Gus signs his name with relish, as he registers in as a contestant to Doug’s Hot Dog House’s annual wiener eating challenge. He walks to the counter to pick up his platter of freshly boiled ‘dogs, each resting peacefully in a pillowy hot dog bun. His stomach lurches; he knows this will slam him later but he has to have something to talk about at Larry’s party later tonight. Whenever he is invited to social events, which by the way is rare, he feels small when he has so little to say.
The hot dog eating contestants sit side by side on a 12-foot rectangle picnic table on the eatery’s back patio. Gus sees someone he knows a couple of places down. He catches their eye and they both acknowledge one other.
“I gotta win this,” Gus mutters to himself, as the whistle blows for them to start gulping down.
“Just swallow it, Sam!”
Gus tries to tune out the onlookers’ cheers for their chowing champions, along with the disgusting grunts, splutters, and groans from the hopeful victors. As he plows through his franks, he ignores the gorge that starts to form in his throat. His face flushes from squelching the two most likely routes the food might travel as it erupts from inside his body. As he forces the last hot dog into his mouth, he gets dizzy. His cheeks burn from tears that drip from the corners of his eyes. Suddenly, all light blots out.
“Hey, dude, you okay?”
“Yo . . . hello . . . “
Gus starts to come to as he hears voices calling him back to consciousness. His eye lids flutter, determined to open. He sees a circle of faces looking down at him.
“You with us?”
Gus’ vision becomes clearer. He’s still at the Hot Dog House, but away from the table. He doesn’t remember moving from where the action seems to be winding down now as he looks back at the faces still staring at him.
“Whoa.” A bearded man helps Gus, who struggles to get up. “Take ‘er easy . . . just sit fer a while. You ain’t missin’ anythin’.”
Gus is sitting up now, noticing that he’s on a narrow cot not too far from the ground.
“We get the occasional . . . . But you’ll be okay. You weren’t out too long.”
“Am I disqualified?” Gus asked, feeling his stomach twist for a different reason.
A woman wearing a denim visor shakes her head. “No, dear. I believe you won second place.” She looks up at the others. “Am I right?” The others nod.
Gus faintly smiles, thinking he can legitimately say he passed out, which should make his story seem even more interesting. Just think; he could say he saw a light at the end of a tunnel, or he could describe how he saw his body laying helpless as it seemed to float above himself, attached only by a silver cord. And because he really was a winner, he could say that it was worth the pain, thanking everyone for their help.
So Gus goes to claim the runner’s-up prize, which so happens is a brass-embossed wiener trophy. Perfect. Now he’s got a story and a souvenir to break the ice at tonight’s party.