An Early History Of The Three-Faced Race
by Aug Stone
Local flâneurs Puffy Pullman and Cheeks Redborne lay in the grass under the cool shade of the oak trees as the afternoon reached 3PM on the 1972 Summer Solstice and the festivities of the Harrisonburg Summer Fair showed no signs of abating. They had been drinking red wine since the cock crowed the morning, for while they never participated in the town’s activities, they relished the Fair as an excuse for making merry, believing their witty commentary on all things Harrisonburg to reach its peak just as year reached its own. They were quite drunk by now, their long moustaches stained various shades of burgundy from the myriad bottles scattered about their feet. While they took pride in their appearance, for both were well-dressed in floral pattern collared shirts under dark suit jackets with matching custom leather shoes, even donning capes for this most special event, the same care could not be said of their physiques. Their already far from athletic builds were running to mush, exacerbated by the switch to the legal side of being able to purchase alcohol, both having turned 18 the previous autumn. This they did plenty of, believing themselves, in some respects correctly, to be bon vivants, and now that the weather was more copacetic they relished relishing the good life out situated in it. Cheeks was letting loose a torrent of guffaws at the proceedings on the field while Puffy had his face buried in the crook of his arm, giving him, had it not been for the presence of the Sun, a most vampire-like appearance, having had to avert his eyes due to an overdose of hilarity some moments before. The two were watching the annual three-legged race.
Its victors, Joseph Flockhart aka Joe Flow and Frasier Price often called ‘Mr. Right’ for more reasons than his position in relation to his running partner, showed little pride in having won the competition as they made their way over to the long grass to confront, with accumulated aggravation from many years of dealing with the same, the rebellious duo rolling about hysterically within.
“You might actually come to appreciate how funny it really is if you were out there yourselves, instead of giggling like cowards at those who participate.”
Puffy jumped to his feet, landing unsteadily but still impressively for a man who’d drank three bottles of wine since breakfast, which itself had been another bottle of wine. “No one calls Puffy Pullman a coward! We will race you, sir, with our beautiful moustaches tied together!”
Cheeks unconsciously grimaced, rubbing his face in pain already, for he was the taller of the two, by three inches. But he always had Puffy’s back, using such now to pull himself up to a standing position in order to modify his cohort’s challenge. “You gentlemen must be tired after having just run such a race, albeit a lightweight version thereof. We wouldn’t want to be at the unfair advantage of having legs all the fresher.”
Joe Flow smirked. “Any time, any place. Just name it.”
Puffy swayed again before stomping to keep himself upright. Whatever the reason, it provided a nice punctuation to his pronouncement. “Tomorrow, here, at dawn!” He wobbled then stamped again. “And by that I mean 1PM”
Joe and Frasier also smoothed their palms over their chins, in a much less masochistic manner than Cheeks had done a moment ago. By no means clean-shaven, their affected stubble wasn’t long enough to tie to anything, but that had not been part of the deal as stated. It was their turn to chuckle. “One PM then” and they moved off back into the crowd.
Cheeks and Puffy drank long into the night, at first expounding greatly on the geniusness of their idea and how easily they would win, the world being their hairy oysters. Then of course as drinking sessions go, they would forget all about it, returning to the plan hours later with renewed enthusiasm. They talked and talked and talked and talked, often breaking out into spontaneous sprints, then pantingly congratulating each other already on a race already won, as well as their incredible courage, innovation, and fortitude. They didn’t go as far as actually trying to tie their moustaches together though, for each secretly thought this was insane.
When they arrived at the same field the next day at 1:15, very hungover and still in yesterday’s clothes though with different, bluer, capes, Puffy and Cheeks were surprised to see the area as full as the day before. They had assumed, even secretly hoped, that no one would show and they could go back to bed without having to make good on their challenge. Each removed their sunglasses to look the other in the eye, marveling at how word had gotten out about their feat, the bold attempt to revolutionize racing as the world knew it, though in their own words the crowd was gathered to “watch the degenerates make complete fools of themselves”. Nevertheless, local beauty Lacey Locke, on whom Cheeks had harbored a secret crush since the second grade, offered to tie their moustaches together for them. Even with the slight tugs already suggesting otherwise, this seemed to them a good omen. Though it was only now they realized, that despite Cheeks’ words of yesterday, they would be the ones at a disadvantage as Joe Flow and Mr. Right had no true facial hair to speak of, let alone do anything with.
