(This column was Inspired by true events.)
The field has been groomed and lined, the competitors have arrived, and hours before the event, the throng of rabid fans has already assembled. And they're all here to witness the biggest spectacle in the sport's calendar. On one side is the accomplished veteran at the peak of his career, who has won events the world over but who has yet to compete on the sport's greatest stage. On the other side we have a relative newcomer, a decided underdog who's out to prove that his bright future is ready to begin today. It's a classic storyline, and the world is watching, with parted lips and bated breath, following their every move. Because in a few short hours, the titans will clash, and when the dust has settled, when it's all said and done, only one will emerge as the world champion. Of bratwurst eating.
In this corner, the man who has shovels for hands, who has never been defeated in competition by a human opponent (his only loss coming at the, er, hands of a 1,029 pound Kodiak bear), weighing in at 165 lbs. and hailing from anywhere he damn well pleases: the legendary Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi. [Editor's note: Kobayashi has tried, in light of recent events, to distance himself from the "Tsunami" nickname, out of respect for those who perished two years ago in the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami; it is for similar reasons that veteran (read: old) professional eater and fellow brat-off participant Richard LeFevre led a successful campaign in the spring of 2002 to have his nickname of 30-plus years officially changed from "Death by Hijacked Airplanes Flown Into Buildings and the Ensuing Collapse of Said Buildings" to simply "The Locust".]
And in this corner: everybody else. There's Crazy Legs Conti, the Adam Duritz of the professional eating world, who got his start sucking down oysters on the half shell in New Orleans when he couldn't get a ticket to Super Bowl XXXVI (for a more in-depth look, check out the oyster industry-funded documentary featuring Conti's remarkable rise to, uh, well, he's a window washer in the East Village). There's 2004's Rookie of the Year, Tim "Eater X" Janus, whose International Federation of Competitive Eating bio describes him as "a day trader by trade and an eater by disposition," adding, "He is single." There's Sonya Thomas, The Black Widow, who consumed more than 10% of her body weight (she's listed at 105 lbs.) in Maine Lobster, gobbling down 44 of the boiled crustaceans (11.3 lbs.) in under 12 minutes at Kennebunkport in 2005. And there's the up-and-comer, the heir apparent, Joey "Nuts on My Chest" Chestnut, who has fallen just short of Kobayashi's efforts at the past two summers' Nathan's Hot Dogs championships at Coney Island, who earned his stripes in the Grilled Cheese Circuit, and who claims an all-American pedigree that includes undisputed championships in Waffle, Pulled Pork, and Chicken Wing (short form as well as long).
And it's on TV on Super Bowl Sunday, even though it took place in August, as evidenced by the audience in Sheboygan, because they're standing around outside wearing nothing but shorts, visors, and mustaches. Like, do you know where Sheboygan is? (Let me tell you, the Thinker just Googled that, but all the Thinker typed was "sheboy," and the Thinker had to clear his search history in case the Thinker's roommates used his computer or something. How's anybody ever going to stumble onto your hick town if that kind of hit happens?) So here's the point: it happened half a year ago, but it's news to me. Why not.
There was a bit of uncertainty with Kobayashi coming into the contest, as he had never competed in the medium, being a veteran of the hot dog league, bun division. But that doubt was poorly wagered; Kobayashi would emerge the rajah of brat (Google "king synonym"). In fact, the sovereign of salam would make championship lemonade out of genetic abnormality lemons by using his bizarre medical condition, gastropsis, something about downward and the stomach, which is not life-threatening but something about constipation, to pack in a record-shattering 55-ish bratwursts in 10 minutes. Nobody else came close.
Not since the '85 Bears fucked the '85 Patriots has such an ass blistering been laid down on a group of unsuspecting patsies; meanwhile the Black Widow consumed 33 whole brats in vain, and even the Thinker had to wonder if he wasn't just a brain in a vat after all, Ã la Descartes. Because all of this is apparently real.
Look around you.
It's actually happening.
You can watch it, you can follow it, and you can probably be in it if you've ever played Cool Hand Luke the Drinking Game but with Eating and Eggs Instead of Drinking and Something to Drink (every time Luke eats an egg, you eat an egg). It's as real as apple pie. So where do head and heart fit in now, New York Mills Regional Cultural Center? I mean like, you know, because if this is all electric signals from an impulsive demon, like that's what I'm supposed to tell you? That be it head or heart there is some respectable source to trust, the same that brought us Kobayashi and probably could again? Well whatever, New York Mills. You should enter a dick eating contest. You'd win.
But you know, I mean, I'll get that essay in to you in like a few weeks.
Part IV: The Brat-Off