Make no mistake. Tommy (Muskrat) Greene refuses to eat eels or bicycles.
But give him 288 shucked oysters and they'll vanish in less than two minutes. Set 220 snails before him; three minutes later, his plate is empty and he's looking around serenely for a beer.
Muskrat Greene, 45, a marina worker from Deale, Md., is a world-class diner. A man of stunning stomach capacity. The holder of two so-called gluttony records in The Guinness Book of World Records -- the latest a mere week old.
"Everybody's got a gift," said Sarah Burleson, a friend who works at the Skipjack Restaurant in Deale, "and Muskrat's happens to be his stomach."
Last week, Greene toppled the defending snail-swallowing champion, Englishman Peter Dowdeswell, in a media-blanketed chowdown in a London restaurant. Dowdeswell, also 45, claims a total of 244 world titles for consuming huge quantities of, among other things, pancakes, shrimp, strawberries, meat pies, glassware and prunes.
But Greene, who sometimes competes for speed and sometimes for quantity, quickly made mincemeat of Dowdeswell's snail record. When Greene swallowed his last sauteed snail after 2 minutes and 43.95 seconds, Dowdeswell's bowl still contained at least one-fifth of his 2.2-pound share. Dowdeswell later attributed his sluggishness to a stomach disorder.
For Muskrat Greene, the way to fame, if not fortune, has been through his stomach -- an ample mound under his knit shirt. He is 5-foot-10 and weighs about 230 pounds.
Greene was already well-known in Deale, an Anne Arundel County community of about 2,000, where he serves as the unofficial "mayor" and where he earned his nickname many years ago because of his love of water.
But now, with his London triumph, his conspicuous consumption is attracting more widespread attention -- and that's a little hard on a man who's more of an eater than a talker.
"I eat a lot, that's all," he said yesterday, sitting in a booth at the Skipjack.
Greene, described by friends as a good-hearted, somewhat shy man, has always had a healthy appetite, he said. The first of his five eating contests -- he is yet to be defeated -- came about in 1979 when a friend entered him in a District snail-eating contest for charity.
"I had seen him eat oysters and I had seen him eat lunch and I knew he could eat," explained the friend, J.R. Hvizda of Deale. "He didn't know what escargot was at the time, but he did it."
Greene has no special strategy in eating competitions, he said.
He does not starve himself before a contest, nor does he believe in psyching out his opponents.
He has never become ill from a feast, he said, and usually, after a cigarette, a beer, and a brief rest, he is able to begin contemplating his next meal.
"I've never felt any nausea during or after a contest, not me," Greene said. "My idea is just to get through it. Once in a while, I'll have a little heartburn and I'll have to take some Maalox. But that's just every once in a while."
After his easy defeat of Dowdeswell on the snail question, Greene is considering going after some of Dowdeswell's other titles -- but only if they involve food. Unlike other Guinness Book entries, Greene has no desire to eat bicycle or airplane parts. And he won't challenge Dowdeswell's eel title because he thinks the delicacy bears an unpleasant resemblance to worms.
But the spaghetti title looms tantalizingly. And the clam title. And the potato title. And what about the hot dog title?
Muskrat Greene's eyes light up at the possibilities.
"I like shrimp, too," he said.