Big Mike Eddy
Ron Karpinski ©2006
In the late summer of 1961, fifteen-year-old Mike Eddy stood six feet, one inch tall and weighed a solid three hundred and five pounds. He wore his dark brown hair in a short crew cut, fashionable among athletes at the time; for young Mike was indeed a superb athlete. A brand new a freshman, he immediately earned a starting role on the Los Altos High School varsity football team.
No one ever had a bigger heart than Mike Eddy, deceivingly soft and easygoing off the field but fiercely competitive between the chalk lines. He brought a frightening new brand of play to the game of football, a level never before seen in the Southern California Interscholastic Federation. Even today, old timers smile at mention of the "Mike Eddy" play.
Posing in his football uniform, Mike presented an impressive figure. The largest helmet in stock barely squeezed onto his head, and the school couldn't find shoulder pads big enough. He looked like a svelte Sumo wrestler struggling into a child’s sailor suit.
In those days, few high school boys weighed even two hundred pounds, much less three hundred, so one can imagine the glee in Coach Osborne's heart when Mike trotted onto the practice field for the first time. His scrimmage mates expressed less enthusiasm, however, and longed for regular conference games to begin, so Mike could start cracking heads on opposing teams instead of his own.
By the time mid-September arrived, and the twelve-game schedule against other schools commenced, coach Osborne had perfected not one but two "Mike Eddy" plays – one for defense and one for offense. Few boys had the stamina to play both defense and offense, but Mike reveled in so much pounding, grunting, and sweating.
On defense, when the other team had the ball, Coach told Mike to line up opposite the other team's center and hover there. At the snap, as the quarterback received the ball from the center and began back-pedaling, Mike lunged forward in a full belly flop, flattening the middle of the opposing line. This allowed his teammates to swarm in through the gaping hole and attack the enemy backfield.
Once or twice per game, Mike played offense, as well. If his team moved the ball to within two or three yards of the goal line and stalled, Coach sent Mike into the game as a fullback. When the quarterback took the snap and moved back as if to pass, Mike lumbered straight ahead. The quarterback slapped the ball into Mike’s gut, and Mike, at full speed ahead, leaped in the air toward the goal line. Players on the other team couldn't scramble out of the way fast enough.
Citizens relaxing in their living rooms a block away knew immediately when Mike landed in the end zone. If not Mike, then surely a minor earthquake had struck.
* * * * *
One day, a year or so later, the local newspaper carried an ad for a new Swedish Smorgasbord restaurant that had opened in West Covina, a few miles away. They advertised "all you can eat" for one price. Mike and his friends had never heard of such a thing, so they drove down to see for themselves.
If the advertising were true, this new restaurant could save Mike’s parents a bundle of money. As every parent of a teenage boy knows, they have hollow legs and bottomless stomachs; and young football players need even more protein. Big Mike Eddy ate in a class by himself. He consumed more on a regular basis than any two other football players in the state.
Mike and Bob Clarke led the way through the front door of the restaurant, followed by Mike Horspool and yours truly, not a football player myself, just a tag along that day. Each boy clutched in his hand the one dollar and twenty-five cent entry fee.
Inside, we milled about for a minute or two, taking in the layout and trying to figure out how the system worked. Then Mike saw the buffet line, and his eyes lit up. He hadn't eaten in several hours, and his stomach growled.
* * * * *
Strolling down the buffet line, Mike gaped in awe at the wide assortment of foods arranged in row upon row of appetizing displays. As he sidled from one dish to the next, he culled out his favorites and stacked his plate four inches high.
The servers all smiled as Mike built a careful pyramid of food. One by one, the rest of us followed him down the line, sliding our trays along the groove in the stainless steel counter top and reaching in under the glass case for selected items.
As the cashier took our money, she laughed and said, "Boys, you needn’t worry. We have more food back in the kitchen. We are not going to run out. When you finish what you have on your plates, you can come back for more."
Mike could not believe his good fortune. He grinned and led the way to a long wooden table in the center of a large dining room. He set his plate down on the blue gingham tablecloth and pulled up a seat. The rest of us followed suit.
We sat there, staring at the feast before us. None of us had ever seen that much food on one table in our lives. Heaping mounds of bread, salad, fruit, pasta, fish, and meat nearly obscured the heavy white stoneware.
