My calling was music. Actual music, not playing other people’s music and making a fool of myself in public, that would not be a good thing, but as it turned out, there were nine full tuition scholarships at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati for Bassoon and, there were nine applicants, myself being one of them. Why Bassoon one might ask? Wrong place, wrong time. I had played the Saxophone and Clarinet in high school orchestra, the piano to make money writing songs and the guitar, just to prove I could teach myself something to play that didn’t require blowing air. The Bassoon was a favor to good ol’ Andy Brady. Mr. Brady was the band teacher at West Hi. Since I had been watching the try outs for Drum Major after making a couple of bucks from some schmuck in love, and Mr. Brady was not impressed with any of the applicants, I guess I was in the right place at the right time. He called me over and asked if I had witnessed any worthwhile candidates. I couldn’t lie to him. No, they all stunk, I said.
Why don’t you give it a try, he asked.
Oh please Mr. Brady I’m not a Drum Major. So he asked me what it was they all lacked and when I responded they all lacked passion, it was too late. I was sort of forced to try out and it must have worked because I was the 1969-1970 Drum Major within a few minutes.
The school year before, Andy Brady asked me to switch from Clarinet in the Orchestra to Bassoon before the year ended so there would be a Bassoon player in the orchestra in my senior year. We were losing the only Bassoonist. It was an interesting instrument so I taught myself Bassoon and practiced before I left for school in Europe. Playing Bassoon as first chair of the orchestra was not good enough to get into the College Conservatory of Music. I needed professional instruction. Mr. Brady set me up with Otto Eiffert. Mr Eiffert was first chair Bassoon with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and I studied hard with his leadership. I studied so hard that when we both arrived at my try outs for the Conservatory I had the song I was to play down quite well. It was perfect, actually. Too perfect it turned out.
Out of nine scholarships, only eight were awarded. My performance was considered by the judges to be ‘too mathematical’. Perhaps I should consider a career in Physics. How distressing. My second chair was accepted and I, as first chair was not. My career as a philharmonic conductor and classical composer was dead. The rest of the year in high school was spent hanging my head low and refusing to write love songs for smitten football players. Too mathematical.
Mr. Brady became rather upset with me after that. My attitude had changed. When I was facing the draft I found myself wishing they would pick my birth date so I could have an excuse to run to the Navy and enlist. One more day in the draft and they might have, but I missed that too.
Then I heard about the City of Cincinnati’s Police Cadet program looking for new officers. I took the test and scored high enough to be offered a slot as a Police Cadet. My father was quite proud. He never quite understood my passion for music and was very glad to see my focus on a career path that did not involve alcohol and drugs. His opinion of musicians was not too high.
After graduation, while working at the Cincinnati Police Division Communications Section, typing in stolen vehicle reports I was asked to pose near-by a police cruiser for a Cadet recruiting billboard. That billboard never was raised.
Shortly after that, while attending the University of Cincinnati majoring in Police Science, minoring in Journalism, I lost my full tuition city sponsored scholarship when I quit the police division in anger. The police chief refused to investigate an act of bigotry I witnessed and acted as if he enjoyed the topic when I told him in his office. I was not known for losing my cool, but I did that day. I was not raised as a bigot. I was raised to respect all people. I saw nothing different in skin color. For him to mock that, meant I was out of a job, but it also meant I no longer had to pretend to be learning to be a police officer by typing in stolen vehicle reports.
I continued to attend the University of Cincinnati, with my father paying the tuition, but I was no longer the dormitory ‘Pig’. I stopped publishing my weekly dorm ‘rag’, the ‘Pig Pen’ and started partying with the rest of the students. Not having to wear that police uniform to school was a big benefit in 1971. I still loved police work, wanted to be a ‘real cop’, and years later would wind up as a volunteer Deputy Sheriff with Hamilton County, moving to a full time Deputy assigned to the Jail and leaving that job three years later, for radio.
But first, I needed to learn about radio. Over my father’s objections, I enrolled in the Columbia School of Broadcasting. Their ‘office’ in Cincinnati was small, with two small studios, using very old equipment to record the lessons. Most of the courses were long distance with some unknown instructor in California, sending tapes back and forth. One connection was made with WCLU in Kentucky. I worked there for a very short time under the supervision of a man whom I luckily cannot remember well. He turned out to be a pimp in the Covington area and I was glad to be rid of him. When it was finished, the school was kind enough to tell me they could not find me a full time job because I just didn’t have ‘natural talent’. My father called it a ‘rip-off’. I kept remembering the pimp.
But my father was there for me again. I went to work for his printing company. Over a long and tempestuous relationship I worked in welding, screen printing, art and the office until he gave in and let me actually do something different.
I hit the road selling real estate signs. It would be a wonderful thing if I could report that sign sales went through the roof, but they did not. I spent most of my time thinking about what it would take to break into radio. Along the way I got married to the wrong person, had three wonderful boys whom I would never see again, watched my father’s business collapse in the Jimmy Carter economy, take a job selling stereos in a mall, and put off growing up a few more years. That is, until one night in the Hamilton County jail.
I had been a Jail deputy for nearly two and a half years, first working in the old Cincinnati Work House, then in the County Jail above the Court House. My experience there was one dodge after another. The Sheriff had never quite gotten over my taking part in an attempt to unionize the jail deputies in the Work House and that had resulted in a concerted effort to discredit me along with other members of the department who fought to create the Brotherhood of Deputy Sheriffs.
