Jan '03 [Home]
Gold, An Olympic Fish Story
by Robert Dunn
It was back in 2012 when the Summer Olympics were held—for some reason that defies description—in Coney Island, a New York City neighborhood that heretofore had been better known for bumper cars and parachute jumps. A young Brooklynite named Kevin Levin did his country and community proud by taking gold, not only in the Marathon, but also in the Pie-Eating Contest.
I suppose that the concept of one athlete winning both the Marathon and the Pie-Eating Contest requires some explanation, owing to the fact that the two events might be considered polar opposites. While the Olympic Games are an occasion of such magnitude that they cannot help but alter the nature of the host city, at least temporarily, a community such as Coney Island is vibrant and, some would say, pugnacious enough to return the compliment. Therefore, not only was a Pie-Eating Contest introduced into the Olympic canon, but also a similar event involving hot dogs; both endeavors being quintessential to the character of Coney Island.
Kevin Levin managed an impressive win in the Marathon, the route of which led around Jamaica Bay, which meant much of the trail led through Queens—including the crossing of several runways at JFK Airport, in which several contenders were skewered by the nose of a Concorde, a mugger-infested stretch down the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, and a panoramic trek back to Coney Island across the Marine Parkway Bridge, which promptly collapsed (oh, please—like you weren't expecting that) and had to be replaced by ferry service. Upon finishing first in the Marathon, Levin was so hungry he dove right into the Pie-Eating Contest, and finished first in that as well.
"Thank God the IOC banned rhubarb," Levin told reporters afterwards. What with two gold medals dangling around Kevin Levin's neck (he had passed up the Hot Dog Eating Contest because he was a vegetarian), it was no surprise that Wiegies Cereal determined to put his picture on their boxes. You know—Wiegies—Breakfast of Top Contenders, there being more contenders than champions, which translated into a larger market share, or so the company hoped. Levin was thrilled with the notoriety and the paycheck, at least at first, and was mightily impressed with the seemingly endless supply of flakes.
"Why, they had more flakes than my Uncle Irvine's scalp," Levin told reporters afterwards, which didn't exactly endear him to his family.
Trouble was, opportunities for professional athletic career advancement were few and far between in those days, even for an Olympic champion, owing to players' strikes and betting scandals, as well as a chronic inability to build a sports stadium seating more than two dozen people without naming it after a gas station or office supply store. Kevin Levin had only one offer and—quite bluntly—he blew it badly. He made an appearance at a show run by the Welk Wrestling Federation (which, oddly enough, was named for the famous Twentieth-Century bandleader, Lawrence Welk). Levin lost two out of three falls to a rather wheezy accordion, and the Federation declined to offer him a contract.
Levin ultimately found himself with nothing better to do than to hang around his neighborhood supermarket staring at the wobbling ziggurat of cereal boxes bearing his picture and dreaming dreams of further glory, although he was clueless as to just what he could do for an encore. At least, he thought, he was by that time just famous enough to carry a box or two around with him as a photo ID, which he took as a hopeful sign.
Every so often, a customer would skip up to Levin and ask for an autograph on a cereal box. Levin would oblige, sometimes going so far as to split a banana with especially favored supplicants, much to the irritation of McGinty, the produce manager, who had to account for the disappearing fruit during the weekly store audits. Fortunately, Radclyffe, the store manager, was so pleased with the publicity generated by Levin's presence that he was more than willing to spring for the odd banana—they were only turning brown, anyway. He even went so far as to let McGinty keep his job, no small favor considering the economic downturn at the time. One especially cheesy customer also managed to get away with Levin's wallet, but the pie-eating marathoner didn't discover the theft until hours later.
Alas, the lifting of his wallet proved to be an ill-omened turning point for Levin, who began wondering what the true significance of fronting for a cereal company really meant. The seeds of discontent were planted as, night after night, Levin would sit home staring at the television, watching other Olympians scoring much better (Q-ratings and other things) than he was. After all, golfers were endorsing luxury automobiles, kickboxers were hawking hair tints, swimmers were pushing reproductive prescriptions, and even shot-putters were pitching for long-distance telephone services; all of them were hobnobbing with starlets and models—all of them, that is, except Kevin Levin, the Wiegies Wonder, the Cereal King.
Grasmere, a talent agent in dark glasses, gold huckster chains, and open collars (and no underwear, which was his trademark) tried explaining the situation to him. "Those other guys are waving around hot, sexy products—which entitles them to wave around with hot, sexy celebrities. But you? You are, like, pushing cereal here. And who else does the Great American Public see pushing these cereals? I will tell you. Cartoon characters! Cartoon characters push cereals—am I going too fast for you here?—so even if you are the greatest Olympic champion since Jim Thorpe—and I'm not saying you ain't, you understand—you are still equated in the public's mind with er Magic Mallard selling Ducky Charms or Rancid Rodent pumping for Fruit-Flavored Snix. Hey, at least you're not fronting for Honey-Frosted Shoelace Tips."
"But—" Levin tried to interrupt, clutching at his medals the way a stroke victim clutches at his chest.
"But nothing," Grasmere overrode him, his own chains clinking in studied professional agitation. "The best I could do for you would be a combination animation/live action flick with Berserker Bunny and Dabney Duck—something like that—but even that would be iffy. Which reminds me, can you shoot hoops? In your underwear?"
This was quite a wake-up call to Kevin Levin, the Pride of Brooklyn, the Olympic Champion, who suddenly came to realize that, owing to a few minutes worth of public pie consumption, his entire professional life had been clubbed like a baby seal. So Levin faced the music, giving up cereals and athletics and endorsements in order to start a sports souvenir dotcom company with the true hero of the 2012 Summer Olympics—the little geek with slipping eyeglasses and the skin condition—who took the gold in the Hot Dog Eating Contest, and whose name escapes me for the moment.
(Robert Dunn edits Medicinal Purposes Literary Review. He created the graphic used here, "On Your Mark.")