Mike seemed transfixed by the warm bouquet rising off his plate. Resting on one elbow, he pondered a small round meatball with the tip of one index finger. Plucking the juicy nugget from the pile, he brought it slowly to his lips. Our leader having given the sign, the rest of us dug in, as well.
All talk ceased. Serrated knives sliced through thick slabs of roast beef, and forks stabbed into quivering masses of grapes, olives, cucumbers, and potatoes. Jaw muscles ached, and cheeks bulged with half-eaten pulp; and, still, each boy shoveled in more, chewing to his own rhythm, lost in his own thoughts, stoking his own private furnace.
For half an hour, we whittled away at the huge mounds of food. Lima beans and collard greens, sugar beets and squash, all fed the fire in my belly. Finally, having downed the last loose pea, I looked up. Mike had just put his fork down. Hmm, not bad, when you can finish in the company of Big Mike Eddy.
The room had grown noisy, a cacophony of competing voices. When we started, the place had been less than half full. Now, large groups of six to eight diners each filled twenty tables or more, and everyone seemed to be screaming, trying to be heard above the din.
Mike spoke, moving his lips, but no sound came out. Then he leaned closer and shouted, "Hey, Karp, bet you can't eat another plate full. If you don't eat seconds, you're a wimp!"
Peer pressure is a hard thing to resist, when you are fifteen years old. Not waiting for an answer, Mike jumped to his feet and marched back to the buffet line. Seeing no other way to save face, I followed.
Both of us selected the same dish, a heaping plate of butter noodles and Swedish meatballs. Sliding down the buffet line and past the stunned cashier, we sauntered back to our table. Seated once again, I stared at my plate in disbelief. How had I let Big Mike talk me into this?
Without a word, Mike launched into his second platter. The others watched in silence. Playing the crowd, Mike smiled and made it look easy. For my part, I could only think one meatball at a time. My stomach swelled, and breathing became more and more difficult.
While I concentrated on each bite, Mike breezed through his plate and finished easily, leaning back, content at last. All eyes then turned on me, down to only six meatballs and a few noodles.
The guys chanted, "Go Karp . . . Go Karp!" Eventually, only a single meatball remained on my plate. Swallow this last one, and my name would go down in history, engraved forever alongside the immortal Mike Eddy.
But the mere sight of that last meatball made me nauseous. Every man has his limit, and mine had stretched to the bursting point. The previous meatball still clogged my esophagus and wouldn’t budge. I hung my head in defeat.
Amused, Big Mike shook his broad head and smiled. "How in the world can such a skinny guy eat so much?" he asked. Then he slapped me on the back, and I almost threw up.
* * * * *
And that is how it all began. That is how I earned a reputation as a big eater. Mike told the rest of the guys on the football team, and they spread the word. When Big Mike Eddy endorses you, you are in the club.
Over the next forty years, in cafeteria lines, all-night diners, and greasy spoon cafes across the land, countless strangers have marveled at how much food this lean lad could consume. I have quietly accepted the accolades, never exactly agreeing but also never completely setting the record straight, either. After all, who brags about coming in second place?
For the record, in his prime, Big Mike Eddy set the standard. Oh, plenty of people can stuff thirty hot dogs down their throats in a contest and call themselves big eaters; but no man ever tackled nutritional variety in bulk with the same swift efficiency and smooth grace as Big Mike.
Big Mike is and always will remain the master, the original all-you-can-eat champ, a true prince, and forever Grand Pooh-Bah of the International Order of Gratuitous Gastronomes. The rest of us, lost in his massive shadow, are mere imposters.
* * * * *
I ran into Mike again a few years ago, in the fall of 2001, during a visit with my late Aunt Virginia in south central Oregon. He still appeared very much like the Big Mike of old, same girth, same smile, except now he sported his father’s fine white hair.
We met one morning for breakfast at a place called "Applejack’s," a family restaurant perched on a lonely crossroads outside White City. Both of us ordered the Lumberjack Special – two eggs over easy, bacon and sausage, toast, orange juice, coffee, and a large stack of hotcakes.
Just like old times, Big Mike inhaled half his plate while I was still fiddling with my napkin.