• Mon. May 29th, 2023

71 Hot Dogs in 91-Degree Heat

Jul 9, 2019

“Why do you paint?” is a question posed in “At Eternity’s Gate,” a 2018 film about Vincent van Gogh directed by Julian Schnabel, the artist and filmmaker.

Van Gogh, played by Willem Dafoe, replies: “To stop thinking.”

So it seemed reasonable to ask Mr. Schnabel himself, at a special screening of his film on July 3 at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Wearing flip-flops, a black sweatshirt and his trademark pajama bottoms, Mr. Schnabel seemed annoyed by the question, replying brusquely, “To stop thinking.”

And he didn’t invite any follow-up. “Well actually, I don’t really want to do this,” he said, meaning the interview.

Louise Kugelberg, Mr. Schnabel’s third wife, who co-wrote the screenplay, was standing beside him. Was she willing to discuss the film? Ms. Kugelberg shot her husband a nervous look, then mutely shook her head.

Perhaps some questions are unanswerable. Such as: Was this event worth spending eight hours in holiday traffic to attend, when organizers could not deliver on either the promised interview with Mr. Schnabel or the list of absent V.I.P.s, which had included Martha Stewart, Fred Schneider, Gayfryd Steinberg and Susan Stroman?

Never mind. Their nonappearance opened up space to observe Guild Hall’s brick-walled garden, planted with hydrangeas, which are such lovely, dependable flowers.

Those who did venture into the fragrant night included Jack Lenor Larsen, the founder of LongHouse Reserve, a sculpture park that hosted the screening to promote its summer benefit; Dianne Benson, the president of its board of trustees; Adelaide de Menil and her sister Christophe de Menil, of the art-collecting family; Faith Popcorn, the Cassandra of consumerism; Lady Liliana Cavendish; and Mary Heilmann, the abstract painter.

Does Ms. Heilmann suffer a touch of van Gogh’s madness?

“No, I’m pretty sane,” she said. “I used to be kind of depressed and crazy a lot, but that got better.”

How? “I stopped getting high so much.”

Hot Dogs With Relish

Maybe you do have to be crazy to compete in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, held on July 4 at Coney Island, when the thermometer was bubbling at 91 degrees.

Boisterous spectators started gathering at 9 a.m. in front of the 103-year-old hot-dog stand, as the Thunderbolt roller coaster plunged precipitously in the background, and black-headed gulls surfed the salt air above. The crowd tapped their feet to a brass band, Wilson Phillips covers and a baritone who performed “La donna è mobile” from “Rigoletto,” before doffing their foam hot dog hats for the national anthem.

James P. O’Neill, the New York City police commissioner, thanked the officers in attendance before Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, swore in the contest judges. Presiding over it all was George Shea, an old-time carny barker with a straw boater and Mephistophelean grin.

“Anyone who is here today sees that it is more than just an eating contest,” Mr. Shea said. “It’s a two-and-a-half hour prose poem of absurdity.”

Most of the 15 female and 18 male contenders had qualified through regional heats (along the way, picking up sundry competitive eating titles for oysters, cranberry sauce and cheese curds).

Miki Sudo, the defending women’s champion, is also the world ice-cream eating champion, at 16.5 pints in six minutes. She took home the coveted Mustard Belt (in pink) and $10,000 prize money again this year, with 31 hot dogs.

The men’s field included competitors from Tokyo; Zaria, Nigeria; and Normal, Ill. But the crowd was passionately behind Joey Chestnut, the defending champion from San Jose, Calif., who was vying for his 12th title.

At the five-minute halfway mark, he was on pace to beat his own record of 74 hot dogs. Cramming wieners two at a time with his left fist, he dunked the buns in water with his right hand, the soggy bread pulp splattering his face like sweat.

But Mr. Chestnut flagged in the heat, devouring a total of just 71 hot dogs. Still, it was enough to win (the second-place getter, Darron Breeden, could only down 50). Afterward, he was mobbed like the Elvis of oral fixation, a new gut bulging beneath his red and white shirt.

Did he have any thoughts on what his next meal might be?

“I probably won’t feel like eating,” Mr. Chestnut said. “But if I can eat, I’ll try to have a salad.”

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