Helen, Rose, and Da’Quarius walked from Rose’s car towards the booths of stands selling food, games, and carnival rides. It was New Haven’s annual Clamfest, where peple came from miles around to eat all sorts of clam related dishes and enjoy a fun, clam-filled afternoon.
“This is bullshit,” Helen said, kicking an empty can of soda. “You can’t stop me from eating.”
“I’m not saying you can’t eat,” Rose said. “Your doctor thinks you have developed an allergy to shellfish. I’m just asking you to stay away from the seafood.”
“That bullshit artist doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Helen said. “I’ve been eating clam competitively since the fifties.”
“You definitely won’t be doing the clam eating competition this year,” Rose said. “I have an EpiPen just in case you accidentally eat anything with shellfish in it, but I want you to make an effort to stay away from it.”
“This is like bringing a pedophile to a kindergarten, Rose,” Helen said, looking around. “I’m going to bust that quack doctor in his nose the next time I see him.”
“What would he have to gain by lying about a shellfish allergy?” Rose asked.
“Remember when we went to Olive Garden?” Da’Quarius asked. “They had mussels in da pasta, and you swelled up like a biddy balloon.”
“Don’t you have to find my brother or something?” Helen asked. “Get lost, kid.”
“I don’t want any fighting,” Rose said. “We’ve come every year since we’ve been together, and I don’t want to make this our last year if you can’t control yourself.”
“OK,” Helen relented. “I can see that you’re serious. Let’s go have some good, clean fun.”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Season 6, Episode 5: Clamfest
“Unca Paulie!” Da’Quarius shouted, running across the grass of Lighthouse Park. “What are you doin’ over here? Shouldn’t you be at your booth?”
“Tony and Pimple Puss are running it this year,” Paulie said. “Tony cooks and Pimple Puss handles the customers. They don’t need me.”
“Why you callin’ him Pimple Puss now?” Da’Quarius asked. “Dat’s Tony’s name for him.”
“I honestly forgot his real name,” Paulie said.
“Dat’s fucked up,” Da’Quarius said. “He has a name.”
“Oh yeah,” Paulie said. “What is it?”
Da’Quarius stared at Paulie for a moment. “I dunno,” he finally said. “I don’t even see him, cuz he works at night.”
“You got a screw loose kid,” Paulie said. “You’re always trying to make a big deal out of what everyone says, not stopping to realize what a hypocrite you sound like.”
“Don’t start dat shit with me,” Da’Quarius said. “You should see how you act when you get all high an’ mighty an’ shit.”
“High and mighty?!” Paulie exclaimed. “There you go again!”
“Fuck it,” Da’Quarius said, walking away. “Umma show you what you like.”
“Hey,” Paulie said. “Where the hell are you going?”
“Would you like to try a clam fritter?” a vendor said, holding a tray of fresh clam fritters near Helen. They were still steaming, and Helen’s mouth watered.
“Yes,” Helen said, reaching out.
“No,” Rose said, pulling Helen’s hand back. “You promised. I don’t want to have to use this EpiPen and take you home.”
“Those are mostly batter and sweetbread,” Helen said, staring lustily at the fritters as they were carried away. “I’d probably only swell up a little bit. Maybe just my pinky will get fat.”
“That’s not how it works,” Rose said, looking at some small glass trinkets on a table. “How much do you want for the little owl?”
“Four dollars,” the old man in the lawn chair said.
“I think I’m going to get it,” Rose said. “What do you think Helen? Helen?” Rose turned to see that Helen had gone. She was following the woman with the fritters. Rose had to move quickly to catch up.
“Helen!” Rose said. “I think we need to go home now.”
“No,” Helen said. “I just wanted to smell them some more. That’s all!”
“Come back with me to the stand, and then we can find something for you to eat,” Rose said. “I saw a lovely little owl that would look great on our patio table.”
“Fine,” Helen said, allowing herself to be led back by the arm. “But hurry up with the damn owl. I’m starving.”
“Wait up, kid,” Paulie said, catching up to Da’Quarius. “I’m in my sixties for crying out loud. I can’t move as quickly as you.”
“What a workout,” Da’Quarius said, noticing Paulie catching his breath. “Want me to get’chu a water?”
“Sure,” Paulie said. “That would be great.”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. He turned to the man with at the food and beverage stand. “You got water?”
