Loftus and her hot dogs. Illustration: Maanvi Kapur
Jamie Loftus is a writer, comedian, podcast host, and the truest kind of hot-dog connoisseur. Her new book, Raw Dog, is part history, part sociology, part comic travelogue, but her deep dive into the subject matter hasn’t diminished the joy that it brings her: “You can know everything about meatpacking, and you can know everything about American propaganda,” she says, “and you can be like, ‘Well, it’s bullshit, but it’s still fun to eat a hot dog.’” She ate a bunch this week, both offstage and on, while she traveled from Chicago to Portland, Oregon, promoting her book and playing a woman married to America’s hot-dog-eating king, Joey Chestnut.
Wednesday, June 7
I swear to God I forgot that I had to start keeping a food diary today or I wouldn’t have ordered the booger bread from Dunkin’ Donuts. My hometown in Massachusetts had over 30 Dunks, I got the sex talk at Dunks (Dunkaccino), I got the divorce talk at Dunks (large hot with cream), I watched my high-school boyfriend and my mom patch things over after he smoked weed while I was in the car at Dunks (iced French vanilla extra extra). In college, they had this endless promotion where you could get a tuna melt on a croissant for two bucks, and I got it so much that the staff started to say “Tuna!” when I came in and then personally informed me when the sandwich was discontinued.
Anyways, the booger bread. It’s actually “avocado” “toast,” but it doesn’t have much to do with either thing. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, however.
I decide to forgive myself for fucking up the first meal of this column, even though I’d told myself I was going to do a good job. I’m coming off a book event in Chicago where my comrades gave me a gentle flogging for shit-talking the Chicago-style hot dog in my book, and I’m feeling sensitive.
By lunchtime, I’ve landed in Portland, Oregon, for a few days of events. I’m staying with my friend Sarah, and she’s determined for me to not embarrass myself in Grub Street, but I still get a spicy California roll and Powerade Zero from Safeway for lunch. The roll has something on top of it that is probably mayonnaise, but I can’t confirm. I know it’s bad for the world that so many chains have consolidated and homogenized, but I find it comforting that I can get the exact same grocery-store sushi anywhere in the country. Even Alaska! (This is my little way of letting you know I’ve been to Alaska.)
For dinner, I decide to take things seriously and meet up with my dear friend Sophie, who’s produced everything I’ve worked on for the last five years and still likes me in spite of it. She moved to Portland last year and suggests that we go to Tabor Tavern, where I’m starving after eating mostly chewy goo in moving vehicles all day. I get a pulled-pork sandwich with fries, and it is incredible.
I return to Sarah’s house, where we always finish our nights by watching an episode of Sex and the City. Tonight, we drink White Claws with our friend Carolyn and watch the episode where Carrie tells Natasha that she had an affair with Big, the one where Natasha says, “I’m sorry he moved to Paris and fell in love with me.” Oh my God! Imagine saying that. I met my boyfriend outside a Port-a-Potty at a wedding. That is my Paris.
Thursday, June 8
The next morning, I do an interview for local news about a show I’m doing called Mrs. Joey Chestnut America USA, where I play a woman who marries hot-dog-eating champion Joey Chestnut and then murders him after he steals her intestines to become a more effective hot-dog eater. It’s a metaphor for something, but you can also watch it without it being a metaphor for something. I only drink iced coffee before the appearance because I think there will be snacks at the news station, but there are no snacks at the news station.
Afterward, I meet Sarah and Carolyn at a vegan diner called Paradox Cafe a half-hour walk away, where I get 500 cups of coffee and a vegan breakfast burrito with tofu, potatoes, black-bean chili, avocado, and vegan sour cream. When we order, Carolyn is curious about the egg situation and does what I’ve never been brave enough to attempt: asks a follow-up question at a plant-based restaurant.
“For the uh, Scram-bowls, are the eggs real?”
“Hmmm,” says our waiter. “Real. So like —”
“Like a real egg. From a — sorry.”
“An egg? In the Scram-bowl?”
They go back and forth like this a few more times, and she panic-orders something else. The food is delicious and then Carolyn and I go to a Pilates class where there is no music playing and one old guy is really showing off.
I’m performing on a public-radio show called Livewire tonight (it’s great; you should listen to it), and I get to stay at a hotel with a solid mini-bar, an increasingly rare feature for reasons I can’t figure out. I’ve been touring for a few months now and have found that there are three possible themes for contemporary American hotels: beige, colonialism, and electric guitar. This hotel is inarguably the electric-guitar variety, the kind that is almost begging you to have sex there. I have a couple chips from the mini-bar, look at myself in the mirror, and decide I still hate myself, at least for today.
It’s embarrassing to think about — I am body-positive for every person on the planet who is not me. I’ve done entire research projects about how women of different cultures, races, generations, and classes are trained to view their bodies, and while that work has broadened and clarified the way I see the way we’re disempowered as a whole, it’s done stunningly little to repair my relationship with my own body. It’s frustrating to still struggle with it, and the best I can do right now is be honest with myself and make sure that the problem is contained to just me. Lord knows how many parents have projected their food issues at their kids like a fucking freeze ray, especially under the guise of concern or protection.
By the time I get to the green room at the Alberta Rose Theater, I’m hungry enough to eat a delicious slice of cake I’m told is gluten free. I go up first on the show to talk about hot dogs, my one true love, and sit in the back the rest of the show to watch my friend Demi do his part. He’s one of the most brilliant and kind people I’ve ever known, and for some reason I tell him that the duplex I live in has just been sold to two brothers who appear to be venture capitalists who are going to let me stay in my house.
