The Oiling

All that remains is a white chalk outline.

All that remains is a white chalk outline.

Greetings, Fellow Catfish Enthusiasts,
With the overwhelming barrage of negative media coverage, by now you’ve surely heard about the ecological near-miss at the Denver Catfish Chateau and Reflection Gardens over the weekend.

While we realize that an active investigation is ongoing and that anything we say can and might be held against us, The Denver Catfish Festival Governance Committee feels that full disclosure of all of the troubling events of Saturday, January 19, 2013 to you, the faithful and passionate catfishionados, is more important than our right to remain silent. So please sit back, heat up some of that delicious fried catfish that you squirrelled away for winter, grab a warm cup of whatever suits you, and read on.

This past Saturday, the sun shone like late April. It was, by all accounts, an unseasonably and damn near unconscionably warm day for late January. But as the Denver Catfish Festival Winter Caretaker told a friendly passerby during the lovely, sun-splashed Colorado morning, “what are we supposed to do, pretend like it’s winter?”

Our esteemed and irreplaceable caretaker, an author who was hired to maintain the “Home of The Late Summer Classic” and is living on the grounds with his family during this offseason, woke up full of energy and vigor on Saturday. The voices that had been plaguing him, the voices brought on by the narcosis-inducting extreme isolation of a Rocky Mountain winter, had temporarily subsided with the onset of this oddly summer-like morning, leaving him eager to handle some of the jobs around the old place that needed doing. If he could get a head start now, there’d be less to do in the spring. It was important to keep the body active, even as the mind might retreat.

The first order of business was a review and upgrade of storage space. The Festival Grounds Main Hall, which is sublet in the fall months for LSU football game parties (and one dark and unfortunate Broncos game party) had grown cluttered with the detritus of the football partygoers’ troglodytical gameday rituals. New shelving would need to be built on the west wall to get things high up off the floor, especially with muralists coming to create a catfish-inspired floor painting sometime in March. The caretaker sourced the necessary construction materials and set to work, whistling a happy catfish song, measuring, drilling, wrenching, hammering, and holding the voices, those damned voices, at bay.

By noon, two 2′ x 8′ sections of shelving had been mounted on the west wall. The Caretaker admired his work, enjoyed an ice-cold glass of green tea, and set about moving the floor items to the new space up above. He strained to lift the many storage tubs of Catfish Festival accoutrement, DCF Vanagon Fleet maintenance parts, and various other bins, tubs, and boxes of Festival equipment up onto the high shelves. Soon enough, he’d completed the difficult task.

But then, with a furrow of his brow and a crinkling of his bald but still somewhat youthful head, he scanned the south wall. Even with so much progress on the reorganization, he was not happy with the remaining clutter.

Maybe, he thought, tapping his pointer finger to his lips, I could move that wrapped-up canopy back towards the corner, then put those two sand bags more towards the large door to the east side, then put those DCF signs over by the…No, that’s not going to work. Maybe if I moved that stack of chairs over here, then…No, that won’t work either. The key to this whole thing, the thing that the whole de-cluttering operation hinges on, the only way to make this work is…


Man’s hubris is a strange and complicated thing. What makes a man, who knows damned well in his rational mind that some things are just too heavy to lift, too dense and grounded to move, and simply too powerful to affect, blindly go against everything he knows in his heart to be right and correct? What makes him attempt things that have already been proven impossible? What makes a man, an admittedly marginally fit and by no stretch of the imagination particularly strong man, a man who spent five hours building shelves and lifting storage tubs while artfully fencing a mild but stubborn Miller Lite hangover, think he can defy both his physical and mental boundaries, break through the dam of natural limitation, and awkwardly grasp a 150 lb. cast iron and plate steel Bayou Fryer 700-701 Death Star loaded to the gills with five gallons of competition-grade vegetable oil?

The voices, that’s what.


The opportunities that the oddly warm day presented were certainly not lost on the caretaker’s wife; she had headed to the little village down the trail from the Catfish Festival Chateau and Reflection Gardens to run a few errands while her husband worked in the Main Hall. She was excited to check out the village library and to grab some fresh written, audio, and video catfish media. She knew from experience that without a near-constant diet of catfish-related stimuli, her husband would grow irritable and confused. She was also to drop one of the children off at a villager’s home for an afternoon play date.

They walked along the trail, holding hands and humming “Catfish Blues” by Jimi Hendrix.

“Mommy, what’s the little girl’s name?”

“I think it’s Kat.”

