THE EATING

Red Leshan sank even lower over his beer. Maybe he was loaded, but the constant chattering in his ears was driving him crazy.

“Christ, barkeep... could ya turn the TV to a different channel?”

“Say, pal... this is the Forties. TV ain’t even been invented yet. You must be blotto, mac”.

“Why I oughtta...” Red began to rise menacingly, but was restrained by a firm hand on his shoulder. He hadn’t noticed the well-dressed stranger sitting next to him. Either too tired or too drunk to resist, Red slumped back onto his barstool. The bartender sniffed, then walked away. Red turned to the stranger.

“Just who the hell are you, buddy boy?” asked Red.

“Doesn’t matter. What matters is who YOU are. Could you be Mr. Red Leshan?” the stranger asked.

“Maybe I could, and maybe I couldn’t.”

“Ain’t you the same Red Leshan that led his team to three consecutive victories at the World Series of Competitive Eating?”

“Maybe I ain’t, and maybe I ain’tn’t.

“Perchance, might you be the very same Red Leshan who almost got himself killed trying to win the eating pennant in ’41, thanks to a weak gut?”

“Perchanen’t I might, or... Wait a minute there, buster. Nobody says I got a weak gut. Why I oughtta...” Red began to rise menacingly again, but the stranger’s firm hand brought him right back down to his stool.

“Cool it, Red. I just had to make sure you were the guy I was looking for. Say, what the hell does “red” mean, anyway.”

“Name the shades in the rainbow.”

The stranger counted them off on his fingers “Lessee... there’s black, dark grey, medium grey, light grey, and white.”

“Well, some scientists say there may be other shades called ‘colors’. Something beyond this crazy black and white world we live in. Something nobody ain’t never seen before. Red is one of those hypothetical ‘colors’” Red replied dreamily.

“Is that why they call you Red? Cuz you eat like nobody ain’t never seen before?”

“I don’t eat no more” said Red.

“Nothing?” said the stranger, incredulously.

“Well, the odd side salad. Sometimes I eat peanuts when I’m drunk. Nothing competitive.” Red carelessly tossed a handful of peanuts into his mouth. “Who the hell are you, anyway?”

“I’m a friend of Tex, your old coach” the stranger answered.

“No bunk? English Tex! How is that crazy old Jew?”

“It’s hard to be a black man in America, but he is one tough Chinaman.”

“You got that right. Did Tex send you looking for me?”

“Red, Tex is getting the old team together for one more match. He needs you.”

So that was it. Red got sullen again, and tossed another handful of peanuts into his mouth. He turned away from the stranger, and stared into his almost empty beer. “Buzz off. I told you I don’t eat no more.”

The stranger ordered Red another beer, and paid for it with a crisp new quarter. “Red, Tex is in trouble. You know he’s got a weakness for the skirts, right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Well, one day when he was out shopping for some skirts, he ran into Von Lemur. You remember Von Lemur, don’t you Red?” How could he forget? Von Lemur was the one who forced him out of pro eating, and almost cost him his life. He thought nobody knew about that last part, though, except for Red, his gal Trixie, and his gastroenterologist. Red didn’t know how this stranger knew so much.

“Yeah, I remember” Red admitted.

The stranger continued.“Well, it seems Von Lemur challenged Tex to an eating match- Tex’s team versus Von Lemur’s. Tex was so embarrassed to be caught in the Petite’s section at Bloomingdales, he agreed.”

“Jeez Louise... I’m sure there was a wager, knowing Von Lemur.”

“A hell of a wager. A cool million” said the stranger, as if a million wasn’t that cool after all.

“Tex doesn’t have a million! He doesn’t even have a dozen!”

“Yeah, if he looses, he’ll have to sell the team.” Red slumped over his beer again, and tossed another handful of nuts down the hatch. “I told you. I don’t eat no more.”

“Why did you leave the life, Red. Was it a dame?”

“Yeah. A dame I like to call ’75 pounds of D Batteries.’ Boy, if you think Thai food hurts on the way out, try battery acid. Doc says I could die if I eat anything more serious than a saltine.”

“Why the hell did you eat 75 pounds of D Batteries? Jesus, Red, that’s suicide!”

“Von Lemur made me a bet during the championship back in ‘41, and cocky kid that I was I couldn’t refuse.”

“Its funny Von Lemur took you out of the sport, and now he’s going after Tex.”

Tex rose again. “Why I oughtta... What if I said I didn’t think that was so funny?”

“Well, I’d probably say it in a high squeaky voice, with a funny accent” said the stranger in a high squeaky voice, with a funny accent.

“That would be funny, but it wouldn’t change nothin’. For the last time, I don’t eat anymore. Just these peanuts.” He tossed another handful into his gaping maw.

