Last night, my twenty-two-year-old son, Matt, reminded me of the meanest thing my mother ever did to me. He asked, and I quote, “Remember that Christmas when Granny bought me that hotdog cooker?”
It was decades ago, but I could not suppress a shiver.
“Yes,” I said, cautiously. “Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering,” he said.
Later, when he wasn’t around, I told my wife, Marianne, about our conversation.
“The hotdog cooker!” she hissed. “He didn’t ask for it did he?”
“No,” I assured her. “He only wanted to know whether or not I remembered it.”
“Remember it?” she said, placing the knuckles of her had to her mouth. “Who could forget it?”
“I know I never will,” I said.
“You didn’t tell him where it was, did you?”
“Absolutely not!” I said. “What kind of idiot do you think I am?”
“Let’s not answer that,” she said. “I only hope he doesn’t ask for the hotdog cooker.”
What possessed my mother to buy our son a hotdog cooker I will never know. Later, Mom said she saw it in a store and figured he’d like it. “Like” would not begin to describe things.
I remember clearly that Christmas Eve at my parents’ house those many years ago when he tore open the wrapping and he laid eyes on the vile contraption for the first time.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s a hotdog cooker,” Mom told him. “It’s real, too. Just like the ones you see in the stores.”
It was an innocent enough looking device considering all the misery it caused. It was a bright, cheery red on the outside with a black interior. It was about the size and shape of two shoeboxes sitting side-by-side. There was a see-through plastic cover on top. Inside the thing was six rollers. They heated up when you turned the device on. You placed a hotdog between a set of rollers and they slowly spun the hotdog around cooking it.
He went absolutely ape over it.
“Can we get some hotdogs tonight and cook them?” he pleaded.
That night, despite having eaten at my parents’ house, we ate hotdogs.
Christmas morning, after the presents were opened, he announced he was going to make breakfast for everyone. Little did I know it was the first of many mornings where I would ask, “Okay, what do you want on your breakfast hot dog?”
Guess what we had for lunch?
As the days pressed on we prepared our usual daily meals, but somehow, someway, hotdogs were frequently added to the menu. His eldest sister began referring to him as “the Hotdog Chef.” It was not a term of endearment.
Over the following months we set the Guinness Record for hotdog consumption. At least it seemed that way. Vendors at our county fair didn’t sell as many hotdogs as we ate. I told my wife, Marianne, I expected a letter from the Oscar Mayer family any day thanking us for putting some of their relatives through college.
Every time Marianne or I came back from the grocery store, we were confronted with the same question: “Did you buy hotdogs?”
I tried a tactic where I didn’t just bring home hotdogs, but wieners of all varieties. Italian sausages. Polish sausages. If Latvia came up with a sausage, I bought it. Anything to break up the monotony of the common hotdog.
It helped for a while, but at the end of the day, when you’ve eaten enough of them, a hotdog is a hotdog. In fact, not only do you get tired of eating hotdogs, but you don’t even want to smell them cooking anymore.
“Open a window,” someone would say. “He’s cooking hotdogs again.”
The hotdog cooker was tearing the family apart. In an act of mutiny, his two older sisters openly rebelled.
“We’re sick of hotdogs,” they whined.
“That’s not what I asked you,” I’d tell them through quivering lips. “What do you (gag) want on your breakfast hotdog?”
At one point, I actually toyed with the notion of destroying the hotdog cooker. The problem was how to sell its demise to the boy. I ran one scenario after another through my mind in my attempt to hone the perfect explanation. “I don’t know what happened,” I would tell him. “I was up on the roof with the hotdog cooker and it slipped out of my hands somehow.” Or maybe, “I don’t know how the lawn mower ran over your hotdog cooker. Accidents like that happen all the time.”
“I’m not about to stand aside and let you do something as cruel as destroy a seven-year-old boy’s hotdog cooker,” she said when I confided my dark secrets to her. “Maybe we could fake a burglary.”
Despite the suffering it caused, we simply could not bring ourselves to get rid of his hotdog cooker. He loved it too much. He even loved the hotdogs. He never tired of them.
Mercifully, as with most things, his love affair with the hotdog cooker eventually diminished. One night, under the cover of darkness, I smuggled it out of the kitchen and secreted it away behind a bunch of junk in our lawn building. I planned to keep it close by in case he asked for it.
“Do you think he noticed the ‘you know what’ is missing?” Marianne whispered. We mutually agreed never to speak the actual word “hotdog cooker” again, lest some bad mojo brought it back.
“Not yet,” I whispered. “We might in the clear.”
We were. Days passed. Then weeks. No mention of the hotdog cooker.
Over time, we even managed to eat a hot dog every now and then without any questions about the location of our hotdog cooker.
I forgot to throw it away.
Then decades later, out of the blue, he asked about it and the dread returned as if it had never gone away. Did I remember the hotdog cooker, he asked. Did I remember the hotdog cooker? It was all I could do to not laugh hysterically. I’ll never forget the hotdog cooker!