Friday, July 04, 2008

Totally Disgusting

Again this July 4th morning, seemingly by accident, I turned on the TV and found myself face-to-face with the annual hot dog eating contest held at Nathan’s in Coney Island.

I have no interest in this event. I find it disgusting to watch. Who cares how many hot dogs somebody can eat in ten minutes? It is like a mini-reality show akin to determining who can last longer in a pit filled with maggots. And yet it seems that every year, by accident, I end up turning it on. There are those who would say my protestations are bogus and there are no accidents in the universe. Maybe they’re right.

Anyway, since we’re here I might as well tell you what happened. The announcers, breathless in anticipation of the great event, set it up for us. There are a dozen or so competitors, some huge guys, 300 to 400 pounds, a couple of petite Asian women, and the two world champions, Tekeru Kobayashi from Japan and Joey Chestnut from San Jose, representing the good old red, white and blue on this Independence Day.

Kobayashi has won this event six times, but Joey beat him last year. Can Kobayashi with his superhuman jaw muscles regain his title? Will Joey cannonball the dogs and buns into his mouth as he’s done before? The time has been shortened from 12 to 10 minutes. Will that change our heroes’ strategy? Are there any dark horses who can challenge these two?

The countdown begins. The seconds tick off. The contestants, on a platform facing thousands of hungry fans, hunch over the table. The assistants stand ready to keep their plates full. And off they go.

I can’t stand to watch when these people start shoveling food into their mouths. They drool. They bounce around. Some have a steady rhythm. Others shove and stop, shove and stop. The minutes go by. First Joey is ahead and Kobayashi seems lackadaisical. Then Kobayashi catches up. Then it is neck and neck. All the other eaters are way behind and have no chance. I am listening to the announcers and from time to time turn around to watch. I can’t believe they won’t choke to death. I can’t believe they’ll be able to continue. The crowd is screaming.

As the last minute begins they both pick up steam. Kobayashi is ahead. Joey is ahead. Now we can’t be sure who is ahead. And then it’s over. Time’s up. Who won? No one knows for sure. There’s a delay. Finally, they announce it’s a tie. They’ve both eaten 59 hot dogs in the allotted ten minutes. What now? A tiebreaker. It’s like a penalty shootout in football. Each will be given five dogs and the first to down them wins.

At this point I’m watching. Disgusting it may be, but I want to see what happens. The hand to mouth shoving and gulping and shoveling and drooling begins again. It’s close. And then it is over. It looks like another tie to me, but the judges rule Joey Chestnut has retained his title. The USA is triumphant.

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord. It is finished. I can go on with my day. Congratulations, Joey. You’ve made us proud.


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