On the Pleasure of Eating a Corn Dog
By Alizabeth Worley
No doubt, more than one reader will be so affronted by my title that they have not only vowed against reading this first sentence but boycotted whatever magazine or book or website this essay finds itself in. I myself might feel so had I stumbled on such a title, except about Vienna sausages. But in this case, such a response would be a pity, for although this essay is undeniably about the pleasure of eating a corn dog, it is in another sense only about my pleasure eating a corn dog. In no way do I wish to inflict upon the reader's mind the pain of contemplating his or her own experience with corn dogs.
You see, for me, the pleasure of a corn dog is only partially about the physical components: the fat, the baked batter, the honey crisped edge of the cornbread, the stick, the thin dribble of baked hard bread unavoidably left two-thirds down the stick (though since I'm thinking about it and have just finished two corn dogs responsible for the title, I might as well eat the dribble of bread two-thirds down the stick).
These things certainly are pleasurable to me, but they aren't what I mean when I talk about the pleasure of eating a corn dog. Indeed, the emotion that embodies itself to me in a corn dog could embody itself to someone else in, perhaps, chilled watermelon or street tacos—two things I love but which do not to me feel at all like eating a corn dog.
It is not only, as I have already said, the individual ingredients or their synergistic whole on a physical level. Nor is it simply the cultural weight that a corn dog holds in my own American past—which I assure you is very great. I'm not sure if corn dogs were actually featured at the football games and rodeos I attended as a child, but in my mind they were, and that speaks to the cultural truth of it.
On a familial level, I have one story that bears on the matter: my father, whom I have always thought very wise in his response to panhandling requests (due to his principle of always providing tangible groceries), once saw a man on the corner of an unpopular, sleepy intersection in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The man had no sign, just a confused and pleading look that swept the space between cars. My father stopped and found out that the man's wife had left him. When my father asked if he needed any help, the man just said that a few corn dogs would be nice and that he had a friend who could use some too. My father returned from a food market stand with corn dogs for the man and his friend, and that was that, as far as I know.
I should add here that I told my father about this little piece of writing I am doing, and that he told me he got hot dogs, not corn dogs, and at a box store rather than a stand. But I thought they were corn dogs when I wrote the bulk of that paragraph, which leaves the point salient, at least in terms of the nostalgia I draw from corn dogs.
My father told me this story while I was living in a city saturated with professional peddlers. There, my husband and I foolishly gave too much to the best of scammers, leaving us with little to give—we already had close to nothing—when our neighbors couldn’t afford their rent.
In other words, it was told to me after I had developed the habit of eating corn dogs, on account of losing significant sums of money—a hundred dollars, once, when my husband bought a man a Greyhound bus ticket that the man quickly sold, or so we assumed when we saw him panhandling at the same place thereafter. It seemed reasonable to spend money when we were asked; Michael had, after all, graduated law school, and we hoped that we would eventually have a comfortable income. At that moment, however, we lived in low-income housing, and our grocery budget had come to prohibit any common purchase of niceties like oranges or yogurt. Corn dogs, however, were available at fifty cents apiece, and they never failed to satisfy my hunger.
And that promise of comfort, in the end, is perhaps the root of it, the raison d’etre for the sweet and caloric and sublime satisfaction of eating a corn dog.