Radish Story #4
Sometimes I look back at the things I did when I was a reporter and realize I am lucky to be alive. Some of my adventures were daring and stupid, like hanging out of a helicopter and flying through a crack in the Wasatch Mountains to get a glimpse of flooding damage. There was the time I was flying into Sarajevo with the Air Force to deliver food to starving people when we were shot at and had to take evasive action. Yes, like guns and rockets kind of war shot at.
There were stalkers, someone trying to run me off a cliff because I had exposed their corrupt town police force, the secret meetings with killer’s wives, threatening phone calls…decades of such fantastic fun.
There was also the time I boldly went to interview Wolfman Jim without realizing what in the living hell I was getting into…Well, pretty much that was every day of my life.
This was in the early days of my reporting career (See Story #2 about how I got this job.) My beloved friend Betty, who also worked at the paper and had had two sets of twins, a mess of other children, and the kindest heart in the world, told me about him.
“He lives out on the edge of town with a menagerie of animals that he trained to be in the moves, and he’s kind of a rugged wild guy,” she said, knowing I would be out the door in a flash to find him.
“Is he dangerous?”
“No, but he tried to kill himself once, and you can see where the bullet bounced off his forehead.”
Obviously, this was a story just waiting to happen.
It wasn’t hard to find where Wolfman lived because you could smell it about a mile away. This was a long time ago, but there are some things a woman never forgets.
Wolfman was not a neat freak. How could you be when you are tending bears, raccoons, skunks, badgers, cougars, bobcats, and whatever in the hell else someone might need when filming a movie in Utah? There was crap, and I mean all forms of crap, everywhere, and once I maneuvered around piles of animal parts in buckets, old car parts, little and big poopie piles, I knocked on Wolfman’s door, and a giant of a man answered.
He was a thin, very tall man with a long scraggly Grizzly Adams kind of beard that included lunch leftovers, and there was that bullet hole right in the middle of his forehead that I tried not to stare at, which was not easy. He quickly invited me into his house without hesitation. I remember looking back over my shoulder and wondering if this was one of those times my father had warned me about during my growing-up lectures. In I went like a good, young, eager reporter who had literally smelled this story a mile away.
Wolfman did not have a cleaning lady, or a broom, or anything that might have cleaned the tiny space that he shared with several animals. I am serious. The first thing that happened as we started talking was that he held up some pieces of metal that looked like handcuffs and asked me if I knew what they were.
Instead of telling me what they were, he quickly walked over to where I was sitting, put one around my ankle, attached the other one to the couch leg, and there I sat, bewildered and terrified.
“Those are horse hobble, he said.
“They keep horses from wandering off and people too, as you can see.”
I was about to tinkle in my underwear when he laughed, and I tried to laugh, but before I could ask him to un-hobble me, he got up, opened a door, and a large raccoon came out and jumped on my shoulders. I kid you not.
This is the moment when I could almost hear my father lecturing me about never letting something like this happen to me. “Keep your back to the door, honey. Always have a knife in your bag. Never let some son-of-a-bitch push you around.”
My young life passed in front of my eyes before Wolfman came over and unhobbled me, I gingerly petted the stinky raccoon, and I proceeded to find out about his life taming animals for movies, the grocery store he once owned, and how many times he had been mauled.
In typical Kris Radish fashion, Jim and I became friends. I saw him occasionally around town and knew he was lonely because he had been unable to teach any of the animals how to talk to him. Back then, I hosted a Thanksgiving for all the strays, pun intended, in town who had no place to go, and one year, I invited him.
Dinner was over before he showed up, and everyone had left, but I knew he was coming, and I saved him a plate. His arrival will never, ever, for the rest of my life, be forgotten.
Jim fed his animals from the animal-rendering plant leftovers near where I lived. He pulled up right in front of my little kitchen window with a pickup filled with chicken heads. There was blood running down the side of the truck, feathers flying here and there, and all those little pink beaks pointed toward the sky as if they were looking for the rest of their bodies.
My friend Wolfman Jim came in and ate, leaving a trail of chicken shit in the kitchen and we sat and chatted as if this was all normal. I fixed him some food to go, and then off he went, leaving a trail of dead chicken leftovers in his wake as he headed home.
Jim is long gone, I have no idea what happened to his animals, but he left me with this great story and a fondness for people who live out their dreams no matter what the rest of the world thinks.
And now you have a Radish story and a little piece of my life.