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Someday they'll put me in that chicken shack

Do you see that beautiful, blue chicken shack right there? Do you? Some day they're going to put me in that chicken shack. You mark my words.

Yes, it was another glorious Wadena Rotary Corn and Chicken Feed last week, and I must admit, some wild, limitless ambition took over my soul. I resolved that someday, they're going to promote me to chicken cooker. I won't give up until they do.

Events like ours and the Lions annual summer cookout are amazing community happenings, with all that's good about a small town: neighbors, food, volunteering, smiles. But if you thought everyone just pitched in equally and sang "Kumbaya" and did equal work for equal recognition, oh, my friend, you are so wrong.

Not all jobs at these events are created equally. There's a hierarchy. At first, I naively believed all of the jobs were essentially equal. But I quickly realized the pecking order is more cutthroat than the Gambino crime family.

For instance, I somehow lucked into one of the "good" jobs -- I'm on the corn cooking committee. Those who have seen me working may not realize this is such a desirable position; after all, I'm usually running between boiling vats of water on a hot day dumping bushels of corn in as the water splashes back, scalding my face. Just when I finish burning my hands removing all of the corn cobs with tongs, the timer for the next tank goes off, and I bolt to that one. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until a Hummer-sized pile of corn is gone.

But here's why it's a great job: you're making direct contact with the food. You're a cook. You keep the cobs in too long, you're dealing with mush. Too short of a soak and you've got cardboard. Corn has to be cooked perfectly. And when it is, you get the compliments. Dozens of them. Hundreds. "Corn is great this year!" one happy luncher will say. "Cooked to perfection!" another adds. If it comes from an old timer, who obviously knows, the compliment is worth double.

Do you think people compliment the publicity committee? "Hey, Sen. Dan Skogen, great job on placing an ad." Hell no, that doesn't happen.

Do you think the people who hand out milk get compliments? "I like the way it's 2 percent, Ginny Dahlstrom." Or "where'd you get this milk, is it local, Gary Orcutt?" Hell no, that doesn't happen either. I'm telling you, there's glory in corn. But you have to procure it or prepare it. Cornhuskers are very low on the totem pole. Do you think they ever get a "hey, I like the way you removed the silk from the corn" from lunch diners? Nope. But if you get someone with enough silk to resemble a hemp rope hanging from someone's dentures, there's going to be hell to pay.

Bob Wallgren, an expert corn cooker and procurer, is a popular guy. "Where'd you get this corn, Bob? From the Goeden farm? Sure, I'd recognize Goeden corn from a mile away." Bob gets sunshine blown up his hindquarters all day long.

The worst job is running the whole operation. Yeah, that sounds like it's awesome, but it's not. Wayne Grothmann did it this year. Do you want to know what his 48 hours was like? "Hey Wayne, where do these electric burners get stored?" "Hey Wayne, where are the garbage bags?" "Hey Wayne, I cut off a finger, will you bring me to Tri-County Hospital?" Wayne clearly broke the cardinal rule when it comes to avoiding being the guy in charge. When they ask, "Who wants to be in charge this year?" you never, ever, ever make eye contact. Total amateur move, and I think he's learned his lesson.

Corn cooking is a pretty sweet gig, but all of this pales in comparison to the chicken cookers. There's a reason they have their own shack: it's three feet up in the air so they can look down their noses on the commoners, and there's a door to keep the riff-raff out. Chicken cookers are the father, the son and the holy ghost. They're royalty.

You don't just "become" a chicken cooker. You earn it. You jockey for it. You eliminate your rivals and claim a position in the chicken shack. And when you get there, you hold on for dear life. Dave Quincer is a chicken cooker. So is Luther Nervig. So is Lane Waldahl. I imagine there's a 24-carat gold bust of each of the chicken cookers from today and days of yore inside that shack, but I'm only imagining, because trash like me -- a mere corn cooker -- isn't really allowed in the chicken shack. I know my place.

But I'm telling you right now, they're going to put me in that chicken shack some day. Not today -- I know I'm not ready ... yet. But I'm declaring my candidacy for chicken cooker trainee 2030 right now. If I do good work on the corn, keep my head down and my mouth shut, and lean in and listen when the chicken cookers are imparting a bit of wisdom on their kingdom, I'm going to work my way into that chicken shack some day.

To get on the chicken cooking committee, I imagine there's a rigorous, 200-question written test, followed by field testing. Then there's a 10-year apprenticeship, which are anxious times, because if you make a mistake you're going to find yourself so far down the serving line, you'll be handing out napkins. Then there's a brutal and humiliating hazing, complete with spanking tunnel. Then they share their secret recipes and procedures. Then you're accepted in as a full-fledged chicken cooker. At this time, you know you've arrived.

Crazy, amazing things happen in that chicken shack, because what comes out its front door isn't even food anymore -- it's the culinary equivalent of beauty. That chicken is so delicious, it's like having your wedding day and the birth of your child and a hole in one and winning the lottery all melt in your mouth at the same time. I don't know what happens in that chicken shack. Black magic, perhaps? Are they shooting the chicken up with morphine? I don't know. But someday I'll know.

With Luther Nervig traveling internationally this year, Terry Davis weaseled his way into the chicken shack for a little while. It clearly fit him. And friends, this is great news for my 2030 candidacy. Terry is the king of corn cooking -- he knows when to drain the tanks, when to ramp up corn cooking, when to dial it back, and how long corn can sit in a styrofoam cooler before it loses its perfection.

Do you understand what this means? A corn cooker is in the chicken shack. It's like someone from your high school basketball team playing for the L.A. Lakers.

It just goes to show, those skilled with the tongs in corn cooking are playing minor league ball, watching and waiting for their chance for a call-up to the majors. And Terry looked good up there. He represented corn cookers well. Will the next king be chosen from the corn cooking fiefdom? It looks good, friend.

Someday, they're going to put me in that chicken shack.