Billy Reed’s Man Cave – Joey “Jaws” Chesnut


As I was watching Joey “Jaws” Chestnut chomp his way to another championship in the Nathan’s World Hot-Dog-Eating championship, I had a startling thought: Is that the way I look to others, particularly members of the female persuasion, as I work my way through a meal?

On the Fourth of July at Coney Island on Long Island, Chestnut wolfed down 72 dogs in 10 minutes, breaking the record of 70 he set while winning last year’s title. To see Joey at work is both awe-inspiring and disgusting. He got off to a fast start, leveled out, and then came home strong, still stuffing while his competitors either dropped off or seriously considered regurgitation.

Personally, I think Joey may well be The Last American Hero. He owns the Fourth of July unlike any competitor has ever owned any date or event. He’s amazingly humble, for someone who has captured the coveted Mustard Belt so many times. He always has nice things to say about his opponents.

Others, however, recoil from anyone who eats hot dogs at the race of 3.6 every 30 seconds. As he stuffs himself, Joey occasional sprays his adoring fans with spittle that includes bit of bun. It is not a pretty sight, I admit, but neither is watching a politician eat crow at the church social.

I used to eat a lot faster than I do now. I was being admonished to chew my food and slow down almost into middle age. I never reached Joey’s level – who has? – but I always seemed to be done before everybody else at the table, except when I dined with Bobby Knight, D. Wayne Lukas, or Denny Crum. In their prime, those guys would have gobbled down a basketball if you had put a little relish on it.

I read one that a guy’s appetite for food and sex were roughly the same. I have no idea if that’s true, but I used it to console myself when the Manners Police stopped me and gave me a speeding ticket. I was told that food should be savored, like a fine wine, and mixed with good conversation. That meant putting down your utensils every now and then for the sake of digestion.

I have gotten better over the years, but sometimes I still go Joey Chestnut if confronted with something particularly enjoyable, such as the corn on the cob my friend Wade Wearren sells at the State Fair. Of course, you can get away with eating habits at the State Fair that just wouldn’t do at, say, Vencenzio’s.

I will keep trying to do better. That’s all I can do. One day I will be the last one to finish a fine meal. It’s on my Bucket List.