Crashing the gate

by Brian Clarey

In the presence of greatness

A mid the normal afternoon sounds at Wet ‘N’ Wild Emerald Pointe waterpark — laughter, yes, and excited screams and the constant rush of moving water — came a strained and slow flatulence followed by a wet, smacking plop. Again and again it happened, as staffers opened nearly 40 cans of Spam potted meat product and arranged them, three to a platter, in small pyramids. Even a blind man could have guessed the source of that watery sucking sound; nothing else in the world smells like Spam airing out in the hot afternoon sun. This Spam had a purpose other than offending the senses of the sizable crowd that had gathered there on the sandy volleyball court: Today was the Bubbalympics, Rock 92’s annual contribution to the genre of fat-guy sports, and the Spam was the medium in the day’s first event, a sculpture contest. If you’ve never been to the Bubbalympics, which was begun in 2001 by Demm and Kelly from “The Two Guys Named Chris Show,” some description is perhaps in order. It’s part wrestling match, part fashion show, part sideshow and part gross-off. Degrees of skill and fitness, incredibly, are also involved. “After I won this thing,” Mike Williams told me, “believe it or not I was wiped out.” Williams won the event in 2002 after, among other things, creating the biggest splash in the cannonball contest and downing an entire bottle of Texas Pete’s hot sauce in one ill-advised chug. “I paid for that one later,” he said. Williams had been asked to judge this year’s Bubbalympics. He, like, say, Joe Theismann, has practical experience on the field of battle. Another judge, Lisa Lanier, is the radio show’s lawyer, on hand to monitor the station’s legal exposure, I suppose. I was the third judge, chosen, I believe, because my liberal arts education and fount of general knowledge make me an excellent judge of pretty much anything. Either that or Mark Burger couldn’t make it. Anyway…. So there I was, digging my toes in the sand and trying not to vomit as 13 oversized and hirsute bubbas made art from Spam. I’m not going to say it wasn’t ridiculous, because it was ridiculous only in the way a Spam-sculpting contest could be. But going by their creative output, I swear some of these bubbas have the souls of poets. One bubba, T-Bone, I believe, placed hunks of Spam on a radiocontrolled monster truck. The Boogie Woogie Man mashed his up into a mound and spray-painted it silver, like a lunar volcano, obviously foreshadowing the 40th anniversary of man’s historic walk on the moon. Last year’s co-champ, Big Jimmy, carved up his Spam and reassembled it in the shape of a fish. This, to me, read like a statement on transubstantiation, only instead of the body and blood turning to bread and wine, a fish was made from chopped pork shoulder and ham, sodium nitrite and a little foul-smelling aspic. Or maybe it was a loaves and fishes thing. My favorite work in the art contest came from a contestant known as Butterbean, a man who in preparation for the contest painted on a beard and eyebrows, and also a target on the top of his shaved head. Butterbean sat down to create his art with a look of intense concentration. When the clock started, he began chopping off hunks of Spam and eating them in large, chomping bites. While others carved, shaped and molded, Butterbean sat like a stoic, deliberately slicing and devouring these sweet, smelly hunks of processed swine — which, by the way, no self-respecting dog will eat — pausing occasionally to wipe the sweat from his brow. It was a powerful piece of performance art. With his display of gluttony and indifference, Butterbean made an incisive statement about man’s inhumanity towards man, about the farce of “world hunger” and how grotesque acts of unthinking overindulgence threaten to bloat our existence until we, too, have painted faces and targets on our heads. Also, if you’ve never seen a grown man eat three cans of Spam in about five minutes, I assure you it is an impressive sight. Either way, Butterbean’s performance in the sculpture contest gave me chills. I scored him a six, because he actually left a few scraps and some juice on the platter. But the talent portion of the day was but one of the deciding factors. In the end, a bubba named Smitty took home the Golden Plunger after strong performances in the beer-can and tobacco toss, the spirited round of musical rafts and the toilet-seat horseshoe throw. He also aced the pig-foot bob, pulling a perfect 10 out of 10 pickled swine feet. But in another, less meaningful way, all the bubbas were winners on Sunday at the waterpark. The fans left exhausted and satisfied. And I feel that I am fundamentally changed, perhaps forever, after witnessing the power and beauty that is 300-pound men doing cannonballs in the deep end.