The Fish Story

Speed-eaters Go Green … Hot Dog! ‘Hey Mister, Why Does Sand Scream?’

By JAY MANN | Sep 13, 2016

Years back, I interviewed an American champion speed-eater, competing in a world-class contest in Atlantic City. He wasn’t a big guy at all, medium-weight at most. And he talked real slow, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. But that man could inhale hotdogs like air, which was impressive on the one hand and a bit off-putting on the other. During an early heat, I looked on, all, “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Despite his astounding down-a-dog pace, he could rarely out stomach his ace rival, a skinny Asian fellow – who came from a long line of speed-eaters, dating back to the lean Jōmon Period, when speed-eating was pretty much restricted to downing small pieces of pottery.

During my AC interview, I asked the speed-eater how much the taste and flavor of a rapid-eat item mattered. His answer was a jaw-dropper. “Oh, I don’t taste anything at all.”

Upon watching a round or two of hotdog downings, I easily saw what he meant. There was no time for, let’s say, relishing. You ever use a juicer? You know how you jam fruit into the chute? That’s oddly akin to speed-eating. Oh, there’s a modicum of ravenous chewing, but only to crush the incoming matter into swallow-sized chunks, which are then pretty much hand-driven into esophageal darkness.

Anyway, I recently flashed back to that speed-eater interview while reading about a unique food-eating race in New York, part of the “Taste of Buffalo” food festival, held this summer. It was an official speed-eating race, run under the auspices of the Major League Eating organization and the International Federation of Competitive Eating. If you find the existence of such organizations hard to digest, just Google them. By the by, they’re always hungry for new competitive mouths to feed.

But what set aside this Buffalo race was the foodstuff being downed to beat the clock. Now, seeing it was being held in Buffalo, who wouldn’t guess, along with me, that “Buffalo wings” would be a perfect match? Well, we’d all be at the wrong end of the food pyramid, as hinted by the race sponsor, Healthy Options – which had dubbed the event as, “The World’s Healthiest Eating Championship.”

Get this: The world’s best major-league eaters were converging on Buffalo to vie for – Ta Da! – the “Kale Cup!”

Yep, it was a speed kale-eating contest.

Entrants were egged on by a rather understated $2,000 prize – and, obviously, all the kale they could eat. This cup was all about the glory – and not the green.

From a healthy speed-eating side, contestants might view this kale cup as one of those events offering a cleansing experience, after years of jamming their bodies with dubious matter, including US state events to down grits (South Carolina), quahogs (Massachusetts), oysters (Louisiana), bratwurst (Ohio), asparagus (California), curds (Wisconsin), kimchi (Illinois), meat/breading “Slugburger” (Mississippi) and, the most tastefully tasteless of them all, deep-fried testicles (Montana).

Speed-eating champs in any category are almost immediately assured a listing by Guinness World Records. Speed-eating records are one of the most popular reads in the “Guinness Book.”

But there is now a proverbial stick in the muddy pudding.

But first, when speaking of pudding, competitive eater Molly Schuyler of Nebraska went to England to pack away 12 pounds of pudding in three minutes, earning one of those coveted Guinness placements. Astoundingly, Molly easily ate up the former world record – by more than 10 pounds! I’m guessing that former two-pound record was set by a 1-year-old being fed pudding with a rubber spoon.

Molly’s pudding-eating accomplishment made front-page news. Per, “Armed with a giant spoon, the slender mother of four from Nebraska throws serving after serving in and around her mouth. Watch this slim mother pack away outrageous amounts of food. ‘Wow, she’s got rhythm!’ says one commentator. Another adds: ‘How can she breathe?’

“After a minute and a half, she surfaces from the bowl to get some air and lets out an ear-splitting burp. …”

OK. I can’t un-hear that.

But back to that stick in the pudding.

The American Medical Association has tried to put a bad taste in the mouth of speed-eating. During an AMA meeting, the association’s Young Physicians section asserted that “speed eating sets an unhealthy example for spectators, not to mention that its participants are in danger of vomiting, reflux, choking, stomach rupture, diabetes and enamel erosion.”

In a seeming anti-gag response, 2016 has seen more speed-eating events than ever – with organizers hungry to add more in 2017.

