It's not like the story of Grandpa Bredo, the dead guy who unwittingly inspired Colorado's favorite oddball festivalFrozen Dead Guy Days
(in Nederland this weekend), is any secret: When he died, his family cryogenically preserved him in a shed out back to await the technology that might one day make him a modern-day Lazarus -- that was 21 years ago, but he's still back there. Nevertheless, the story of how his peaceful repose in the shed got turned into a media circus and then into what is surely one of the weirder festivals anywhere in the world is less publicized, and that's the mythology that Bo Shaffer, Grandpa's longtime caretaker, is seeking to tell the world in his new book,Colorado's Iceman & The Story of the Frozen Dead Guy
. So is it worth telling?
Somewhat surprisingly, the short answer is yes -- really, any story involving a cryogenically frozen corpse and a shed is bound to make great sound-bite fodder, but if you think about it, there's probably some interesting mechanics that go into that. Indeed, how's this for a fun fact: Shaffer drives up to Nederland once a month to deliver 1,600 lbs. of dry ice to keep the dude frozen. And as it turns out, the process of getting attention for a weird little anomaly like this is pretty interesting, too.
That process is the main concern of chapter four, in which Shaffer and a DJ from 103.5 the Fox get to talking about a promotion for one of the Fox's advertisers, Tuff Shed, then a small start-up company headquartered in Denver known for its advertising publicity stunts -- the idea, proposed by Shaffer's buddy Walter (insert Mallrats joke here), is to have the company donate a shed for Grandpa, whose current shack was on the verge of falling down. In true grassroots style, the two manage to get a tiny item about the sad state of Grandpa's shed in a local newspaper; the DJ then picks up on that and drums up the story for listeners, at which point Tuff Shed comes out with its end of the deal and the whole thing is turned into an event -- an event too charmingly quirky for any news outlet in Denver to ignore.
That was really the seedling for what would later become the festival, and Shaffer tells the story capably, offering fairly detailed memories and facts in simple, competent prose with a few goofy old hippie jokes along the way. Not that he doesn't misstep here and there. At one point, for example, he's talking about disassembling the old shed in advance of the new one with a group of volunteers, and opening up the box so people who wanted to see the sarcophagus could get their curiosity satisfied:
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One of the volunteers, a black musician, looked in and said, "Damn! How you know he's really in there?" Looking back, I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been asked that question in the sixteen years I've been doing this. It is the second-most-asked question, posed by probably just about everyone who has ever looked into the cryonic chamber. Death just fascinates some people.
Okay, for one thing, saying that it's the second-most-asked question literally begs for an answer to, well, what's the first? Shaffer neither poses nor answers it, at least not in chapter four. Secondly, the idea that death just fascinates some people is pretty much the entire reason behind why the festival exists in the first place, and from a writer's perspective, Shaffer misses a great opportunity to muse on that -- why it's so fascinating, what it means to our culture, the psychology behind a festival dedicated to making a lingering cadaver into a communal joke -- which, man, you could probably write volumes on.
Then again, Shaffer is not a writer. He's a dry ice delivery man, but as far as that goes, he's got one hell of a strange route.