UNITED STATES—As I shook off slumber on the morning of Saturday, October 20th of this cataclysmic year, I had no idea that I was going to engage in a fierce competition to uphold my previous crown and gobble a pie as rapidly as possible. Other serious endeavors were working to push frivolity off the calendar.
True, my daughter had marked off this weekend far in advance, the weekend of the Fall Festival Famous Pie-Eating Contest at Farmers Market (the "Meet Me at 3rd and Fairfax" Farmers Market). But I had qualms about participating in this public gluttony. I had a serious audition to prepare for that required utmost kindness to my Stradivarius, my body, and furthermore, vacuuming up the contents of a pie through my esophagus in the shortest time span was an unbecoming--even a potentially blackmailable--activity for a diet guru such as myself.
We went to the Fall Festival so my daughter could play the County Fair style games. She was pushing me all the way, "I know you can do it, and you know you can." She had coerced me last year, signing me up and putting me up to it. That's when I devoured more blueberry pie then nine other contenders (for all the speed and brutality, a wonderful flavor of blueberry lingers in the memory) and took first place.
A bit of unpremeditated magic, that windfall victory, exhilarating as a skydive, thrilling as a hole-in-one. Who could ever recapture that magic?
It was shadenfreude at its best in the games section--two hours to pie time--watching a careworn mom, with barely controlled desperation, telling her toddler, "After you finish this game, we've GOT to be going." Oh, the eternal tug-of-war, the Sturm and Drang of rival child-adult agendas: as I laugh at the futility of it, I am prey to it. I mean what can be more important than a child's fun? Well, preparing for a very serious audition and leaving my diet guru reputation unbesmirched by blueberry goo.
I then did some deep pondering: What am I showing the universe? Shunning the limelight for the sake of dietary orthodoxy, sacrificing the adulation of an audience today to hedge my bets on getting a role on a movie whose viewers I'd never know? At bottom was I refusing to face the pressure from being last year's first-place winner and a fear of not being able to uphold the crown? Then again, I could still croak from the sugar shock.
A young woman at Kip's Toyland was decisive. After probing me for pie-eating championship secrets, she said, "I could never do it. I'd throw it up."
The countdown started. No turning back now. Hands behind our backs, Hefty bags over our shoulders. "3. . . 2. . . 1. . . 0. . . Eat Pie!" the audience roared. I mashed my face into the delicate criss-cross of pastry lattice. I soon discovered that cherry has more mass than blueberry, it requires minimal chewing--this was a strategic difference--and the red goo clogged my nostrils.
At one point I realized that between the stuffed esophagus and blocked nostrils, there could be some real asphyxiation issues.
The words from the clerk at Kip's Toyland came back to haunt me as the cherries jammed my mouth and my throat showed an inclination to reverse the flow. It was a fleeting phantom. Relief came in the form of a final 30-second countdown. It emboldened my jaws to a final clean up and race to the finish line. We were instructed to lift our pie tins. When I lifted mine, the vestiges of cherry-smeared crust slid to the table cloth.
Jerry the Scarecrow, both the emcee and contest judge, concentrated on two fellows at the end of the table opposite me. The amounts consumed by these two first-time competitors were compared, and second and third place were awarded. When the attention swiveled suddenly to me, I was authentically surprised and delighted to discover I had won first place.
We three shared the glory, eyelids glued shut, hair matted with pie filling, grinning ear to ear, and radiating the pride of having scaled the pie-eater's Everest. I shook the hand of the manager of Du-par's. The guy pushing the garbage cart at the Market smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
My daughter said, "Dad, you're a secret celebrity. Only a few people know it. And they treat you like one."
And so I have this unexpected talent, speed eating pies. I accept it with grace; I celebrate it. Next year fall returns and, with it, another pie-eating contest at Farmers Market. And who knows? Third time's the charm.
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