The Hotdog

An obsessive-compulsive straightener and organizer by nature, I like to occasionally attack the files in my computer--pulling them from their neatly-arranged folders and re-organizing them in some new and hair-brained way. (This shiny, improved organization system usually only lasts a few weeks, as I generally return the files to their previous conditions, only to repeat the process indefinitely whenever the mood strikes.)

During my latest "spring cleaning," I uncovered this little essay, a piece called "The Hotdog" that I wrote during the summer of 2007. It's a little clunky and outdated--as my writing style has thankfully developed quite a bit during the past four years--but it's still kinda entertaining, so I thought I'd include it. (Once you have finished reading, please check out my disclaimer under my "Comments" section. The event portrayed here actually took place during the Fourth of July 1999, and MANY things have changed since then! :))

Photo Courtesy of Chasqui (Luis Tamayo)

A glob of ketchup wobbled unsteadily on the corner of the hotdog’s paper wrapper. Streaks of mustard and relish bulged at its edges as I watched the man bring it to his lips.

Quivering once, and then twice, the ketchup blob teetered. Unaware, the man smiled, his eyes blurred through a haze of beer and cigarettes.

A vague feeling of revulsion materialized in the pit of my stomach as I watched the man grip the hotdog like a prize trophy. Guiding it toward his mouth, he wrapped his lips around its sesame seed bun and bit down hard.

It was like slow motion.

The ketchup blob catapulted off the edge of its wrapper and plummeted downward. Several red globules burst apart and scattered in mid-air.

Like tiny red missiles, the globules streamed toward the man’s white tank top. I blinked and watched with detached amusement as the first one made impact. It was soon followed by the rest, splattering and cascading in gooey rivulets down the front of his shirt.

For an instant, everything stopped. The hotdog lingered, half-chewed, in the man’s mouth. His companion hesitated, her cigarette poised sideways in her fingertips. Grey ash accumulated as it smoldered, and I suddenly realized I was holding my breath.

In the space of a heartbeat, the situation was over.

A sudden breeze scattered the cigarette ash in the wind, and a pair of seagulls squawked as they glided overheard. The man swallowed, shifting the remaining hotdog away from his lips.

Assessing the condition of his filthy, ruined shirt, he reacted surprisingly.

“Shit,” he said, his smile revealing one missing tooth and the remnants of sesame seeds at the corners of his lips.

Raising one hand, he wiped the stain with his palm and smeared it diagonally across his belly. Excess ketchup collected on the heel of his hand.

“Still good,” he said, bringing it to his face for inspection. Proud of his unique display of ingenuity, he smiled once more and opened his mouth.

My feeling of disgust intensified as I watched the man’s mouth close around the ketchup in his hand. Like a leech or some sort of disgusting swamp creature, he siphoned the excess gunk off his palm, grinning in satisfaction as he savored its taste and swallowed.

I felt my eyes widen. Did the man honestly just suck tank top ketchup off the bottom of his hand?

Appalled, I scanned the crowded marina for another eyewitness. Although surrounded by sunburned Panama City locals and tourists, I couldn’t find anyone who seemed the slightest bit unsettled by the man’s public display of bad judgment.

Watching the masses—a chaotic assortment of BBQ vendors, guitar players and people in tents selling friendship bracelets, rebel flags and Harley Davidson t-shirts—I suddenly became aware of a nauseating tightness developing in my chest.

It was an unfamiliar feeling. Since infancy, I had attended every single Fourth of July celebration here without incident. My memories of this marina were usually fantastic: punctuated by sugary clouds of cotton candy and fireworks displays. But suddenly now—seventeen years into my perfect festival attendance—I felt something different welling up inside me.

At first, it was an abstract sensation. Hazy and indistinct, it hovered unformed in the back of my mind. Impalpable to my probing, it swirled just beyond my reach and stubbornly refused to take shape.

Little by little, however, the sensation began to materialize. As its edges formed, it became an emotion, a string of thoughts, and then a scattering of words and phrases. As it developed, the message gained urgency. Swelling forward, it surged, crested and burst into a simple, profound and undeniable truth—one that would alter the course of my life forever.

Shuddering, I tasted my words. Although startled by their acidity, I immediately recognized their accuracy. Scanning my surroundings, I swallowed hard and acknowledged my realization.

I hated this town, and I hated everyone in it.