In my continuing quest to find weird things to do in New York, this morning Lisa and I went to Ben's Kosher Deli in midtown for their 5th annual charity matzo ball eating contest. (Also present: Lauren and Paul Lukas.) The eight finalists had 5 minutes and 25 seconds (why?) to eat as many giant, leaden matzo balls as they could. Endless introductions and commentary were given by Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angels guy/annoying talk radio host, and another fellow who was, I think, affiliated with Ben's, but couldn't compete against the Sliwa barrage. The top-seeded entrant was one Eric "Badlands" Booker, the four-year Long Island regional hot-dog-eating champion; he's a 6'5", 400-pound train conductor. He bobbed his head as he ate, with a big smile on his face; you could practically see him thinking "eatin'... eatin'..." He came in second.

The winner was a tiny, skinny Russian guy named Oleg Zhornitskiy, who must have the most brutal metabolism ever. He wolfed down 16 1/4 matzo balls, with a look of intense determination on his face, stopping after each one to take a tiny sip from a Poland Spring bottle. He speaks no English, but brought a translator. (Sliwa made a series of increasingly unfunny "immigration officers" jokes.) I have no idea where all those matzo balls fit inside him. Last year's champ "Hungry" Charles Hardy stopped eating after three minutes, realizing that Booker and Zhornitskiy were way, way ahead of him.

Pre-match highlight: the wife of one of the contestants wearing an International Federation of Championship Eating T-shirt, whose motto is "Everything Nothing In Moderation." Mid-match highlight: whichever fan was yelling "FOCUS! FOCUS!" Best sentence from the IFOCE site's description of the event: "It is early in the season, however, with other majors including oysters, burritos and hot dogs to be decided as the 2002 Circuit progresses."