Ketchup On A Hot Dog
Ricky Ginsburg - April 2006

"Cheeses' Christ; nobody, I mean no body, puts ketchup on a hot dog, Jackie. Fifty-seven freakin' varieties and you put ketchup on a hot dog. Please don't tell me you put mustard on your fries."
Jackie passed back a comment in mouth-full-of-food-mumbleez and nodded his head, once up, once sideways, trying to swallow.
"Ketchup on a hot dog. Wait, lemme guess... peanut butter and cream cheese. Am I right or am I right? You eat peanut butter and cream cheese. My gums are sticking together with just the thought. How the hell do you swallow it? I wouldn't eat peanut butter and freakin' cream cheese unless there was a paramedic nearby to Heimlich my sorry ass."

Jackie had swallowed and was on to his next bite before he had a chance to retort. He rolled his eyes skyward, twisting the rim of his baseball cap to get a better view, and shook his head quickly, from side to side. Phil tried to give himself a one-man gut squeeze just to see if it could be done.

Phil took a chrome-plated folding comb from the pocket of his lime-green Calvin Klein shirt and fixed his wind-whipped hair with a flourish before snapping it closed and stowing it carefully away. The three diamonds in his pinkie ring spun around their sterling silver raceway as he adjusted the shirt cuffs now hiding up the sleeves of his Armani. A musical barking from the sport jacket's inner left pocket put the conversation momentarily on hold.
"Crystal, what's up?..."
"He put the what?... "
"How the hell did he get a broom stick up?... "
"No. No. I was just havin' lunch with Jackie... "
"No, we're downstairs, in front of the building, on 31st... "
"Are you taking him to the doctor?..."
"McMurphy, on 83rd and Lex... ."
"No, I don't think he needs an ambulance. Did you pull it all the way out?..."
"Come on Crystal, he's your kid... "
"No. I'm sixty blocks south of you. It'd take an hour with the traffic... "
"The subway? Are you for real? Eight months; did you ever see me on the subway?..."
"I'll cut out early. I should be there by six... "
"No. Six. I've got enough paper on my desk to feed all the rats in the subway... "
"Yeah. Sure. Love ya, Crystal... "

Phil flipped the portable pain in the ass closed and took a bite of his taco. A professional street luncher, his eleven-degree forward lean let the overflow juices drip harmlessly away from his blue serge suit. Not one drop splattered the three hundred dollar custom-fitted Italian shoes. Jackie's cement court Nikes weren't so lucky. Several multi-colored splatters tinted the folds of his street-weary corduroys.

"You know at your age, you should start thinkin' about droppin' some of that extra weight, Jackie. Scharfin' down your lunch from a hot dog vendor on a daily basis is just askin' for trouble. My old man used to eat that greasy sausage and onion sandwich with the three-week-old sauce from the guy with the wooden pushcart on Prince Street. Remember that guy? He always had a red and white bandana tied around his right arm like he was waitin' for a bullet to hit him, all ready with the bandage to go down and cover the bleeding. Man, that was some neighborhood back then. Remember the Tullio hit? Christ, six-thirty in the morning, the four of them sitting having espresso on a Sunday morning. Sunday morning - can you believe that crap? Who whacks a guy on Sunday morning?"

Jackie had, by now, purchased his next hot dog, and was bathing it in ketchup from a plastic bottle that hadn't seen the inside of a dishwasher since Nixon was in office. Across the street, a bank alarm clanged to life as two robbers, wrapped in trench coats, fought their way through a revolving door and into a waiting taxicab. A stream of small change littered the sidewalk, clearly identifying their escape route. The incessant flow of foot traffic paused long enough to let them through, and then swarmed to pick up the fluttering litter. Jackie was busy digging for his wallet and wondering when the bank had changed its name.
Several blocks north, the scream and honk of what should have been the first police car on the scene was getting louder. The hot dog vendor, oblivious to the commotion, quietly cursed Jackie in a language that only another hot dog vendor would be able to translate, as he made change for a fifty-dollar bill. He stuffed the currency down the front of his pants and turned up the volume on the transistor radio, duct-taped to the awning of his cart.

Phil's sport jacket tinkled to life.
"Crystal. Where are you? What the hell is all that noise? I can barely hear you... "
"How bad is it?..."
"No. No. I never heard of that... "
"Close the window and say it again... "
"How many?..."
"Where'd he get them?..."
"No. Not my stash. My shit is in the trunk of the Lexus... "
"But why would he put a broom stick?..."
"No baby, I'm not bein' funny... "
"Crystal, CRYSTAL! Calm down. Tell him to take you to Lenox Hill on 77th. I'll call Dr. McMurphy and let him know... "
"Yeah. Yeah. All right. I'll be uptown as soon as I wrap things up down here... "
"Yeah... "
"No. No. You don't want to go to Bellevue. You'll be stuck there all night... "
"Fine. Love ya... "

With the arrival of the third and fourth police cars, the clattering bronze alarm across the street was finally silenced. Jackie stuffed ketchup-stained singles into his coat pocket with his left hand and the dripping hot dog into his face with the right. Phil leaned into him, adding taco juice to give the mess on the sidewalk at their feet an international flair.

"Look at you. Jackie we've known each other since man was walkin' on his knuckles. You used to be thin like me. What are you doing to yourself? And it ain't just hot dogs and ketchup or peanut butter and cream cheese sandwiches that are killin' you. When were you at the gym last? You roll that fat ass down a flight of stairs and sit on that stinkin' subway car with all the other fat people in the world and it's startin' to rub off on you. When was the last time you walked to work? And work? You call sittin' on your ass and punching keys for eight and half hours, work? You're on your ass in the house. You're on your ass in the subway, and then you're on your ass all day long. Your ass is the only muscle gettin' any exercise. And then you eat this garbage every day? One of these days you're gonna vapor-lock and it's gonna take one of Petrullio's cranes to drag your two-ton ass out of that apartment."

Jackie had managed to drink at least two gulps from his Diet Fresca, wipe some of the ketchup from the dimple on his chin and suspend the hot dog on the back of his wrist. With the next bite, a piece of hot dog bun slipped free and plummeted to the sidewalk.
His first instinct was to put the soda can on the vendor's truck and bend down to retrieve the morsel, but a threatening glance from the vendor canceled that plan. Instead, he kicked the piece of bun under the vendor's polished chrome cart. The vendor, who hailed from a country where soccer was never a minor league sport, blocked the kick, and instead bounced the chunk of bun off Jackie's left leg. A fresh ketchup stain marked the score as the piece slipped into the gutter to be retrieved by a small flock of anxious pigeons. The vendor adjusted his hair net and checked his bowling shoes for debris.

The five remaining police cars froze the traffic for a seven-block radius while the bleating horns and cursing drivers urged the officers to investigate the robbery after rush hour. None of them used that bank, anyhow. The vendor doled out Jackie's last hot dog and was last seen rolling his cart down the avenue seeking less annoying customers.

Jackie swallowed and took a breath. Phil flipped the phone open again.
"What? Stop crying... "
"What? Damn it, Crystal I can't understand a word you're saying... "
"The taxi cab is stuck where?..."
"No. I don't know what's going on. Why are you all the way downtown?..."
"No, honey, I said Lenox Hill. Does the driver speak English?..."
"No. No. Don't put him on the phone... "
"Okay, Okay. I hear you! You're only six blocks away. I'll meet you at the Emergency Room... "
"Yeah. I've got my card. Don't worry about it... "
"Tell the driver I'll pay for the mess... "
"Okay. Calm down. I'm on the way... "
"No. It's only me and Jackie... "
"Crystal says 'hi', Jackie."
Jackie nodded his head and smiled just enough to prevent the food from leaving his mouth.
"Okay. Love you, baby. I'll be right there... ."

Phil snapped the phone shut and dropped it in his pocket. "Listen, I've got to head over to Bellevue. You wouldn't believe what Crystal's kid did this time. It's always nice seeing you, man. But you gotta work on that weight. Get healthy, get fit, you'll live to be a hundred."

He spun, as if at the end of a fashion runway, and strode across 31st street. Jackie swallowed his final bite of lunch, washing the bun and sauerkraut down with the balance of his soda. Shoving a cloud of urban gravel behind it, the last police car roared away from the curb, lights flashing, donuts dropping, heading toward another midtown emergency.
A yellow taxicab with a broomstick extending from the rear window slammed into Phil, tossing him into a crowd of people with extra change in their pockets.
Crystal screamed.
Jackie burped.

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