As I stooped over this morning, a plastic scoop in my hand and the smell of cat pee and poop rising from the litter box in front of me, I couldn’t help but think this was no job for a king.
And that’s what they called me less than 48 hours earlier – king.
I blame them.
They gave me what folks call “the big head.”
When I decided a few weeks ago to enter the Caldwell County Rotary Club’s annual chili cookoff, it had been partly just to get it out of my system. I love to cook chili, I have been to over a dozen chili cookoffs, from small affairs like Rotary’s to large events alongside Richmond International Raceway sponsored by a rock station and drawing professional teams, and I always thought my own chili stacked up relatively well. Finally, when Rotary sent out its cookoff entry deadline, I kept reading over it and I decided I should put up or shut up. Enter that chili or stop humble-bragging about it.
There were 12 other entries in Rotary’s cookoff. I stuck around to watch the judging, and as the minutes ticked by I noticed that the four judges seemed to keep going back for second or third tastes from other pots, but not mine.
After Rotary member Charles Beck told the judges that their time was up and they needed to make a decision, the judges huddled at their table, whispered a few things, and I prepared for disappointment. Then they straightened and looked at Beck, and I heard them say the number assigned to my pot of chili. My chili won.
It felt pretty good. It was my first-ever cookoff, and I joked that I ought to never enter another cookoff so I could say I am undefeated in chili cookoffs.
But people kept coming up to shake my hand. “What’s your secret?” I was asked under a spotlight on the stage. Praise washed over me, and it felt good.
My wife texted me, “Congratulations, chili king!”
Later that day at work, my boss came out of her office as I walked past. She smiled broadly and said, “There’s the chili king!”
“Chili king.” It had a nice ring. I called my mom and left a message starting, “This is the Chili King of Caldwell County …”
I got home before my wife. When I saw her walking to the door, I opened it to greet her and bellowed, “BOW BEFORE YOUR CHILI KING!”
She gave a half-smile, stepped slightly to one side and said, “’kay.” But she didn’t bow. Not even a curtsy.
It all went downhill from there, and at the bottom of the hill was a litter box.
Mel Brooks was right, “It’s good to be the king.” But it doesn’t last long.