Seeing this comprehension dawning in their eyes, Mr. Right stepped forward. “Tell ya what, fellas, to make things more fair, I’m gonna race on the left-hand side today.”
The contestants lined up for what was to be a 100 meter dash. Even the ten unsteady paces to starting positions were painful and confusing for Pullman and Redborne. Cheeks feeling the strain all the more as he was hunched over to level himself with Puffy’s face. He longed to feel Lacey’s caressing hands once again, though asking her to tighten the already uncomfortable knot was out of the question. His mind raced for other options. Simultaneously, solutions struck each of the pair as for a brief moment the clouds of hangover were pierced by the shining light of logic. Puffy and Cheeks shouting in unison, “Our legs shall be bound together as well!”
The crowd gasped. Joe offered, ‘You guys don’t have to do that -’ but Puffy cut him off.
“We will not make a mockery of the three-legged race by not running on three legs!”
His real motive he kept secret. That even in those first tentative steps he could tell having an anchor would greatly aid them, keeping the rest of their body parts from straying too far, and thereby eliminating the torture they felt as they had made their way willy-nilly to the starting line. Cheeks silently yet whole-heartedly agreed.
The starter pistol fired and it felt as if real bullets pierced straight through their eardrums and into the center of their brains. They weren’t past the hangovers yet. Price and Flow hopped along three meters and then turned around to see how their challengers were making out, an apt way of putting it as the edges of Puffy and Cheek’s lips were as good as touching. Their feet, however, had not left the starting line. And any comments about them kissing were held at bay by the agony and fear in their eyes. Lacey Locke and other less voluptuous spectators were offering words of advice and encouragement. The important thing was not to fall. Everyone sensed this implicitly. The pain that would be engendered by the pulling of the hair as they toppled over, in addition to the risk of them cracking their heads together, would be too much to bear. It was vital to keep their cheeks pressed against each other as hard as they could, the same going for their thighs, calves, and ankles to maintain as narrow a stride as possible. “Start with your middle legs,” Lacey intoned mischievously and with a slight push sent them on their way. That extra touch was a slice of heavenly anodyne for Cheeks, and it was another few seconds before he joined in on harmony to Puffy’s whimpering.
By the time the two of them had worked up an awkward momentum, Joe Flow and Frasier Price had already completed the course, facing backwards the whole way to fully relish their victory, and were now returning at speed to watch the proceedings more closely. That they themselves had lost within half a minute of beginning never registered with Puffy and Cheeks, so great was their concentration elsewhere. Still having 95 meters ahead of them, hungover and sweating out alcohol and fear in the summer heat, things looked bleak. Any efforts to discuss the matter were complicated by how much it hurt to move their mouths. After many thwarted attempts, Puffy alighted upon the solution to communicate telepathically. It seemed a no-brainer given the circumstances and the proximity of those particular organs. His initial suggestion of which, also sent via his mind, went unanswered by Cheeks, who was at the same time trying to, with the full force of his grey matter, mystically message Lacey to come to their aide again. Incensed that his ethereal exertions were somehow going unheeded, Puffy railed out loud against his comrade “Focus!” But even this command was lost as the two grit their teeth at the pain generated by the speaking of this word and its muscular reverberations.
Until now the crowd had been unusually quiet, a few cheers of support here and there but mostly wordlessly watching in wait for what might happen. This pregnant silence was burst by a shout of “quit your whining and get on with it!”
Cheeks and Puffy’s eyes lit up like a power surge and reflexively each attempted to look at the other, quickly turning only so far as the strain on their faces would let them. They had been given a solution, it was just a matter of voicing it.
