Manuscript excerpt by Ron Pullins

Part 1

Heaven is a corn dog

Ralph makes corn dogs. Yes, he does. From scratch. That is to say, he grows his own corn and raises his own pigs, and from those pigs he creates Ralph’s famous Corn Doo Dogs — weenies impaled on little sticks, dipped in cornmeal batter, deep fat fried, hung to dry, then sold to folks who come for lunch at his Corn Doo Doggery — we recommend a squiggle of mustard along the top. They are also good plain, so have them like you want — the always tasty Corn Doo Dog — because — as Ralph says — when you see them dipped, you know they’re fresh, never frozen, and fresh is something you just don’t get in stores these days. No. Not in corn dogs. Not in nothing.

Home grown pork. Stone-ground corn. Dipped right there in front of you. That’s the ticket.

Standing there on Main Street in the morning, you can look in the window of Ralph’s corn dog store and see them being dipped. As the locals often do. Many get up early sometimes just to watch Ralph work.

His daughter Stella helps, a strapping, young, good-looking woman, barely twenty, who dips the weenies in the batter, hands them to Ralph who then fries them in grease. His lard is fresh and hot, crystal clear, made from the fat of Ralph’s own pigs. Then Stella hangs the corn dogs up to dry. Not to cool. Oh, no. They’re at their very best when eaten hot.

Ralph raises pigs on his farm out back. A crew comes by from time to time to help him slaughter one of his fat pigs. They cut the porker up, grind the choicest parts into a meat which Ralph and Stella stuff into fresh casings — also made — cleaned and washed — from the innards of those very pigs. He stuffs them, twists them, ties them off, then hangs the wieners in the smokehouse overnight. Yum! Yum! You’ll not forget the smell of Ralph’s smoked weenies. No. Then early the following morning they’re dipped in cornmeal, cooked and thus they become Ralph’s famous Corn Doo Dogs.

He grows his corn out back as well, in the cornfield behind the sty. Stella grows the corn. She plants it in the spring, fertilizing it with droppings from the pigs, cultivates it all summer, then harvests the corn in the fall, so once it’s dried, and shucked, she grinds the corn to meal which she mixes with other stuff — exactly what is a Corn Doo secret — that becomes the batter into which they dip the wieners on a stick.

Today Ralph wears his paper hat and apron, and he plays to the admiring crowd on Main outside his window looking in, waiting for his shop to open.

You should also know Ralph loves his Plato. He is constantly reading one of Plato’s dialogues on how to think and conduct one’s life. He keeps his current read, as usual, open on the counter as he works. Truth be told, Ralph prefers to read philosophy above any other work, feeling the world and his mind can be improved with a little serious contemplation.

When he cannot read or study — say, he’s busy dipping dogs — he can still think Platonic thoughts, even while sleeping, walking, talking, making corn dogs, grinding corn down to meal, killing pigs. He will turn the words of his most recent dialogue over in his mind, again and again, seeking some point he might have missed before, or for some new argument among the shadows and complexity, so, even though he has no one with whom he can debate as he grinds pork into his weenie meat — fortunate Socrates can dialogue with students on his front porch — Ralph takes joy in debating with himself, catching a paragraph or two of thoughts on friendship, fidelity, truth, proof, and poetry while the grease drips from his dogs.

You’d think a man so happy and so admired, and so locally renowned — he is — would be among the richest men on earth. But Ralph is not a modern businessman. His profits are quite modest. He does not skimp on what he makes. He spares no expense on pigs or corn. His dogs are quality, made daily, with no fillings, no plastic added, no sand, no sawdust, no chemicals, and never frozen (god forbid!). He keeps his prices fair, so even the poorest of the hungry in this little town can feast upon the product of his labor.Ralph revels in what he makes and in making it.

Nor does Ralph indulge in modern marketing. No bait and switch with him, no phony coupons, no ‘Would you like some fries with that?’ Nothing but the purest corn dog. He puts his heart into his work and keeps it affordable for all.

It sometimes happens a customer from out of town makes his way to Ralph’s while Ralph is busy dipping dogs, and this stranger will ask how one might get Ralph’s dogs, say, in faraway New York City, or Seattle, orin will walk some big old Texas dude who wants to feed his oil crew on a feast of ‘them there corny dogs’ — say, he’s got this annual barbeque for some good old boys and he’d like to serve them some of ‘them there lip-smacking thangs…. ’At that Ralph says, ‘Good sir, what you see is all I got. We make them everyday, we sell them fresh, and piping hot, and we sell them all. If some leftovers come to be — which sometimes happens, more by design than conditions of the market — we give those freely to those without.’

The Mrs. — that is Phyllis, Ralph’s wife — fumes at that. She knows there’s money to be made that Ralph will never make. Modern money, too. Lots of money. Good cool cash. More than he’s making now. The kind of money a modern businessman should make if he expects to please his wife and get ahead. That is to say, ahead of everybody else. That is to say, richer than everybody else.

The fact is, Phyllis is eager to get rich. Why not? She is American, she’s proud to say, and she is certain that Americans like her deserve all such Americans can get. And perhaps a little more than anybody else.

‘These are perfect corn dogs, Ralph,’ his customer swill say. And Ralph agrees. He likes to tell a story of how the gods on Mount Olympus years ago demanded food — their nectar! ambrosia! grog! — and they were, in fact, served Corn Dogs from Ralph’s Corn Doo Doggery. The gods were pleased.

Well, that’s a myth, but Ralph likes to tell it. It always gets a chuckle.

And so Ralph lives an honest life within his modest means, as does Stella, too, his lovely daughter who works happily with her daddy, carrying on the Corny Doo tradition. She also feeds the pigs and farms the corn. That is to say, she works as hard as he does.

But unhappy Phyllis is plotting change. Dangerous as any change might be, she is tired of being poor, or at least of feeling poor. The part the Mrs. plays in this small enterprise is to run the register, deal with the money, take it in, count it out, give out change, pay the bills, and take what’s left when day is done and put it in the bank where it can rest until she figures how to spend it. Touching money, feeling it, counting it all day, perhaps that is what has brought her to her current state of mind where she sees things differently than Ralph and their delightful daughter.

The Mrs. takes great joy in cash. Money. Paper. Profit.Promises. Debt. Deceit. This has created a great desire in her. A hunger. But not hunger which might be sated with a delicious Corny Doo. You cannot squiggle mustard on a dollar bill and eat it. Her hunger is more abstract, and darker still, an attitude which borders on the sinister.

Such then are the seeds of conflicts that have been germinating in the Doggery and will soon take root among these three. We will begin to see them grown even now as lunch approaches.

RON PULLINS is a fiction writer, playwright, and poet working in Tucson AZ. His works in fiction, poetry and drama have been published in numerous journals including Typishly, Southwest Review, Shenandoah, etc. More at www.pullins.comThe stories have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of Web awards. Pullins worked for several decades in the publishing industry, including his own company, now an imprint of Hackett in Cambridge MA.

Published 29th January, 2023.

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