By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
While LaRue languishes in the teens, Kobayashi ravages his way past 40 hot dogs, then 50, and when he breaks his preposterous world record with the 52nd dog, LaRue and the other eaters turn to stare. The crowd erupts, and Kobayashi steamrolls to 53.5 dogs. The ESPN broadcasters earnestly posit, to the 765,000 households that are tuned in, that Kobayashi may be the greatest athlete in the world.
Afterward, LaRue stands at the side of the stage. His pockets bulge with plastic bottles of mustard and wasabi he pilfered from the table. He knew that salmonella poisoning was the only hope he had of surpassing the ravenous champion, but he had hoped to do better than the personal-best 20 dogs that earned him tenth place.
As Kobayashi accepts a towering trophy, LaRue mutters, "The bastard." Then he adds: "I'm gonna go get a burger."
The weekend after Nathan's, LaRue was in Orange County, California, on his own dime, for a doughnut-eating contest. With time expiring and Don Lerman (the butter junkie) midway through his 28th donut, Joe crammed the last bit of number 27 and an entire number 28 into his mouth.
"At five, four, three, two, one, I was shoving two donuts in my mouth," he says over dinner one night. "The news people, I could hear them go, 'Uhhhhh!' "
Lerman beat him by a quarter-doughnut in a one-minute tiebreaker. Actually, both men managed four donuts in the overtime, but judges ruled Lerman swallowed first.
"Swallowing is one of my biggest downfalls," LaRue laments. "That is one thing holding me back. The other thing I need to get used to is, I want to chew too much. I've got to work past that.
"I've thought about trying acupuncture. It's not like I'm having surgery to enlarge my esophagus. There's an Oriental herbalist. I stopped there, and I was talking to him about it. He said, 'I have advice for you.' I knew what he was going to say. I said, 'Yeah, what?'
"He said, 'Don't do it.' Don't do the contest.
"I told him, 'Thanks. Have a nice day.'
"So I'll find it," LaRue continues, probing the problem of how to take it all in, all of it, the fastest of anyone. Of how to remove the body from the equation altogether. Of becoming a mind and a mouth. "I've got a guy who may help me with Zen kind of shit, and that may help. I'm looking outside myself to look inside. I know the answer's inside. But I haven't been able to pull it out yet."