Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Fair Hammerman

It was 1976, my first job as a disk jockey and I was doing my gig live at the Montana State Fair. It was hard enough to sit in a dark room and chit chat with invisible strangers while playing them a little night music and the inevitable 12 minutes of commercials an hour. But take that show into the light of day and the whole dynamic changes; I am not a partyboy. Hell, I never learned to dance because I thought people were looking at me; being in a crowded room as the spotlighted entertainer wasn't what I'd signed on for.

I didn't really need to worry, the station I worked for was in fourth place of four, and one of those four wasn't even a commercial radio station but a hobby/vanity transmitter in some egomaniacs basement. How he got himself into the "arbitron" ratings book when he was generally only on the air a few hours a day is beyond me, but he kicked our demographically challenged ass. In any case, we were certainly not overwhelmed with fans that clamored for our autographs; it was pretty quiet around our booth.

I'd just been moved from overnights to afternoon drive time, and my popularity was just beginning. It was funny to look into the small crowd that  occasionally gathered and wonder whether any of them had actually listened to me; if they were only here now because of the spectacle of a radio station's appearance at "the fair". And I wondered whether this middle aged woman or that was one of the few truck driver's wives who had taken a sudden interest in calling me once I'd changed time slots; my "groupies" as it were, lonely women who thought I was their personal voice of reason and tranquility.

For seven days I did my time in the wooden booth within the exposition pole barn, a monkey in a cage more or less; waving and grinning, taking requests and being as charming and clever as God had intended when he made me a lover and not a fighter.

And then I got the fan from hell;

A wiry fellow half my size who seemed to appear with every small group that passed in front of me for days on end. A sort of "Ernest goes to the Fair" lookin' kinda guy, he wore the same clothes each day and just shuffled along behind people as if he were a pet on some invisible leash, always slowing as he got to within eye contact range, locking onto mine and then muttering to himself as he sauntered from right to left and then out of view. And yet I considered him a distraction for the most part, a loony for sure, but a harmless entertainment for a bored and mildly neurotic dj.

Finally on the last day of the fair he stopped and stared at me as I was working the news, leaning up against the opposite corrugated steel wall and rubbing his chin as if a theologian gathering his far too many thoughts with the help of far too many extra voices.

Never breaking his blinkless glare, he slowly walked to our brochure table where a station clerical worker would normally glad hand and chit chat with the adoring throng; but today she'd taken sick and I was left to my own devices, forced to answer questions and pass out free junk between my little witticisms that were 3:36 minutes apart on average.

He began by making a few requests, no doubt just the hits of the moment as I don't recall the titles. But then he began to ask me pointed personal questions; what my wife's name was, what part of the city I lived in...and on for what must have been 20 minutes.

It was a slow night, near dinner hour and Heart was the featured rock group at the sold out grandstand, so this guy and I were near enough alone that I couldn't shake him off. I tried to be as tactful as I could in refusing to answer his questions, but he became more and more upset anyway. Once he'd moved into discussing politics and Vietnam policy he was damn near frothing at the mouth and I was actually beginning to get nervous.

I did my normal stand up and stretch to show my size and fake my Herculean strength thing, but that only agitated the guy. A few times he actually lifted his leg as if a dog having a chat with a fire hydrant, but I was sure he was testing the height of our booth's counter to see what it would take to leap it. And then my guess came tolife  as he jumped onto the counter and began to walk toward my raised stage.

He'd forgotten why I was where I was...I was on the fucking radio d00d! (Actually I'm a little surprised it occurred to me so quickly lol, his action stunned me a little) Immediately I switched on my mike and started loudly making clear to all within my few thousand square mile listening area that I had a little problem with a midget wrestler and if a copper didn't show up at the Karr/Kopr booth at the Montana State Fair within a few minutes they would need to drag a dead carcass from the exposition building as one of us would certainly perish if.....

Of course I was amplified within the booth itself much less across most of big sky country, he heard my verbose call for assistance and set off running, leaping over the counter like a frustrated sheep in an insomniacs dream.

I slapped on Gordon Lightfoot's "Canadian Railroad Trilogy"; the bathroom song as we called it because it was over seven minutes in length and the only format approved tune that would give you time enough to deal with your humanity in a dignified way. I ran to the counter and jumped it, so as to keep my eye on the little twerp that I might point him out to the gendarmes that would surely be arriving any second.

None did, everyone thought I was bored and joking, or maybe had inadvertently left my mic on while babbling to someone. Not only did no one show up to save me, but no one even called to check my bluff. I'd only felt that alone one other time, and that was in my one true violent nightmare. Who knows what might have happened if he'd ignored my raving.



No matter; after 7 minutes and a few seconds of private eying I was back behind the counter, thanking Mr. Lightfoot for the opportunity to stretch my legs, and moving on to another piece of pop music.

Less than an hour later there was a huge commotion in the building, maybe 50 yards from where I was finishing up my shift and packing the equipment for the trip home. There was a scream and then shouting, a scuffle and a gun went off, and then all was silent again save my own chatter about what mother nature would bring the city of Great Falls through the following week and the rest of the top of the hour crapola.

I was told the guy in question tackled a random woman as she was eating her popcorn and lazily browsing the booths in the exposition building. He'd knocked her to the floor and as she tried to crawl away, he'd removed her slip on pumps and tossed them aside. Where he found the hammer I'm not sure, but one hit was all the woman needed to understand that her bare feet were his target and that this wasn't funny anymore. She flew from him like a mouse in the shadow of a hawk, and as he stood for the chase a half dozen bystanders wrestled him to the ground. He'd pulled the gun in self defense he told officers later, he wasn't trying to hurt anyone when he pulled the trigger, just warding off the demons.

I suppose I could have let him come, had our tussle and hopefully been the victor, and then held him for the police. It might have saved a grievous injury to that poor woman and lord knows I know what foot pain is. I can only guess things happen for a reason, and it was not my day to take a bullet.

I love the fair though I don't go every year anymore. I especially love seeing the animals in their dusty cages, minding their own business as if the world around them is a safe and happy place. They remind me of me many years ago, before I learned the truth and ruined my outlook forever.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That poor woman. Still, her foot could have been your head.

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