The event had the appeal of being only for if-you-know-you-know locals. Its location was described only as “that abandoned pier near Walmart,” and many saw the quest as somehow expressing something quintessentially Philly — just a regular working-class guy gutting it out, quite literally — at a moment when the city needed a boost.
But it isn’t clear that rallying a city was what Tominsky set out to do. The City of Brotherly Love’s inscrutable talisman never seemed to articulate a clear answer to a central question about his spit-roasted mission: For the love of God, why?
He wasn’t trying to prove a point, like a latter-day Morgan Spurlock (the guy who ate McDonald’s for a month and documented its ill effects for the documentary “Super Size Me”). And he’s no Don Gorske, the man from Fond du Lac, Wis., who has eaten a Big Mac every day for more than half a century out of sheer love for the Golden Arches’ signature burger. In several interviews, Tominsky revealed he wasn’t much of a poultry fan. “I hate chicken,” he said in a local TV news interview. He wasn’t getting paid. (Purdue offered him free chicken. He rejected the offer.). And he didn’t lose a bet.
I had hoped to put the question to him myself, but Tominsky on Monday said he was “a bit too overwhelmed” to talk.
And so I scoured other interviews in search of clues. “Why do this?” a reporter from local news outlet Billy Penn (reasonably) asked in the lead-up to the big event. To which he offered a strange response: “It seemed like the right thing to do.” When the interviewer pressed him, his answer was even more Yoda-esque. “I’m not sure how it started,” Tominsky said. “It’s hard to understand how it manifested.”
To the New York Times, he suggested he wanted to bring others joy by experiencing pain — and judging from his facial expression in the photos he posted, that’s just what was happening.
But for someone setting out to entertain, he seemed to discourage merriment. “THIS IS NOT A PARTY,” read the flier announcing his event at the pier. So was it all a prank? An elaborate art project?
Whatever it was, even without calling it a celebration, the event might have worked in mysterious ways. Several hundred people turned out, according to news reports, and many following it on social media saw their own meaning in Tominsky’s experiment.
Some reveled in the Philly-ness of it all. “Yea, we lost 2 championships in one day,” one tweeted. “but the next day? we celebrated a man eating his 40th rotisserie chicken in 40 days at an abandoned pier behind walmart. you can’t keep Philly down.”
And for others, the lack of a point seemed like the point. “I feel like the rest of American society has turned into a kind of dystopian, capitalist, meaningless, soulless hellscape,” one attendee told a Billy Penn reporter. “So we’ve all become nihilists. And something like this — that’s not done with a profit motive, or really any meaning at all — is refreshing.”
Tominsky remained enigmatic even in his moment of triumph. When he polished off his final bite on Sunday, he gestured for the crowd to stop its chants of “He-ro! He-ro!”
“I’m no hero. I’m but a man,” he said. “I ate the chicken. I did the best I can. I just thank you all for being here, and thanks for watching me consume.”