If you look up hot dog in the dictionary, the definitions seem innocent enough. It can be a person who performs stunts. Or it’s a hot, freshly cooked sausage (esp. a frankfurter) sandwiched in a split roll of bread.

They leave out some parts.

On the internet, if you query What is a hot dog made of?, you get something like this:

“Specially selected meat trimmings of beef and/or pork – just like the meat you buy in your grocer’s case – are cut or ground into small pieces and placed in a mixer. When poultry hot dogs are made, poultry trimmings are used.”

Okay. Let’s get real. Query Are hot dogs bad for you?

This part is a bit distressing. Legally, they are allowed to have levels of hair and insect parts including bug excrement. One hot dog is half of your daily recommended intake of salt. The processed meats and nitrates used for preservatives have been proven to cause cancer. The trimmings mentioned in the vanilla description above are quite a disgusting lot for an ingredient. I’ll let you look that up for yourself. And then there’s the meat milk shake AKA pink slime they use when squeezing the hot dogs into shape at the factory.

There’s other stuff you wouldn’t like either.

Nasty. Okay? But a lot of folks dig a hot dog. I oughta know. I’ve eaten more than my share over the years. Not all at once like skinny little Joey Chestnut. He’s what you would call a true hot dog stunt performer. He ate 70 hot dogs encased in water-soaked buns a few years back in a Nathan’s contest at Coney Island.

I don’t look down on Joey. I’m an admitted hot dog criminal with a long rap sheet.

In my defense, nowadays I pretty much stick to eating them once in a while at home and it’s Hebrew National which by all accounts appears to be one of the healthier hot dog options. There’s something to be said for Kosher.

Sometimes I just like them fried in a pan or on a grill with nothing else. Naked. But then I love a potato bun and some mustard and some sauerkraut. Onions. Maybe even some coleslaw. Perhaps chili. Hot dogs can take you places.

Hot dogs have magnetic tractor-beam powers. I’ve seen this in action.

Back in 2003, I stood in line at a street vendor cart with a big guy I worked with. He was a carnivore on steroids. At a Christmas party where everyone chipped in to order containers of Chinese, this guy went first in line to the buffet with his plate and proceeded to cherry-pick only meat chunks from the various entrees until almost none of the meat was left.

He sat down at a table with his mounded sagging paper plate and proceeded to chow down like he was on Atkins while the rest of us noshed on vegetables, rice and noodles.

We all stared him down with dagger eyes which he was oblivious to. It was the only time I’ve ever been in a room where I thought someone might be stabbed to death with plastic sporks.

So months later, I’m standing with this food hog at the hot dog cart on a sidewalk at lunch. We both order 2 hot dogs and they’re served to us on paper plates.

This guy and I used to get into political arguments all the time. We rarely agreed on anything and he could get just as animated as I could. I have a way of jacking myself up and taking others with me on the trip.

I have no recollection of what debate we were having at the hot dog stand, but it was spirited and he started waving his plate around.

One of his mouth-watering hot dogs rolled off onto the ground.

The look on his face.

Time froze.

He stared down in horror like a parent who’d just watched their toddler get hit in the middle of the street by a car.

If I had thought to count the seconds of silence that followed, I’m pretty sure I would have gotten to one-thousand three. Granted that’s only 3 seconds, but that’s a long time when you’re staring at a hot dog on the ground.

Still, technically, we had not crossed the 5-second-rule boundary when he in shock muttered, “That was my last 2 dollars.”

In a way this was karma for the Christmas party bullshit. I must admit a very cruel recess of me wanted to gloat. But I felt sorry for him because it was obvious he was devastated. Before I could say, “Hey, man, I’ll loan you a couple of dollars,” he went down.

I didn’t get past “Hey” before big guy unexpectedly did a very agile cat-like Re-run move, retrieving the errant dog, and returning it to his plate like nothing had ever happened.

When we sat down nearby to eat, he didn’t even bother to attempt a cursory dust off. He just ate it.

The tractor-beam effect.

In my 9-to-5 life, I’ve been working at the same building in Charlottesville for 16 years. It’s the longest we’ve ever lived in one place. At my work, I’ve seen them go through 3 different caterers placed in charge of running our cafeteria. This comes with mixed results. There are reasons why previous caterers were kicked to the curb. They’d had instances of stealing and not being sanitary. Dirt in the lettuce. They’d even had an instance or two of people being fired for choking each other back in the kitchen.

While the integrity of the caterers can be suspect from time to time, in my experience, it’s usually the customers I worry about more. The most famous one from our cafeteria history is known as “the hot dog man.”

One of our previous team members witnessed this personally. And she’s honest as the day is long.

Several years ago, we had a caterer that featured a hot dog cooking machine. It was a metal box with slowly rotating rotisserie-like cylinders inside. Coming off the cylinders were long tines. And on those spindles, the caterer mounted hot dogs that would cook under electric heaters and hot lights as they rotated around. The hot dogs were replaced as customers reached in and took the ones they liked the most, so after the initial cooking run, the hot dogs on the spindles were in different states of readiness.

Some people like their hot dogs actually burned on the outside. Others don’t. Different strokes for different folks.

So one day our team member is up at the grille waiting for a burger. Off to her left is the hot dog machine prominently displayed. She watches a guy come up and study the hot dogs as they turn in the heat. It is clear he is waiting for the perfect dog.

He stares. And stares. And stares. Our team member said he stood there for minutes deciding. And then he made his move. And when he did, it slipped out of his fingers as he pulled it from the spindle and fell on the floor. A heavily traveled floor by the way.

What to do.

I know. I’ll get another one instead.

But first, I’ll pick up the grungy one and PUT IT RIGHT BACK ON THE SPINDLE.

That’s why you have to worry about customers.

It doesn’t seem like it, but I think it’s been way over 10 years since I filmed my short METRO-HUNTERS which was a parody about white-collar guys proving their machismo by “killing” plastic-wrapped meat in supermarkets with bows and arrows.

You had to be there. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. We filmed over a couple of weekends with a handful of people I’d bonded with in acting classes. One of our greatest actors in that piece was a guy who would tell you he’s a little OCDC. In the story, people who want to be a supermarket hunter have to pass an initiation which consists of shooting a package of franks in a grocery store and then drinking the juice from the arrow hole.

I went to the actor and offered to drain the real hot dog juice out of the package and replace it with water. Even with that concession, it still made you throw up in your mouth a little.

Nope. He was a method guy. As abhorrent as it might be, he was determined to drink the real juice from the package and grin triumphantly into the camera, which he did pricelessly in one take.

Even though it was worthy of Joey Chestnut, I would have retched.

But he was a trooper.

How many people can smile after drinking bug piss?

It’s okay.

Just put some mustard on it.