The Quotable

Four Days Before the First Annual Wyndham County Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest


Maggie is the cute girl that cashiers at Kroger on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays during the summer. I always try to go when I know she’ll be there. She usually works the express lane, so I keep it to ten items or less. Today, I’ve got five loaves of Wonder Bread in my basket, and when I get to the front of the line she smiles at me, because she knows I’ve been here every time she’s worked for the last three weeks.

She’s petite and pretty, with short-cropped blond hair. She wears a lot of earrings–like twelve of them. Six running up the side of each ear. At school she hangs with the cool crowd, and manages to seem too cool even for them. Kind of like she doesn’t care, like she’s somehow beyond them, and I believe it.

Maggie is exactly the kind of girl I’ll never have a chance with.

She rings me up, and at some point I think she winks at me, so I wink back, trying to look like I’m not trying so hard to look cool, but I know she can tell I am. And anyways, now I don’t think she was winking at me to begin with. She must have had something in her eye. I pretend I do too. I’m not fooling anyone. When she hands me my bag, I flash her another shy smile. When I start to step away, I wave goodbye. She’s already attending to the next customer.

When I get home, I sneak up to my room. I can hear Dad in the kitchen laughing and telling jokes. I can tell he’s on the phone with David because he’s talking the way he only talks when he’s talking to David. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. Dad’s talked to me that way before, but not in a long time.



The hard part about eating hot dogs, or rather, a lot of them at once, is the buns. The actual sausages go down easy. You can snap them in two and swallow both halves at the same time in just a gulp or two. I’ve watched videos on YouTube, and that’s how the pros do it. But the hard part is eating all the bread. If you try to swallow all that bread dry, you won’t be able to. Either you’ll go too slow, or you’ll choke. So you have to soak the buns in water, make it so that they slide down your throat more easily. But too much water will make them fall apart, or it’ll all just be too heavy in your stomach. Too little water, and again, you have to worry about choking.

I like to practice using Wonder Bread. You get more bread in a loaf of it than you do in a bag of hot dog buns, and it’s pretty much the same thing. I take it one slice at a time, fold it in half, and dunk it into a big cup of water. I’ve gotten to the point where I can put away a whole loaf in a few minutes without breaking a sweat.

You see the guys on TV that do it. ESPN airs the big competition on the Fourth of July. Half of them are really fat, and then the others are really skinny. I’m somewhere in between, and I don’t know where that puts me. You watch them eat and eat and eat, and it’s mesmerizing. But it’s the same way when you’re doing it. You start, and at first it’s like regular eating, only faster, and then you start to really push yourself, and your belly starts to feel tight, and it hurts, and you’re so full it’s hard to breathe, but it’s quiet and serene, and with the blood rushing to your head, all you hear is the thump of your heart in your chest. It’s like meditation.

Today, in twelve minutes, I was able to get down about a loaf and three quarters. That’s more than yesterday, although I almost threw up at the end.



I first heard about the hot-dog-eating competition about a month ago. There was an ad in the paper about the Fourth of July celebrations at Montclair Park. Fireworks at nine, but before that, a barbecue, and at noon, they’ll have a big screen set up to show the Coney Island contest live on ESPN. After that, attendees will be invited to try “beat the pros” at Wyndham County’s First Annual Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. I think they’re crazy if they think anyone here is going to be able to do that, but I figured I’d give it a try. I can eat.

I went back to Kroger today and bought three more loaves of Wonder Bread, and a six-pack of grape soda. Maggie was there, as usual, but she looked bored, or distracted. She didn’t even give me the I-know-you smile she usually does. A better me would have asked her if she would be going to see the contest on Friday. A better me would have invited her. But I just left the store with an empty sick feeling in my stomach.

At home, I got down two loaves of bread, and started a little on my third before I couldn’t do any more.



The contest is tomorrow, and I’m keeping my stomach empty until then. So I’m only drinking soda. Dad sees this–he’s off of work today. When he first found out about me entering, he was annoyed. He said I should dedicate my time to something more important, more “self-enriching.” He asked me why I was choosing to do this, when there are so many other things in the world I could be good at? But that’s just not true.

Now, he just sighs and shrugs when he sees me put another empty bag of Wonder Bread in the trashcan.

He’s so proud of David you can hear it in his voice when he talks to him. He wants to feel that way about me. I know it. He tells me that if I try harder at school, I could be something important. I could go to Stanford, like David. But the thing is, I’m shit at school. I can’t do math, can’t do sports, can’t get a girlfriend. I know this. I know that I’ll probably never amount to anything, but he doesn’t. It’s like he doesn’t want to know.

David and I had the same dreams once. We wanted to be good at tennis, like Dad. We wanted to go to Stanford, like Dad. But I was too short, too husky, too dumb. David wasn’t. Sometime in life, I think, a line gets drawn, and either you’re above it, or you’re below it, but either way, that’s the way it’ll stay, no matter what you do. Some people don’t get that.

If Dad knew the way I feel about Maggie, he would tell me to tell her. He would tell me that I’m a great guy, and that a girl like her couldn’t say no to a great guy like me.

And the thing is, he would absolutely mean it.

I’ve gotten used to knowing I won’t be able to get the things I want in life, but it still hurts to know that I won’t be able to get the things other people want for me.

I have no doubt I’ll win tomorrow. I’ll probably crush the competition. I have no doubt that I’m the only person in this town who’s been practicing an entire month for something that’ll be over in twelve minutes. Tomorrow, it’ll be me at a table with a handful of forty-something-year-old men with stomachs half full of spare ribs and beer.


Andrew Leask was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He received a B.A. in astronomy from the University of Virginia and is currently an MFA candidate at Old Dominion University. He serves as fiction editor for Barely South Review.

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Issue 4 - Beginnings and Endings