***Subpart 1 of the 3rd & last part in my extra-special miniseries on the Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, OK; see Parts 1 & 2 here & here.***

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With a name like Wampus, you just have to be the host of the first-ever catfish cookoff at the 10th annual Okie Noodling Tournament.

You may also have to own the best gourmet shop for miles & miles around, as does my old pal Steve “Wampus” Reynolds, along with his ultralovable wife (& former Martha Stewart payrollee!) Suzy Thompson—namely Norman’s (& soon to be OKC’s) Forward Foods. You definitely have to wear a T-shirt depicting legendary OU Sooners football coach—& bootlegger’s boy!—Barry Switzer that reads “Hang half-a-hundred on it.”

But above all, you really have to launch that Okie Noodling Tournament catfish cookoff—an event that’s sure to get inked in on the smudged & spattered kitchen calendars of aspiring chefs forevermore.

SkedWith a name like Denveater, meanwhile, you have to be terribly restless & afeared to miss a noodlin’ thing—to the point that, instead of waiting for Wampus (“He said Saturday [pause]. I think”) to close his store for the afternoon, you force your poor mom to chauffeur you 45 min. to the fairgrounds, i.e. the half-block radius around Bob’s Pig Shop, just in time for the official weigh-in to begin.

Luckily mom is a trooper.

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Such a trooper, in fact, that this JewBu who bore me uprighted her vegetarian leanings (never mind risked her kosher cred) just long enough to join me in a luscious, luscious lunch of Bob’s ribs.

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Served on plates when the place isn’t getting slammed by more orders than Pauls Valley has residents, the rib platter includes beans that I’d swear were baked, not quite the same (but no less tangy) than the spiced pintos that came with my pig sandwich on Friday (see above link); extra-creamy coleslaw & potato salad; house-baked, toasted white bread; &, oh my, the ribs themselves.

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I’m no BBQ expert, but I know a thing or 3: 1) That’s a serious smoke ring right there. 2) The meat slid—not collapsed, not yanked, but slid horizontally, easily yet precisely—off the bone. 3) The bark was addictive—deep, dark & peppery.

Here’s what I didn’t know til my nominee for world’s truest gentleman (too bad, old dad; them’s the breaks, Director, love of my life) showed me—tuckered out as he must’ve been at the end of a 100-plus-degree day spent overseeing a famous fishing tournament, running a beloved BBQ joint & babysitting his blur of a 2-year-old granddaughter: that those ribs get an ungodly-early start every morning in the brick pit that’s as old as the Pig Shop itself—76 years & counting.

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(That Bob’s Pig Shop is full of such treasures I showed you here—but I saved the best for last. Check this out—it’s dated April 15, 1865:

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BPS25 .)Here’s what else I didn’t know til Wampus whisked me away around 3, at the height of the heat hence the lull of the goings-on: Pauls Valley’s home to 1 wacked-out showcase of a Toy & Action Figure Museum

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—which you’ll get a full load of when I resume this post ASAP.

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To pick up where I left off, Wampus & I dodged the dusty scorcher for a spell by ducking into the above, also in little old (pop. jut over 6,000) Pauls Valley. Enthusiast or no, you gotta love it.

First of all, look what’s across the street.

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Second of all, scattered here & there amid all the expected WWII battle scenes—both the European & the Asian Pacific front, right down to the SS helmets & the samurai swords!—
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& the gamut of all knickknacks superhero, evil nemesis, Stars Trek & Wars
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were my kind of action figures:
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Blue Meanies (+ Spidey making, as Wampus pointed out, like
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Dio); Ash, Jason,
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Pinhead, Alien aka The Xenomorph, & Terminator;
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&, if eyes don’t deceive, Fat Bastard!
Third of all, check out the 7th-grade-bedroom installation!
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TAFM3KISS dolls & GI Joes, He-Men & Wonder Women, Godzillas, Transformers, aliens, spaceships, racecars, a TV tuned into cartoons—& to top it all off a box of oatmeal creme pies on the nightstand.
But having gotten our fill, it was time to head back to the festival & get our fill of even cooler playthings—entries in the 1st-ever tournament catfish cookoff, which Wampus (center) organized & cojudged along with Phil (left) & Mark Amspacher (right), longtime fixture on the Norman, OK, food scene & celebrated owner of The Diner.
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The fact that I was just there to observe didn’t stop me from swiping some leftovers—
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from catfish nuggets over Okie caviar with molasses–Maker’s mark sauce to catfish tacos,
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grilled catfish with jalapeno-tomatillo sauce, the winning zesty catfish salad sandwich,
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& Lee McFarlin‘s own fried catfish with original seasoning, which the judges found a bit salty but I loved—granting that the word “seasoning” is itself too bland for this stuff.
By then it was evening, & we were dirty, sweaty, sun-drunk & ready to head back to Norman—after, that is, refreshing ourselves, joined by Phil’s kickass daughter Heidi, with some booze in Bob’s walk-in cooler.
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‘Til next year.