By Jim Heffernan
April 21, 2002 | Duluth
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.”