I NEVER WISHED I were an Oscar Mayer wiener - not even when doing so was in style years ago, when the Wienermobile, the car that looks like a hot dog, was driving through towns, with a little kid's voice belting out the lyrics to the maddeningly stick-in-your-head (even these many years later) melody:
Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
That is what I truly want to beeeeeeee
'Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener
Everyone would be in love with me
EVEN THEN I didn't wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.
I did wish that I could get Wendy Whatshername to laugh at my jokes. But I don't think she would have laughed, even if I had been an Oscar Mayer wiener.
It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, everyone would not be in love with me - they would want to eat me. (Unless, of course, they are vegan, in which case they would want to put me on trial as an enemy of the state.)
Now, maybe I'm splitting hairs here. Maybe they would want to eat me because they loved me.
Even so, it never occurred to me that in order for everybody to love me, I would have to be a wiener.
Yet I get the broader point: Everybody loves hot dogs.
But these days, apparently, everyone does not love hot dogs, as the Billy Joel song goes, just the way they are.
TO BE SURE, dogs have long enjoyed idiosyncrasies. There is the Chicago dog, an all-beef frank served in a poppyseed bun and topped with tomato, sport peppers, celery salt, mustard, onion, radioactive-green pickle relish, and a dill pickle spear.
There is the famous Coney dog, which, as it happens, did not originate on Coney Island. The general consensus is that the Coney was invented in Michigan. True or not, this dog, topped with beanless chili, mustard, and sweet onion, is nowhere better than at a little greasy spoon called Angelo's Coney Island and Grill in Flint, Michigan.
In New York City, the street dog is classically served with onion sauce, sauerkraut, and spicy deli mustard. Out in Arizona, they top their franks with salsa.
But the regional variations are not what we're talking about here.
What we're talking about is something else. Marketing, maybe. Or the impulse to reinvent. Whatever the case, as the Journal put it, "The classic American hot dog … is having an identity crisis."
Marketing, reinvention, identity crises - they're all as all-American as the hot dog.
And the hot dog, whether traditional or newfangled, is still as American as green-chile apple pie.