From the Scrap Heap: Richard Kunkel's Christmas Pageant

A lot of folks around town thought there was something special about
Richard Kunkel. Big things were expected of that poor fellow. Certainly
no one believed that such a fine, bright boy as Richard Kunkel would
stick around a tiny little jerkwater village like ours for the rest of
his life. Many assumed Kunkel would follow his fathe into the Armed Forces, and would rise quickly through the ranks. Others thought
certain that with that fine voice of his he would become a supper club singer. He was always getting up to sing at parties and special
occasions around town, and he knew all the songs from the famous
Broadway shows. As for myself, well, I thought perhaps Richard Kunkel
would carve out a place for himself in the political arena. I always
pictured him smiling and blowing kisses from the back of a train, waving
goodbye to that little town of ours forever.

But, no sir, it turns out that our Richard Kunkel didn’t have the
ambition God gave a field mouse, and he never went anywhere. As he grew
older it was always one odd job around town after another. The fellow
couldn’t seem to hold a position to save his soul, and it was the death
of his poor mother. After a time rumors began to circulate that Richard
had a fondness for liquor and played cards with the priests for money.
He never married, but he never did stop being the same friendly,
outgoing Richard Kunkel the town had known as a boy. He never amounted
to a hill of beans, either, which saddened all of us. You like to see
your bright young people go out into the world to make something of

Then one year Richard Kunkel did an unusual and entirely unexpected
thing, a rather scandalous thing in our little scheme of things.
Richard recruited some children from the church youth group and mounted
a Christmas pageant from a play he had apparently written himself,
based on some of the questionable stories regarding St. Nicholas of
Myra. In actuality the play had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do
with Christmas and focused almost entirely on the legend of St.
Nicholas’ resuscitation of three boys –Timothy, Mark, and John– who
had allegedly been slaughtered, pickled, and sold as meat during a
fourth century famine. This peculiar incident was described by Richard
Kunkel –and most clumsily enacted by his rankly amateur players– in
obsessive and grotesque detail, complete with much shrieking, writhing,
and the liberal spilling of false blood.

This inappropriate production was staged as a prelude to a chili
dinner in the church basement, and needless to say whatever point
Richard was trying to make was entirely lost on the horrified
spectators, most of whom were elderly folks from the local senior
citizen center who had come expecting some celebration of the spirit of
the season.

Richard –playing a filthy and half-dressed pawnbroker (St. Nicholas
being the patron saint of pawn brokers, or so Kunkel explained in the
program notes)– narrated the play with a disturbing and incoherent
zeal. There was much speculation that Richard was, in fact,
intoxicated, speculation which was perhaps fueled by the fact that his
character was swilling messily from a large bottle of whiskey
throughout the production. A prop, Richard later claimed, but there
were few believers.

People need to recognize the effect one untoward incident can have
on a man’s reputation in a small town. I’m not saying it’s always fair
and square, but after Richard Kunkel’s little lark at the church dinner
people’s attitudes towards him changed. He’d been a bit of a
disappointment to that point, but this was something else entirely.
Richard Kunkel went from a boy of failed promise to the sort of
mystery nobody really wanted around. It’s sad, but that’s the way of
the world.

He finally left town a year or so later, and the word around
here is that he’s working at a Fleet Farm up in Rochester these days.