Charlie struggled to get to his feet. The boy pushed him away from the car, then jumped into the front seat and started the engine. As the car shot out of the parking space, leaving Charlie scrambling on all fours, the boy hit the horn and yelled.
"Hey, look everybody, it's 'No-Face Charlie'! It's 'No-Face Charlie'!"
Charlie hunched over, hiding behind his hands.
Before he saw it, a circle had formed, trapping him.
Some of them laughed. One girl screamed and hugged her boy friend.
"Whatcha doin' here, Charlie? This place is for people."
Someone threw a half eaten hamburger at him.
"Stop it... Leave me alone ... Go Away!"
An Orange drink splashed on the ground next to him.
"No. Stop. Please....."
A Coke. The laughter grew.
It was like bear baiting.
As he looked up at the ring of smooth young faces around him he could see in their eyes a mixture of fear, hatred, and the cool, dispassionate superiority of unbloodied youth.
From behind the crowd a sound started, low, almost a moan, that grew sharply into a siren's wail. Then a voice.
"Leave him alone!"
It cut through the laughter like a tangible proof.
"Make way! Keep moving!"
The siren continued to howl, getting nearer.
"Coming through! Step aside!"
The order was obeyed.
It was Sluggo and Peeto.
As Sluggo stepped forward into a command position, Peeto, the siren, coughed to a stop. They came up to the Myth made Man who was on his knees, his arms up like boxer in trouble. Sluggo got down next to him and spoke softly.
"Lloyd, what happened? What are you doing here?"
"What? Robert, oh, Robert, they threw me out of the car."
"Lloyd, why did you come here, and with them?"
"Nobody ever asked me before. Not really. I thought... I don't know. I'm drunk."
"Come on, Lloyd, We'll take you home."
"All I wanted was some goddam onion rings."
"Is that too much to ask?"
"Let's go. Come on, you're drunk, and everybody's lookin'."
"No, damn it! Yes. I'm drunk and so what? Sure they're looking. To them I'm 'No-Face Charlie'. I'm famous and I don't even know it."
He used Sluggo for support and stood up straight and looked coldly at the people gathered around him. There was nobody laughing anymore.
"Listen, you little Sons of Bitches, my name is Lloyd, Mr. Lloyd Mueller. Not 'No-Face Charlie'. And, as of tonight, all of that stops. I'm tired of it. I'm not going to hide from you anymore. I'm not going to let you make me feel like a freak anymore. I'm not going to be 'No-Face Charlie' for you anymore.
And now, I'm going to get something to eat because I am starved."
He started to walk, shakily, toward the brightly lit building in the center of the parking lot, Sluggo and Peeto two steps behind. As he went the crowd parted like a wave in front of him.
From thirty feet overhead the hot white beams of the floodlights illuminated the parking lot like a corrida. The circling crowd watched, trying to decide if they were looking at the matador or the bull.
Sluggo and Peeto kept the people from getting too close. They didn't know, for sure, themselves, who was walking in front of them.
"I'M GETTING CLOSER. Is all of this real? Am I really here or is this just another nightmare?"
"I'M GETTING CLOSER. Twenty-five years. I smell burning meat."
"I'M GETTING CLOSER. I see her. Don't lie to me. Lie to me. Don't lie to me. Lie to me. Don't lie to me. Lie to me."
"I'M GETTING CLOSER. I want to learn to drive. I want to go Christmas shopping. I want to have neighbors over for coffee."
"I'M GETTING CLOSER. The cars, the girls. Nobody eats dogs."
"I'M HERE. It's so bright. It almost hurts to look. I'm here. The last window on the right. She's so pretty."
"Miss, I would like an order of onion rings, please."
The sixteen year old girl with the ponytail stood wide-eyed behind the counter, peering through the screen.
"Holy Jesus", she whispered. "I've always wanted to meet you."
"Sluggo, Peeto and No-Face Charlie"
was first created as a theatrical performance piece and was done onstage at the "Life on the Water Theater" in San Francisco. It was later adapted for the printed page and published twice.