The Craving: One Woman’s Salty Confession
by Mara Cohen Marks
Maybe the spring weather eroded my self-discipline. Or maybe the festive red-and-yellow umbrellas tipped the scales the day I was overcome by a sudden, inescapable craving for a dirty water hot dog. Heading up 3rd at about 48th Street, I clutched my husband by the wrist and pointed at the hot dog cart. “Come on, let’s get one!”
Surprised by my uncharacteristic impetuousness, Allan pushed out his lower lip in an expression of consideration. We sidled over to the cart. I was mesmerized by its decor — colorful photos depicting an array of hot dog-topping combinations. I could see I was in for a radical break from my salad-and-grilled fish habit. Allan raised two fingers in answer to the vendor’s raised eyebrows. The vendor plucked two dripping franks from the depth of his cart and deposited them into a pair of buns cupped in his other palm.
Then the vendor turned to me. “Mustard, ketchup?”
“A little ketchup. And mustard too, please.”
“A tiny bit of both, please.”
I shook my head. Negotiations concluded, the vendor swaddled the two hot dogs in foil, and my husband handed over $4.
Allan and I slipped past the pedestrians and perched together on the edge of a brick planter. The foil wrapper warmed my hand, a foretaste of the exquisite pleasure of the meal itself. I carefully peeled it back to reveal a culinary masterpiece.
Banishing thoughts of food-born illness and jiggly thighs, I took my first tentative nibble. The sponginess of the bun offset the ever-so-subtle snap of the casing. I chewed thoughtfully, contemplating whether my “kosher hot dog” promised a more healthful alternative to other pushcart varieties.
The meat itself was salty and slightly spicy. I took another bite. And then another. The taste was sublime. You did an hour on the elliptical machine this morning, I reassured myself.
Something primal within me had been awakened. Suddenly, I didn’t care what animal parts I was consuming or whether nitrates cause cancer. My jeans felt tight, but, frankly, I didn’t give a damn.
“Almost ready?” Allan asked.
Reluctantly, I eased the last inch of meat from the bun. I spread open the remaining soggy dough, vainly hoping to discover an overlooked morsel of meat. It was empty. I felt wistful, and a little dirty.
I played cool, though. “Delicious!” I declared brightly. Allan didn’t notice when I held my fingernails to my nostrils and inhaled the pungent perfume of mustard. But even as I rose to go, casually brushing crumbs from my pants, I couldn’t escape the undeniable conclusion. I was a woman possessed.
Walking beside my husband up 3rd Street, I was consumed by a single thought. The next hot dog cart, a Sambrosa stand came into view as we turned the corner on 52nd. “I want another,” I hissed.
Allan snickered, not bothering to break stride.
“Allan, I’m serious. I want another.”
Allan shot me a surprised look, but hearing the urgency in my voice, he shrugged and pulled $2 from his pocket.
“You’re not going to have one?” Allan’s self-control deepened the dismay I felt over my dietary lapse. But my craving had obliterated my restraint, and I devoured hot dog number two as if it was the first. Except I skipped the bun this time.
To tell the truth, what happened next is a blur. After polishing off my second dog, I recall glancing at my reflection in a plate glass window to see if my derrière had grown noticeably since I’d last checked. Maybe we stopped at Carnegie Hall to inquire about tickets. Maybe we took in a play or a couple of art galleries. The only thing I remember clearly now was an overpowering desire for another hot dog.
It was early evening when my husband finally suggested we get dinner. By that point, we’d made our way down near the East Village.
Allan recognized the name of an Italian restaurant across the street — a friend had recommended we try it.
“The pizza’s supposed to be great,” he said.
Images of sausage toppings floated before my eyes. Savory. Italian. Sausage.
Grasping to retain a shred of dignity, I tried to act nonchalant when the waitress came to take our orders. “On the spaghetti with sausage, um, is it like crumbled up sausage as flavor in the sauce? Or is it, um, like, a sausage on the spaghetti?”
The waitress looked confused.
“I mean, is there a sausage on the spaghetti,” I gestured, forming the shape of a weighty loaf with my hands, “or only just a few ground bits cooked in with the sauce?”
“It’s in the sauce,” the waitress replied. “And I think maybe a few slices on top.”
“Because I want lots of sausage,” I said. I felt desperate.
“I’m sure there’s lots of sausage,” said Allan, striking a placating tone.
“You can always order more if there’s not enough.”
“I’d like the spaghetti with a side order of sausage,” I said, too loudly. “Please.”
When the waitress walked away, Allan looked at me in astonishment. “Wow, you’re really on a sausage kick,” he marveled.
My gluttony appalled me. But I perked up when the waitress returned and placed a heaping bowl of spaghetti drowning in meat sauce and a side plate of sausage before me. I resolved to double cardio workouts come Monday.
But when the weekend ended, a return to a normal routine eluded me. I felt off. Oddly out of sync. It’s the switch to Daylight Saving Time, I reasoned. I counted and recounted the days on my calendar. A test at my doctor’s confirmed I was pregnant.
***On a recent afternoon, I sat with my daughter on a bench in Central Park. While she enjoyed her lunch, I told her again this story of her embryonic beginnings. Jacqueline held out her ketchup-sodden hot dog, offering me a bite. Ordinarily, I’d opt for a green salad. But you know how it is. Every now and then, a woman gets an urge.
Previously: My Brother, My Mother, and a Call Girl
Photo via benjibot/flickr.
Mara Cohen Marks relishes true stories. She lives with gusto in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.