Monday, October 15, 2007

The Crucible

Those are real Bulls
Originally uploaded by steakbellie.

The moment of introspection comes as I'm drinking a glass of milk.

"What are you doing with your life?"
It's really not a bad question to ask, just maybe not the best time to ask it. Many times I've gotten into stressful situations and that voice always seems to kick in.
"How did you get here? What the hell are you doing???"

I take another sip of the milk and stand up fully. It's really refreshing. Gosh, I love milk.

milk, milk, milk.

In front of me are a few thousand people that are looking at me with wide eyes. Some of them are yelling in Spanish. The people are tan and have the dark features and happy smiles that I associate with Mexicans. There is alot of noise and some dust that is kicked up by the excitement. I see some Mexican flags in the crowd confirming my suspicions.

Originally uploaded by steakbellie.
In the middle of the crowd is a large circular pen that holds 4 or 5 bulls. Each must weigh over 1,000lbs. They walk around in clumps and the Mexicans and the bulls dont seem to mind each other.

Now this certainly sounds like some kind of waking dream. If it were really a dream I'd look down and be naked, but I'm not...I'm wearing a kilt.

So the real problem is that I am 4 minutes into a Jalapeno Pepper eating contest and I have eaten 40 of the peppers already. Actually, I've only Swallowed 30 peppers and now I have the last 10 sitting in mouth getting chewed over and over again. My stomach has protested this burning mash and has instructed my throat not to let anything else down that is not milk or maybe Haylon.

My stomach is so much smarter than my brain.

I take another swig of milk and consiously force myself to swallow. I repeat this 3 or 4 times to clear my mouth. There is a wild ticker in my head that wants me to put more peppers in....dont lose ground...Do it. Do it now.

Typically I am able to compete without noticing anything, but my concentration is blown. I look around some more while trying to clear my mouth.

The contest is being MC'd by a man named Ryan Nerz. He is dressed like a 1900's carnval barker in a sportjacket and straw hat. His job starts a full 30 minutes before the contest as he tries to 'fill the tent' with people interested in seeing a spectacle. In years past it would be the bearded lady or the fat man. Today it is people eating Hot Peppers. Ryan darts right to left accross the stage, recounting past contest and various Eats of Strength into the microphone. Today there is a second MC who translates Ryans commentary into Spanish. The crowd only reacts to the Spanish MC.
"Sonya Thomas, once ate 11lbs of Cheesecake"
"Sonya Thomas, una vez que se comiĆ³ 11lbs de queso"

Ryan promises them something they cannot see anywhere else in the world. Ryan promises them the rapture. I have a theroy that he's crazy. He has a theroy that I'm a Competitive Eater.

I take a moment to listen to Ryan talking wildly about the current contest. He inserts all sorts of references that no-one will get in the translation. There is a mention of a 'Wide-Stance' that makes me almost chuck the remaining peppers from my mouth. He talks and talks with great emotion and I think he'd be as feverish talking to 3 people as he is talking to a thousand.

Originally uploaded by steakbellie.
To my left and right are a who's who of Competitive Eating. I had hoped that noone would want to eat in this contest, Noone would want to hurt themselves in this way....but there they are bent over their plates chewing and swallowing while I stand here with a vinegar chin, enjoying my glass of milk.

I finally get rid of the roadblock and decide to continue competing. I've come, all the way out here to Chicago for this, and it's too late to save my digestive future anyway. The deed is done.

The peppers are 20 to a white styrofoam plate, and you are required to eat right down to the stem. Because they are pickled, they are juicy and full of vinegar, each bite creating an explosion of mess and seeds. A cameraman from the evening news looses a clean lens to some spray.

My eyes roll back and I sink back into my game.

Suddenly there is commotion and I'm forced to resurface. So many peppers have been eaten by the 15 eaters, that the sponsor has run out. The contest has to be called at the 6:30 mark.

I've eaten 61.
It's not 100 like I had hoped, but that was a pie in the sky number. I'd be happy with 100 anything because it sounds like alot.
100 M&M's
100 Ocelots
100 Jalapenos

Originally uploaded by steakbellie.
The winner is Pat Bertoletti. He held the current record of 160, and now had smashed it by eating 190. It's hard to justify my total against his, but it wasnt bad. If I did it again I could add 20% just with what I learned.

The eaters file off the stage and we talk about the contest with animated gestures. Wing Kong says his belly is burning from 90 some peppers. Justin Mih says he's hurting and I hope so because he beat me by 3 Peppers. Erik the Red doesnt seem effected at all. There's some eaters I hadnt met before like Tim Brown and The Sicilian (who did quite well), and we try to cram as much as we can in a few minutes. Jim Hammrick, An Eater we met last year in Memphis offers us a ride to the Airport, and we go before things get too bad.

Within 30 minutes I'm sweating and my stomach is making all kinds of threats. Each Antacid creates a huge Volume of CO2 and I wash it down with more milk. I have a bag full of chemistry and I'm trying to turn this lead pile of file into gold.

We have huge ice-creams from Ben & Jerrys and are forced to take residence in several airport bathrooms. It's bad. Think about how bad it might be. It's worse. Wing Kong and I share a bottle of Pepto. And a bottle of Mylanta. And more Antacids. We finish it all.

There's a point that I urinate, and it burns. I'm fascinated.

I think about the winner of the contest and the 190 peppers he's dealing with. I wonder how much TP you can buy with the prize money.

Despite all the fear, I dont have a any problems on the flight. I was sweating vinegar, but I think thats the worst that happened to the poor girl stuffed between us. Thats not to say I wasnt white-knuckled for the whole flight. Just that everything was ok. I seriously question the effectiveness of the TSA though, what was to stop me from wiping out that whole plane?

Within 12 hours of the contest I was a new man, who had all the parasites burned from his body. Really if you can survive that, what cant you do?


liz said...

100 ocelots would be pretty impressive indeed.

The hot pepper contests kill me just thinking about them. You guys are rockstars.

Chris said...


Leonesse said...

Ouch. You are a better man than I. heh.

SRF said...

Awesome, Lord Steakbellie! Gives new meaning to the term piss 'n vinegar, huh? See you Thursday night... IN MY LIVING ROOM! Woo.

katrocket said...

lord thundering jesus!

Domenico "The Sicilian" said...

Yo Steakbellie, thanks for the props, I was wondering when you were going to post somthing about the Jalapenos contest. It was great to finally meet you and Wing Kong. I was away for a week on a cruise two weeks ago so i missed some action going on in the eating world. Man, i wish i could compete as much as you and some other guys, i know i could be ranked in the top 30 at least and do some damage. Last year i said i was going to do Nathans and I didn't, but i will do Nathans next year for sure, i just have to fight off the wife!! (and watch the weight gain) nice write up, hope to see you again.