October 09, 2013 - There I was all alone, by myself with the 50 or so other people gathered under the big tent waiting to hear Big Tom Lowrie make the announcement. There was much laughter and general jovialness throughout the evening of the 4th Annual Chili Cookoff. But, alone, I held my breath.
Let me pause a moment and preface what will come next with this: While I may seem like a cool cucumber and a good loser, I do not like it when I don't win. I hate losing. So, as the Lowrie Landscaping owner announced the second place winner (a young, motherly-type woman won with a white, chicken chili) and went on to the grand prize winner, I held my breath and my thoughts took me back in time . . .
. . . I was a loser in the 2012 cookoff, I reasoned then, because of the location of my chili in relation to the ballot box. My crock of steaming red chili was in the No. 1 position, followed by 12 more pots. The ballot box was in between the No. 5 and 6 positions. Number 5 chili won.
And, while I may look it, I ain't stupid (most of the time). I remembered that positioning. Last week on the eve of said contest, I arrived fashionably early, oh about 10 minutes before the whole shebang was to kick off. I hurried to the table where all the crocks of chili would be on display, and placed my wonderfully red concoction in the No. 5 location. Secretly, inwardly, I smiled at my slyness. Victory would be mine. My name would be engraved on that damned trophy!
. . . I slowly exhaled as Tom read who the 2013 Chili Champion would be . . . I was channeling my thoughts into his words. "Number Five. Number Five. Numero Five-o is the winner-oh."
The world stopped spinning on its axis; a mosquito was suspended, hanging in the air next to my right ear. All sound was silenced just for the tiniest of moments and then Tom said, "Well all right . . . the winner of the 4th annual Chili Cookoff is Number 3!"
Cheers, laughter, yaddie-yaddie-ya. I swatted at the mosquito. I lost again.
For cryin' out loud some grandmotherly woman had swiped the glory out from under my nose! How could two chicks slap me down so easily with their wimpy, womanly chili? The winner was a watered-down, good-for-grandma's-gut chili and second place wasn't really even chili. It was white and with chicken! Come on, already!
I looked around . . . the ballot box this year was positioned differently, over by Position No. 1. Hmmm? Had I out thought myself and prematurely maneuvered my chili out of contention with poor product placement? Quite possibly, I thought, eyeing the people around me. And then, as if I had just bit into a habanero pepper, it hit me. I knew why my chili didn't resonate with the electorate.
Women outnumbered men in the crowd two-to-one! Let's be honest with ourselves, folks, we all know women stick together and they don't like spicy stuff and if my chili is anything, it is spicy. I smiled at them all, although inside I was burning. My chili couldn't taste that bad . . .
. . . Could it? Bah! Banish the thought!
"They should never allow chicks the right to vote in a chili cookoff, dangit! Suffrage my eye. Chili eating's man stuff. Who let the womenfolk in to the club?" were my thoughts as I drove home that night. I vowed to look into chili's history and then write an award-winning essay on how women have ruined the chili world.
Once home I fired up the old Windows XP desktop computer, hopped on-line and quickly "googled" the history of chili. Oh, such was my mania, I would show how men started the whole business of chili and men should rule the chili world. Yes, I would.
Do you know there were nearly 54 million hits to my query? There was so much information about the origins of chili that, for a moment, I was shell-shocked. (But, as your hero, I was only momentarily subdued.) I dug into the information with a zealot's enthusiasm. Here's some of what I found.
Nobody knows for sure where chili started or who invented it, however some say the first bean, pepper and meat stew may have been whipped up by the Aztecs whose secret ingredient was little chunks of Spanish conquistadores. Some say chili was a Texas trail-driver dish. Unfortunately, from what I can tell it looks like the stuff we call chili today was created by little Mexican ladies in San Antonio who sold their meals from wagons in the 1800s. These entrepreneurial women were call Chili Queens.
My idea to get women out of the chili business was shot down before it even left the ground. I think it was Shakespeare who warned that knowing too much can be painful. I agree with Bill. Knowledge isn't power. Ignorance is blissful because what you don't know can't hurt you.
In a word, knowledge sucks.
Yep. This whole chili cookoff losing bit has been working me over pretty hard and I have come to a couple of conclusions: Capsicum makes you crazy; pole position in a cookoff means less than actual taste of the chili; I need a woman to taste my chili before any competition and it really is a woman's world and men are just along for the ride.
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org