Friday, 6:43 am
The donut hole filled morning smells of hay, whether from the petting zoo a few stalls down, or the "big cat" tiger exhibit across the way, it is hard to determine. Mixed with the animal aromas are heavy notes of deep-fried everything -- grilled cheese and PP&J sandwiches, pop tarts, Oreos, and buck-eyes (peanut butter balls rolled in chocolate, coated in tempura batter and oil fried until they look like a witch's eyeball or a sci-fi created planet) -- welcome to the scent of the New Jersey State Fair. Technically, it is the State Fair Meadowlands, but after taking a subway, a train, and a $30 taxi to a NJ off ramp stadium I prefer to call it where it is, not what it is, since instead of a meadow a crappy flea market ($2 sunglasses, $15 daggers, $22 gas masks, $3 lemonade) fills the vista.
I am inside the chain link fence among discarded go-cart wheels and the guy who cleans out the port-o-potties at night. He's had three energy drinks and coffee and is eyeing the uncooked hot dogs for my first media hit of the day. I have left him in charge of the dogs, knowing a few will go missing, and wandered over to Rosaire's Royal Racing Pigs where a camera crew films the racetrack. Rosaire's has been the go-to pig racing outfit for 26 years, racing three varieties of pigs from Yorkshires to Piney Wood Rooters to Vietnamese Pot-Bellied; The last who waddle to the delight of the crowd, all racing for one single crème filled cookie. Today, Miley Swinus (as popular as the pop singer, but with a different fashion sense) is unstoppable. The crème filled cookie is all hers, leaving crumbs for the losers. She is ready for Saturday's big event, sagging stomach primed, with the mental focus of Zoltar, whose prognosticating booth is a few feet from the racetrack.
Saturday, 2:49 pm
I should have gotten Zoltar to predict the outcome of the final Nathan's hot dog eating qualifier, but that would have ruined the surprise. Badlands Booker, the only eater with a career longer than mine, has eschewed his Citi Field qualifier and come to the fair to try to earn that last spot at the final table for the July 4th weinerfest at Coney Island. This is bad news for the rest of us. Also eating is LA Beast, Jim "Buffalo" Reeves, and a host of new comers. I do alternate nostril breathing to focus as I watch the long line for the elephant ride noticing that not one soul is waiting for a camel ride. George Shea, the MC, is raining down metaphor on the crowd, "I have seen signs of the apocalypse...a girl holding a limp doll, a monkey riding backwards on a poodle...the four horsemen of the esophagus gather..." For twelve years I have followed George around the globe as he has extolled the world of competitive eating verbally, while I have championed it orally, mouth full, cheeks stuffed. It seems to always come down to this, one's final chance, the last shot...sometimes the hot dog Gods smile and sometimes they smite. George has been traveling the intestinal highway of competitive eating for twenty five years, opening for junior beauty pageants, food vendors' conventions, even a health fair (Badlands ate 9 pounds of peas in six minutes to my 5 pounds). He is sole judge and executioner, whose gloved hands have to sort through bun detritus, hot dog greased liquids, and stained paper plates...some stained with fruit punch, others with tears.
In the last two minutes, I muck up my fifth plate of hdbs, as Badlands is on his sixth. I try to outrace peristalsis, spilling buns and niblets of dogs, in a vain attempt at victory. Badlands finishes with 28 1/3, I with 24 (deducted to 22). My cheering section of Maria Edible, Marcos Owens, and Pat from Moonachie is aghast. Badlands, whom is my competitive eating brother, hugs me a in sweaty embrace. My playoff grown beard is dripping fruit punch, my hands stained like Lady Macbeth's, but my stomach feels void. I will not be at the final table on July 4th, my Major League Eating ranking will drop, and there will be those who feel I should waddle away from the sport and retire.
Miley Swinus was 0-3 on Saturday, the crème filled cookie eluding her each time. To be a competitive eater, or I suppose a racing pig, one must believe, like Jay Gatsby in, "the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter -- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . "
I'll take all of Sunday to digest this thought and then on Monday, perhaps I'll jog, eat a salad, and wonder what Zoltar will predict next.
Crazy Legs Conti can be reached at www.crazylegsconti.com and is currently on a diet.