One evening in September 1949 Chester was in the bathroom, penciling his moustache, clipping his nose hairs with long, narrow barber’s scissors, and splashing on his face emerald green, smelly Mennen after shave lotion in preparation for his usual Saturday night of drinking and dancing.
He was listening to the radio news relating the shocking, sensational story of a guy named Howard Unruh who a few days ago had, in cold blood, gunned down 13 people in Camden, New Jersey.
Unruh, the excited announcer said, was a twenty-eight-year-old US Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, a highly decorated tank gunner, who—get this—kept meticulous notes on every German he killed, down to specific details of their corpses.
Why did Unruh load his Luger and begin killing people?
Well, he arrived home from a movie theater at 3 am and discovered that the gate he had just built in front of his house had been stolen. "When I saw that,” he calmly told police, “I decided to kill them all."
“He’s a sick motherfucker,” I said loudly.
I’d heard my father use that term before, many times. It was one of his favorite phrases. I figured he’d appreciate my using it.
But his mouth fell open. He turned. “What did you say?”
“I said that guy is a sick motherfucker.”
He grabbed my arm, picked up the green Palmolive soap bar, and pushed it toward my mouth. I squirmed, tried to pull from his grip, but he seized my hair, and told me to OPEN UP GODDAMNIT, and then shoved the bar against my teeth and rubbed it violently back and forth.
I gagged at the awful taste and the burning at the back of my throat. I went to the sink and spat out the vile green froth mixed with the blood trickling from my gums.
“Don’t you ever use that filthy language again,” he said.
“But YOU use it all the time!” I wailed.
“Goddamnit, don’t you talk back to your FATHER, understand? Do it again and I’ll shove that soap down your fuckin’ throat. Now go to your room.”
I obeyed. Finally I heard the front door open and slam, and his car starting up and driving off. I knew he wouldn’t be back until 3 AM.
“Fucking asshole,” I said loudly in the empty room. “Goddamned motherfucking shithead cocksucker.”
I laughed. Those words weren’t filthy, they were funny.