I knew a guy almost named Shel Kenton in college. I was a communication arts major, and I think he was a minor, so we had classes together from time to time.
I never met anyone quite like Shel, before or since. The guy was absolutely, positively, 100% full of shit. Now I want to be clear: I’m not saying he’d embellish stories, saying Tad was drunker than he really was or saying something cost $1000 when it cost $700. I’m saying he invented huge chapters of his life, and told them to you as soberly and straightly as if he were telling you how to get to the mall.
One fine day on the third floor of Morton Hall, he told me he worked at Power 93, a local rock radio station. Well, my best friend was the overnight weekend DJ at Power 93, so I asked him if he knew him. “Oh yeah…” he said, just like that–trailing off at the end, essentially vocalizing the ellipsis. Then he walked away.
It will not surprise you to learn that my friend never heard of the guy. I said “well, you know, maybe he’s in sales or something and isn’t in much.” His reply was “nope, it’s not a big office, and I know everyone. That guy doesn’t work there.”
Now today, I might have confronted Shel with that. But as much as I’d like to remember otherwise, I just wasn’t so brazen then. Actually, that non-confrontation probably enabled another fine comedic moment a few weeks later. I got to enjoy the sight and sound of him walking around talking into a tape recorder, doing some sort of “man on the street reaction” report on Desert Storm.
Now get your brain around that. This is essentially a grown man walking around doing a “report” for a job that doesn’t exist. I stepped around the corner to laugh at him.
He later told the student newspaper that he had written a Robert Palmer song called “Hearts Afire.” The release of the album that contained the song was imminent. Never heard of it; have you? Reckon a Google search supports such a claim? (No.) And man, what a bitch that Robert Palmer died. Now we’ll never know the real story!
Shel fell off my radar after I graduated, until one day in the late ’90s when my best friend came to me and said “we have a Shel Kenton sighting.” He told me a story of a coworker who’d been approached by Shel to take some “modeling pictures.” Hmmm. If his name is attached to it, it’s shifty. Read on for what that developed into.
These days he’s got this lame local “newspaper,” which tries much too hard to have its finger on the pulse of what’s new and hip in northern Alabama. The reality is that it’s amateurishly laid out and full of spelling and grammar errors. Moreover, most of the content seems to be paraphrased press releases. It’s really, really bad. I mean, I suppose it would be pretty cool if your eighth grader did it for a class project. Is that “damning with faint praise”?
I do have to compliment Shel for one gimmick. He has a “Page 3″-like section in his paper, in which shapely local young women appear in bikinis or otherwise revealing clothing. He takes all the photos, of course. What a great angle for a guy, eh? I figure the coworker story above was an early manifestation of that.
He remains a recurring joke with my best friend, most of two decades later. With the continuing presence of his relentlessly mediocre rag, we still get a chance to laugh at him once in a while.
Shel, if you’re reading this: I was onto you in 1991, and I’m onto you today.