KAPALKO: Philly’s ‘Wing Bowl’: undercover

Jamie Kapalko

Ask me where I’ll be at 4 a.m. on Friday almost any week of the year and the answer is not going to be, “Going numb and insane in the freezing underbelly of the Wachovia Center, practicing a choreographed Star Wars-themed fight scene, surrounded by women in their underwear and drunk middle-aged men.”

Except last Friday.

The reason for this alternate-universe experience? Wing Bowl, Philadelphia’s traditional early-morning pre-Super Bowl celebration. Wing Bowl is officially a chicken wing eating competition; both locals and professional competitive eaters – yes, there is such a thing – act like human vacuum cleaners for three rounds of gluttony in hopes of winning two cars. Most fans attend, however, to revel in the debauchery surrounding the event – boozing in the parking lot all night and ogling the “Wingettes.” Wingettes are like cheerleaders who get kicked off the team for flashing passing cars on the team bus or refusing to wear their spanky pants.

So why was I there?

Wing Bowl sold out the entire Wachovia Center in one hour this year. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The opportunity arose when I was given the chance to join Mendel Doug, who earned his spot by eating a 17-pound watermelon (rind included), and his entourage.

I had done my homework on Wing Bowl before I went. I knew what to expect. But reading about it and experiencing it were completely different things. You can read about beer-bellied men in matching sweatsuits constructing a float shaped like a beer can, but you can’t truly grasp it until they ask you to take your shirt off. You can read about Wingettes prancing around in bikinis and lingerie – or just the word “Eagles” painted across their naked chests – but you can only comprehend it when they flit around distributing their strip clubs’ business cards to anyone with an empty hand.

You can’t understand Wing Bowl until you see a woman in the stands fling open her button-down sweater like a set of double doors when the camera shows her on the big screen – five times. You can’t understand Wing Bowl until you hear the audience roar with applause every time this happens. You can’t understand Wing Bowl until a leering man asks you to spank his friend, despite the fact that you are not a Wingette and did not sign up to be harassed – blatantly obvious, since you are wearing a big puffy coat rather than a corset and Lucite heels.

Wing Bowl is not about wings. It is not about the Super Bowl. It is about complete drunken idiocy, and the city of Philadelphia should be ashamed. Look, I’m not completely oblivious. Strip clubs exist, as do strippers. There are obviously thousands of people who enjoy the tradition of Wing Bowl, but I have two major problems with it.

The first is the fact that some of the men assume that every female in attendance is there to take her clothes off. A few of us, believe it or not, are just there to watch. Just because a woman attends Wing Bowl does not automatically qualify her as a piece of meat over which to salivate. It is completely unacceptable for these men to ignore the fact that some women are not there for their entertainment. Assuming otherwise is disrespectful; I don’t care what the time, place or circumstance is. Show a little maturity.

The second – and even scarier – fact is that quite a few men bring their young teenage sons. A 14-year-old boy whose father brings him to an event that glorifies stupid, drunken behavior and women who take off their clothes for an audience is going to learn to value those things. He is going to learn that drinking makes it okay to yell offensive things at girls. He is going to learn that the type of girl to look for is one with a body, and that’s all that women are really good for, anyway. This is the scariest fact about Wing Bowl. It would be a thousand times less offensive (but not inoffensive) if there were an age requirement for entrance. Although it still leaves me to wonder: what kind of father brings his son, anyway?

Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl is completely engrossing – purely because it is completely disgusting, disturbing and straight-up stomach-upsetting. It’s like a plastic surgery reality show or an interview with Paris Hilton or – oh, I don’t know, the idea of eating as many chicken wings as possible in 15 minutes.

Ask me where I was last Friday at 4 a.m. and I will have to respond, “Wing Bowl.” Ask me the same question any other Friday for the rest of my life and that will not be my answer. I can only hope that from now on every 14-year-old boy in the Philadelphia area says the same.

———————

Jamie Kapalko is a sophomore English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected]