The Pierogi-eating Contest, continued

The Pierogi-eating Contest, continued

The crowd squirms, cranes necks, points. One thirty-something man, tanned and lean, his muscled bicep sporting a ship’s anchor tattoo, pops pierogi like a stoker at the nearby mills shovels coke. Shove, two, three, a gulp of water and one goes down the gullet. Soon he’s eaten five, seven, ten and no one else is even close; he leaves them lost in his dust, or in this case, butter.

The teenagers circulate with more plates of pierogi, but most contestants don’t finish their first helping, the glue-like innards of the thick turnovers expanding in their mouths, choking off their air. The tattooed man stuffs, swigs, swallows and a second plate is passed down, and then a third, until he’s eaten 28 pierogi.

Finally, mercifully, time is called; three minutes are up. The winner smiles, shakes hands, exchanges high-fives with his admirers.

“I’m from Akron, I’m Polish, and I’ve come all this way for a good pierogi!” he says, drawing a smattering of applause from the crowd. He takes home the grand prize-tickets and a limousine ride to a Cleveland Browns football game, down at the new stadium on the lake.
The second [and third] place finishers hold a coin toss, as both ate 14 pierogi. One of the “winners” is a barrel-chested wide-stomached young man of 22, the other a 40 year old with a full beard and mumbled speech.

“He’s got no teeth,” says my friend, who lives in the neighborhood.

“C’mon,” I say, not quite believing him.

“Hey, living down here, we’re just lucky we have only four fingers and one thumb on each hand,” my friend says. I close my eyes and breathe, inhaling the fragrance of french fries, potato pancakes, kielbasa and smoke from the nearby steel mills.

“Hey, who wants a pierogi?” the emcee says. Thanking the crowd for coming, he reminds them that “Our neighborhood is coming back,” and passes around a plastic plate as the masses surge forward, buzzing around him until the plate is empty, the crowd has gone, and the plaintive sound of a slow waltz dances in the heavy air.