originally published April 12, 2012

I have learned one thing today, and hope to learn a second.

First, I learned that the green stuff that covers a pool table is not simply called ‘felt’. It’s called baize, and for whatever reason, it’s the subject Ms. Wiki has chosen to sink into my brain’s corner pocket this morning. The second thing I hope to learn is how to make a thousand words full o’ baize interesting.

There’s an old English ditty from the mid-1600s that marks 1525 as the year baize was introduced to England. Allegedly this was the same year that brought beer to England also, which really makes me question why baize even warrants a mention in the song.

Baize was traditionally dyed green for billiards in order to recreate the feeling of a lawn. Maybe the first pool table actually did feature grass – that’s a subject for another day. The green color stuck though, and it remained the norm for snooker, pool, and even gaming tables for craps, poker, etc. This carried on until the 1980s, at which point it became fashionable for odd-colored baize to puke its way across the field of interior design.

Green baize was at one time affixed to the doors that separated servants quarters from homeowners’ space in England. For that reason, the phrase “the green baize door” became a colloquialism for that separation of class.

Okay, pool tables, craps tables, servants’ doors… I think I may have reached the end of what passes for interesting in the world of baize. Except for the 1985 musical.

Yes, baize got its day in the spotlight, thanks to the British film Billy The Kid And The Green Baize Vampire.

Here we go… a young gunslinger outlaw faces off against a mysterious Romanian count, and maybe there’s some roulette involved, I don’t know. Except that this film was about two British snooker players, neither of whom was either a cowboy or undead. I hate how the movies lie to us.

Alright, let’s double back to the pool hall. You may have noticed (but probably haven’t) that baize not only comes in different – and often aesthetically wrong – colors, but also in different textures. Snooker tables use a thick-pile, nappy fabric, while 8-ball and 9-ball tables tend to use a smoother surface.

Wow.

It’s entirely possible that I have run out of words to say on the subject of pool table baize. I’m even tired of the word ‘baize’. It doesn’t mean this:

Or this:

Or even this:

I’m going to try a new approach, a topic bounce-back. I’m starting over, writing about something completely different, and working my way back to make it all somehow relevant. My website, my rules.

Allow me to introduce you to Rich “The Locust” LeFevre.

If Rich looks a little busy right now, that’s because we caught him hard at work. Rich is a competitive eater.

Hailing from a suburb of Las Vegas (where they utilize more baize per capita in the form of active casino tables than anywhere else in North America), Rich is about 60 years old. He and Carlene, his lovely wife, both ranked somewhere in the top seven at three consecutive Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contests from 2003 through 2005. It’s a marriage between two star athletes, like if two of the American Gladiators had gotten married.

Or maybe two professional, baize-conquering pool players. I don’t know, I’m stretching this connection a little thin.

Rich holds a number of world records. If you’re not the type of person who stands up and applauds for competitive eaters, you still have to respect a guy who holds ten world records.

Just thinking about this is making my abdomen quiver with sympathetic repulsion. Rich ate a five-pound birthday cake in eleven and a half minutes. I’m sure that if the cake belonged to a small child, Rich could have polished the kid off too and still kept the clock under fifteen.

He ate seven and a half pizza slices in fifteen minutes. That may not sound impressive, but he did that in Chicago.

In 2007, Rich set a record for jalapeno gobbling when he threw back 247 in eight minutes. That works out to one jalapeno roughly every two seconds.

I’m conflicted. I would never attempt this ‘sport’, nor would I ever attend a live event if I could avoid it. I watched the Nathan’s July 4th contest on TV in 2008 (and may have unknowingly watched Rich’s work), but it wasn’t pleasant. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but express my awe that people like Rich can do this. It’s a strange, guilty kind of admiration.

Competitive eating is a truly Western event. It takes a certain filtered perspective to first be aware that there are billions of malnourished (or non-nourished) people in the world, then to make a sport out of gorging on food just because we can.

Alright – I don’t want to get all preachy, standing on my baize-lined soapbox and condemning a quirky pastime. Equitable food distribution is not Rich’s concern, nor should it be. He’s just one guy. One guy who once wondered if he could consume a gallon and a half of Stagg chili in ten minutes. Just a guy who said, “Hey! I like Spam! I like it a lot! I bet I could eat six pounds right out of the can in less than twelve minutes!”

Rich is somebody’s hero. Somebody somewhere has called him the Ray Lewis of competitive eating.

He’s a marathon man. Rich wasn’t only about the sprint races – he liked the longer challenges, the 30 or 40 minute races. Have you ever seen a 120-ounce steak?

Rich finished that. And two side dishes. Six-person servings of side dishes. In 40 minutes. I’m not sure how Rich LeFevre has not exploded by now, so for that I must offer my respect.

Also, he is a much more interesting topic to write about than the fabric on the surface of billiard tables. Thanks, Rich.

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