“Yeah,” the vendor said.
“Your sign says it’s ice cold,” Da’Quaruis said, imitating Paulie’s voice and mannerisms. “Is that true?”
“Sure is,” the vendor said, smiling.
“So this water of yours,” Da’Quarius said. “Is it in liquid form, or is it solid?”
“What are you doing?” Paulie asked, exasperated.
“I’m you now,” Da’Quarius whispered. “Watch yoself order a water.”
“They’re liquid,” the vendor answered. “It’s water.”
“Oh!” Da’Quarius exclaimed, beginning to cause heads to turn. “If your sign says your water is ‘ice cold’, den why, in da name of all dat is holy, is yo water still in liquid form?”
“If yo water was really as cold as ice, den it would be solid ice, stunad,” Da’Quarius said. “Didn’t dey teach you anything in middle school science?”
“I don’t have time for this,” the vendor said.
“Is yo water temperature below freezing or not?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Just get the water already!” Pauile exclaimed, embarassed by the amount of people watching his nephew argue with the vendor.
“No,” Da’Quarius said. “I want a solid friggin bottle of ice now; like it says on the friggin sign! ICE FRIGGIN COLD WATER!”
“I’ll buy the damn water,” Paulie said, pushing Da’Quarius out of the way and pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “Two bottles please.”
“That’ll be six bucks,” the vendor said.
“Six bucks?!” Paulie exclaimed. “Why on earth would I pay six dollars for something that falls from the sky for free?”
“I don’t see it falling from the sky,” the annoyed vendor said, looking up. “Do you?”
“How about I take a walk over to that water fountain for free then?” Paulie said, pointing. “That OK with you?”
“Fine,” the vendor replied. “Walk all the way over there and get a sip of piss-warm water from the spout some kid had his mouth all over.”
“This is a buck and change in the store you know,” Paulie said.
“Then go to the store and buy it yourself,” the vendor said. “I’m trying to run a business over here.”
“How much are you chargin’ for water at’cho booth?” Da’Quarius asked.
Paulie looked at Da’Quarius for a moment and then turned back to the vendor. “Two waters, please,” he said, handing the vendor six dollars.
Helen followed Rose around the line of stands, looking for something for Helen to eat that didn’t contain clams or shellfish. “Maybe we should have packed you a lunch,” Rose said. “I didn’t realize that you couldn’t even get a hotdog here.”
“Clam rolls,” Helen said, looking to her right. She turned her head left. “Clam chowder. Clam cakes. I love clam cakes!”
“You’re allergic!” Rose said.
“The doctor only said I might be allergic,” Helen said. “That means there’s a good chance that I might not be allergic. Flip a coin. fifty-fifty. Let’s take a gamble.”
“No,” Rose said. “I’m not risking a trip to the emergency room so you can have fried clam and mayonnaise on a roll with lettuce. That does look good.”
“Go ahead and eat one,” Helen said, feigning defeat. “Don’t let me not eating clams stop you from enjoying yourself. Just let me watch.”
“Did I hear right?” a nasally voice asked. “Looks like Helen’s out of the clam eating contest this year, my dear Lee.”
“You friggin stunad, Harold,” Helen said, turning around to face her mortal enemy, Harold Fuchs. “I haven’t entered that damn contest in decades. If you’ll notice, my name is still on the plaque as the record holder for this particular contest, so you can fuck right off.”
“Not after today,” Harold said. “Lee has entered, and I have a feeling he can beat your record.”
Helen laughed. “Your girlfriend doesn’t know the first thing about eating clam,” she said.
“Don’t be so sure,” Harold said. “We’ve been practicing. The secret is in the swallow.”
Helen gasped. “And Lee’s a professional swallower!” she said.
“You have no idea,” Harold said, grinning maniacally.
“Hey,” Lee said in his lispy voice. “I take offense to that!”
“Calm down, Emma,” Helen said.
“Want to make a little wager?” Harold asked. “Might keep things interesting. There’s still time to register.”
Helen looked at Rose and than back to Harold. “I can’t,” she said. “Doctor said I may be allergic, and I’m not taking the chance.”
“Oh how you’ve changed,” Harold said. “If you see the real Helen, tell her that someone with a real set of balls is getting their name on her plaque. Rest in peace, Queen of the Clam.”