“I don’t think it’s Kat, mommy. I think it’s REYRF,” she said, her finger curling down with each syllable, “REYRF. REYRF! REYRF!”

“Honey, what is that, Icelandic? These people are not Icelandic.  I think it’s Kat. Short for Katvissa.”


It stood snug against the south wall, motionless but beckoning, the angular steel panels of its flat black exterior absorbing the afternoon sun. It’s not so big, he thought. Hell, this thing is half my size, if that. And it has handles. I can get this thing no problem. And it’s just four feet that I have to move it. I can do that without breaking a sweat, even with it topped-off, full of oil. Why was it full? Ah yes, he remembered. The LSU-Auburn game. We fried boudin balls, crawfish pies, meat pies, and the piece de resistance, my wife’s incomparable homemade eggrolls. The partygoers from the village’s LSU alumni group were ecstatic (and later swollen and uncomfortable.) He’d planned on draining the Death Star right after, but time had gotten away from him. No worry, I’ll kill two birds with one stone and go ahead and drain it just as soon as I get it moved away from that wall. It really is the key to this whole thing. It has to be moved. Then I can get back to building that last stand of shelves.

The Caretaker approached from the side and grasped one handle, feeling the full weight of the thing, this dark machine, this Death Star. I got this. He grasped the handle of the other side, having to bend his back and lean in awkwardly to get a good grip. Foolishly lifting with his back, he found the fryer to be far heavier than he’d expected, but still manageable. He backed off of lifting and instead pulled, sliding it across the smooth concrete floor. Good, he thought, good. I can slide it out to where I’ll get a better handle on it. I could slide it the whole way, but now that I’ve got a little momentum, a little confidence, I’ll just slide it out a bit then lift it over this little pile of paper that I swept into a pile earlier. Getting his footing he grunted and lifted with his legs. Oh shit this thing is heavy. Just a few inches off the ground will get me over this paper obstacle. Just a little bit more. He took a step. Heavy. Starting to tremble slightly. The oil inside sloshed the opposite way, energy unleashed. The force went hard to the right, against the Caretaker’s balance.

Slow motion. It was going over, and nothing would stop it now. He held on for dear life as the right side legs crashed to the concrete then slipped underneath, taking his legs with it. The full weight of the Death star came down upon his right arm and shoulder as they hit the ground. He immediately felt the blood of the beast, the lukewarm, silent oil, pour over his right side as he lay motionless.

Then he heard laughing. It was the voices. They were laughing at him.

Snapping to, he jumped up to see a neighbor rushing towards the open doors of the Festival Hall. “Everything’s OK!” he said nervously, “No problem, just dropped something!”

The oil was quickly spreading along the slope of the floor, heading for the daylight of the east side of the hall’s great doors, heading inexorably towards the decorative shrubbery outside. The caretaker, on full adrenaline now, remembered his training.

“Kitty litter!” he said aloud, and ran to the west wall of the hall, finding a half-full bag of litter waiting. He feverishly poured a damn in front of the golden, shimmering, onrushing oil. He then ran back across to get paper towels, losing his footing and hitting the floor with a thud, wind partially knocked out of his lungs.

Jumping up, he grabbed paper towels and shop rags, dropping them along the northern flank of the onrushing deluge.  Frantically, he wiped off his hands and pulled his phone from his pocket, quickly snapping a really good photo of the carnage (actual photo shown above.)

After the obligatory upload of the photo to Facebook, and a few minutes to make sure the picture and smarmy caption were uploaded successfully, he grabbed the shop vac and started sucking, and sucking, and sucking, all the while the voices in his head laughing, and laughing, and laughing.


In North Louisiana, in the shaded small towns and villages along places like Toledo Bend Reservoir, Caddo Lake, and Lake Bistineau, in the muddy confines of Bayou Pierre and Cane River, the old timers talk of the legend of the mischievous spirits of catfish past, spirits which roll about in ghostly cornmeal vapor and find the mystical strength to toy with the silly humans who worship their delicious earthly combination. These crafty catfish spirits remind us that while we might do all of the frying, the eating, the drinking, and the celebrating, they still have the ability, when they choose, to play a powerful role in the off season maintenance of the Denver Catfish Festival Chateau and Reflection Gardens.

The Caretaker has some bumps and bruises, but he will, he must recover. The voices have left him alone. For now. He and his family are staying on at the Chateau for the remainder of the off season. The work will not wait. It must be completed before…

The Eleventh Annual Denver Catfish Festival
Summer 2013

%d bloggers like this: