Transition

 

The Hot Dog Man


Sometime during the late sixties the amusement park in New Haven became condos. I had graduated college and moved to Pennsylvania by then but I never forgot the summer nights walking the boardwalk "cruzin' for babes." There was simply no greater time to become a teenager than the early fifties. No civilization before or since in the entire history of the universe will ever have that opportunity to live American Graffiti. None ever had a better time. 

Actually the amusement park was a bummer. It was just a place to run '49 Mercs and '36 coupes against the latest technical brilliance from Detroit. We had genuine leather seats, wrap around windshields, lowering blocks and purple dots in the center of the tail lights. What more could a guy ask for? If we couldn't exercise our testosterone in a meaningful way (that being a rare enough happening) we could just love our cars.

But there was one other thing about the amusement park that I will never forget. I received an important initiation into manhood there. It was here that I discovered what commitment and dedication to purpose meant. It was the Hot Dog Man.

I think his name might have been Frank but it's not important. He worked at Jimmies Drive- In. Jimmies was world famous for its hot dogs and fried clams.

Now I must say a bit about the fried clams here too. We are not talking the wimpy little ulcerated, undernourished, rejected strips of inedible and less digestible leathery insignificance that the world now knows as fried clams. These were New England's own precious secret, back before the sweet little things were over fished and poisoned by pollution.. The whole mass of juicy and bountiful protein, complete with full intestines and often sand, rolled in a secret batter and fried to various levels of perfection in semi-rancid lard. The large order was 75 cents. It came in a box like the one from the Chinese take-out. It comfortably fed two hungry teenagers stressed from hours of cruzin' for babes, with only a couple of good stories to show for it. Unimaginable gastronomic delight!

Actually I almost never ate hot dogs, except of course, for Miccalizzi's in Bridgeport...his whole stand couldn't have been as big as a Fotomat drive-in store. He wrapped each dog in a strip of bacon and grilled those suckers till they screamed. There was always a line there and his daughter was a knockout, but that's another story...back to Jimmy's.

In order to get the clams & dogs, we had to stand in a line that formed at noon and stayed at least fifty people deep till 2:00 am, seven days a week, spring, summer and fall and weekends all winter long. That line wrapped around the building and followed the counter to the order station for the last ten minutes or so. This is where Frank (or whatever) did his thing.

Basically, Frank flipped the hot dogs...but with a speed and accuracy that would make Intel shudder; with a slight of hand that would cower David Copperfield's magic.One could stand and watch this hyperactive, obsessive-compulsive wiener flipper until hypnotized into a lobotomy-like state. On a steaming hot grill, sweat sizzling and popping as it dropped from his forehead to the hot grill, this modern folk hero performed his act with relentless bravado. Armed with a razor sharp knife in his right hand, the blade now a well ground sliver of its original state, he would hold the dog with the fingers of his bare left hand, and slice the dog down the center leaving just exactly enough skin to hinge the two halves. He would race down several rows of maybe twenty dogs, whip back to the beginning and back down the rows flipping them over. Slice and flip, slice and flip, move, adjust, slide, twist, slice and flip, all in hyper-seconds. Never did I see him touch the grill with his fingers or reach to his side for the rolls. Rocking back and forth, shifting his weight from foot to foot in orchestrated rhythm, he would perfectly process maybe a thousand hot dogs an hour and you couldn't fathom how they ever got into the rolls but there they were. He was that good!

It was here that I learned that no matter what a man did, if he did it to the very best of his ability, he would make his mark. Frank was a silent mentor in my life and he never even knew me. Mentoring in our culture is all too often an accident. Although I respect the opinions of some feminist writers on the subject, there are simply many things a woman cannot teach a young man. He must learn them from an older man. I never needed to learn to flip hot dogs, but I did need to learn that every hot dog is important. One never knows who's watching and what some young man might learn from us. I think that as men we must realize that we are constant role models to the boys who watch us. We must always be aware that we are teachers, and just that awareness will help to make us worthy of the label.

Frank, I'm sure you're long dead of a heart attack, but just in case...I want you to know you made a difference.

© 2008, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at www.etropolis.com/coachken/ or www.etropolis.com/coachken/what.htm or www.etropolis.com/coachken/speak.htm or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.



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