“Why don’t you take a closer look at those peanuts...” said the stranger mysteriously. Red picked up the bowl, and peered in. It was full of broken glass.

“Hey, I still got it!” He tossed another handful of glass in his mouth. “And I ain’t even dead or nothin’!”

“Well, how about it, kid? Are you in? Tex needs you.”

“Alright! Alright, I’ll do it! I’ll eat again!” Trixie wasn’t going to like this.

* * *

“I don’t like this” said Trixie. “You know Doc says you’ll die if you eat competitively again." She took a long drag of her cigarette, and a long slug from the shattered remains of a once proud bottle of Ol’ Bowelbuster. Her squalid apartment reeked of bourbon and beard conditioning gel.

“What does that quack know? Besides, I have to do it. Tex needs me.”

“Tex needs you. HA!” said Trixie. “Where was Tex when you were lying in the hospital, passing batteries for two weeks straight.”

“Well, he was by my bedside for most of the time, he paid my medical expenses, he sent that lovely arrangement...”

“That’s beside the point, Red.”

“Listen, Trixie, I just want to do the right thing. Tex showed me that competitive eating wasn’t all about who could eat the most hot rivets in 15 minutes. There’s also grace, sportsmanship, and... okay it is all about who can eat the most hot rivets in fifteen minutes. But Tex was the one who showed me that. Without Tex, I’d still be semi-pro, trying to eat with grace and sportsmanship.”

“A fat lot of good that did you,” said Trixie, flicking her cigarette at Red’s groin.

“Ouch. Besides, I’m tired of you having to work all the time. I should be supporting you. With my share of the million, we’ll be able to get away from all this. You won’t have to be a bearded lady anymore.“

“Tex, face the facts. I’ll always be a bearded lady. It’s glandular” said Trixie sadly.

“Yeah, but you’ll be MY bearded lady. You won’t have to let these yokels gawk at you for five cents.”

“Maybe so. But if you die, I’ll be out of the money, with nothing but your stupid corpse to show for all of our years together.”

“But don’t you see Trixie? It will be OUR corpse... yours and mine. Now, we ain’t got nothin’.”

“Okay, Red. Fine. You do what you want. But if I’m....”

Red saw his shot. He covered his ears and began humming. “BUM DA DA... I CAN’T HEAR YOU.... BUM BUM BUM... I HEARD YOU SAY TO DO WHAT I WANT... “ he yelled.

“...not here when ‘our’ corpse comes crawling back looking for a quick scrump and a place sleep, it won’t be my fault.”
Red was already on his feet, heading for the hallway.

“OKAY, SO I COULDN’T HEAR THAT... I WILL DO WHAT I WANT AS YOU SUGGEST... DOO DOO DOO... I’M GOING BACK TO MY PLACE TO GET SOME SLEEP BEFORE THE BIG EATING MATCH TOMORROW. I LOVE YOU TRIXIE.” He was already at the door. Trixie lit another cigarette, just so she could flick it at his groin when he turned to blow her a kiss.

“OUCH”

He was gone. Trixie finished of the booze, and chucked the bottle at door. She lit yet another cigarette, and not having anywhere to flick it, she began to smoke in earnest.

“I guess he got me on a technicality,” she mused, stroking her beard reflectively.

* * *

That night, Red could barely sleep. He kept dreaming that a fat, elderly, completely inept burglar was breaking into his apartment. Suddenly, his bedside lamp flicked on. He sat up, instantly awake, and found himself face to face with Von Lemur. Von Lemur was a fat, elderly man, completely inept when it came to burglary. He smelled of cigar smoke, black licorice, and unabashed avarice.

“Well, well, well...” he said. “If it isn’t Red Leshan. Fancy meeting you here.”

“What, you didn’t expect to find me sleeping in my own apartment?”

“No. I mean this is a fancy place to meet someone. I love this canopied bed. Is it a Louis XIV reproduction?” said Von Lemure, stroking Red’s bedpost suggestively.

“Go to hell Von Lemur. You know as well as I do that it’s an original, as is the end table and the occasional pieces. But that’s beside the point. What are you doing here?”

“Mr. Leshan! I’m surprised at your language! I’m merely here to discuss a little business.”

“And to steal my pre-revolutionary candlesticks I see. They’re coming out of your pants” said Red, pointing at the candlesticks in question.

“Listen, if you keep that attitude up, something else is going to come out of my pants. Something long, and hard” said Von Lemur, coldly. Red stared.

“Okay, that was supposed to sound tough” said Von Lemur.

“Yeah, well, it sounded pretty gay.”

“I was referring to a knife I have in my pocket. Or possibly, I might threaten you with your own candlestick.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Anyway, I think you might be interested in this.” Von Lemur threw a large envelope onto the bed. Red could see it was bulging with cash. There had to be a couple hundred grand in there. Red gulped.

