How to cook a hot dog

When I think back on the glory days of my adolescence and young-adulthood — those magical years when we were all far more beautiful and brave than we had any idea of at the time — I don’t think about any particular athletic or academic prowess. I think about the hot dog skit.

Thursday or Friday nights at camp are beach supper nights, one of the last things to happen before everyone goes home on Saturday. We stay down at the lakefront for an extended swim in the afternoon and then it’s always the same: the cooks ride down from main camp, the truck full of hotdogs and buns, baked beans, huge coolers full of juice and water, s’more ingredients and sliced watermelon for dessert. Someone starts the fire and the campers slide here and there around the bleachers, trying to avoid the smoke as it shifts in the wind. There is a stick that is used to draw a circle around the campfire, inside of which campers Must Not Stand. And there is the hot dog skit.

There are always two of you: the safety-conscious one, and the idiot. Play the idiot; it’s more fun. Start in the boathouse and scavenge anything you can to make yourself look weird. Shove a tub up the front of your shirt or a beach-ball up your back. Gird yourself in three or four life-jackets, bedeck yourself in goggles and whistles and pool noodles and whatever is around. Put on a stupid, vaguely-German accent. Brandish your roasting stick as if it were Excalibur as you rush towards the bleachers, yelling that it’s okay! You have arrived! And now you will teach them all how to cook their weenies! (Never a hot dog: always a weenie. No, sorry: veenie.)

There is always a vague script to these things. The idiot puts the hot dogs on sideways; Captain Safety shows her how to put them on lengthwise. The idiot stands too close to the fire, puts her stick in the wrong place, sets her hotdog on fire (if she can) or drops it in the coals (if she can’t). Captain Safety blows her whistle in alarm and corrects all of these blunders. The idiot says veenie about six times per sentence because it never fails to get a laugh.

If you’re the idiot, you know where this is going and you are glad your stomach is strong.

You do it just like you did last year and the year before. You and your skit-mate have this down to a science now. After your hot dog has been set on fire and/or dropped in the coals, you drop it in the sand on the beach and give it a good stomp just to make sure all the flames are gone. But now there’s another problem: your hot dog is sandy. You look Captain Safety in the eyes — morituri te salutant — and then you dunk your hot dog in the lake. By this time there is a low rumble of dismay rising from the bleachers. Is she really going to –?

Oh, yes. You really are. You grab a bun from wherever you’ve put the props, or maybe someone hands you one. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you slam that bun where it belongs and then you take a big, slow-motion bite of your charred, sandy, lake-glazed frankfurter as eighty tweenaged girls cry out in horror. It is disgusting. It’s the grossest part of your week but you chew that sucker and since you’re already this committed, most of the time you swallow it too. In for a penny, and all that. Somewhere deep down inside you hope that you don’t pick up anything weird from the lake water, but you know that it’s worth it, just like it was last year and the year before, just to hear them scream.