I see a way New Jersey might use speed-eating to our great advantage. Picture the Garden State Greenhead Fly Eating Cup. We begin by putting out thousands of black boxes along the coast, then, sometime in August …

As to that Kale Cup, it was won by Gideon “The Truth” Oji, who ingested 25.5 bowls of the wavy green stuff in the allotted eight minutes. Unable to shake the thought of Molly’s burp, I wonder what the timbre of a kale belch might be?

Finally, to end my years-back speed-eating interview, I just had to ask: “Have you ever been banned from any buffets?” His answer was a slow, “I’m actually a light eater most of the time.” … Until the starting gun.

SQUEAKY SANDS … IT’S COMPLEX: Over the weekend, I was asked about squeaky sands. Finally!

The question came via a couple cool kids who were part of boat people partiers, who had pulled ashore, in a growingly traditional manner, on the back-cut of Holgate’s far end.

The single-digit-aged girl and boy team were wandering and wondering about. The slightly-older girl kid asks me a question I’ve been itching to answer since the Nixon administration. Roughly paraphrasing, “Hey, mister, why were your tires squeaking so much when you drove up?”

She was talking about the unusually loud, high-pitched sounds issuing forth from, seemingly, the tires of my truck, as I drove over the ultra-dry sand. If you have any beaching blood in you at all, you know that weird whiney sound, which is also common when simply walking barefoot on dry sand.

It just so happened, I knew the answer – theoretically.

Problematically, the answer wasn’t the stuff of single-digit-aged answerings. But my “Hey, Mister” integrity was at stake.

By the by, do you know the squeaky tires answer, fellow buggyists?

I’ll bet you – and a slew of non-4WD scientists – would bet the lab it is simply the rubber tires rubbing through sand. Well, you’d be as wrong as white chocolate.

I’ll offer one glowing tire-rub fouler: your feet. Those same squeak sounds can issue forth when one walks on dry LBI sand. What, your skin is squeaking, Sparky?

Such a drive down Simple-Answer Highway is a dead-end. I know. I once cockily took the squeaky tire rubber path in an academic surrounding, i.e. college. I was taken to task by a Ph’d prof, who, I found out later, was clueless as to what made that squealing sand sound. He simply knew my tire reverberation theory was on shaky ground. As a form of academic punishment, I was assigned the “graded” mission of researching what he called “the singing of the sands.” Great, a geologist who also dabbles in poetry.

It was during my initial think-through that I, too, saw the folly of blaming rubber tires – or singing foot skin. The sinking reality set in that there might be some absurdly complex physics within sand squeaks. I was all too correct. The squeals were awash in science.

And here I was in Holgate, being called upon to explain physics to awaiting eyes, focused on a Mickey Mouse-grade answer. The young’uns quickly sensed things were departing Disney when I pinched some sand between my fingers. “OK. See this? It’s technically silicon dioxide, OK? The same thing as glass, OK?”

Of course it wasn’t OK. Hell, the kids were now trying to register if either “silicon” or “dioxide” were among words they could never-ever say.

I caught my own over-complexity and eased up a bit by adding, “This means the sand is just like tiny grains of round, smooth glass.”

I could hear a relieved “Ahhhh,” as they nodded their heads in rapt understanding of the word glass. It was a start.

But I was still no closer to answering the original hey-mister, squeak-based question.

“OK, when these tiny grains of sand – these tiny grains of glass – get pushed together real hard, like by my truck tires, they become energized and, uh, rub together and kinda make noise. … Oh, face it, kids, you’re hearing the sound of sand grains screaming!”

Oh, that got them wide-eyed. Kids always relate to screaming.

“But why are they screaming?” the little boy asked, looking down, somewhat saddened.

With that mouth-of-babes question, I was vicariously tasked with encapsulating the concept of a truck’s weight pressing down on the sand being a form of energy that creates friction between the sand grains, causing the Si02 molecules to vibrate, leading to each grain vibrating toward its natural resonance frequency, anywhere between 1-10 kHz.

My Holgate encapsulation: “They scream because they’re getting run over by a frickin’ truck, kid!”

I skipped the “frickin,” “kid,” and the exclamation mark.

In equation reality, there is even more than simply friction-energized, resonating sand grains causing sand squeals. I was rudely advised by my prof that even energized, resonating Si02 crystals can’t outwardly transmit sounds. Oh, great, another know-it-all prof.

But he was right.

Even now I shudder thinking back on having to exhaustedly determine how the squealing comes down to the air molecules between the sand grains – and how they vibrate/resonate at the same frequency as the energized sand. Just take my word for it, they do. Therefore, and ergo, it’s actually the sound-transmitting air molecules that outwardly transmit the vibratory sand songs to the air – and our ears.