“Wine!” they finally cried out in unison after much striving to get the sound out with minimal repercussions. The crowd was even more startled. Puffy and Cheeks could not believe their predicament. They finally realized and expressed what they needed and now no one understood them. They danced about as best they could, learning the hard way that there really is no effective pantomime for the word ‘wine’ when you’re tied to another human being by face, thigh, and ankle. Eventually that sweet angel Lacey grasped what they were trying to convey, and like the wonder that she was, was soon bounding towards them with a jug in her hands. And then a whole other set of difficulties arose. If they were having such trouble moving their mouths to speak, how were they going to open them to imbibe the desired nectar? But there was no time to plan. Lacey held the bottle over their conjoined faces and poured, the two lapping it up like dogs, each other’s swallows a high but welcome price to pay for such sweet relief. It soon became apparent that they would not be able to imbibe enough to kill the pain, and, truth be told, drinking in their current condition made them a little sick, but the first, thankfully repressed, spasms of vomit that they felt from each other’s torsos reaching through their faces was something they actually did telepathically agree to never mention again.
They were still a good 70 meters from the finish line but peculiar sensations began to come over them. They had passed a hurdle, metaphorically of course, as jumping in their current circumstances would surely bring about the end of their sanity. But soon the words of the poets and philosophers rose from their literary memories to ring rapturously in their ears – Nietzsche, Goethe, Sartre, and others whose names did not end in ‘uh’. A confidence that was difficult to differentiate from madness descended upon the pair. They began to believe they could do it. Wild-eyed, they hit a stride, Cheeks drumming out the rhythm on Puffy’s shoulder – three light taps, then a more forceful hit for the forward thrust for their middle legs. Tears of pain mixed with those of joy, an elation that radiated out over the crowd, who were now fully on their side, even Joe and Frasier cheering them on. The vision of Lacey blowing Cheeks a kiss with 30 yards left to go was one he would take unto his grave.
The ribbon across the finish line was quickly re-erected to mark just how big a deal their crossing it would be. They did so looking like two men possessed, and with the inhabiting demons trying to punch their way out from the center of their heads. Copious amounts of sweat poured over skin stained red with sunburn and wine, lines etched deep from pain endured. The impression that they were lunatics was not helped by their stumbling the last few meters repeatedly shouting ‘Scissors!’ and then clenching their teeth at the agony brought about by doing so. It took a moment for the spectators to see that the joining knot of their moustaches was taut beyond a hope of loosening. The mayor, always something of a jokester, pushed his way to the front holding the outsized pair of shears he used for ceremonial openings and the like. Cheeks nearly lost consciousness when he saw Lacey remove them from the old man’s hand and begin to approach bearing the widest, prettiest smile he’d ever seen. When the snip was made, the friends fell away from each other, tumbling to the ground, Cheeks landing at Lacey’s feet, and Puffy vomiting profusely into his cape not far enough away. But despite the rumblings deep within him, there was no way Cheeks was going to spew. There were a pair of lips awaiting his a few feet above. The official with the stopwatch noted that this was all happening a good 33 minutes after Joe Flow and Mr. Right had already achieved victory. But those two were magnanimous, even coming up to shake hands. “We didn’t think you had it in you.”
That summer the boys enjoyed local celebrity status, relishing the attention and endearing the townsfolk to them. No longer was it just the two of them in the shadowy long grass with a few bottles of vino. The town’s youth, disaffected and otherwise, gathered to hear Puffy pontificate, while Cheeks and Lacey made out behind the bushes a few feet away.
The following year, however, Harrisonburg would not be graced with their presence, the two having discovered the charms of the big city where both had moved to attend college at the end of that last glorious August. But the memory of the race – now muddled by time to be believed to have taken part on the Solstice itself – lingered on, the fair’s main topic of conversation as those in attendance scanned the boundary lines for a much hoped-for glimpse of Puffy and Cheeks’ return.
A curious thing then happened in 1983. Michael Shell, who had been five years old at the time what became known as The Three-Faced Race took place, turned 16 that May and was in possession of quite the moustache himself. To anyone who knew the inner workings of Michael’s mind this would come as no surprise, for back in ’72 he, like most other Harrisonburg males of all ages, harbored the most hardcore crush on Lacey Locke. Seeing her actions on that day set in motion the course for his life. He began willing his facial hair into existence, and as soon as it sprouted, he tended to it as if he were training for a marathon. Shaving his upper lip, and, truth be told, any body hair that was poking through any surface at that point, as he heard this would make it grow in thicker. Sending away for special ointments advertised in the back of his mother’s magazines, always racing home from school to be sure he was the one to get the mail, lest anyone discover his secret ambitions before their time. And when the hair finally started to come in thick, pulling on it for hours a day to get it further past the barrier of the skin and out into full view. Nevermind that Lacey Locke had moved to the city and married Cheeks Redborne years ago. That Van Halen came into this life soon after their nuptials greatly helped to ease the heartache. There were other Harrisonburg girls to impress, closer to his age, particularly the delectable Donna Teller.
