I went to Coney Island with Eric and Anne for the 4th of July, and I’m still reeling from it. First we saw the hot dog eating contest, and then we went to the Freakshow, with real, live people.
Those two events might seem like totally different bags-o-tricks, but “watching people hurt themselves” was a theme at both.
The only clarity I came away with on July 4th was about myself. Ever since my early 20s, I’ve been trying to be someone with an edge, the kind of adventurous lady who didn’t spend her teenage years dreaming about 5s on AP exams.
But being in Coney Island, seeing the freakshow and the hot dog eating contest, I was reminded that, at my core, I’m the suburbs, I’m JCrew, I’m detergent, I’m neat piles and carpool pickup and fitting in.
I may try to hide this by wearing a tank top that shows bright blue bra straps (on purpose!!!), or by swearing, or by living in the Lower East Side, but I’m not fooling myself.
The point is, I was too uncomfortable watching everyone.
First we saw Joey “Jaws” Chestnut stuff 68 hot dogs down his mouth (and eat them one by one!), outpacing Tim “Eater X” Janus and Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti, to win glory and the coveted Yellow Mustard Belt.
I want to pause for a moment to be sure we don’t gloss over the idea of eating 68 hot dogs in ten minutes.
Then we went to the Freaskshow, where a lady danced in high heels while sticking swords down her throat. Also another lady, Serpentina, danced seductively with an albino python. I was not allowed to take pictures or I’d have been all over that.
At both events, I couldn’t tell if I should enjoy the performance, admire their talents, or worry about the damage they’re doing to themsleves.
Which is also how I feel whenever I watch NFL football: I’m enabling slow-moving suicide.
And I guess one could argue, “that’s life.”
Actually “NFL football” is an apt comparison for any Major League Eating event.
I went to Coney Island wondering if competitive eating was the epitome of gluttony, and a big celebration of over-eating and everything wrong with America.
But after watching the competitors, who all seem to be quite fit, and who have techniques like “jiggling” to help the hot dogs go down, I realized it’s basically a sport—albeit an unusual one that isn’t recognized by the NCAA.
It’s taking something that we all do all the time, and elevating it. Kinda like how we all run or walk 100 meters a day, but none of us is Carl Lewis.
Competitive eating is no more wasteful than any other athletic endeavor, which requires resources (grass, water, or rackets, for example) to play the game.
And Nathan’s, the sponsor of the contest, donates 100,000 hot dogs to a local food bank. At first I was smug, and set to make fun (as in “is that even real food?”) and then I realized, “Well that’s 100,000 more units of food than I’m giving this summer.”
So props to them.
It was a fantastic show, and the competitors seemed to enjoy what they were doing.
But on the other hand: what about their throat?