The oppressive heat and humidity of a summer day in Atlantic City, New Jersey only serves to underscore to America’s most piteous place; a microcosm of greed-gone-bankrupt, a lesser Las Vegas to the East, a town full of casinos, empty Trump towers, used syringes on the beach, and boardwalk townies. Today, its latest oddity is the inaugural Chili Knockout and Spicy Food Festival, an opportunity to eat incredibly spicy food on a sweltering day. And maybe hear “Teenage Dirtbag” a few times.

When I arrive, the festival’s titular chili is nowhere to be found. Appropriately, discarded sample cups and plastic spoons litter the ground, stained a faint orange by the memory of tomatoes and spices, and the promise of future indigestion. There are also scheduled performances, and I am here to speak to Wheatus, the 2000 one-hit-wonder behind “Teenage Dirtbag,” about their continued endurance against all odds. But at the moment, a belly-dancing woman is tossing a flaming sword around a skeletal elk mount. When I walk away, the audience reduces by a third.

A woman belly dances and play with fire.
The agony of de-feet.

Across the street at a beer garden, Wheatus soundchecks—they’re headlining the festival’s afterparty, no more noble than the Viva Comet Awards in Germany or being featured on Rock Band 4. When they’re done, I meet them under an umbrella at a picnic table. There are six of them. (Six! Who knew?) I ask if they entered the chili knockout competition. They didn’t, but they are very into hot sauce. It’s on their rider, in case you’re curious what’s on Wheatus’ rider in 2022.


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