“Isn’t that amazing, kids … kids?” Now, where the hell? … “Hey, wait up! Those are called hermit crabs. Their claws work using a very complex lever process. See, you have the input lever, also known as the extensor. … Wait, come back!”

I needed to forward this academic minutia to prove, to myself, that the school loans I’m still paying off didn’t go for naught. Oh, the prof was duly impressed with my theory – and said he’d “take it under academic consideration” – which means he’s probably now famous for writing a stunning dissertation on his discovery of the physics behind singing sands.

DOUBLE CREEK UPDATE: Barnegat Light Councilman Ed Wellington continues to keep a close eye on the essential Double Creek dredging – as it currently goes nowhere.

The councilman again confirmed that Gov. Christie’s Executive Order 210 – a moratorium on any and nearly all nonessential NJDOT projects – has stopped the dredging before it began.

I had been among those desperately seeking federal connections to the project. Some other state dredging projects have recently gotten underway due to allotted federal funding, which could be forfeited if the work is stymied by the state. No such luck at Double Creek, though there could be some DC bucks once the dredging is done.

“The project may be eligible for federal re-imbursement upon completion but that is not enough to allow the project to start back up,” said Wellington.

In anticipation of the EO-210 shutdown ending, someday, a bit of allowable preparatory work is being done. I’m betting that’s in hopes that such readiness will discourage the likes of green groups and even the NJDEP from requiring the entire, complex permitting process needing to repeat itself, meaning no badly needed dredging this winter. I read the compulsory environmental studies done prior to approval of the Double Creek dredging – and they were strict. Face it, the marked waterway runs smackdab through what is becoming one of the most protected bays on the coastline.

Wellington wrote that the equipment used for the beach dredging project is different from that used for the channel project. I had been told by some folks that Great Lakes is the likely dredger of Double Creek. “The removal of the beach (replenishment) equipment is not an issue,” said Wellington.

More on this soon, especially should the goofy Guv give in.

BLOWFISH BLOWOUT: I got rave reports of blowfish being caught out the kazoo. A couple bay boats had up to 50 of the puffers.

This is a fine time to dine on blowfish since their spawning is somewhat done, though hardcore partying puffers spawn into October.

Overall, northern puffers (Sphoeroides maculatus) are actually hurting, population-wise, especially when harkening back to their famed presence between 1962-1963. Back then, they were the most abundant species collected in the surf by researchers. That’s a lotta puffers.

Per Rutgers’s Dr. Ken Able and the brain trust who follow our fish presences like hawks, puffer counts between 1929 to 1933 listed northern puffers as the fifth most common species – and an impressive ninth in numerical abundance. In 1969, it was among the most abundant sport fishes in Great Bay. After that, their numbers deflated faster than a Patriots’ football, declining throughout the 1970s; not even making the top 20 in commonness.

Anglers, myself included, can attest to the puffers’ decline, to next-to-nothingness, in the 1980s. We’ll also note the puffers’ sketchy return in the past 20 years or so, though running hot and cold, summer to summer.

Here’s some telling information from the surprisingly readable academic tome, The First Year in the Life of Estuarine Fishes in the Middle Atlantic Bight by Ken Able and Mike Kahay. “Larvae and juveniles (puffers) have been reported from most estuaries in the Middle Atlantic Bight but eggs have only been reported from Barnegat Bay.”

That could mean our B-Bay is the last bastion of puffer plentitude. As I said, those now being caught have hopefully loaded the biosystem with future pufferness.

The blowfish now being taken in awesome numbers have older anglers saying, “I haven’t seen that many since I was a kid.”

That comment indubitably kicks off recalls and recollection of insane blowfish bonanzas of the past, including some summers when every square foot of the bay and ocean had so many puffers there was virtually no catching of anything else. In fact, they ruined fluke fishing.

But we caught us coolers full on end. Some of us used unbaited gold hooks and still caught puffers galore. We’d dangle a bare hook just below the surface of the bay water and when puffers commenced to pecking at it … “Bam!” We’d yank them suckers ten feet into the air – and catch them by hand when they came down.

Note: It takes some chum to draw in the puffers. The chum doesn’t have to be elaborate, like using exotic grass shrimp. Simple clam, busted mussels or tiny squid bits do the job. Squid, worms or fakeos work as hook vittles.

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