“Mr. Lashan, tomorrow you will show up at the match. You will compete to the best of your considerable abilities throughout the preliminary rounds. When you inevitably make it to the finals against my finest eater, under no circumstances will you swallow a single item.”

“I don’t think I can do that, Von Lemur.”

“Suit yourself, Red.” Von Lemur rose, as several pieces of Red’s finest Revere silver serving wear dropped from his coat sleeves. “I’ll leave the envelope here, just in case you change your mind.” He headed for the exit. Red’s butler opened the door, and ushered him out into the night.


Red got up, tightly holding the envelope to his chest. He knew that whatever happened tomorrow, there would be pain. And for once, the pain would be in his heart, not his anus.

* * *

The preliminary rounds of the eating match went as predicted. Although the other members of Tex’s and Von Lemur’s rag tag teams fell by the wayside one by one, Red easily took on everything the other team threw at him. In front of a cheering, capacity crowd, he swallowed staples by the mouthful, easily chomped his way through bowl after bowl of granite, and handily knocked back several cords of freshly cut firewood. Soon, the competition was down to two: Red, and Von Lemur’s latest hot young prospect- a corn-fed southjaw from Iowa named Bat Matheson.

As the bell for the final round rang, Red and Bat took their places at the table. They tucked their bibs into their shirts, cracked jaws, and waited for the line judge to announce what the final round’s meal would consist of. While they waited, Red sized up his competition. In many ways, Bat reminded Red of himself when he was a fresh young mug, just up from the AAA pro eating circuit. He saw the same massively developed jaw muscles, shattered teeth, and cauliflower esophagus that once marked Red as an eater to be reckoned with. Bat also had Christie’s latest antique furniture auction catalog jutting from his back pocket, and Red couldn’t help but notice the pretty young thing cheering Bat on, with the dainty goatee springing saucily from her chin.

Just then, a kid ran in waving a sheet of paper, which contained details of the final round’s selection. Red silently wished his opponent luck, then silently took it back when he realized he still didn’t know whether he was going to take a dive or not. The line judge took the paper from the kid, squinted at it, then gulped. “Ladies and gentlemen, contestants... tonight’s final round will be decided over a plate of... D BATTERIES.” The group gasped. Runners brought the plates out to the table, and stood with hands poised over their covers, waiting for the final bell to ring. The next few moments seemed to Red to last for years. He heard the bell ring, and saw the runners take the lids off the plate, revealing a round dish heaped with enormous D sized batteries. His mind raced at a mile a minute.

“Well,” he thought “I suppose the smart thing would be to take a dive. That way I’m guaranteed a couple hundred grand, win or lose. After all, I used to be great, but this Bat kid looks like he’s got something special. Plus, I definitely won’t die if I don’t eat any batteries. Yes, I suppose it’s pretty obvious. I feel kind of silly that it took me so long to reach what, in retrospect, seems like such an obvious decision.”

It was only then that he realized he had absentmindedly been eating batteries at a fast clip since the bell rang. He was neck and neck with Bat, with half the batteries gone from each of their plates. It looked like it was going to be a close one.

“Shit,” he thought.


The competition was indeed close. Red and Bat ate like they had never eaten before. They ate like futuristic eating machines, designed by eaters, for eaters, with the sole purpose of eating. First Red would pull ahead, then Bat would take the lead, and so on. Their bodies tingled with adrenaline, heartburn, and direct current. Red decided to put his head down, focus on his own plate, and ignore his formidable opponent. Before he knew it, he was popping his final battery into his mouth. He stumbled to his feet. He had won. As the crowd exploded into cheers, Tex clacked up on six-inch stilettos, and threw his arms around Red.

“You did it Red! I owe you.”

“Yeah, something like $500,000. That was a close one.”

“Actually, no. Bat quit eating about five minutes ago, right after you stopped looking at him.”

“Why didn’t you tell me! Arrghh, my stomach!”


He collapsed on the floor. The crowd gasped again. From out of nowhere, Trixie ran to him, her long blond beard swinging nervously. In seconds, she was at his side. As they loaded Red onto a stretcher, she grasped his hand.

“You did it baby,” she sobbed. Red squeezed her hand, and gave the cheering crowd a weak thumbs up. It was over. Red would collect enough money to set him and Trixie up in a nice little cottage by the sea, somewhere far from the gut-busting world of competitive eating. Sure the next two weeks would be rough, but when it was done, he would never have to eat another battery again. After all, wasn’t that what this country was all about? Living in a beautiful little house by the sea with the bearded lady you love, your butler, and a truly world class collection of antique furniture, and not ever having to eat a single battery unless you want to? That’s how Red was brought up anyway.

Red lay back, closed his eyes, and vomited with contentment.