Food historians can't agree upon exactly where the hamburger got its start, but no one disputes the location of its coming-out party: the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. This fact was not lost upon the marketing geniuses at Hardee's, who capitalized on the confluence this past Friday, April 30, to stage a Thickburger Eating Competition at Kiener Plaza downtown.
Was Unreal there? Is Angus beef certified? With its combination of crass commercialism, gluttony, hamburgers and fierce competition, this contest promised to be about as American as a spectacle could get.
Though Unreal wasn't permitted to vie for the gustatory glory, contest organizers provided us with a Thickburger from the judges' stash. It's really not bad, especially for something we didn't have to pay for -- though no burger weighing in at a half-pound ought to be cooked through at the center. That said, the sucker is undeniably...thick.
So much so that we had a newfound respect for the eleven gullet gladiators who had lined up to lay into all the Thickburgers they could handle in ten minutes' time.
And what would an American tale be without a Horatio Alger finish? Despite the presence of two out-of-town ringers, the winner was eighteen-year-old Andy Hille, an offensive guard for Kirkwood High School who downed six and one-quarter burgers in the allotted time.
For his effort, Hille trudged away with $500, plus a year's supply of Thickburgers. At the rate of 6.25 per day, that comes out to just over 2,281 burgers. Flushed with the thrill of victory and acute cholesterol poisoning, Hille was nonetheless slightly daunted by the prospect. "I'm probably going to be handing them out for a while," he told Unreal. "They don't sound too good right now."
Offensiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But if you work at Ameren UE's Sioux power station in St. Charles County, your eyes are almost certainly safe from harm.
An anonymous tipster at the station recently contacted Unreal, claiming management has demanded that employees remove anything of a sexual nature that might offend co-workers' sensibilities. Among the alleged fallen: a poster put out by the National Safety Council warning of the dangers of back injuries and depicting a shirtless man, Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition and a photo of one employee's teenage daughter who'd just won a swimming contest.
Hey, workplace rules are workplace rules. But "the real kicker," writes Unreal's deep throat, "is that the Riverfront Times has also been banned."
That put Unreal on the blower to Ameren UE flack Susan Gallagher, who couldn't confirm or deny our tipster's list of banned materials but said the swimming-contest photo was indeed a likely victim: "That does not surprise me. If the daughter was in fact an older girl with a very slim bikini on and someone took offense at it, then we would ask someone to keep that at home."
But what about the RFT?
"Basically what happens is, if we get any complaints -- and we got one on the Riverfront Times and Cosmopolitan -- in somebody's perspective there were graphically explicit advertisements," Gallagher says.
"Yeah, in the back of the Riverfront Times."
Our Riverfront Times?
"Yeah, around the personals section. I don't know. I've seen some that were somewhat suggestive."
Gallagher assures Unreal that the utility's smut policy is in keeping with that of other corporations. "We did some benchmarking when we set up this policy," she explains. "Many companies do not allow any non-work-related material on their premises. We simply prohibit materials that might be deemed offensive."
Events like last Monday night's dinner for Players' Choice Award winner Albert Pujols are best left to the gossip columnists. But ever since Jerry Berger's cheerful visage vanished from the Metro pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Unreal has struggled with a bout of ennui. So we put on our Deb Peterson afro-wig-and-glasses and made haste to Morton's of Chicago in Clayton, arriving just in time to see the guest of honor step to the podium.
With a watercolor image of Mark Mc-Gwire in the background, the Cardinals' newest, bestest first baseman thanked God, Bo Hart and So Taguchi (in that order) and swiftly made his way back to his table in the back.
Though Pujols' casual attire (loose black trousers and clubby gray rayon shirt) and brief thankyouverymuch set an appropriately casual tone for the evening, a tardy Jim Edmonds soon put an end to the mellow vibe. No sooner had the golden boy escorted his date to a table at the rear than a black velvet rope appeared, cordoning off the handful of Redbird faithful who'd shelled out $150 a pop to sample oysters on the half-shell and rub elbows with current and former Cards.
Undeterred, one of Unreal's journalistic comrades-in-arms accompanied Hart's agent, Joe Hipskind, to the makeshift VIP area, approached Edmonds and floated the notion of a nightcap at Kilkenny's on Central Avenue. The suggestion was met with a "who the fuck are you -- and how much did your wristwatch cost?" look from the center fielder, who recently split with fiancée Paige Speck. Edmonds' new lady friend rescued the moment, piping up, "Oh, I just love Kilkenny's!"
Down-to-earth order was restored by second baseman Hart and his girlfriend, Julia Styer, both of whom seemed content to belt back Bud Lights at the back bar, not far from newly acquired reliever Ray King and former Card Bobby Bonilla. In an exclusive interview with Unreal, Bonilla expressed regret that he didn't land in St. Louis until his career was all but over at age 38 -- a vintage La Russa-era signing if ever there was one.
"My son is a huge Cardinal fan," says Bonilla, who now works for the Major League Baseball Players Association. "And his godfather's Barry Bonds."
For Unreal's money, the most intriguing character of the evening proved to be one Bobby Don of Hardin, Illinois, who owns a fleet of luxury buses he rents to pro teams on the road. Sporting a mustache, wavy white mullet, gold stud earring and formidable ice on his well-tanned neck, Don expressed unyielding support for the Iraqi war effort and Willie McGee's enshrinement in Busch Stadium's right-field Retired Number Flagdeck.
Then Don learned the beer was on the house.
"What am I doing drinking scotch when the beer is free?" mused Don, falling prey to a working-class mistake Unreal has made a time or two in the past.
Let's Get Metaphysical
The School of Metaphysics made a late-April pledge to St. Louis dreamers: Bring us your unconscious brain machinations, and we'll analyze them. For free.
Telling our shrink to take the week off, Unreal removes the eye boogers and brings this doozy in to the Webster branch of the Wendyville, Missouri-based nonprofit:
We were staying in the abode of our friend Sam. The giant house had four-foot-tall sex dolls, multimedia and sports equipment and lots of food in the fridge. We sat down to watch a film Sam had made. In it, the protagonist lived with a rich family and every day he took a gold-plated tank to school, driving along waterways. Everything's fine until people suddenly turn against this guy. He barely gets out alive. We loved the movie.
"Sex represents harmony, but sex dolls represent a fake harmony," explains Stacy Ferguson, the 24-year-old director of the branch. "Remember, every dream is about the dreamer. Every person, place and thing represents an aspect of the dreamer."
"The house represents your mind, and since it was big, it means you were feeling expansive. The multimedia equipment shows you are aware of the different tools you can imagine with. Sports and games have to do with how the dreamer sees the game of life. Food represents knowledge."
Okay, Unreal thinks, gazing around the perfectly normal-looking Webster Groves house that serves as the local outpost of the School of Metaphysics, here comes the part where she, like, judges us.
"All this means you see you have the tools to do things in your life but you're not necessarily using them. Watching a movie is passive. The tank is separating you from other people. You feel that everyone is against you."
Jeez. Our shrink usually tries to boost our self-esteem a little.
Well, Stacy doesn't think all is lost. "What you have to do," she says, "is decide what you want to actively create in your life."