I had been accused of stealing a ring from inmate property. The specific inmate, unknown to the Sheriff had opened up to me on numerous occasions and I knew him as the snitch he was, and he knew that I knew. So when the allegations came out from the jail warden, a political appointee of useless character, the inmate in question told me everything before it happened. The Sargent and Lieutenant of my shift kept calling me in, pushing me to react, which I have never been prone to do. Then, while the rest of the officers in the shift were well aware of a concerted effort to get me to resign, I talked with the inmate in question, wrote up charges against the Sheriff and the Warden and was on the verge of filing them with the county court clerk when that night came.
An inmate, known to all as ‘The Hulk’ was to be moved (so the Sargent and Lieutenant said) by order of the psych people to the psych range from general population. They wanted volunteers to cause the move. Every officer in that shift briefing knew ‘The Hulk’ was in for murder, awaiting trial. We all knew his temper and his predilection for violence. He was facing the chair and he knew it. Nobody volunteered. The Lieutenant was about to assign a squad when I stood up.
I knew that squad would be me, and two other men, both of whom were in the hip pocket of the Lieutenant and that would mean whatever happened it was going to result in my demise, either figuratively or literally.
“I’ll do it”. I stated.
“You and who else,” asked the Sargent.
“Just me. Empty the jail. Everybody out. Lock down the blocks. I will go in by myself.”
“Sure you will,” mocked an officer, who would have never had my back.
“Yes, I will. I don’t want anybody in the jail with me. Not one! Understood?”
“Give him what he wants,” said the Lieutenant. “Clear the jail. Lock it down. Hempfling’s gonna do it all by his lonesome.”
And I did. They cleared the jail. All cells were locked. Every officer logged out of the jail. The inmates were alone. I entered, went to the kitchen and picked up two cups of coffee. The long walk from the kitchen to cell block B had every officer standing in the control room watching on closed circuit TV.
When I unlocked the range ‘The Hulk’ was in, the inmate chatter started. They knew from the Deputies that Hempfling was in the jail alone and The Hulk was going to be committed to the psych range. They all wanted to hear the screaming and the banging and the sounds of broken bones. When the range door opened, the inmate chatter calmed in anticipation. I walked the length of the range, ignoring the inmates in cells along the way to the second to last cell. The Hulk was standing next to his bunk. He knew what was happening yet he stood there not angry, but inquisitive. I stopped at the door and stared at him.
“You ready?” I asked in a low and soft voice.
After a short pause where he looked me over, he replied, “you alone?”
“Yes I am, man,” I nearly whispered. He cocked his head slightly to the side and let out a sigh as if he had come to a conclusion.
“You got coffee?”
“Got one for you too if you want it.”
“Somebody said I was crazy.”
“It appears so, man.”
“What if I say I ain’t goin?”
“Well, then it would you and me. Just you and me.”
“Where’s your back up?”
“Don’t have any. I’m the only Deputy in the jail. All the rest are watching the hallway on camera.”
“So you are alone?”
He looked at me, then looked at his bunk then, after another sigh, “What do you think?”
“About what? Whether you’re crazy or not?”
“Yeah, what do you think?”
“I think if you’re not crazy your going to the psych ward can only help your case.”
“Come on, man. The shrinks in the jail think your crazy. Sounds like a defense to me.”
He cocked his head again and thought for a moment.
“Can I have that coffee?”
“Sure you can. Back up a bit.”
“You’re gonna open the gate?”
“Well how else can I hand it to you? You want a smoke too?”
“Yeah.” He backed up and leaned against the wall. It was a move I had not thought he would do. It put him at a disadvantage and given that I was about as scared at that moment as I had ever been, it was a welcome sign. He apparently had not read my fear.
When the gate slid open, I watched his knees. Nothing moved. So I entered his cell, reached out to him with the coffee and sat down on his bunk. The fact that I had taken a reclining position seemed to ease his mind. We had spoken before this night, but only in passing. Many of the inmates and I had decent conversations over the years but not this man. He stood upright and sipped his coffee.
“How about that smoke?”
I took the pack from my shirt pocket and removed two cigarettes. I lit them both at the same time and handed him one. He took it and leaned against the wall again to enjoy it.
The whole episode took about five minutes. Had it been anyone else I was sure a group of officers would have entered the jail to find their fallen comrade. But not one sound came from the hallway. Only a few officers pulled the weight of the supervisors and followed the commands of the warden. The others were intimidated by them.
After the coffee was down and the smokes were nearly gone, and the conversation had turned to the food and his passion for donuts, I told him he had to roll up his shit and hit the road. He didn’t object at all. We walked slowly down the long hallway separating the two main cell blocks. As we passed the center turnkey entrance we could see inside the control room filled with deputies. They looked like monkeys hanging from vines as they cringed into the window to catch a glimpse of The Hulk carrying his bedding and the single unarmed officer walking beside him
When we reached the kitchen, which was just before the mess hall, which was in front of the psych range I asked him to hold up. I was actually surprised when I exited the kitchen with a pile of donuts to find him still standing there, clutching the rolled up mattress. He smiled when he saw the pile.
When we reached the psych range, I unlocked the range gate, walked him down to his cell, ushered him inside, handed him the pile of donuts and thanked him for a wonderful experience.
“This ought ‘a really mess up them prosecutors,” he stated as I closed his cell door. I smiled and wished him well. He may have killed people but he wasn’t the animal everyone thought he was and he certainly was not crazy.
When I left the range my legs about gave out under me. Luckily that section was not in front of a camera and my sitting down for a moment was not viewed by the monkey gallery. I radioed. “All clear. Inmate secure.”
It was actually quite hilarious to me to watch the other officers re-enter the jail, take their positions and never mention another word about the incident. It isn’t how big you are, it is who you are, that matters.