Friday, April 25, 2008

The Case of the Enigmatic Doctor

[Editor's note: Here's a story I wrote for the newspaper. Cheyenne Bottoms is the nearby wildlife refuge and wetlands.]

A few days ago, I didn't know the difference between the calls of a speckle belly goose and the snow goose. I had no idea Barton County is plagued by out-of-state poachers. I never realized one of the downtown pole art features a pair of greyhounds. And I certainly didn't know what went into a Redneck Tour of Cheyenne Bottoms.

Thanks to some great local activities last weekend, I have been enlightened.

This was my first Wetlanders Festival and I was impressed. From the Waterfowl Calling Championship to the demonstration by Game Warden Brian Hanzlick and his dog Alley to the pole art hunt to the Redneck Tours—everything was well done and well-attended.

I appreciated the educational bent of the Festival and I certainly increased my knowledge of Cheyenne Bottoms, hunting, local talent, and all things redneck.

But I'm still in the dark on one thing: who is Doc Payne?

His was the first stop for the Redneck Tour Bus (a pontoon boat on a trailer, towed by a very un-redneckish sleek Chevy truck) I rode, along with five other tourists and our worthy tour guide, Bubba. Doc Payne was manning an antique cannon on the side of the road. There was a sign propped up against it advertising the doctor's medical services—all three of them.

Apparently, Doc Payne specializes in the fine art of pulling teeth. As we watched, he brandished a pair of 14-inch rusty pincers and generously offered to take care of any toothaches. From the looks of Bubba's “redneck teeth” (or lack thereof), Doc Payne had made a profitable career choice.

I think we upset Doc Payne by turning down his tooth-pulling services, because he kept mumbling and waving a cannon ball at us. He seemed to think he would find comfort in the dirty glass bottle he pulled out, however. He pointed to the one lens of his glasses painted red—which, through Bubba's interpretation, we were made to understand was a result of the “red-eye” in his whiskey bottle.

Finally, Doc Payne was left waving and muttering in the road, as the tour bus carried us across the Bottoms to more redneck adventures.

That was Saturday. On Monday I uploaded my photos from the digital camera and began sorting through the pictures I had snapped during the Festival. I came across a good portrait of Doc Payne...and that's when the mystery deepened.

I e-mailed the photo to Rod Harms, who had signed me up for the Redneck Tours, asking him to identify Doc Payne. Shortly after that, I received a call from Gene Manweiler, owner of Hoisington's Manweiler Chevrolet dealership. Rod had forwarded my e-mail to him.

Gene had done much of the work coordinating the Redneck Tours (hence the sleek Chevy truck) and had called to help answer my question. Except he couldn't. Turns out, Gene didn't know who was underneath Doc Payne's wig. The character's appearance alongside the Bottoms backroad had been a surprise to him, too. He had played along with the Doc, though, for the sake of us tourists—but he does admit he couldn't understand half of what the man had mumbled through his fake beard.

When the last tour bus left, the Redneck Tours staff shed their plastic teeth, tore down the misspelled signs along the trail, and met back at Gene's home overlooking Cheyenne Bottoms—all except Doc Payne. No one knew who he was or where he had gone, Gene said.

Later on Monday, another e-mail appeared in my Inbox, indicating Gene had discovered the identity of the mysterious Doc Payne. However, he said the Doc didn't want to reveal who he is—a request Gene was honoring. Those rednecks stick together like honey on a biscuit. The only hint I have is that Doc Payne is “a prominent local citizen.”

The man was so well-disguised—even his voice was altered—that it could have been anyone. I went home and took a hard look at my own dad, scrutinizing his face for the tell-tale marks of a tie-on beard. Not that I'm good at seeing through a disguise... It had taken me a while to realize Bubba was Gene Manweiler himself, underneath an unkempt Willie Nelson-esque hairpiece.

So I'm left with a mystery. And since I've failed at my journalistic duty of uncovering the truth, I turn to my meager skills as a poet:

There once was a man in disguise
With beard on his face and shades on his eyes
He won't tell his name;
He thinks it's a game!
If so, it's the kind I despise.

This doc has me out on a limb.
Is he Bob? Is he John? Is he Jim?
He makes my job hard
(I'm reporter, not bard!)
A Payne in the Bottoms--that's him!

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