working life at home
adventure into the fridge
hot dogs for dinner
I had hot dogs for dinner the other night.
I like to think I am a pretty good cook and can pull off a good meal anytime anywhere but the other night I just didn’t feel like it.
The wife was out and the boys weren’t interested.
I looked in the fridge to see what sandwich I could pull together.
With covid and working from home it will hit me that I haven’t been out this room for hours, maybe days or even weeks.
I need to move.
I need to do something.
I need adventure.
So I look inside the fridge.
It is the big adventure for the day.
A package of hot dogs caught my eye.
I heated up three in a pan of water.
The adventure for the day got that much better.
I cannot eat hot dogs without thinking of my days at Crestview Elementary School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Specifically I cannot eat hot dogs with thinking of my friend John and Crestview Elementary School.
I cannot eat hot dogs without the image of my friend John walking down the the main hallway of Crestview Elementary with a hot dog, just a hot dog mind you, no bun, in each hand.
I wonder what type of machine it would take to eliminate that image from my mind.
Maybe my first sign of alzenheimers will be if I eat a hot dog and don’t think of John.
I see John in my mind when ever I eat a hot dog, either at the ball park, at the beach, and at the local gas station with its rollers of hot dogs of indeterminate age being offered to the public.
(Okay so I don’t eat gas station food, but when I look at those rollers, I think of John.)
The elementary school I attended when I was kid was designed, built and run on a daily basis without a lunchroom.
Non of the schools in Grand Rapids were.
They were neighborhood schools.
Schools built in a neighborhood.
Where students WALKED to school.
And where students were expected to WALK home for lunch.
Once a month we GOT to have lunch at school.
For us, eating lunch at school was a priveledge.
It was a party.
Well, it was a party from our point of view.
We never asked out teachers what they thought.
But I am sure that they loved it.
It was a hot dog lunch!
These hot dog lunches were once a month.
We all lined up and we were walked down the hall to the kitchen window were we were given a hot dog (or two if we had ordered two), a bag of potato chips, a tub of vanilla ice cream and a bottle of orange drink.
It was all so FREAKIN COOL!!!!
The ice cream came with a wooden … well … slat in the shape of flat spoon.
I could never use one without thinking I was going to get a splinter in my tongue.
The orange drink came in a bottle.
A glass bottle.
A glass bottle with a cardboard plug.
It wasn’t pop and it wasn’t kool aid.
It was orange.
It was a drink.
It was orange drink.
And that brings us to my friend John.
John didn’t eat much
John didn’t like food.
John didn’t weigh a lot either.
Neither did I for that matter.
As a testament to this, a few years later we were all at Riverside Junior High School.
I happened to be in art class one day and on that day we were drawing hallways.
In other words, the teacher got us out of the classroom and out her hair but giving us drawing boards, paper and rulers and said, go draw the hallways.
Me and a few other guys walked off as far as we could get and sat down in the empty hallway outside the gym.
We were all drawing away when the gym door opened and out came the Gym Teacher.
Just say that word out loud will you?
Tell the truth you wanted to use the bathroom right?
The Gym Teacher, whom it was rumored had been kicked out of the Marines for being too tough, looked up and down the hall way and then looked right at me.
“Hoffman,” he said, “what do you weigh?”
There were maybe 157 questions I was prepared to answer at that time but my weight was not one of them.
“Hoffman, YOU! What do you weigh?”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, 55, 60 pounds sir, maybe.”
At that time time I weighed the same I did in 6th grade, two years earlier, but was 6 inches taller.
Those jokes about running around in shower so the water might hit me weren’t jokes.
The Gym Teacher looks at me, an evil smile on his face, and says, “Get in here, I got some skinny kid needs someone to wrestle.”
If I had been told to walk across a room of hungry, angry rattlesnakes it would have been better than this.
God’s gift to kids to make sure they understood the law of the jungle.
The law that said skinny little kids with glasses were doomed.
Since moving to the South Carolina coast I enjoy swimming in the ocean even though the locals say if you go in the water, you become part of the food chain.
Hey, I have been on the lower links of that chain all my life.
The Gym Teacher at Riverside Junior High spent an entire month on wrestling.
At the end of the month, you had to wrestle a minimum of two times for your grade that marking period.
The only way to wrestle more than two times was to win and that was something that never ever ever occurred to me.
Three years of Junior High meant that in my life I would have to wrestle six times.
I figured I could do that.
I figured this out in 7th grade knowing I had two more years to go.
Like having the flu, it couldn’t be avoided just lived through.
