I walked straight ahead, looking neither right nor left in a darkened alley illuminated by a half-moon.
I quickened my pace, but there was no avoiding the shadowy figure.
“Ain’t gonna harm ya. Jus’ wanna sell ya somethin’.”
I hesitated, shaking. Stepping in front of me, he shoved a hotdog under my nose. “Ten bucks each,” he whispered ominously through his throat.
“Ten bucks?!” I asked, astonished at the cost.
“You want it or not?”
With Michele Obama (who chose to attack obesity rather than poverty, worker exploitation, or even hunger and malnutrition), supported by publicity-hungry legislators, hotdogs were the latest feel-good food to come under assault. A medical association whose members are vegans had spent $2,750 to place a billboard message near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The picture showed four grilled hot dogs sticking out of a cigarette box that had a skull and crossbones symbol on its face. An oversized label next to the box informed motorists and fans of the upcoming Brickyard 400, “Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health.” The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claimed that just one hot dog eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.
The Committee isn’t the only one destroying Americans’ rights to eat junk food. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which seems to come up with a new toxic food every year, once declared theatre popcorn unhealthy. Many schools banned soda machines. Back in 2011, McDonald’s reduced the number of french fries in its Happy Meal and substituted a half-order of some abomination known as apples. Even cigarette company executives, trying to look professorial at a Congressional hearing, once said that smoking cigarettes wasn’t any worse than eating Twinkies. However, smoking a Twinkie could cause heart and lung diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
Nevertheless, in Michele Obama’s second term as First Anti-Fat Lady, I was desperate for my daily fix of hot dogs, and my would-be supplier knew it. I leaped at my stalking shadowy figure with the miracle junk.
“Not so fast!” he growled, pulling the hotdog away. “Let’s see your bread.”
“I don’t have any bread,” I pleaded. “Not since a zoologist at Penn concluded that hummingbirds that ate two loaves of bread a day got constipation.”
“Not that bread, turkey! Bread! Lettuce!”
“I haven’t eaten lettuce in three years since the government banned it for having too many pesticides, and the heads that remained were eaten by pests.”
The man closed his trench coat and began to leave.
“Wait!” I pleaded, digging into my pockets. “I’ve got change.”
He laughed, contemptuously. “That’s not even coffee money.”
“I don’t drink coffee,” I mumbled. “Not since the government arrested Juan Valdez and his donkey for being unhealthy influences on impressionable minds.”
I grabbed for his supply of hotdogs, each disguised in a plain brown wrapper, each more valuable than a banned rap record. He again pulled them away.
“I ain’t no Salvation Army. You want ’dogs, you pay for ’dogs. I got thousands who will.”
“I need a fix. You can’t let me die out here on the streets.”
“If it was just me, I’d do it. But there’s the boys. They keep the records. If I give you a ’dog and bun, and don’t get no money, they’ll break two of my favorite fingers. I don’t cross nobody. And I don’t give it away.”
“Please,” I begged. “I need a ’dog. It’s all I have left to live for. I don’t care about colorectal cancer. Without hotdogs, my life is over. You can’t let me die out here on the streets.” He shrugged, and so I suddenly got bold. “Give me a ’dog,” I demanded, “or I’ll tell everyone you have the stuff. You won’t be able to meet the demand. The masses will tear you apart like a plump frank.”
“You wouldn’t do that to a guy just trying to make a buck, would you?”
“Two ’dogs with mustard and onions, and I keep my mouth shut. No ’dogs and I scream like a fire engine.” He had no choice.
Walking away, he stopped, turned back, and called after me—“Tomorrow. This corner. This time. Two ’dogs. Twenty bucks. I’ll see you every night.”
I didn’t reply. He knew he had me.