Harold laughed, walking away with Lee.
“Come on,” Helen said, taking Rose’s hands. “Get what you want to eat. I no longer have an appetite.”
“Helen,” Rose said, reaching into her purse. “I can’t let you turn away after what he’s said to you.” She handed Helen the EpiPen. “Take this just in case.”
“Rose,” Helen said, looking up into her eyes. “Are you sure?”
“Do it,” Rose said, smiling. “Teach those two how a real woman eats clam.”
Helen smiled. “With pleasure,” she said.
“So you see my point now,” Da’Quarius said.
“Nope,” Paulie said. “That’s not how I act at all.”
“Unca Paulie!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You did exactly what I did after I was done imitatin’ you!”
“I didn’t see it,” Paulie said.
“Da’Quarius!” Someone shouted. Da’Quarius and Paulie turned to see Da’Quarius’ teacher, Mr. Hessman, running towards them. “Thank God. I’m in trouble. I bet a large amount of money on a bocci ball game, and the bastard brought in a ringer.”
“Wait a minute,” Paulie said. “Is this the teacher that’s always helping you out?”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “But he usually has some ulterior motive.”
“Come on,” Mr. Hessman said. “They got some ginny named Luca.”
“Luca?” Paulie asked. “Luca DiGenovese?”
“I think that’s the guy,” Mr. Hessman says. “Does it matter?”
“It matters,” Paulie said, getting serious.
“OH!” Luca shouted as Paulie walked onto the bocci court. “Look who showed up. Mister Pizza himself.”
“Shut up and let’s play,” Paulie said, picking up two of the red balls at the end.
“This isn’t fair,” Luca’s backer said. He wore a light brown fedora, a red tee shirt and old jeans. “You brought a friggin ringer!”
“That’s exactly what you did, Chuck!” Mr. Hessman retorted. “You wanna do this or what?”
“Fine,” Chuck replied. “How about we raise the stakes? How does ten grand sound?”
“Ten grand?!” Paulie exclaimed. “You gotta be crazy!”
“Scared, Paulie?” Luca asked, chuckling.
“I’m not scared,” Paulie said. “But it’s not my money. What are you going to do, Hessman?”
“Can you beat him?” Mr. Hessman asked.
“I have before,” Paulie said.
“If I win; you can’t use my summer cottage!” Luca added.
“Ah fongool!” Paulie exclaimed. “You lost that bet years ago, and you’re not reneging on it now! Give me four weekends if I win, and you got a game! Double or nothing, numb-nuts.”
“Fine,” Luca said. “We gonna play sometime while I’m still alive?”
“Still your call, Hess,” Paulie said.
“We got a game,” Mr. Hessman said, shaking Chuck’s hand.
Lee waved to Harold, who was watching lovingly from the crowd. Harold was smiling for a moment, but then a look of horror came over his face. “Guess who took the last spot,” Helen said, sitting next to Lee.
“We have a very special Clamfest surprise!” the Contest’s announcer, Chico from the Chico and BJ Morning Show, exclaimed into his microphone. “The New Haven Clam Eating Champion, Helen Masters, has come out of retirement to defend her title!”
There was a large pop from the crowd as Helen waved.
“You really think you can beat your old record?” Lee asked.
“I don’t need to beat my old record,” Helen said. “I just want to make sure that you don’t.”
Plates of raw, whole-belly clams were placed in front of all the constants. Lee looked a little uneasy. “All that bragging about swallowing, and you’re still looking a little green,” Helen said. “Maybe you weren’t practicing on the right stuff.”
“Don’t do this, Helen,” Lee said suddenly. “I overheard you and Rose. You could die.”
“Are you going to quit?” Helen asked.
Lee looked back at Harold watching them. “No,” he said with a sigh.
“Then bring your A-game,” Helen said. “You’re about to learn why you don’t mess with a hungry dyke when there’s a clam eating championship on the line.”
Paulie rolled his last ball, knocking Luca’s out of the way and nudging up against the pallino. “Beat that!” Paulie said, pumping his first.
“I still have one ball,” Luca said, stepping forward.
“Ah shit!” Da’Quarius said. “And he admits it!”
“Quiet,” Mr. Hessman said. “This is a serious game with most of what I have in my savings account on the line. I don’t need them calling shenanigans if you taunt Chuck’s ringer.”