Although there had been plenty of occasions over the course of the last year that Miss Teller had glanced his way, said hi to him in the school hallways, even telling her best friend she would go to the spring dance with him if he asked, tempting as these were, Michael ignored them. No, if she were the one for him, he would win her over on the hair-tied battlefield in the same way his hero/rival had done with the gorgeous Miss Locke years before. He refused to consider any other plotline to this ideal love story. And Michael had big plans. Two years before, he had finally dropped enough hints to get his best friends Angelo Hanger, Leo Jupitus, and Raf Scallion to start growing their facial hair too. That it just so happened Michael and Angelo were each 5 feet 8 inches tall, while Leo and Raf both measured in at an even six feet, Michael took as proof that his ambitions were meant to be.
Michael laid out his vision for the four friends, and then, waiting strategically until late May, put them to the town committee in charge of the fair. The officials agreed to host a special exhibition revival of the Three-Faced Race in honor of Puffy Pullman and Cheeks Redborne whose band The Low Brows were now enjoying the fruits of new wave success. Invitations were sent to the rock stars and all hoped they would grace Harrisonburg with their presence. Meanwhile, having waited until less than a month before the fair, although the race would be open to all, Michael Shell knew of no other local men with moustaches long enough to participate. To be sure, he used whatever tactics he could to delay the announcement for as long as possible. Finally, with the fair being only a week away, he could hold off the news no longer. In the interim, the quartet had trained as they had all year. Knowing it could very well be the end of their moustaches if they attempted to tie them together ahead of time, they were saving that key ingredient until the big day and instead ran drills in Michael’s secluded back yard, a large sweatband stretched around each set of two heads, cheeks pressed together like they would come the real thing, with ankles and thighs bound as well.
All was running smoothly until three days before the fair. Michael’s enthusiasm for how well it was all going got the better of him, and in the spirit of camaraderie confessed to his teammates his true reasons behind the whole enterprise. He immediately regretted it. Angelo and Raf, resting with their backs against a nearby tree, drew their knees in close, looking off awkwardly into the distance as Leo stared Michael straight in the eye.
“You’re interested in Donna? I like Donna.”
No one knew what to say after that. The next day Leo did not show up to practice. Michael, though furious at this rather large hiccup, was resolved that all should still run according to plan. They would race, he would win, and thus win Donna’s heart. Nevermind that Donna had never expressed an interest in any of this, that too was just a minor bump in the road. Michael felt deep inside that there was no way she could not be mesmerized by his pulling this off. He send Raf to go talk to Leo. On the final night of practice, the eve of the fair, Leo arrived late with an ice-cold stare. The two suitors ceremoniously sat down at the Shell family table and decided that to the victor went all the spoils – Donna Teller, the race trophy, the fame that Puffy and Cheeks had enjoyed, even down to their being now in a famous pop band. They then went outside, attached themselves to their partners, and raced their asses off. Fate had provided a true kick in the pants, and Michael could not have orchestrated better inspiration himself.
Despite Michael’s efforts to hold up the proceedings for his own nefarious purposes, Harrisonburg had wasted no time in getting word out about ‘The Return Of The Three-Faced Race’. The news spread that this time all parties involved would actually be bound by their facial hair, although once again it would be an event where the term ‘three-faced’ was questionable at best. An anticipatory crowd had gathered early at the gates, a good percentage carrying copies of The Low Brows’ newly released ‘Riding On The Handlebars (Of Love)’ single, and all holding hopes that Puffy and Cheeks would show up to sign them. A record-breaking number of local food vendors had set up shop on the grounds and plenty of homemade goodies were on sale as well, cookies and cakes depicting two faces joined by long strings of frosting over the lips. The excitement was edible.
