Friday, June 28, 2013

It’s no better to be safe than sorry

As I alluded to yesterday, we have some family coming into town this weekend: my Little Bro, his wife, my dad and his wife and my Little Sis are all due to show up on our doorstep some time tomorrow morning, spend the entire day (Little Bro and Mrs. Little Bro will crash in our guest room, while dad/stepmom/sis will overnight at a nearby hotel) and then depart some time pre-noon Sunday for their respective long trips back to upstate New York and Connecticut. As is the case with most families, the centerpiece of the visit will be dinner on Saturday, which I am planning on seizing as a good excuse to fire up the grill and cook up a herd’s worth of burgers and dogs, which gets right to the meat (pun gluttonously intended) of why summer is my favorite time of year.

The occasion of this extended family cookout has got me thinking of one of the (admittedly few) deprivations of my childhood: my parents didn’t let me eat hot dogs.

Well, they did and they didn’t. Let me back up. When I was little I was prone to bad headaches, not full-blown migraines but serious head-pounders that just made me want to put my head down (and sometimes throw up). To this day I don’t know exactly what caused them, maybe the earliest stages of my lifelong progression of allergies all up in my sinuses, maybe just one of those inexplicable things. At the time, they were simply unpredictable and totally miserable.

But my parents refused to accept that they were something which couldn’t be controlled, and if that meant latching on to anecdotal evidence, so be it. At least two times in my early childhood, a rager of a headache (and some attendant vomiting) coincided with eating hot dogs. I remember one of those pretty well because it happened at old Yankee Stadium when my dad took me and Little Bro to a day game in the summer. The sun was blindingly bright overhead, the day was scorching hot, and we were in the Bronx in the early 1980’s so I’m sure the air quality was something like crawling up inside the exhaust pipe of a garbage truck. But when I got sick and we had to leave the game early, clearly the culprit was the hot dog I ate.

Once is an anomaly, twice is a trend, and I’m sure there were more than two similar incidents. Nowadays I know perfectly well that correlation is not causality, and given that I was a little kid who was a picky eater but ate hot dogs all the time, and also that I got headaches all the time, the overlap of hot dog consumption and headaches was not particularly indicative of anything. But my parents convinced themselves that it was a clear cut if-then situation, and hot dogs were taken out of the regular meal rotation.

This kind of unilateral ban might have touched off a series of furious kitchen riots if not for the compromise enacted in the form of switching over to turkey hot dogs. Thus peace was maintained, but man, it wasn’t the same. And of course I kept getting headaches, now and then, but my parents simply maintained that I would have gotten more numerous and more intense headaches if I had been allowed unlimited access to old fashioned beef hot dogs. And so it went for many years.

I reckon just about everyone has moments in their childhood when they yearn for freedom from parental tyranny. When I grow up, I’ll stay up as late as I want! And never take baths! And have ice cream for breakfast! And buy lots of toys! And then of course we eventually see the glimmers of wisdom in the parental fiats that seemed like such unmitigated drags, and we do very little differently even when the opportunity presents itself. As such, you would think that once I got older I came to realize that hot dogs are really pretty much crap food and living without them is no great sacrifice. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong! To this day I love hot dogs and, while I don’t insist on a minimum weekly quota or anything, I do enjoy them more than is probably good for me. I count hot dogs among the top five foods I would miss so much that I can’t see myself ever going completely vegetarian. (Modern technology has yet to come up with a meatless hot dog which is anything less than an abomination.) And I will further admit that even now, decades beyond the age of majority, it feels like a juicy little taste of rebellion whenever I bite into a hot dog. I'm old enough to know better than to subsist on things that are inherently terrible for me, yet the temptation to do so is undeniable. And I buy (some of) the groceries now, and I (sometimes) buy beef frankfurters, and nobody’s gonna stop me. U!S!A!

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