THE BLOG

King of Corn

04/28/2015 11:51 am ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

My Uniqlo white linen long-sleeved shirt was splattered with blood. My cigar bag also and bits of bright red speckle dotted my Sol Moscot clear frame glasses (Gary Oldman has a pair, so I had to have one.) The back of the boat was drenched in blood as if it was a scene from Dexter. All the beer had been consumed before 1 p.m. I was sunburned as red as the blood and later a scalding cafe con leche would do the same to the inside of my mouth. Some would say that this was no way to prepare for the Sweet Corn Fiesta in South Florida and attempt to become the five time world corn-on-the-cob eating champion, but I would argue that was exactly the way to prepare for the twelve-minute, all-you-can-eat, hand-cramping, jaw-locking, and kernel-discomfort scenario. I was beer soaked, blood drenched, burnt outside and in, and battle ready. Bring on the sweet corn!

I should mention that the blood was dolphin blood or more accurately mahi mahi blood, but that in this hidden enclave near the Florida Keys, they call this wondrous green iridescent fish, "dolphin." I was in a place that no Google map can find, a community where the fish-crazy folks are drunk by 9 a.m., asleep by 9 p.m., but up at 5 a.m. to seek out the water's bounty. My host, Ryan (Think a youthful Ian Ziering from Sharknado 2) has an awesomely named boat, "The Danny Glover," but Buck (Think Christian Bale in 20 years - but good Bale, like Batman Bale with The Machinist and American Psycho thrown in) has a larger boat, "Blue Diamond," and with a competitive eater joining the crew we were going to need a bigger boat. Also on board was the sublime Wendy (Think Cersei Lannister but much nicer), who brought fried chicken, cucumbers, and ginger snaps to complement the 2 cases of beer for 4 people. As they say, "The fishing was good, the catching not so much." At least for the morning, but when the beer was gone and we had to head in to restock, our luck changed. Indeed as Ernest Hemingway writes so aptly in The Old Man and the Sea, "Luck is a thing that comes in many forms and who can recognize her?" It is easy to recognize when the beer is gone though.

I received a "D" for my senior high school thesis titled, "The Sea in Literature," a daunting task that included a whale named, "Moby," an Albatross that had a Rime (not the Black Sabbath version sadly), and of course, an Old Man and the fish that was trying to kill him. Or was it the other way around? I deserved that "D" but out on the "Blue Diamond" I finally understood Hemingway's masterpiece - or at least understood his life lesson that everything is more intense and better when one is drinking. Indeed, the only rule on Buck's boat was that he, The Captain, would never ask for a beer, but if he didn't have one in his hand, it was implied he wanted one. Let's compare these two masters of the sea:

"Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?"
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

"You can't drink all day, if you don't start in the morning."
― Buck of the "Blue Diamond"

And this:

"Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends."
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

"Fish," he said, "I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends."
― Buck of the "Blue Diamond"

Right? They have the sea and fish world figured out. Which is why as Wendy insisted that a landlubber like me, hold the supple fish that Ryan just caught for a photo, it was implied that if the fish jumped overboard, so would I have to. Buck took a look at the flopping fish and the floppier competitive eater and said, "You should get that in the ice box before it starts hemorrhaging..." And on cue, the fish exploded as if shot by a sniper. The blood spurting and splatter (Think Herschell Gordon Lewis' The Gore Gore Girls) was so impressive that it took a scrub brush and ten buckets of sea water to clean the backside of the boat. The front side of the competitive eater would not be cleaned. That white linen shirt was polka dot now and I felt fine about it. I had taken on South Florida by land and sea and both had entranced me.

The day on the water was preceded by a day driving through Big Cypress National Preserve - I was feet away from alligators, vultures, giant grasshoppers, and small newts. It was awesome. If one enters into a YouTube search "Sam Barclay's Outstanding FLA tour" there is a 16 video playlist of my stellar day. Sam Barclay is a Major League Eating MC (Think Ryan Gosling's dad) and was working in Las Vegas at a Nathan's Hot Dog Qualifier, but recommended all the stops of both nature and food (I cannot recommend more El Palacio De Los Jugos for open air Cuban delicacies and Robert is Here for the weirdest most delicious fruit and fruit-only milkshakes.) Sam and Ryan are Miami residents who gather at the infamous Mac's Club Deuce bar in Miami Beach and plot swamp land buying, fishing trips, and at the afterparty for the corn contest, coordinated with an AIDS Walk Dance Troupe whose synchronized moves are better than anything on reality TV show competitions. Ryan, for his generous hosting, received my 2nd place, but still quite tall, corn on the cob eating trophy.

That is right, 2nd place. This four-time champ with a 50% success rate at winning since 2007 (Now a Scalabrine 44%) lost by two ears to Erik "The Red" Denmark (Think Matthew Lillard in SLC Punk.) I blame the corn - it was the sweetest haul ever and as such was not as starchy. For causal diners this corn was perfect, but in competitive eating, one needs the ears to fight back a little, making them easier to clean as opposed to the kernels popping prematurely in a burst of sugared goodness. The deductions were heavier this year due to the corn state, but retired eater turned corn judge, Sean "Wrecking Ball" Brockert (think who Miley Cyrus was thinking of), did a stellar job, with the unenviable task of shifting through corn detritus and giblet mess. In the end, I had hoped to become the five-time champ and King of Corn, but due to my financial difficulties, I needed anything in prize money to pay my bills so 2nd place with the Sweet Corn Fiesta's substantial prize structure is more than enough to please my credit card company, Obamacare bill, gas, electric, and land-line phone bill. If you are fiscally irresponsible, always be harvest savvy - and this year's crop of Florida sweet corn is pure gold - literally and figuratively. No butter or salt needed, but go butter your body with suntan lotion and hang around salty folks like Ryan, Wendy, Sam, and Captain Buck because they are the best people in the world and I am not being corny.