Gobbling by Guys

March 10, 2008

Last night I had dinner at a new restaurant. It was a barbeque joint called Banjo’s and their specialty was a roast beef sandwich.

First, ‘restaurant’ might be overkill as a term for this place because it had a drive-through and had been the site of several failed fast-food operations over the past 30 years.

In fact, during my freshman summer in college I applied for a job at the Burger King that stood on this site.

Only an aversion to polyester, the very real possibility of dying in a grease fire, the abysmal collective IQ scores of the rest of the staff (including management), and the fact they turned me from cashier to cook to manager in the span of one shift, compelled me to turn in my stylish uniform after seven hours on the job.

Well, Banjo’s had only changed in menu items, color and wall decor. The food was actually improved by the addition of an in-house Boar’s Head deli and new oil in all the Fryolators.

But the renaissance of this structure wasn’t close to remarkable when compared to what the menu caused me to do. It made me eat like a guy. Before even trying their signature roast beef sandwich I ordered two of them with extra sauce. It was just instinct.

From the moment we’re out of the womb, guys are imprinted to be gluttons. It’s a weak drive at first, and most breast-fed babies stay at the food source a requisite amount of time regardless of gender. But once detached from the nipple, guys try to establish a competitive edge with the only skill they possess—eating.

Recall the myriad photos of little boys with bowls of spaghetti on their heads. Just like shaking the champagne bottle after winning the Daytona 500.

As a child, my best event was the pancake feast. Along with cousins Timmy and John, I devoured pancakes faster than Hillary Clinton goes through press secretaries.

Our record still stands at 206 pancakes in one sitting—a combined figure by the three of us. We were about six years old and we were good eaters. Oh, the other thing you should realize is that when you’re six years old every little round droplet that falls on the griddle counts as a pancake. So the ladle drips that were the size of three-hole-punch debris all counted as pancakes.

The gobbling continued through junior high. It only cost $1.05 to get three lunches on pizza day, so that was standard practice among all the guys at Central Junior.

Lunch prices remained fairly static through high school too, but the treat then was to blast out of school Smokey and the Bandit style and rush to the aforementioned Burger King to get as many Whopper Juniors as we could afford.

We’d eat them on the way back to school, spill ketchup all over ourselves while driving, and get pulled over by Officer Mahoney in the patrol supervisor car after squealing into the school parking lot.

The difficult part wasn’t making it back to class on time—we still had about four minutes—it was listening to the lecture about speeding without audibly burping Whopper and Pepsi.

Then came college and the holy grail of food prizes…the dining hall pass. Once you were into the hall, you could stay as long as you wanted and eat as much as you pleased. This led to some questionable choices, but still ones that support my food as competition hypothesis.

I recall the “five-cheeseburger” lunch, the 25 cups of soda and eight bowls of cereal breakfast, and the frequent plate-stacking dinners where you count plates instead of food to estimate how much you ate.

Nights were no different as we gathered to watch MASH at John Esielionis’ place while gobbling pizzas. At one point I was able to eat an entire Cappy’s large cheese by myself. It wasn’t pretty, but it was impressive and tasty.

Years later, the names have changed but the practice remains the same. Drew, Frank and I try to schedule all-you-can-eat sushi at least once a quarter. Devastating a turkey-tip plate at the Halfway Cafe is a regular occurrence. And donut Tuesday has taunted even the most dedicated pastry eater for about five years.

Where does it stop? Are men destined to keep gobbling until the first shovelfuls of dirt get into their sandwich? Is eating as competition so pervasive because it’s an activity that doesn’t require much more than a mouth?

At what stage does cost intervene and make the gobbling lifestyle prohibitive?

The two sandwiches at Banjo’s were pretty good. I’d suggest they warm up the sauce a little and slice the beef a little thinner, but it was tasty and seemed nutritious. And at only about $3 each, they satisfied my criteria as a competition-worthy snack.

Now I have to see if I can get one of my buddies to meet me there for a power lunch.