Thirty years ago I decided to stop working and start selling hot dogs instead.
This was about the time I graduated from high school, and the hot dog operation was central to my scheme to enjoy one of those epic and footloose final summers before adulthood that don’t exist in reality but are the basis of many cheesy movies starring actors named Corey.
My parents were skeptical in the way that only the parents of a 17-year-old boy can be.
Of course they were right.
My brief career as a small business owner in the summer of 1988 was not an abject failure.
But that’s only because people really like hot dogs and often are not particular about where they acquire them.
If you’re hungry enough, it seems, you’ll eat a hot dog — a product with somewhat unsavory origins anyway — even if the purveyors are a couple of teenagers sitting in lawn chairs and listening to Guns N’ Roses on a portable stereo.
I had not a scintilla of business acumen, and only slightly more aptitude for finances in general.
Which explains why I had already enrolled in the Journalism School at the University of Oregon, a professional path with meager prospects for fortune but compensates for this shortfall by also offering little opportunity for fame.
My friend and business partner, Tim Lindemann, who was also graduating from Stayton Union High School, was much more savvy and responsible. These qualities probably kept our enterprise afloat a couple weeks longer than it would have made it otherwise, although we were taking on water pretty much from the start.
And not only when the ice in our cooler melted.
The problem wasn’t with our business plan, a dilemma we avoided by not having one.
Our main advantage was the portable hot dog hut we leased from the husband of one of our teachers. It was a fine piece of equipment, with a propane-fired heater that steamed the dogs, which any aficionado will tell you is the only proper way to prepare a frankfurter.
I had an idea about inventory control, except it was the wrong idea.
I figured that since we were buying our hot dogs, buns, chips and soda from one of those gargantuan discount warehouse operations in Salem that was like Costco but was called something else, we were actually saving money by gobbling one of our dogs or guzzling a can of pop whenever we wanted.
It seems not to have occurred to me that there was food at my house, and that I didn’t have to pay for it.
Never mind the wholesale discount on the hot dogs.
Although we towed the hut to a few events, including a Fourth of July fireworks show, most of the time we set up in front of the swimming pool in Stayton, which at that time had a population of about 4,800, many of whom, fortunately for us, were children who went swimming and had the financial means to buy hot dogs.
(And more importantly, the utter lack of guile that persuaded them to buy hot dogs from us.)
I’m pretty sure that if we tried that now we’d get booted off the premises within a few hours, if not by the real police then by the sanitation police.
I don’t mean to wax nostalgic and suggest that 1988 was a more innocent era, free of excessive government regulations.
But we managed to sell food and beverages to an unwitting public for several weeks without a single bureaucrat showing up and demanding to inspect our three separate basins, one with plain water and one adulterated with bleach.
Which was lucky for us because we didn’t have any basins.
I believe we offered napkins to our customers, what with hot dogs being prone to the occasional drip of mustard or relish.
(We did keep the condiments on ice, along with the hot dogs and the sodas. We were, as I mentioned, sometimes among our own best customers, and were no more interested in afflicting ourselves with explosive diarrhea than in doing so to our patrons.)
Along about the end of July, Tim and I admitted that at the rate we were accumulating profits neither of us would be able to afford a single textbook when we started college classes at the end of September.
Probably we would struggle to acquire the necessary pens and note pads.
We returned the hot dog hut and took jobs at the cannery in Stayton. I worked the graveyard shift. It was my first, and still my only, experience with working all night and sleeping — or anyway trying to sleep — during the day.
Although I made less money that summer than any since I started picking zucchini when I was 13 — a job about which I still have vivid and unpleasant dreams involving that most foul of vegetables — I remember those weeks running the hot dog hut with great fondness.
I have come to realize, with the perspective that only time allows, that it was the last time I felt that carefree sensation that a child feels when school lets out and the whole of summer, impossibly long and bright and warm and sweet, lies ahead.
As an adult I have on occasion detected the tiniest trace of that emotion, usually at the start of a vacation that of course is measured in days rather than in months.
More often, though, I am called back to that faraway summer by certain sensations — by the aroma of hot dogs, by the splash as a kid cannonballs into a pool, by a song on the radio. It seems to me now that GNR’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” played on an endless loop during those sunny weeks, interrupted only by something from Def Leppard’s “Hysteria” album.
I need hear only a brief guitar riff and I am propelled to that period, poised between adolescence and adulthood, a time when the pressures and pains to come were still secrets and so without meaning.
A golden time, it was, a time when all the decisions seemed to be easy decisions, and a hot dog was always just a few steps away.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.