July 4, 2010

Joey Chestnut—a Real American Hero.

One Man’s Search for True Americana.

When July Fourth approaches, our minds are conditioned to think about all things American: like fireworks, The Flag, and apple pie.

On July 4th everyone gets the day off, or at least nine out of ten people do. The other ten percent don’t have jobs anyway, so every day is the Fourth of July for them—just without any fireworks.

Fireworks, like so many other things Americana, come from China. The Chinese invented the pyrotechnics in the 12th century as an offshoot from another one of their inventions, gun powder. They used the fireworks to scare away evil spirits and the gun powder to scare away actual living people, for good.

Another invention from The East, adopted by The West, is the state flag. Historians can’t decide if the first flag was hoisted in China or India, but Denmark holds the record for flying the oldest state flag still in use by an independent country. Nepal is the only country whose national flag is not a rectangle, instead it’s a small triangle stacked on top of a larger triangle.

As for the Red White and Blue, well, the American flag is not without distinction because it has to be the flag with the most rules. For a piece of fabric that represents Freedom, it’s a helluva a prima dona. For instance, if an American flag appears onstage next to a speaker it must be on the speaker’s right side; all other flags must be on the left side. When the flag is displayed over a street, it should be hung vertically, with the union to the north or east. If the street runs north-south, the stars should face east. For streets running east-west, the stars should face north. If you just said, “Huh?” so did I. When flown with flags of other states, communities or societies the flag of the United States is always placed to the right; the other flags may be the same size, but no larger, and the flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered. And when it is lowered, it should be done slowly and ceremoniously. The rules go on and on but the code that seems to be the most broken is the flag should never be used as apparel, bedding or drapery. Tell that to Sarah Palin and her photoshopped Stars & Stripes bikini…whatta maverick!

So fireworks come from China, or more specifically, fireworks were invented in China because everything comes from China. The Danes’ flag has seniority and besides ours is no fun, so that leaves apple pie, which, wouldn’t you know it, was actually invented in England sometime around 1381. The original recipe for apple pie didn’t even call for sugar, which is so un-American. Sugar was hardly even available back then and if it was it was too expensive. Nowadays the best place to get sugar is from China, it’s cheap and there’s probably enough lead in it to make a pencil if needed.

One invention that truly is American is Competitive Eating. The first eating contest was held on July 4th, 1916 at Nathan’s Hotdogs in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Four immigrants bet each other who could be the most patriotic by eating the most hotdogs because even back then over-consumption was synonymous with Americanism. Little did those immigrants know after almost a hundred years their wager would have spawned two professional eating leagues: The International Federation of Competitive Eating and the smaller Association of Independent Competitive Eaters. The AICE was founded when Arnie “Chowhound” Chapman walked out on the IFOCE. Apparently, competitive eaters are just as high maintenance as any other professional athletes when it comes to contract negotiations. I think they get it from The Flag.

Perhaps the best known competitive eater is Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi, a Japanese man who holds multiple records for speed-eating various foods such as hotdogs, hamburgers, and cow brains in large amounts too grotesque to list. From 2001 to 2006 “Tsunami” won the Mustard Yellow Belt, the prized trophy awarded to the Nathan’s hotdog eating contest champion. So for the first six years of this millennium the belt was hung on display in the Imperial Palace in Saitama, Japan. It was a dark time in American competitive eating history.

Then Joey “Jaws” Chestnut busted on the scene and in a patriotic performance that would make those immigrants back in 1916 stand up and shout “USA! USA!” “Jaws” ate 66 hotdogs and buns in twelve minutes. “Jaws” has won every year since so if you’re looking for a real American hero this Fourth of July and you can get past the whole millions of people are starving while these guys are literally shoving copious amounts of food into their intentionally extended stomachs for sport thing and the fact that for some inexplicable reason all competitive eaters appear to have a Mafioso nickname, then raise our flag up higher than all the others, stand to the left of it and be sure not to wear it on your back or if you hang it on a street running north to south, well, never mind that, just raise that flag up, screw the Brits and their sugarless pie and the Chinese and their fancy explosives and know that on this holiday, the Fourth of July, the American tradition of eating too much too fast is no doubt being televised on one of our gazillion cable TV channels (take that China!) while Joey “Jaws” Chestnut chomps his cholesterol soaked heart out in the name of America!

Jimmy Gleacher is the author of “It’s How You Play the Game” (Scribner 2002), “Silly Little Rich Girl” (Casperian Books 2009) and “Paradise Rules” (Gallery Books 2011), and the screenwriter of “He’s Such A Girl” (Lionsgate 2010). Jimmy lives in Boulder, Colorado. For more information check out www.jimmygleacher.net.

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