I got the idea for this piece a couple of weeks ago when I was preparing for my planned trip to attend the Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago. In addition to the event itself, I was looking forward to spending time with some friends (Andrew Vachss, Mike Black, Zak Mucha, and Lou Bank, among others) I hadn't seen in too long.
I was also looking forward to getting re-acquainted with another old and dear friend --- a for-real, honest-to-goodness Chicago style hot dog. Oh yeah, I planned to spend a lot time with that old pal.
But then, as most of you know by now, a last-minute eye problem (essentially a stroke in my right eye that cost me most of my vision there, and necessitated some rather complex and ongoing treatments) prevented me from making the trip and kept me busy with other thoughts to occupy my brain over the past week or so.
Yesterday, however, as I was writing about my dad for the Fathers Day post I put up, thoughts of hot dogs again drifted through my mind.
Now anyone who knows me or has read any of my interviews where the subject came up, knows what a passion I have for Chicago style hot dogs … a commodity sadly lacking out here on the Nebraska frontier. (Side Note: I have to admit, though, that the Sonic fast-food chain in this area has begun featuring on their menu for the past couple years , a Chicago dog that ain't too bad. It's not the real deal but, when the carvings are strong enough, it'll help you make it through. Sort of like dating the okay sister of the really hot babe you'd rather be with.)
Anyway, the link between hot dogs and my father is simple: He, too, was a hot dog lover. His passion, when I was growing up, was always for "wieners with the skin on" --- i.e. hot dogs with a natural casing over the beef filling, so that when you bit into one and broke through the casing it would make a kind of cracking sound. No doubt they were good, but they were hard to find even back then and all the more so later on.
So I introduced him to Chicago style dogs and he grew to enjoy them almost as much as me.
In his last couple years of life, when he was in and out of the hospital a lot, I would frequently take him a bag of Chicago dogs when I visited him in his room of an evening. Sometimes he'd even request it. It wasn't on his recommended diet, of course, but he had so many different things wrong with him near the end that a few dietary no-nos weren't going to make a helluva lot of difference anyway. I never mentioned to the nurses on duty what I was smuggling in, believing it to be a classic case of "Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission" should the question arise.
The capper to all of this came a few years after Dad had passed away and my wife and I were at a clinic in the Rockford area (where Dad had spent a number of his hospital stays) for reasons related a health issue Pam was having. I noticed that one of the nurses who came in and out kept looking at me in a funny way and I realized there was something vaguely familiar about her, but I couldn't place why. I sensed she was having the same problem. You know how it is in such cases … nobody wants to be the first one to say anything in case the whole thing is a mistake.
Finally, full recognition hit her and she blurted out: "I remember now --- you're the hot dog guy!" It turned out that she had been on the hospital nursing staff a number of times when I'd made those covert hot dog deliveries to my dad. She went on to tell Pam and I how the aroma of the booty I thought I was so cleverly smuggling in would fill the corridor and then linger there, leaving her and the other nurses agonizing for hours afterward with a hot dog craving.
It was a funny little story that I still chuckle over when I think of it. I hope you get a smile out of it, too.
I guess I'd rather stick in the minds of pretty young nurses due to my dashing good looks and charm. But that ship left the dock a long time ago. So, what the hey, reckon I'll settle for being the "hot dog guy". There are worse things to be remembered for.