Friday, July 4, 2008

The Unswerving Punctuality of Chance

We arrive at this moment by the unswerving punctuality of chance! Wait. What?

Ah, the words of George Shea on a hot July afternoon. What's that? You don't know who George Shea is?! Seriously? You, my good friends, all six of you reading this, you are missing out on one of the great joys of summertime if you have yet to experience Mr. George Shea.

George Shea is the announcer guy (yes, I believe that's his official title) for the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest that is held at Coney Island every year on July 4. He is also the chairman of Major League Eating (I swear).

George Shea is an announcer like no other I have ever heard. The man is a national treasure. Where he comes up with the euphemisms that he throws together is beyond me. I'd like to think that he's just making them up on the spot, but you never know. Some of the stuff that he says is pretty bizarre and he just might have thought of it earlier and made a mental note of it so that he'd have it ready during his commentary of the Major League Eating sanctioned gluttony occurring right before his very eyes. But even if that's true, he had to think it up in the first place. And that is where the genius shines through.

Just in case you didn't catch the poetic shouting that George was spreading, allow me....

  • This is a battle of the Ages!
  • This is a battle of the Titans!
  • That being that is half God and half man and it comes to earth only once!
  • In only one location!
  • For only one purpose!
  • And that is here at Coney Island for this historic contest!
  • Ladies and gentlemen...STEP! WITH! ME! NOW! Onto the world stage!
  • Step with me onto the Mount Sinai of Mastication!
  • The Madison Square Garden of Gurgitation !
  • The Sanctum Sanctorum of Salivation !
  • The Colesium of Competitive Eating !
  • So it is and so it shall be!

Poetry. Sheer poetry, I tell you.

If you've never watched the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest on the 4th of July at Coney Island, you are missing out. It is 12 minute of sheer gluttony like no other that you (hopefully) will ever witness in your lifetime. I guarantee it. Disgusting doesn't even come close to describing how gross this event is. Impossible and phenomenal are two other words that come to mind, but they run a very, very distant 2nd and 3rd, with "disgusting" having a huge lead and holding firm as the number one way to describe this contest.

Now, although I said it was 12 minutes of sheer gluttony, that won't be the case this year. No, this year it will be only 10 minutes of sheer gluttony. That's because someone unearthed some handwritten notes from 1917 (the second year of the contest) which said that the bout lasted for 10 minutes.

Shea said it's about preserving history. "Does this impact the most hotly contested rivalry since Ali-Frazier?" Wait. What? "That’s not the issue!” Oh. But, I... “The issue is history, and the preponderance of the evidence now suggests that the contest was always 10 minutes." Sure, but...“It’s like the Constitution. Are you a strict constructionist or not?” Are YOU a strict constructionist, George? “I don’t know. What’s a strict constructionist — is that Scalia? I’m not sure. But on this, I am a strict constructionist.” Well, OK then. There you have it. 10 minutes it is!

And who can know for sure until after the contest is over whether or not the number of hot dogs that are able to be crammed down one's gullet will be comparable to last year's astounding record by Joey Chestnut with SIXTY SIX hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes! (I don't think I could eat 66 hot dogs in a WEEK, let alone 12 minutes. Gross.) Because it seems to me, just judging from past records, that the number of hot dogs that are able to be consumed by one individual in a very short period of time varies greatly and for no apparent reason. Seriously, look at the crappy image of the chart below. Basically, from 1990 until 2000, the winner was hovering in the range of between 19-ish and 25 hot dogs. And I don't know what the hell happened in 2001 when Takeru Kobayashi came along and ingested double the number eaten in the previous year's contest.

After the first time that the 50 dog mark was broken, no one ever looked back. No, instead they looked forward to the 60 dog mark and beyond. 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. It's something that I highly doubt we will ever see again. If the 60 dog mark gets broken this year, it will be accompanied by a lingering sense of "What if?" Because if someone can inhale over 60 dogs in a time frame that is 2 minutes LESS than last years, well, that could end up feeling like we all missed out on something that would have shown us just what the human body was actually capable of.

But regardless as to whether the contest is 10 minutes or 12. Regardless as to whether the winner will have been able to consume more or less hot dogs than the 66 that were consumed last year. Regardless as to whether or not Joey Chestnut will be able to successfully defend his title and bring the Yellow Mustard Belt back home again. Regardless of all of those things, we will still have George Shea and his oddly poetic, surprisingly Shakespearean-esque commentary. Yes, we will still have that. Thank God.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes said by George Shea at the 2007 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. The man is a wordsmith like no other.

  • "This is a triumph of the human spirit! It is nothing less than a triumph of the human spirit! As I said." (Ramming hot dogs down your gullet at the speed of approximately one every 10.9 seconds is the "triumph of the human spirit"? God, I hope not.)

  • "For Americans to see the belt go to Japan every year, it's kind of depressing, as well! It's like that song by David Bowie "Major Tom". You're enjoying it and suddenly you realize how sad it is. Major Tom's not coming back. He's out in that tin can! He says to his wife, "I love you very much." She knows! But it's very sad! Major Tom's not coming back! But the BELT may be coming back to Brooklyn!"

  • "His ancestors started on the shores of time looking up the wide white highway of history at this the culmination of his DNA!" ("The culmination of his DNA?" WTF?)

  • "One minute to go!! One minute!! A hero arises to lead a broken planet to victory and that hero is Joey Chestnut! He is standing up like William Wallace! Like Donovan McNabb! Like Joan of Arc before him and he is bringing it forth! He is eating with incredible speed!" (A Scottish knight and patriot, a female teenage leader of French Armies and the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. Huh. Diverse.)

Good luck, Joey Chestnut.

And thank you, George Shea.

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