Sam Venable  

Special Contributor

I recently shopped for Fourth of July cookout supplies and made the stupid mistake of not realizing I needed a Ph.D. in food technology.

Things started going wrong as soon as I entered the condiment aisle. I wanted mustard.

You remember mustard, don’t you? It’s a tart, yellow substance applied to hot dogs. At least it used to be.

These days, you have to search diligently to find plain, basic, slather-it-on-till-it-runs-off-the-dog mustard.

First, you gotta dig through the spicy mustard, brown mustard, spicy-brown mustard, hot mustard, sweet mustard, hot and sweet mustard—I was starting to detect a distinct pattern by this time—Dijon mustard, Parisian mustard, honey mustard and honey-and-bourbon mustard.

Honey-and-bourbon mustard? Gag.

I like honey and I like bourbon and I like mustard. But I want them served the way God intended them to be served: individually. Some things are not meant to be combined.

Once, in the bar at the Lake Charles, La., airport, I watched a man mix Scotch whiskey with sweet milk and was relieved beyond description when I learned we weren’t on the same flight. Anybody who’d swallow a purgative like that surely had a bomb in his luggage—if not in his stomach.

Mustard proved to be only the start of my troubles, however.

I went to the bread department and attempted to pick up some plain, white, enriched-flour, hydrogenated-shortening, clog-your-arteries-and-make-you-fat hot dog buns.

They don’t live here anymore, either, thanks to whole wheat, oat bran, garlic, sourdough and low sodium.

But then I advanced to the meat department and started wondering if July the Fourth was worth the effort after all.

I asked the guy behind the counter where the hot dogs were.

“What kind you want?” he said.

“Whaddaya mean, ‘What kind?’ I’m not buying a car, pal. I want hot dogs. Plain, all-American hot dogs.”

He gave me one of those hoo-boy looks.

“I mean what ingredients? Beef?”

“Is there any other kind?” I inquired.

“Of course. We carry turkey hot dogs, chicken hot dogs and pork hot dogs, too.”

“Well, I, er . . . just give me the beef ones, and I’ll be on my way.”

“Not so fast,” he replied. “You want jumbo or regular size? Or were you interested in mini-wienies to serve in a sauce?”

“Look, Poindexter. All I want is . . .”

“Cheese-filled or plain?”

“Cheese-filled? You mean they pack hot dogs with cheese these days?”

The man gave me another hoo-boy look.

“Yes,” he said. “American or Swiss?”

Sweat began beading on my forehead.

“Hello? Hello?” I hollered. “Is anybody home? Baseball! Hot dogs! Apple pie! Chevrolet! Does any of this register with you?”

The guy didn’t blink.

“Eight hot dogs to a pack or 10? Zip-bag or shrink wrap? Regular or light? For the grill or the microwave?”

“Forget the hot dogs,” I said in defeat. “Just give me some chicken breasts.”

“Will that be skinless, boneless, marinated, barbecue, lemon pepper or Italian-style?”

Hoo-boy, indeed. You reckon McDonald’s will be open on the Fourth?

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at