Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why I'm a Hot Dog Fool

You know the saying "There's nothing worse than a reformed anything"? Well, it's true and the truth behind the saying is also the truth behind my obsession with hot dogs, West Virginia style.

It all started when I was about seven years old. I suddenly and inexplicably developed several food allergies all at once. It first came to my attention, and to the attention of my poor sainted mother, when I had a "Zero" candy bar after dinner one evening and within 20 minutes my lips and eyes had swollen up so bad that I couldn't talk or see. My mother, who was normally in complete control in any crisis, went completely berzerk and rushed me to the hospital. After questioning me for quite a while (and only "yes" or "no" questions because I literally couldn't speak intelligibly because of the enormous size of my lips) they deduced that I had most likely developed an allergy to almonds since that was the most likely allergen present in the food I had eaten that day. They gave me a shot of Benedryl and sent me home.

Over the next few months I discovered all the things I couldn't eat anymore. Not only did I find out that I couldn't eat almonds, but walnuts, hazlenuts, pecans, peanuts and peanut butter where all now taboo. Unfortunately most of these discoveries were accompanied by a trip to the ER at Charleston Memorial Hospital. I was told simply that I could not eat these things that I loved so much, and perhaps I could never eat them again. Ever. Forever is a long time for a 7 year old. My doctor did say that it was possible that I could "grow out of my allergies" someday but I discounted it. He said I would likely be in my twenties before that could happen. "Twenties! Might as well be in the hundreds," I thought.

I also develeped one non-nut allergy, but more about that later.

Now I really loved to eat nuts, but I knew that I could do so no longer. Even at age 7 or 8 I understood that eating nuts could kill me and therefore it was fairly easy to stay away from them (even though one of my family's holiday traditions was to have bowls of mixed nuts sitting around the house with sets of nutcrackers and nut picks so guests could help themselves). Being in general contact with the foods in question wasn't a problem. My allergies only manifested symptoms if I actually ate the nuts, so I learned to just say no.

Peanut butter was harder. How can you be a kid and not eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I can tell you, it's hard. How many times when having lunch with my friends at the school lunch table did I long to trade my cheese or bologna sandwich for a peanut butter and jelly, bananna or honey sandwich? How many times did I have to tell a friend's mom "no thanks" when she offered to make me a sandwich? I went from age 7 to age 25 without tasting the simple joy of a PB&J. What changed at age 25 you ask? I'll tell you: I couldn't take it any longer.

One day I decided that that I simply couldn't stand it any more, I had to have a PB&J if it killed me, and I knew it just might. So I took a prophylactic dose of Benadryl and I fixed myself not one, not two, but three PB&J sandwiches on white bread. I sat at the small kitchen table of my small apartment and instructed my friend to call 911 if I lost conciousness. I moved things out of the way so the paramedics could get me through the door and down the steps on a gurney. I was ready. After making all the preparations, pouring myself a glass of milk and a large cup of courage, I took a bite.

My allergies had always been so acute that even touching peanut butter to my lips brought an immediate tingling sensation and, in short order, swelling to the area. But after the first bite that day, either due to the Benadryl suppressing the histamine that my body was trying to produce or because I had simply "grown out of my allergies", I felt nothing. I waited for a few minutes then took another bite. Still nothing. So I began taking bigger and bigger bites and still nothing! I finished the first sandwich and simply wolfed down the second in about three bites. The third, though, was for savoring. It was for all the PB&J sandwiches I had been denied all those years. When I finally downed the last bite I felt truly satisfied, although I still feared the reaction that could send me into anaphylactic shock at any moment.

It never came. There was no reaction whatsoever.

Over the next few weeks I tried eating PB&J's again, first with the Benadryl appetizer, then without. I had no further reactions. It seemed that the mythical "growing out" of it had actually happened. I was liberated.

Next stop? The Peanut Shop on Capitol Street. Yes, I confess that I went on a nut binge. It was like I had to make up for lost time by consuming as many nuts of as many varieties as I possibly could. I bought almonds, cashews and pecans like they were going out of style. I made the October trek to Spencer and ate Black Walnut EVERYTHING. I tried all the exotic nuts I had been denied during my allergic period and I fell completely in love with pistachios, over which to this day I am competely powerless; I will eat them until they are gone or I am sick - or both.

Other than pistachios, though, I pretty much got over the nut obsession after a few years. I still love nuts and hardly a day goes by that I don't have a handful of some kind. I still love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I keep a jar of PB and a jar of J in the kitchenette at my office just in case I can't leave for lunch. But for the most part I'm just a normal nut eater now.

So, what does this have to do with hot dogs? Remember I said I was also allergic to one non-nut related food?

The other thing I was allergic to was coleslaw.

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