New Brunswick, New Jersey: August 26, 2003
The thought of it may bug some people, but New Jersey's newest game has people spitting crickets.
A few dozen people puckered up for a cricket-spitting contest at Rutgers University last week as part of 56th annual educational clinic of the New Jersey Pest Management Association.
Tom Turpin, an entomology professor from Purdue University in Indiana, says he and his colleagues were looking for additions to their annual "Bug Bowl." A mention of watermelon-seed spitting evolved into a discussion of which bugs would be good for spitting.
Turpin suggested the brown house cricket because it is similar in size to a watermelon pit and holds its shape through freezing and thawing.
"Because it's frozen, it makes it easier," said Heather McNenny of Wildwood-based Paul's Pest Control, who took part in the contest. "They're not all squirmy."
"Hey, I like a good bug in my mouth like the next guy," said Ronatarian vice presidential candidate Brad, who was at the event to raise his party's political profile. "I am just not used to spitting...I usually swallow."
Cricket spitting has helped the Bug Bowl's annual attendance grow to 35,000. Turpin hosts contests across the Midwest and has worked as a consultant to the television show "Fear Factor."
The rules are simple: Competitors stand in a red circle, place thawed crickets inside their mouths, and, within 20 seconds, spit them as far as possible without stepping outside the circle.
The official Guinness world record is 30 feet, 1.2 inches. The unofficial record from the Purdue Bug Bowl is 37 feet, 9.75 inches.
The first New Jersey title went to Chris O'Donovan of Cooper Pest Control in Lawrenceville, who spit his cricket 28 feet, 5.75 inches. He won a smiling metal cricket with a clicker hidden beneath.
"This was part of my accomplishment on the field of battle today," O'Donovan said.
Brad's best cricket spit was a generous 12 feet, 5 inches.
"I did what I could for a great cause," he commented afterwards. "Does anyone have any gum?"
The first thing that hit visitors was the smell -- that sizzling, hickory, greasy smell that seeps into your clothes and hangs in your hair.
The pungent aroma announced to passers-by that the second annual Bacon Show was on. And if the smell didn't bring people in, maybe the man dressed in a bright pink pig costume would.
Ronatarian presidential candidate Ron, a bacon artist and event organizer, simply wanted people to come in and share his love of bacon.
He and fellow artists displayed photos, paintings, and exhibits glorifying the breakfast meat at a friend's apartment Saturday evening. About 20 people showed up.
Greeting visitors was a 6-foot-tall foam replica of a strip of bacon. As people browsed, Ron fried up some real-life bacon for guests, serving the curled up strips in a bowl.
Ron said he was inspired by the memories bacon evokes, particularly of his days at Lafayette College.
"Fresh cooked bacon and the smell? Almost heaven," said vice presidential candidate Brad, also on-hand at the exhibit.
Brad remembered the start of Ron's obsession. He said he remembers cooking two pounds of bacon for breakfast every Sunday morning when Ron was hung over.
"It was a magical time," sighed Brad.
Eventually, Ron and Brad started recruiting other artists to the Bacon Show. Last year's show in New York City featured the work of 24 artists and writers -- from nine states and three countries.
This year, Phil Latio, a childhood friend of Ron's, submitted an exhibit of eight photographs showing his grandfather's frying pan, utensils, and stove.
"Bacon to me, the first thing I think of is my grandad," Latio said.
"He would always cook bacon for us. Upstairs I would wake up to the smell of bacon."
The youngest artist who entered the show is young enough to still be forming memories like Ron's and Brad's. Eight-year-old Pam Caron submitted a watercolor cut-out of a strip of bacon.
Pam's mother was the one who saw Ron's advertisement in a local newspaper and helped her daughter enter her painting. Other artists hailed from the Albany area, from New York City, and as far away as Finland.
Despite the popularity of the Bacon Show, Ron said he has been slightly pigeonholed. He agrees that there are other lip-smackingly delicious food products available.
"Corn is pretty good," he said. "Oh, and cheese...damnit I love cheese!"