The call came in: My country needed me.
Well, OK, not my country, but country music. OK, so it didn't need me, but it needed someone.
Saturday night, Topeka radio station 97 Country was playing host to a preliminary competition for the Colgate Country Showdown, a nationwide country talent contest, at Coyote's, 1003 E. 23rd St. The cry went out. "Hey, ya wanna do this? They need someone you get free beer."
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If that's so, when it comes to country music I'm a lethal weapon. My idea of country music is George Jones, Johnny Cash and a lot of other nearly dead guys.
Sure, the Dixie Chicks are country, but SheDaisy? Shania Twain's a pop singer. I think we're about three months away from an explosion of boy bands in Justin Ropers, Wranglers and Straw Resistols boot-scootin' in unison, shirts agape. 'N Boots anyone?
As the evening approached, I felt challenged by the prospect of proper wardrobe selection. I wanted to fit in; I didn't want the fraud of my presence to be so obvious.
I pulled out my black Merle Haggard "Motorcycle Cowboy" T-shirt. I think it was precisely at the moment when I remembered that my long-forsaken cowboy boots were somewhere in the basement in a box that I got brave and decided to attend dressed up as me.
It's amazing how little remodeling is required to make an old roller rink look like an old roller rink with a stage, a bar, a pool table and a bunch of neon beer signs, but Coyote's is not without charm.
As it turns out the station could only round up three judges, and I was the only male. The man from 97 Country was pleased to inform me that I was in luck because my fellow judges were both "hot."
One by one, Jennifer and Sherriene, two charming reporters from a Topeka television station, arrived. We got to know each other over drinks. We then were led to our little stools inside the soundboard partition, and the fun began.
I won't take you through a litany of performances. Suffice it to say, some of the performers were quite good and others were, shall we say, quite brave. Sherriene thought the performers had a lot of nerve. In more than a few cases, I'd call it more gall than nerve.
Somewhere near the beginning of my third beer the emcee announced that later in the evening there would be a wet T-shirt contest and I began to wonder if I'd volunteered to judge the right event. Sherriene told me that she'd recently helped judge a homemade bikini contest at a country bar in Topeka. This judging racket was starting to show promise.
We made an effort to keep our scoring secret from each another. Then, an appealing, exuberant, clean-cut cowboy from Ottawa named Travis Marvin performed and excelled. I turned to my peers and asked if the others also had him in first place. Yep, so it was now a contest to see if any of the three remaining singers could dislodge him.
Two of the remaining performers were among the best, and on one scorecard one of them had surpassed Marvin. We tallied up the totals, and though I was the only one who had the same first- and second-place finishers as our combined totals indicated, we all agreed we were comfortable with the result and returned to our seats to watch the award presentation.
When the dust settled and I prepared to get out before the white T-shirts and ice water appeared, two curious things occurred. First, the winner did not come over to thank us, thereby bringing my ego back into low-Earth orbit. After all, he'd already thanked the Lord who did I think was responsible for his victory?
Secondly, a contestant who scored maybe eighth out of 14 wanted to see our score sheets, which had thankfully been spirited away by then. It's charming to see that it's not nerve that allows some people to perform in public but rather an entirely inexplicable faith in one's own talents. It just goes to show that some children get too much praise.