Thursday, July 05, 2007
Some of you may have spent your July 4th swimming or surfing, biking or hiking. Me, I spent mine doing the most American thing I could think of, by which I mean the most passive, sedentary, voyeuristic thing I have ever done: I watched a guy competitively eat 28.5 hot dogs in 12 minutes. I mean, it’s not even like I did the eating myself.
On second thought, let’s not call it eating, let us call it something else. To me, eating is an act of pleasure, and an act of nourishment, and competitively scarfing down 28.5 hotdogs and buns in the presence of thousands of fans, and a few vegetarian protesters is not really pleasureful, nor is it nourishing. Hell, I am pretty sure these guys are throwing up a little, if not a lot, as soon as it’s over. Well, if they’re Kobayashi, five time world champion, then they threw up (“reversed”) during the contest itself—bummer! That’s two fewer dogs for you, my Japanese friend.
Yes, it’s true, on July 4th, 2007, through the good connections of my friend Julie, I was a judge for the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest on Coney Island. As I counted (and grimaced, and giggled, and groaned), it was Slow Food meets fast food, head to head at a vinyl covered table. I was nose level with five plates of freshly cooked franks, and at first, they smelled realllly good. After all, I hadn’t had lunch yet when the contest began, only half of a crushed-peanut-covered caramel apple.
When my contestant Hall Hunt ran out, I was charmed and surprised to see how young and cute he was. He had an ironic handle bar mustache, and a pair of aviators, and his slouchy shorts revealed a taut, muscle-y stomach. When he put his hands together for a pre-contest prayer, I noticed the two canvas bracelets he wore, one that read “Jesus,” the other, “WWJD?” Now, I am not particularly intimate with the thoughts and actions of Jesus, except in the most academic sense, but I feel fairly confident that Jesus would not inhale 28.5 hotdogs (and buns) in 12 minutes. He would turn the hotdogs into wine, or use them to build a beefy stairway to heaven, or something much more useful, and much less wasteful. Perhaps, in a very Christ-like move, he’d distribute them to the poor.
Which is exactly what Nathan’s did: a rep from City Harvest—after the “Save Coney Island” folk singer, but before the Clogtastic! Tap dancers—told us that Nathan’s had thoughtfully donated 15,000 hot dogs to shelters around the city. Let’s just hope that they were distributed evenly, one or two to a person, say, rather than 28.5 per homeless fella.
My partner judge was Ken, lovely, sweet Ken, who happens to be the sports commissioner for NYC. We made a mighty team, me counting dogs, and him flipping the pages on our counter so the official counting girl could record it. He even valiantly shielded me when Hall burped and spewed moist bun splatter. My job was no easy one, and the concentration it required kept me from watching the true spectacle further down the table—Kobayashi and Chestnut having an intense head to head.
But that’s the stuff you see on the teevee; what you don’t see is Hall Hunt cramming his once-cute mouth full of food, and doing a weird wriggly dance to help it slide down his throat. And you don’t see Julie’s contestant chugging Kool Aid with his dogs and then getting a mean case of the hiccups (he nearly reversed his pinkish red mush all over poor Julie, had to stop after 21 dogs, but still walked away with Rookie of the Year). Nor do you see the 63 year-old contender head back to the VIP section and eat an additional three dogs because he “wasn’t hungry per se, but he wasn’t FULL.” What you don’t see is how I simply could not look Hall Hunt in the face, because I was so repulsed by him, I feared I might have a reversal. Maybe the camera did show you the tiny Sonya Thomas, referred to as “The Black Widow?” She was a few people down the table from me, and while she may have looked pretty and dainty before the show, after the throw-down, her careful makeup was shmeared and she had the bleary-eyed, greenish look that all the contestants shared.
Is this our American food heritage? We created a nitrate-filled mystery meat capsule, with a refined flour and sugar bun, and we may not be able to win a Men’s semifinal at Wimbledon, but dammit! Americans are really, really good at stuffing this nasty food in our traps! And what did I do when the contest was over? I headed back to the VIP section with the 63 year old, and the burper, with the woman who was inside the giant frankfurter suit last year (too pregnant this year), and with Julie, and what did I do? I ate a Nathan’s hotdog of course (with fries).
God Bless America!