Over the weekend, in Rome, a crowd of 800,000 watched as two former Popes were canonized into sainthood. Meanwhile, at the South Florida Fairgrounds during the Sweet Corn Fiesta, a couple thousand folks watched two hefty men nearly come to fisticuffs over the results of the corn-on-the-cob eating contest, thus permanently eliminating them from sainthood consideration.
Major League Eating celebrates the wildness from the wilderness with two coast-to-coast vegetable contests -- Stockton, California hosts the Deep Fried Asparagus Festival and in West Palm Beach the Sweet Corn Fiesta at Yesteryear Village celebrates an earful of yellow gold. Just to keep their carnivore rep solid, Major League Eating also squeezes in a Nathan's hot dog qualifier in Las Vegas.
Pablo Martinez, a respected marriage counselor, won a berth at the July 4th contest in Coney Island by eating 26 franks in 10 minutes. Pablo's couples therapy skills were needed in West Palm Beach as the Notorious B.O.B., the alter ego of Humble Bob Shoudt on the pro-eating circuit, charged me moments after the corn-on-the-cob eating contest ended. He had won last year, beating me by a half-ear, but this year, I had bested him by a full ear and he was not happy.
He had been haranguing Miki Sudo (more on her later) whom he thought also beat him. B.O.B was yelling and gesticulating that his ears were much cleaner. Miki, ever the lady, was polite to B.O.B, claiming that it was her first time in corn competition and she used mixed techniques. B.O.B.'s technique was, "the rake" where one rubs the ear downward on the jaw, blooding the lower lip, and spraying corn kernels everywhere. B.O.B switched this year to "The Florida Stripper" where one sends the ear upwards towards the front teeth. This technique is titled "The Florida Stripper" because it virtually guarantees that no food actually enters the mouth allowing for a svelte pole dancing figure.
My technique is the, "manual typewriter," a left to right motion without the ding sound; however, this year due to larger and crunchier ears, I had to "type" for six rows of kernels, as opposed to five as in previous years. Sean Brockert, former competitive eater and casual bow-tie wearer had the thankless job of sifting through eaters' eaten ears and deducting raccoon chomped ears. I received a deduction of three, B.O.B only two; however, I spent the last 30 seconds of the contest eating four large handfuls of kernels that had sprayed the table in front of me. B.O.B left a Mt Everest of kernels at his station that were not counted against his total (and likely would have constituted two or three ears of corn). In the end, I ate 43 ears of corn, B.O.B and Miki Sudo tied for second at 42. I won the corn title for the fourth time in seven years, replicating such dynasties as the 1912-1918 Red Sox and the NEWMAC quarter finals results for the Mt Holyoke Women's' Field Hockey Teams of the late 2000s.
B.O.B. charged me brandishing an uneaten ear of corn from my area of the table. "What is this?" he screamed in my face and pushed the leftover ear towards me. I yelled back, "It's an uneaten ear of corn that didn't count towards my total" and slapped the ear away. It hit B.O.B. in the face. He turned towards Major League Eating founder George Shea and screamed, "That's assault." George, still wearing the league mandated Italian boater hat but not being a member of law enforcement ignored us both and resumed trying to get a car rental upgrade on his computer (He was successful and recommends Hertz as a premium car rental agency).
I yelled at B.O.B., "Let's take this backstage." I was referring to the argument, but I can see how this might be construed as an invitation to a donnybrook. B.O.B. said he didn't want to fight and violating my MLE code of conduct contract, told B.O.B. to, "Fuck Off!" B.O.B mentioned something about his preferred sexuality and that was pretty much the end of it. Elsewhere at the same moment, John XXIII was excused from the miracle requirement for Sainthood, because he founded the landmark second Vatican Council, although I don't know why they didn't just make the guys eat as much corn as they could for 12 minutes and then duke it out.
Regardless, the true hero of the day was Miki Sudo, who did, "the double" competing in both MLE veggie contests. Saturday, she quaffed over seven pounds of deep fried asparagus in Stockton to finish third and Sunday she tied for second in corn. She faced travel delays, sleep deprivation, and the fact that those two veggies affect digestion in ways that are anathema to social interaction. However, this year on the pro-eating circuit she faces a bigger challenge -- her past and an egregious error of judgment that led to 10 months home confinement and four years probation. An internet search of Miki will lead one to back-to-back sites from the FBI and the working mothers of America, both with negative conations.
Miki, reeling from a boyfriend using her credit card to purchase an airline flight and spending hours on hold with the credit card company to no avail, called in a bomb threat to the airplane her now ex-boyfriend was on. Miki did not take into account that the date was 9/11 and the 10th anniversary. Miki never wanted to harm anyone (and no one was) and she regrets her transgression greatly. She has paid her time, fines, community service and is now trying to put her misdeed behind her -- she would like to represent the best of America in Coney Island on July 4th, our country's start date, in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. She is likely to win the women's division and perhaps set a new world record, but she wants to do that difficult task without a heavy heart, just a full belly. She hopes for forgiveness and this Q and A shows that.
CLC: What happened and why?
MIKI: It was a different part of my life and I am not proud of my actions that day. I meant no danger to anyone but was frustrated that my credit card was used without my consent and that after 12 hours of trying no one could rectify the situation. New York holds a special place in my heart -- I was born there, I went to college there. People who know me best, know my actions that day were out of character and I have tried to live each day since appreciating people more.
CLC: What did you do during the 10 months of confinement?
MIKI: I finished my degree, I volunteered with Opportunity Village, a charity which works with the disabled. I still do that today.
CLC: How did you get into competitive eating?
MIKI: I ate a 12.5 pound serving of Pho, the Vietnamese soup. I won some prize money and I love food so I kept doing it.
CLC: Why the double this weekend?
MIKI: I always ate my vegetables as a kid and I love competing plus the travel. For corn, I get to hang out with Michelle Lesco -- another great female eater. I am her #1 fan. In Buffalo this year, three women beat all men in chicken wings!
CLC: How do you feel about the Nathan's Hot Dog competition?
MIKI: With hot dogs there is so much more on the line and it's not all based on capacity -- there is taste tolerance and one has to be more focused, well-hydrated, and well-rested. I've eaten 40 in a qualifier last year, but I know I can do more.
CLC: Are there male groupies for the female eaters?
MIKI: I have gotten a few marriage proposals so I do have that to fall back on...
As the South Florida sun set, a golden maize hue on the horizon, one had to reflect on the corn eating championship. It was more than the usual competitive eating contest -- it had fights and forgiveness, despair and hope, bad behavior and magnanimity. As Miki Sudo looks forward to hot dogs and a forgiving return to NYC, the Florida crop growers can only hope that next year's harvest will have more fat guys fighting over their produce. We are left only with song... amber waves of grain but also aureolin half-eaten ears of corn... America the Beautiful.
Crazy Legs Conti enjoyed the pineapple processing plant exhibit at Yesteryear Village and can be reached at www.crazylegsconti.com