But I could do that six times.
Now fate was NOT throwing me under the bus.
Fate WAS the bus.
And I was in the way.
The Gym Teacher looked at me until I stood up.
I said I had to draw the hallway.
The Gym Teacher said the hallway would be there when I got back.
He knew this wouldn’t take long.
I looked at him.
He looked at me.
I felt like a French aristocrat being led to the guillotine,
All you can do is get it over with.
I walked through the doors and into the gym.
The gym class, all in gym clothes, looked at me as if I was the funniest thing that ever happened.
Years later, I agree with that.
It was pretty funny.
The Gym Teacher needed a skinny kid and found me.
I can still see that gym
That marvelous amazing expanse of polished hard wood.
The huge American flag that seemed to be on loan from Fort McHenry.
I could not look at that flag without seeing the red stripes that represented the blood shed so that little skinny kids like me could be free.
Free to go to gym class and wrestle.
And there, in the center of mat, waiting for HIS fate, was my friend John.
John didn’t like hot dog buns.
John didn’t like ketchup or mustard.
When John got his hot dogs they were just hot dogs.
Naked hot dogs.
Wrapped in the waxy paper that you had in lunch rooms.
John carried them vertically, straight up.
I can see it as clear in my mind as clear as the view out the window.
It was like John had the handle bars of a harley locked in his grip as he went down the hall.
John carried those hot dogs, one in each hand, back to classroom.
John’s Mom was one of the ladies who prepared the hot dog lunch which is most likely why John got away with two naked hot dogs.
This also may have been the reason John’s Mom was always part of the group of Mom’s that made the hot dogs.
To make sure John got his naked hot dogs.
Then we ate at our desks.
I remember how for the first time for many of us we saw how other people ate.
Sure we ate in restaurants but who watched how people ate when you were at a restaurant.
At hot dog lunches I watched.
I watched how other people put some ketchup on their waxed paper and dipped their hot dog in it.
I watched how some people used just ketchup and some people used just mustard and some, like me, used both but some, unlike me, mixed the ketchup and mustard haphazardly on the hot dog instead of making two distinct lines.
Then there the people who ate all their hot dog and then ate all their chips instead of alternating bite of hot dog and then a few chips and then another bite of hot dog and then some more chips.
I was sure this is what people meant when they talked about a balanced diet.
And then there were crazy people.
I watched as these people crunched their bag of chips into chips and then, to my horror, stirred the chips into their ice cream.
To me, in the 60’s, this was one step to main lining heroin.
Who would do such a thing.
I very much remember years later on a date, my date got a shake and fries and once the food was on the table, started dipping her fries in the shake.
I must have freaking out flashed back to Crestview and the chips and ice cream or something because all my date could say, seeing the look on my face, was “What? What? What?:
We didn’t go out again.
Another thing that comes to mind is that at home we often discussed the finer points of Hot Dog Cuisine.
While we differed on almost everything, there was universal agreement that the hot dogs at Crestview Elementary School hot dog lunches were the best.
It was left to my brother Tim to decide that all you had to do to make a really good hot dog was boil about 1,000 hot dogs together at the same time.
Simple yet difficult.
It is amazing to me how much an easy way out of dinner can create so much to think about.
PS – so you are all wondering what happened in Gym Class.
To this day I cannot figure out how, but John won both matches.
I cannot remember for sure if I got pinned but I think I was.
For the record, and I have to include my sophomore year of gym class at Creston High School where we also had to wrestle for a grade, was 10 matches and 10 losses.
Four years of gym class plus the 2 matches from the hallway.
A perfect record.
That is how I remember it.
A perfect record and if no one asks any questions that’s how it stays.
One funny thing is that we went back to the art class and the guys I was with told the art teacher what happened.
She was so mad, she went down and balled out the Gym Teacher.
I didn’t see it but I heard that the Gym Teacher was so stunned that he was speechless.
I liked that art teacher a lot after that.
As an aside she had always been nice to me since she had held up a picture of a ‘collage’ and asked what was the focus point.
Most everyone in class yelled out that farmer and his wife.
I yelled ‘American Gothic.’
Also that Gym Teacher always said that if you gave your best, you would never get less than a C in his class.
By the last year of Junior High, when I was another 4 inches taller and still weighed the same, my wrestling matches set records for how short they were.
I have a distinct memory of laying on the mat and yelling PIN PIN PIN and GET ON ME YOU DORK to the guy who supposed to pin me.
I still got a C.
I think by that time, when it came to me, even the Gym Teacher was ready for the easy way out.