I once entered a World’s Biggest Toe Cheese contest, but I misunderstood the rules. I had squeezed a log of Gorgonzola between my toes thinking no one else would shoe-horn five pounds of enzyme-enhanced curd in a half-inch space. I was shocked when a homeless man named Spanky, who hadn’t changed his socks for a year and a half, showed off a mound of white fuzz that had dislocated his toes into the shape of parentheses. He went back to the underpass with a month’s supply of Happy Pappy’s Combination Foot Powder and MSG Substitute.
Undeterred, I continued to enter contests looking for that one big win that would define my life. I built the Taj Mahal out of pine cones and pancake batter for a “Who Can Build the Stupidest Model” competition and took third place. I lost to eight-year-old Brewster Buckles, who constructed a life-sized space shuttle using under-wire bras, butane-heated tree sap, and 918,000 packs of baseball cards.
I decided to use my prize money to take ballooning lessons so I could enter the annual “Lawrence MacGillicutty Crash and Burn”. It was a race named after a local man who, despite warnings from his wife and golden retriever, flew a hot air balloon around the county. He was an hour from home when he overcompensated for a shift in the wind, sending his balloon plummeting to the ground, landing on top of a Cub Scout troop putting on a performance of Death of a Salesman for a retirement home grand opening. Scotty “Willy Loman” Dorfman suffered a broken leg while ten other boys were comforted by various grandmothers in the audience.
Each year the intrepid flight was re-staged as a competition. The first person to circumnavigate the county and crash their balloon in an open field won $1000 and tickets to troop 543’s production of Moulin Rouge. I figured this was my big chance.
My balloon was hand-made out of old Marty Allen sport coats sewn together with twenty-pound fishing line. There were eight of us vying for the prize, and at the sound of the starting pistol, I rose into the air majestically. At fifteen hundred feet, I deployed the sleeves. Hundreds of coat sleeves caught the wind, twirling my balloon like a whirligig and putting me in front.
I hadn’t realized how cutthroat the race would be, however. My nearest rival, a podiatrist who had legally changed his name to Doctor Foot, began flinging business cards at me like they were Chinese throwing stars. The sharpened edges punctured holes in my balloon, and I descended rapidly.
The county highway system was built in the 80s and had been named after MTV personalities. My balloon was hovering just above the traffic on Downtown Julie Brown Parkway. I veered left following the J.J. Jackson interchange when suddenly the balloon dipped violently, and I almost crashed onto the Martha Quinn Clover Leaf.
Then I made the decision that would change everything. I cheated. Working the controls like an insane puppeteer, I set my balloon down on the roof of an 18-wheeler hauling meat to Big Roy’s Rib-O-Rama. I rode the truck until we exited onto Carson Daly Municipal Access Road 6B.
When the truck pulled into Roy’s lot, I maneuvered my balloon onto a Honda Civic with misfiring spark plugs. I needed to go faster so I scanned the horizon until I spotted a freight train. The track wound past the field I needed to crash into, so I hopped across the highway, settling onto a Hummer. We turned onto the Jenny McCarthy Toll Road, and from there I was able to land on the third car in the train.
We rolled past the trailer park and through the woods haunted by the ghost of Rue McClanahan. Finally I saw the field. I also saw Doctor Foot, so confident of his victory that he was taking time to drop leaflets advertising his deep tissue pinky-toe massage.
I got airborne enough to float over the field where I steered into power lines, setting fifty years of cheap suits ablaze. I jumped from the gondola into the lap of county commissioner Priscilla Presley (not that one). We watched my balloon burn while I was presented with a check for $1000. I had finally won big!
Flush with excitement, I was already planning my next contest entry while the podiatrist chased me out of town with a shillelagh made of prosthetic feet.