Back To Home Page

Geek eats chicken in the rough

By Jim Heffernan
April 21, 2002 | Duluth News Tribune

What’s all this about a Geek Prom? What is a geek, anyway?

Let’s see what Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) “Defining the English Language for the 21st Century” has to say:

“geek: 1. a performer of grotesque or depraved acts in a carnival, etc., such as biting off the head of a live chicken; 2. (slang) any person considered to be different from others in a negative or bizarre way, as a teenager seen as being socially awkward, tall and gangling, or stupid.” Sound like Bill Gates to you?

Did anybody bite the heads off of live chickens at the Geek Prom a week ago at Duluth’s NorShor Theatre? I don’t think so. I suppose the event was founded to reflect the dictionary’s meaning No. 2, but — I’m sorry — anybody who went to it is obviously too cool to be an actual geek.

No real geek would attend a geek prom because real geeks don’t know they’re really geeks or they wouldn’t be geeks. Geek is a state of mind, not just polyester outfits and pocket protectors.

I submit that the Geek Prom was really a Cool Prom with a geek theme — a sort of Geekoween party. Which is good for our beloved city of Duluth.
Participants in recent sessions associated with the ongoing, ongoing, ongoing, ongoing, ongoing comprehensive planning process were told that it’s important for a city to have a “cool factor” so that Generation Xers will want to work and live there.

Everybody agrees Duluth’s cool factor neighborhood is the one surrounding the NorShor Theatre. To have a Geek Prom in the heart of it can only bode well for economic development of the city. That, plus a Wal-mart on the North Shore of Lake Superior, can really put us on the map.

How brilliant of the planners of the Geek Prom to grasp this before anyone else in the country. In the past, well-meaning civic activists have sponsored such events as the “Symphony Ball” and the “Charity Ball” in hopes of making Duluth a more civilized place in which to live and work. But that’s passe now in the 21st century.

Who’d have thought that a Geek Prom would be the event that could garner national attention (a Jay Leno appearance?) that will, in turn, prompt investors and entrepreneurs to take a look at Duluth?

Speaking of geeks, I actually saw a No. 1 dictionary-defined geek in action in Duluth years ago. In the 1950s, traveling carnivals used to pass through town in the summer and set up in the parking lot of Wade Stadium. They featured rides, sideshows, shell-style games and food concessions.

Once, when I was about 16, I was wandering through such a carnival when a kid I knew said he’d pay my way if I’d watch a geek in action. At the time I didn’t know a geek from a zucchini, so I went in. Encircled by a short canvas fence, a guy in a bathing suit draped with leopard skin was dancing around a live chicken. The geek made moves like the natives in Tarzan movies. The chicken ran around with his head still on, but not for long.

The geek finally grabbed the clucking chicken and bit off the head. Personally, I prefer zucchini, but not by much.

Later on, I spotted the geek, now fully dressed, mixing with the crowd, one of the exotic dancers from the carnival on his arm. They looked kind of cool. Maybe they were headed out for a “bite” at the then-downtown Duluth restaurant called “Chicken in the Rough.”

Very rough.