As the festivities began, Michael Shell, who, despite his grand romantic visions, had always been rather shy around girls, came out of his carapace to walk right up to Donna Teller and ask her if she would do them the incredible honor of tying their moustaches together. Donna consented and agreed to meet the boys at the starting line later. When it was announced that the sign-ups for the Three-Faced Race were now open, Michael waited nervously near the sheet, eyeing every passerby like a hawk, and staring down anyone bearing the slightest hint of stubble. He breathed a huge sigh of relief when 3 o’clock came and there were only their four names written down. He walked towards the course with an overwhelming confidence that all would now run like clockwork. This was confirmed by the tingle shooting through his body when Donna’s hands took hold of the end of his tasche. It had not occurred to him that she would also tie Leo and Raf together, but he was so wired that he let this pass. In doing so, he considered himself to be rather magnanimous, also knowing that it would deal an all the more crushing blow to Leo when in a few minutes time he left him in the dust.
The contestants took their places, arms around their partners. Leo staring daggers at Michael, with the latter pretending not to notice. The starter gun let rip and they were off. Anyone hoping to see a repeat of Puffy and Cheeks endearingly finding their way through a new world, harrumphing and hungover in the hot afternoon Sun, would be sorely disappointed. What the townsfolk of Harrisonburg now witnessed were two six-legged well-oiled machines. Gone were the stops and uneasy starts, the eyes brimming with pained tears and the anticipation of more, as well as all the whimpering. It was slow progress but steady, without even a pause for anyone to locate a bottle of wine. In fact, the only anguished cry heard was at the finish line ten minutes later as Michael let out a resounding ‘Yes!’, Leo following two steps behind with an equally loud ‘No!’, and then all four letting loose with shrieks of pain from those two ejaculations. Michael had little time to remain in agony, however, as his plan seemed to be working itself out right in front of his face. Donna Teller was making her way straight towards him, arms outstretched, a huge welcoming smile beaming from cheek to cheek. Michael closed his eyes to await the culmination of his dreams. A second later he felt a small section of Donna’s lip on the corner of his, but something was definitely amiss. The rest of her physical presence was not where it should be. His lids shot open in spite of himself. It was now his turn to scream ‘No!’, long and loud, no matter how excruciating it was. Although his howl had been enough to interrupt Donna’s tongue in Angelo’s mouth, Michael yanked his head as well, cracking his partner’s skull into his own. Leo was also watching in disbelief, though thankfully he and Raf had already been separated. The two then instinctively ran to their friends/opponents along with a good number of spectators as all tried to separate the victors as best they could, grabbing hold of Michael to keep him from further headbutting Angelo. With four people gripping Michael’s head and another eight keeping his body still, the scissors finally made their way over to cut free the two former best friends. Michael immediately stormed off the field, out of the fair, and back home as fast as he could.
When he arrived at the top of his driveway, smarting all over his skin, both physical and spiritual, without fully knowing why, he threw open his mailbox. As he reached inside half-expecting another snake to take another bite out of his loving flesh, he froze as he saw what was there. Just as Lacey Locke’s hands had first brought sweet relief to Cheeks Redborne’s aches on this very day (give or take 24 hours) over a decade ago, so now those same fingers gave much solace to one Michael Shell.
We received your letter about reviving ‘The Three-Faced Race’ (how funny that it’s called that now!) and Cheeks wanted me to write you that it’s such a great idea! We both wish you the best of luck and wish we could be there, and would be, if The Low Brows weren’t flying to Japan for their run of sold-out shows at Budokan that week. Maybe next year.
Lots of Love,
Lacey Locke Redborne
In a way, it had all been worth it. Michael slept with the postcard under his pillow the entire lonely summer, often taking it out when he returned home from school the following autumn after tough days of seeing Donna passing notes to Angelo or the two holding hands in the hallway. The line ‘maybe next year’ reverberated over and over again in his head and after Christmas break he began to notice more and more moustaches around town. On Valentine’s Day, the date carefully chosen, Michael again petitioned the Harrisonburg committee about continuing The Three-Faced Race at the fair this year as well. Van Halen had released a new album, their best yet, and the sting of the previous event was gradually fading from his face and heart.
