It was time for the contest to begin. The good news was that, because of the density of the balls, it had been cut from the scheduled 12 minutes to 5 minutes, 25 seconds. The bad news was the density of the balls. My name was called, and to wan applause from the small crowd of spectators and media, I took my place at the end of the table. I saw that I was both the sole Jewish mother and only woman.
I pushed back my chair (Crazy Legs had recommended standing to help gravity along). Although I was starving, as the countdown began, I looked at the balls and felt my appetite flee. I was worried that I might experience what is known in the sport as "an urge contrary to swallowing." "We don't use the 'V' word," Crazy Legs had explained to me. If that urge can't be overcome, the resulting eruption is known as a "Roman incident." Crazy Legs had experienced one only secondhand, when a competitor standing next to him at a jambalaya contest started spewing stew.
I picked up the first matzo ball. A thin, moist crust quickly gave way to a pastelike mantle, followed by a sawdust core. I got the whole thing stuffed in my cheeks, where it defied my attempts to swallow. I finally choked it down and reached for the next one. The centers were killing me: No grandmother of mine would ever have served such dusty balls. I noticed that the contestant next to me was splitting his matzo balls and pouring water from a small paper cup over them. I used the same method and it eased the pain.
As the last minute was announced I started shoving—Boerhaave's syndrome be damned! In the end I ate six. I felt both surprisingly good and proud of myself, until I discovered Badlands Booker had set a new world record with 30. Though I came in last, Crazy Legs told me I tied the previous female matzo-ball record. IFOCE official George Shea confirmed this but pointed out that this was a pathetic attempt on my part to set an affirmative-action standard for eating. In competitive eating, he said cruelly, "there is no Title IX."
As I stared at the leftovers (few contestants finished an entire bowl), I felt a genetic imperative to grab about 50, stuff them in my purse, and take them home and serve them for Passover. But the organizers whisked them away—to the garbage, I hope. I talked to the third-place finisher (24 balls), Tim "Eater X" Janus, whose sole experience with matzo balls is in competition. "I still don't understand why they continue to exist," he said. But I do. After I returned home I attended two consecutive Seders. At each I was given my usual single-ball serving. The balls were fluffy and moist. Both nights I went back for seconds.