The Best That Life Can Offer, At A Price We Can All Afford
Someone once said that three things no man can do to the entire satisfaction of anyone else–make love, poke the fire, and run a newspaper. I’m not sure about running a newspaper. My list would delete the newspaper part of the deal in favor of running a tight Camp Catfish with the likes of Toad Smith and Zacker in tow. Make that then, make love, poke the fire, and run a tight Camp Catfish with the likes of Toad Smith and Zacker in tow.
Lord knows Toad used to poke the fire. Lord knows too that Zacker used to pretend he hated it. “Quit with the fire already,” Zacker, ninety-something, one of the few remaining real old-school commercial catmen would cackle as he squinted at Toad. Through a mostly toothless smile he’d then immediately continue, “Hot diggittity dang, but you always was and still is a pain in the arse.”
All part of the ritual, Toad would always begin to reply, “Well now, listen you arthritic old bird . . .” At which point Zacker, timing it just so, would always interrupt, “Arthritis, shmitus. If I weren’t 10 years older I’d whup your no good big butt.” Toad then would also, timing it just so and just as predictably, threaten, “Yeah, I suppose maybe after I dump your skinny little carcass in the river.”
That was them. The two of them, though, loved each other every bit as much as I loved them, and we all loved Camp Catfish.
Camp Catfish. In a world full of gizmos and gadgets, high-ticket this and thats, and enough advertising smaltz to stunt one’s intellect, Camp Catfish remained a nifty get-away-from-it-all get-back-to-the-wilderness-on-the-nearest-river retreat. Forget which river. It was the one nearest us, just as it is the one nearest you. That’s whether you live in what’s left of small-town rural America or in big-city Cincinnati or Kansas City or even Ottawa, Ontario.
Kansas City for example. Wilderness retreat on a river? Kansas City? The home of fine barbecue and some of the best deep-fried catfish in the universe? Well yes. Park yourself on the Missouri or on the Kansas river minutes from downtown Kansas City, particularly after dark, and you’re absolutely alone although almost a million people surround you. That’s as good as the wilderness gets for lots of people on short notice, and it isn’t just too bad when you factor in enough channel cats to feed a portion of the neighborhood, plus a chance at flatheads and blues big enough to chew the leg off a rottweiler.
Costwise, Camp Catfish isn’t exactly a trip to Alaska. Cheap? Well, go figure. Ok, you gotta eat. But then how much do homegrown vegetables–green beans and peas and beets and carrots and new potatoes–cost? Add plenty of butter, of course, and cayenne pepper, which always brings out the best in fresh buttered veggies.
Oh, Toad was a fast one, but always fair. He’d trade a few catfish fillets or a deer roast from the freezer for the veggies and maybe a couple young farm chickens, birds with flesh that looked like flesh instead of those pasty-pale birds that pass for chickens on most meat counters these days. Those “free range” chickens, as folks in the big city call ‘em today, led the good life until their time was up with Toad.
“Fast chickens,” Toad called ‘em. But not fast enough. A few of the chickens, as I came to expect over the years, would have a 22 caliber bullet hole placed just so. “No time to be chasin’ chickens,” Toad would say. What he meant, of course, was that he’d slowed some over the years. “You double ding-dang betcha,” Zacker would have agreed, cackling like the old rooster he was. Add to this larder of fresh veggies and fast chickens a few of the small cats we’d catch from the river. Call ‘em fast cats if you want. But not fast enough.