With the committee’s approval, he set to work, opening up the competition county-wide, and of course sending another letter to Mr. & Mrs. Redborne well ahead of time. This year there would actually be three faces, as Leo and Raf would join Michael, leaning down the four inches either side of him, and the trio began training as soon as the snow thawed. On April 1st, word came in that The Low Brows would be honored to perform a special set the evening of the Solstice, right in Harrisonburg. When the signed contract came back a week later, all let loose a huge sigh of relief that this wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. The big day came and meeting Lacey Locke was everything Michael Shell hoped it would be. The kiss she planted on his right cheek after he, Leo, and Raf won the race was a memory he too would take unto his grave. The trio came in at 11 minutes, not beating their time of the previous year when each only had one partner but it was a good showing nonetheless. Six other pairs from across the county had also signed up and all finished in under 15 minutes. Everyone was pleased with how the day went, and Puffy and Cheeks wandered about the grounds in amazement at how a spontaneous ejaculation eleven years before had grown into such a well-loved beast. They took the stage that evening with as much humility as their rock star egos would allow them and blazed through a set of their biggest hits – ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, ‘Tickle Tickle’, and ‘Yosemite Sam’ from their Red Hairing album – before encoring with a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Rubber Band’ set to a disco beat. From its opening strains, the crowd went wild, and although most couldn’t tell you what tune it was, all invaded the stage to dance with these triumphant sons of Harrisonburg.
The following year, 1985, it was a foregone conclusion that the event would continue, being now the main feature of the fair. Michael Shell got planning early, hoping to expand the experience to include more groups of three faces. There were some minor setbacks, the most obvious of which was David Lee Roth leaving Van Halen, which Team Shell commemorated by wearing black arm bands during the race, but by the time the day came it was even more of a success than the previous years. The competition now consisted of ten groups of three, making it the first official ‘Three-Faced Race’, and Michael, Leo, and Raf even set a record coming in at 9 minutes 27 seconds. Children shouted at the sidelines, holding up Man-E-Faces and other He-Man action figures, dreaming dreams just like the young Michael Shell of one day joining the proceedings. Puffy and Cheeks both sent messages of congratulations, expressing both their love that the race was continuing and regrets that they could not make it this year as their latest album, Barbershop Bop, was charting high in Europe necessitating an onslaught of promotional appearances. But they would do their best for future fairs.
And over the course of the years, Puffy, Cheeks, Lacey, and their families would all show up at more fairs than not. Even far after The Low Brows’ fame began to fade, they were always welcome to perform a set in Harrisonburg, especially the night of the Solstice. And from such slow beginnings, the race has now been an annual event for decades, where lifelong bonds have been forged simply by standing next to someone of similar height with a long enough moustache. Indeed, three years ago there was even an exhibition run of seventeen simultaneous faces, and visitors have traveled from Arnhem, NY and Bassett, CA to be part of the festivities. Michael, Leo, and Raf still hold the time to beat with 6 minutes 30 seconds in their last competitive run. And after a long on-again off-again relationship Angelo Hanger and Donna Teller were finally married on the grounds in 1995. Michael Shell still not speaking much to the couple but knowing the special interest story would certainly draw in a larger crowd. But to those who were there in 1972 for the inaugural event, even to Michael Shell, although it would severely pain him to admit it, there was a magic to that first one, which wasn’t so much a race as a willing to make something happen, that all the later training and preparation could never recreate, not with a thousand linked moustaches blazing through the shadows of a summer field.
Aug Stone is a writer, musician, & comedian. Author of the comedy novels The Ballad Of Buttery Cake Ass and Off-License To Kill, as well as the memoir Nick Cave’s Bar, his journalism has appeared in The Quietus, The Comics Journal, Under The Radar, and many more sites and magazines. Aug was a founding member of H Bird and The Soft Close-Ups, and has played in countless other bands. He performs comedy as absurdist stream-of-consciousness raconteur, Young Southpaw. His Sporting Moustaches collection, which this story is from, will be published by Sagging Meniscus in April 2024.