Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Tin Soldier

Shortly after I took over the all-night show from Carl Wendelken at WMNI I started to meet many of his fans, either while hosting the live country music program broadcasted from the stage of the Southern Theatre (The WMNI Country Cavalcade) or by having them stop by the studios late at night, or simply on the phone as the insomniacs called in looking for a song or someone to talk to.
Our Country Cavalcade was a local version of WSM's Grand Ole Opry Show and like the grand daddy of them all we featured live acts on Saturday nights from a beautiful historic theatre. (The Southern.)
After the program’s regular host Ron Barlow left WMNI Carl inherited the hosting duties, and later we began taking turns when he started getting busier as the stations public affairs director. I actually met my wife Mary at the Cavalcade. (What a groupie.)
However I met another person one night who became obsessed with my radio show because like me he was a Waylon Jennings fan and I peppered my program nightly with lots of his music. This guy claimed he was his first cousin and a long-time friend of Carl's, or so he said. He was by today’s definition a stalker.
Calling every night on the phone, showing up at WMNI events and eventually waiting for me to get to the studio so he could sit in and watch me do my show. After turning him away several times by telling him it was against station policy to have visitors in the studio I arrived one night and he was in the control room.
The DJ on before me, Joe Higman had let him in. Joe said the guy had brought me some homemade chili and some homemade beer to wash it down. So I had a visitor.
He insisted I eat the chili, which I did and felt like I was going to die. It was the hottest food I had ever suffered through. The man had made it with every hot-pepper known to mankind and had laced it with pepper-spray (mace) to give it a kick. The beer was in a clear glass Pepsi bottle and had a gray hue to it and what looked like a combination of sand and flies floating in it.
I thought to myself…“Damn, even Roy Juengel wouldn’t drink this shit.” (Roy was a man twice my age who had become not only a loyal listener but my best friend.) After just one bite of that chili I had to play several songs without interruption just to catch my breath and allow the fire on my lips to cool. It was if I had ate a lump of smoldering coal.
The visitor said he was seeking a patent on both with the hope of marketing it as a combo deal to be served in bars. (Yes!) But after eating the chili the beer actually went down pretty smooth. I would have drank cold piss after that. I'm not sure I didn’t.
This guy was over six feet tall and weighed way north of 250 pounds. His hair was longer than my shoulder length locks and he had a beard more scraggly than Hank Junior.
As we conversed between the Waylon Jennings records, at least three each hour, I kept hinting to him that he needed to leave because if my boss showed up I could be fired.
His response was that if the boss showed up he would kick his ass. By midway through my show I learned that he was a former POW during the Viet Nam War. Then he lifted his shirt to expose scars that were hard to look at.
He said he got them from "Gooks” who tied him up with barbed wire and hung him from a bamboo tree for several hours each day. He told me of other tortures that he endured while living in a warehouse that was only four feet high from floor to ceiling.
No floors, just muddy earth, eating rats and anything they could scoop from the ground when they were starving. He said they even ate maggots. Suddenly the meal he served me didn’t seem that bad.
For him the war never ended and never would.
He claimed that he had killed more Orientals after he was released and sent home than he did in the war. He actually said that he was a serial killer on a mission.
Every chance he got, whether it was ambushing someone in a restroom at a dark night-club or a theatre late at night, to finding them fishing along a river bank and picking them off from long range with a rifle, whenever the opportunity to do it and get away was there.
I figured most of what he was telling me was fantasy, another lying storyteller trying to stand taller and seem more important than he was. Whoever he was he was creepy and a little scary at the time considering the circumstances. Just him and I and a desk clerk downstairs in a seven-story hotel with no security in it.
"Like you"… he said to me…"If I had to kill you I'd feel bad for your kids. But if you ever crossed me I'd kill you." Finally he left and I never heard from him again. I did tell all of this to a Columbus police officer who would occasionally stop by late at night for a cup of radio station coffee. “Wow” was about all he said.
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