“Sorry,” Da’Quarius whispered.
Luca brought his arm back and forward again, rolling his ball towards the pallino and Paulie’s blue ball. If he could knock it far enough away from the pallino, he would win. The ball rolled closer, finally veering to the right and hitting the wooden edge of the court.
“FONGOOL!” Luca shouted. “This game is fixed!”
“How’s it fixed!” Paulie exclaimed. “We played on the same court. I can’t change the way it rolls when it’s not my turn!”
“You owe me ten grand!” Hessman said, approaching Chuck. “I expect it by Monday.”
“Fine,” Chuck said. “You suck, Luca. You’re helping me pay him.”
“No I’m not!” Luca said. “I just lost two more weekends at my summer cottage. I’m not paying you squat.”
“I’ll be in touch about my extra weekends, Luca,” Paulie said. “And you better not be there this time!”
“Good game,” Mr. Hessman said. “I suppose I owe you something for your help.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Paulie said. “Beating that no-good stunad is all I need.”
“Paulie!” Tony exclaimed, running over to the bocci court.
“Get back to the booth!” Paulie exclaimed. “Don’t leave Pimple Puss by himself.”
“You guys have to come see this,” Tony said, catching his breath. “Your sister just entered the clam eating contest.”
“Helen’s allergic!” Da’Quarius said, running towards the stage.
“Shit,” Paulie said, running with Da’Quarius.
“Are you ready clam eaters?” Chico asked into the speaker. All contestants had their hands flat on the table, waiting for Chico to give them the signal to start. He held up his starter pistol and fired one shot into the air.
The contestants started downing the clams as fast as they could. Helen let them slide down her throat as she already had the next one coming up from her other hand. She didn’t give a single glance to Lee or the other contestants as she did so, only concerning herself with what she had in front of her.
“What is she doing?” Paulie said, coming up next to Rose with Da’Quarius. “I thought you said she’s allergic to shellfish now.”
“She might be allergic,” Rose said. “There’s still a good chance that she’s not. Besides, I can’t let Lee try to take her title without letting her defend herself.”
“Helen’s hard as fuck!” Da’Quarius said, watching Helen down clam after clam, tossing the shells haphazardly in the bucket to her left for counting later. Lee took sideways glances at Helen as she gobbled up the clams, costing himself precious milliseconds as he did so. he put his well-trained throat to use as well, downing them as fast as Helen. None of the other contestants at the long table had any chance of beating Helen or Lee.
The vomit flew from the mouth of one constant as he flopped off stage. Both of the players sitting next to him gagged and had to bow out, crossing their arms above their heads. The rest ate, but none faster than Helen or Lee. The crowd around the stage was in a fury.
“Look at Helen’s neck,” Paulie said. “Something’s wrong.”
Da’Quarius and Rose looked and saw that her neck was turning purple and swelling. “Oh my God,” Rose said. “Da’Quarius, get one of the EMTs over there and let them know what’s happening. I should have never let her enter.”
Lee looked over, noticing Helen’s throat. “Helen,” he said after swallowing the clam that was in his mouth. “You need to stop.”
“Can’t take the heat?” Helen croaked. Her hand trembled as she brought another clamshell to her mouth and poured it back towards her throat.
“I’ll quit,” Lee said, crossing his arms above his head. “See. It’s not worth dying over.”
“Your empathy will be your undoing,” Helen said, reaching in her pocket. She pulled the cap from her EpiPen off with her teeth and jammed it directly into her jugular. She screamed, silencing the crowd as she pressed the plunger. She began pouring more clams down her throat as the crowd watched in horror. The EMT’s made their way to the front of the crowd as the bell rang out, signaling the end of the contest.
Helen was put on the stretcher as the clamshells were counted. They were prepping her for her trip to the emergency room when Chico picked his microphone up again. “We have a definite winner!” he shouted. “Winning this years clam eating contest by two clams and beating her old record by five: HELEN MASTERS!”
The crowd went nuts as the radio blared “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds. Da’Quarius snatched the trophy from Chico’s hands and brought it to Helen as she was being wheeled into the ambulance with a worried Rose behind her. Helen took the trophy and held it in the air as she shouted into the clear afternoon sky through her oxygen mask.
Stay tuned at the end of next week’s 90 minute season finale for a special Freedom Lane announcement.