Is a hotdog a sandwich? Why or why not? Show your work.
I never knew my grandmothers. I never knew, and never will know, what it is like to even have a grandmother. Growing up, I’d see other kids being picked up by their grandparents, or staying over at their grandparents house. Being watched and raised by their dad’s mom or mom’s mom. That was never any experience I had.
My paternal grandmother died when my father was just starting college. She died of breast cancer the day after my uncle’s birthday. My maternal grandmother also died of breast cancer just after I was born, living just long enough to know me, but I would never know her.
What I do have from my grandmothers is translated through memories. Mostly involving food. My father hardly likes to make or eat pork chops because his mother was a TERRIBLE cook, and he would tell me stories of having to fake enjoying the driest pork chops you could ever imagine during dinners, just so he wouldn’t hurt his mother’s feelings.
My mom passed down recipes that her mother would make her, most likely passed from her mother and passed down from her mother. Comfort food from the Italian side of my family. From the side that grew up on a farm, that grew up and lived creating their own resources, rather than buying them from a store.
And there, probably on the family farm, my favorite food was cooked over and over and over again in hot pans, sizzling away the years — hotdogs, cheese, and eggs.
The dish was simple: cut up and fry up a hotdog or two, throw in some scrambled eggs, and finish it off with american cheese. So comforting, so delicious, filling, and a dish passed down through generations. It was my absolute favorite meal as a kid.
One time in kindergarten, we were playing the “picnic” game, where everyone before you lists a food they would bring to the picnic and then you have to repeat all the others and add your own. I remember being so proud that I could successfully name the 10 or so items that came before me. My kindergarten teacher politely prodded as I forgot to add my own.
“What would you bring, Olivia?”
I didn’t know what to answer at first, with everyone in kindergarten judging so hard on everything you said and did at that age.
“I would bring hotdogs, cheese, and eggs.”
My teacher looked at me exasperated. We never quite got along.
“You can only bring one thing, Olivia. So what one thing would you bring.”
I didn’t understand what she was saying. Hotdogs, cheese, and eggs WAS one thing to me. It was the thing my mother plated for me on the weekends for a special breakfast. It was the thing she whipped up for dinner because breakfast-for-dinner was always so EXCITING and easy for her. It was one thing, and usually, the only thing, I wanted to eat.
I didn’t know how to answer my kindergarten teacher and she snapped at me again. Finally I said,
And the game moved on.
I pulled my knees up to my chest and tried to hide my tears.
The game may have moved on, but I never did.
The thing about hotdogs is there are so many opportunities with them. They can be savory, spicy, cheesy, hidden under chips, shared at a baseball game, or eaten quickly when pressed for time.
I remember how I used to eat hotdogs as a kid. I would put them in the bun and I would put on ketchup. That was it. My mother would always shake the celery salt over hers and I didn’t understand. My father slathered his with onions and relish and I never quite understood that either.
As I grew older and more curious, my tastebuds did too. I remember wanting to be like my dad. So I tried a little onion and relish. I remember wanting to be just like my mother, so I shook out a little celery salt.
And now my hotdogs look very different than they did when I was a kid.
That’s the thing about hotdogs. They can be different for everyone, yet hold the same weight, and emotion, and story behind them.
The first time I truly hung out with Mark Oshiro was when he came into our hotel room at Leaky 2013. Proma was reading a memoir called “My Little Red Book.” It was essays from comedians about having their periods for the first time.
When Mark came over, someone made a joke about him reading out loud to us from this period book. Mark being exactly who is he, said of course.
He flipped open to the table of contents and picked out the story that sounded like it would be the worst to read. “Hotdog on a String” it was called.
And that’s how I came to never look at a tampon the same way again.
Memories come with the weirdest associations, thanks to the way the human brain needs to connect moments and memories to give them a larger meaning. Tampons remind me of hotdogs which reminds me of Mark which reminds me how much of an influence he’s been in my writing which makes me think of Wizards in Space which makes me think of this essay and how one time at the Providence Public Library I told a first date about needing to write an essay about whether or not a hotdog was a sandwich.
We talked for a really long time about it. It was one of the best first dates I’ve ever had. When you get that flutter on the inside when the butterflies woke up and are trying to get out. When you feel like you finally found the piece of the puzzle you were looking for for the past 15 minutes and you even checked the box again to make sure it didn’t get left behind or fell on the floor. When suddenly your life starts to make sense. When you not only meet someone you could love one day, but someone that could be your best friend one day.
That relationship began and ended with hotdogs in the short time of 3 months.
The night we broke up, I had gone over to his apartment with every intention of ending it almost immediately. I wanted to walk through the door, say the worst four words in the history of four words (“We need to talk.”) Talk it out. Get hurt. Be strong. Leave.
But of course, that’s not how these things go.
I ended up picking him up from his parents house. As I rolled up, he was sitting outside waiting for me. He was wearing the volunteers shirt I brought back for him from GeekyCon. That sacred shirt that so many volunteers and friends of mine wear with honor. I never thought I would see him wear it. That it would be rolled up and pushed to the back of the drawer, and that his appreciation was just faked. Like the way he looked at Wizards in Space for the first time and quickly handed it back to me, even though he worked as a copy editor and printer for many years.
But those shirts are damn soft, and I knew I was in trouble when he opened the door to my car, GeekyCon logo in sight, right over his heart.
He had been on vacation. His hair was much lighter, and his skin was sun-kissed and glowing. He looked good. I didn’t want him to look good. I wanted this to be easy and I wanted the butterflies on the inside to die down, or just die, so I could do this as quickly as I could.
We started driving and he began to whisper-singing to Taylor Swift. This wasn’t going as planned. By the time we had gotten to his apartment, I already had him laughing, which was frustratingly a sound that I had become attached to, and this wasn’t going as planned.
By the time we were settled into his one-room studio, he was cooking himself dinner. He threw some hotdogs into a pan and set the heat to high.
By the time the hotdogs were cooking, they smelled horrible. Something was not right.
Throughout our short relationship, I was always googling something. Well, I was always always googling something anyways, but he was the first person that pointed it out to me. He told me he liked that I had an affinity for googling things, and that I was good at it.
He also pointed out that I get myself into the weirdest situations, to which I replied, “Everything about me is an ordeal.”
And if you know me, you know that to be true.
Google told me that when hotdogs are bad, they turn grayish, get slimy, and start to smell bad when cooking. Check, check, and check. His tiny apartment could not contain the smell, and this was not going as planned. It was already late. He hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t broken up with him yet. And I was running out of time and resolve.
He threw out the hotdogs and I knew that was it. He’d cook a quick bowl of pasta, and I would wait patiently while he ate. And even with the scent of spoiled hotdogs in the air, I’d finally ask.
“Is this going anywhere?”