Friday, July 3, 2009

Hot Dogs and Asian Elephants to Celebrate the 4th

If you do nothing else tomorrow on the Fourth of July, Independence Day, make sure that you at least tune into ESPN around noon EST for the 94th (Yes! 94!) annual Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest at Coney Island. I swear. But I don't recommend it for most reasons that you'd probably think of.

Watching a bunch of grown men and a few grown women shove dog after dog after dog down their gullet in an attempt to be proclaimed the champion and take possession of the coveted award, the Mustard Yellow Belt. Oh, it's quite a sight. The belt. The eating. The whole deal. Behold!
As a seasoned veteran spectator of this spectacle, I'll give you a crash course primer on the things to pay the most attention to. (Trust me. It's such a disgusting mess at times, you really don't know where to look and your only instinct is to look AWAY! But if you do that, you'll miss some real good eatin'!) There are really only two names that you need to know. There's Takeru Kobayashi from Japan. Kobayashi came onto the scene in 2001 when the record from the year before was 25 hot dogs in 12 minutes. Kobayashi (pardon the pun) devoured that record by downing FIFTY dogs AND buns in 12 minutes. Why, yes, that's about one dog every 14.4 seconds, that is correct! He uses a technique I've dubbed the "Snap n'Cram" where he snaps the hot dog in half and as that's being crammed into his mouth, he's dunking the bun in water and then sucking that up.

He's the first guy you're going to want to pay attention to. (With any luck, there will be a shot of him lifting up his shirt at some point. You wouldn't know it to look at the guy, as he looks a bit scrawny, but he is incredibly muscular. Six pack abs and all! Behold!


Then there's reigning champion Joey Chestnut who hails from practically right down the road from my walled compound here in San Jose, CA (otherwise known as "The Valley"). If Kobayashi's technique is the "Snap n'Cram" Joey's technique is "The Cram n'Jump". And it's executed just like it sounds. He crams the hot dog and bun into his mouth and then kind of jumps up and down a little bit. It's sort of like how you shake a bottle of ketchup when the ketchup is all stuck in the neck, only it's in reverse and it's with a hell of a lot of hot dogs. Joey first beat Kobayashi in 2007 by eating an absolutely sickening 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. If you think that's amazing, in 2008, after someone discovered some handwritten notes dating back to 1918 that had to contest as being for only 10 minutes, the International Federation OF Competitive Eating (I swear) wanted to be true to the roots of the contest and shortened the time by two minutes. So what happened? Joey and Kobayashi tied at 59 hot dogs and buns each and they had to go to a five dog eat off. Whoever could eat the five dogs the fastest wins.

While 5 hot dogs might not sound like much, youBetween Joey and Kobayashi, that's about the number of hot dogs they ate. have to keep in mind that at this point, these guys just ATE 59 hot dogs. And they've stopped eating for at least five minutes before the dog-off starts. By then, I'm thinking that the chances for a, um, a reversal of fortune, shall we say, are more and more likely. I can't imagine you'd even want to look at another hot dog again for the rest of your life, let alone try and shove five more in your food hole. By the way, an eight pack of Nathan's dogs weighs 1 pound. Thus, not figuring in the weight of the buns, 64 hot dogs would weigh eight pounds! Add the buns and the water and you're easily cramming close to ten extra pounds INTO your body in ten minutes. That's a pound a minute for you folks out there too busy trying not to vomit to do the math. Gross

So those are your two main players. But wait. There's more! You can't have an event such as this without someone calling the shots. You need an announcer. No, you need a color commentary guy. No, you need a guy with a love for literature. No, you need a wordsmith of the ages. A man who can take individual words and phrases and put them all in a proverbial hat, mix them up, pull them out and match 'em up as if they were Garanimals to construct and form the most utterly amazing sentences in the English language that you will ever hear in your entire life. You need George Shea.

George Shea is a national treasure. The man is brilliant. George Shea is the co-founder, along with his brother Richard, of the IFOCE and they both make the rounds on the competitive eating circuit announcing various events each year. And while I can't vouch for Richard's talents (and I have no reason to doubt that they're any less than formidable), I can vouch for George's skills and they are phenomenal. It's a combination between his love for language and love for watching and orchestrating competitive eating. The words that come out of his mouth are PURE poetry! A few examples from our national treasure, George Shea:

  • They say that competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war for men's souls. (Um, WHO says that? WHEN do they say that?)

  • For this is a battle of the ages. It's a battle of the titans. That man this is half God and half man and comes to earth only once!

  • We arrive at this moment by the unswerving punctuality of chance! (I don't even know what in the hell that means, but I DO know that it's hilarious!)


  • He is eating in an arena of pure emotion! This is about the triumph of the human spirit. It is nothing short of the triumph of the human spirit. As I said.

  • It's like that song by David Bowie. Major Tom. You're enjoying it and then you realize how sad it is. Major Tom's not coming back. He's up in that tin can. He tells his wife he loves her very much she knows. But it's very sad. Major Tom's not coming back. But the belt may be coming back to Brooklyn!

Finally. A wordsmith our country can be proud of! So, Saturday. 12 noon EST. ESPN. A bunch of guys and a couple of chicks eating hot dogs really fast with a guy doing beautiful and nutty commentary. It's sure to make you proud to be an American! But if you're still not convinced, there's an added bonus this year! Yes, an added incentive for you to tune in and feel your body awash from head to toe in American pride. According to the folks over there at CNN (who really screwed up the story about the Michael Jackson funeral, so I hope and pray that they got this story right) "As a lead-in to the main event, Major League Eating on Friday will hold a first-of-its-kind "cross-species" eating contest between three competitive eaters and three Asian elephants. Shea described it as the realization of one of his two lifelong dreams, the other being a scenario in which a dozen competitive eaters eat the entire contents of a convenience store."

God bless America! Land of the free! Home of the brave! And the place for eating competitions pitting humans against pachyderms! Two outta three ain't bad!

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