Beware of the dog

I ate my last hot dog almost 45 years ago.

That is why reading is a dangerous thing. Not because reading can expose you to dangerous ideas, but because sometimes you can inadvertently anger the Processed Food Gods.

I have been a compulsive reader my entire life. Junk mail, cereal boxes, classified ads. If it was in print and within arm’s reach, I devoured it. And as a good reader, I soon left childish writing behind. Time magazine, Consumer Reports, Smithsonian, Reader’s Digest — my parent’s periodicals were fair game, and I read them all. These were not missives of corruption, even if my friend Jay and I studied the National Geographic photos a bit too intently.

But my world was about to change.

Consumer Reports ran a blurb about the FDA’s acceptable limits of contaminants in certain processed foods. While I was in fourth grade and couldn’t understand most of the details, the words I honed in on were hot dogs, fig paste, and a list of items no one would want in their food. Fig paste was not a problem, I didn’t care for Newtons and I didn’t see figs of any sort playing a role in my future. After all, figs were an old person’s food and I had no intention of ever being old.

But hot dogs?

Nothing was more interwoven in an American kid’s diet than a hot dog. I remember being caught eating them raw out of the fridge. But after reading that article, I made a solemn vow: No more hot dogs …

So what was there to lose?

Eating only potato chips at barbecues? Never being qualified to drive the Wiener Mobile? Being called a “Pinko Commie” by my future husband? These were risks I was willing to take.

What I hadn’t counted on was the wrath of the Gods of Frankfurters. They took notice and decided to curse my heresy. With a rumble of thunder that would make ole Zeus proud, these Weiner Deities took great delight in crafting hot dog havoc in my world. After all, I had betrayed them.

The revenge began early, weakening family ties. Assuming the human form of a hot vendor, a Weiner God persuaded my sister to make well-timed deliveries of Hotdog Charlie’s specialty. These were the Albany area’s answer to Michigans — three-inch Helmbolds topped with yellow mustard, chopped onions and a thin but meaty chili. My father loved them. To me, this seemed to be a clear path to heartburn; but alas, for my sister, it was a clear path to my father’s heart.

The hex intensified when I was pregnant with my oldest, Chloe. While some expectant mothers are burdened with morning sickness, my olfactory world turned into an endless aroma of hot dogs. Everything from bagels to bathwater smelled like hot dogs. My husband, my hands, my hairspray — all smelled of hotdogs. Perhaps I was delirious from the overwhelming odor, but I swear I heard spectral chuckles during this relentless onslaught.

When Chloe was born I thought the curse was broken, but it returns briefly every Fourth of July when my entire family watches Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. While I don’t think my kids will ever aspire to be competitive eaters, an oracle once prophesied that a future grandchild would be named Joey Chestnut.

Still, the gods haven’t finished with me. Bailey, my loveable mutt, is food indifferent, which made her difficult to train. The one treat she would respond to? You guessed it — hot dogs. For months I had bits of microwaved hot dogs stuffed in my pockets, stuck under my nails, and fermenting in my car. I would try other treats. No luck, Bailey only wanted hot dogs.

The final assault came one strange night during the COVID Winter. While my youngest was at hockey practice in Lake Placid, I took the opportunity to walk Bailey around Mirror Lake. In the dark region on the far side of the lake, Bailey suddenly lunged and gobbled. I managed to extract a chunk from her mouth … a hot dog.

We continued on our walk only to find another wiener; a few more steps, another wiener. Eighteen of them by the time I rounded the corner by the Mirror Lake Inn. Strange and a little unnerving. But not as unnerving as what was about to transpire.

Maniacal laughter spewed from a fast-moving car as the occupants waged an all-out hot dog assault. A shower of wieners. Raw franks bounced off my shoulders and rolled on the ground. Between my attempts to prevent Bailey from devouring the suspicious meat and my confusion at the illogical situation, I didn’t notice any details as the chariot sped away. Was it the Frankfurter Gods? I couldn’t be sure.

Despite this fogginess and the long years that have transpired since I last ate one, I did know something. Janet Riley, the “Queen of Wien,” got it at least half right in a 2011 interview when she said, “Hot dogs are meant to be enjoyed, not weaponized.”


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