When the show is over and the books are signed, I’m feeling dramatic and decide to walk the two miles back to the hotel. A block in, I pass the Livewire producers having a small post-show hang at an Irish pub called T.C. O’Leary’s. They flag me down and invite me to sit, and I eat some fries and drink a glass of wine with an amazing woman named Laura. I tell her how my boyfriend surprised me by taking me to a monster-truck show the other weekend, and she tells me that the host of tonight’s show once accidentally crashed legendary monster truck Grave Digger. She promises to send me the video later — and does. Who does that? I can’t remember the last time I followed through on sending a link.
Friday, June 9
I wake up in my hotel room and start scrolling through my phone like you’re not supposed to before eight in the morning. I’ve been on tour for a few weeks now promoting the hot-dog book, a dream come true that has left me pretty behind on my regular work emails. Maybe this morning couldn’t hurt. This is fine, I tell myself. It’s actually self-care to not check my email as much when you think about it, so … Oh shit, oh wait, there is a notice of eviction in here from two full days ago that I’m just seeing for the first time.
“Hope the tour is going well. I’m writing to let you know my brother and I have decided to stop operating the duplex as a rental property.”
I’ve never woken up this fast. I’m having a meltdown. I drink one, two, five hotel coffees, call my best friend and my dad and my boyfriend and try to figure out what to do. I drink another coffee, concerned that introducing any solids would ruin the soaring, angry high I’m riding.
I think about it for a split second and know I don’t want to go back to Los Angeles to move into another, worse apartment in Los Angeles. I have learned to love it there over the last eight years, but it’s a place that’s both cracked my brain wide open and enabled my secret wish to never fix the parts of me that are broken, and I need a break. I need to be closer to my family in New England. I need to be where my boyfriend can take me to see monster trucks. I need to eat something; I’ve had seven cups of coffee, holy shit.
I stop at Sizzle Pie on Burnside a few blocks away and get a slice of pepperoni and a PBR, considering the existential predicament. There are two kinds of parents: the ones who want you as physically close to home as humanly possible and the ones who view spending time close to the town where you were born as a personal failure. I have one of each. The VoBros have proposed 30 days to haul out nearly a decade of my life, and that isn’t enough time. I go to the same local-news station for a second interview, and there are still no snacks.
When I get back to Sarah’s, she’s prepared for a friend in crisis, reminding me I brought a cake all the way from Chicago as my personal item on the flight over. She’s right — at the event where I received some light verbal abuse, an incredible cake-maker from Milwaukee who goes by Whisk Chick made me a custom hot-dog-themed cake with the title of my book written on top in a graceful, frosted cursive. It made me cry, and since I didn’t have the time or the cutlery to eat any before I left Illinois, the Little Cake That Could came across the country in my lap to share with Sarah and Carolyn. Our lunch is a slice of half-chocolate, half-confetti cake with little fondant hot dogs, sweet and thick and perfect. I’m fucked, but I’m feeling very lucky and very loved, and we have plans to go to the movies.
We grab a beer at the Moon and Sixpence and see a film at the Hollywood Theatre, where the Portland Horror Film Festival is running. We get popcorn and Junior Mints and watch an incredible documentary called Satan Wants You, a movie I don’t even realize Sarah is in until she’s the first person who appears onscreen.
“That’s you!” I say.
“Well, yeah,” she says, laughing, and passes the popcorn back.
Saturday, June 10
It rarely bothers me that there is no Dunkin’ Donuts nearby, but I’m craving comfort and would give anything to hear the soft coo of “Tuna!” past a screeching door. Oh, well. This morning, Sarah and I get oat-milk iced lattes and share a vanilla-cardamom bun from Hungry Heart. What is cardamom? Sarah doesn’t know, but it’s allegedly Huge in Portland right now.
It’s my day off, so after a Pilates class and two Polar seltzers, I make a detour to the best hot dog in Portland: Kim Jong Grillin. I will never get tired of a great hot dog. Talking about the hot dog’s features and history, for good and for bad — it brings me a raw joy that I no longer recognize as embarrassing, and when I’m near a good hot-dog business, it’s hard to resist. The KJG Korean-inspired dog is fucking delicious, served thick on a bánh mì baguette with daikon, kimchee mayo, sesame sprouts, pickled mango, and spicy daikon for a reasonable seven bucks.
In the afternoon, I head to Curious Comedy Theater to run tech for Mrs. Joey Chestnut, then head back to Sarah’s. We visit Sarah’s best friends, Emily and Ricky, and her niece, a kid who’s so funny and sweet and curious and perfect that you can delude yourself for a moment and think you could produce someone similar. You couldn’t, but look at her! Someone’s done it!
One of the most wonderful things about being me right now is that from time to time new friends will have a hot dog locked and loaded. This is the case today. Ricky has acquired a whole pile of Costco hot dogs for the family, and he has cut them in a spiral style that’s been sent to me a hundred times on TikTok before he air-fries them and offers me one. Sarah’s niece has her own hot-dog costume. “What do you like on your glizzy?” she asks me. She’s 3 years old and already dropping hot-dog colloquialisms.
Sunday, June 11
I have to frontload my food because I’m going to eat seven hot dogs onstage tonight, and I really do think the audience can tell if I’ve eaten dinner and am muscling through it for show or am actually, genuinely very, very hungry.
For the ten years I’ve been performing, I’ve always loved eating something disgusting to excess onstage. My mother couldn’t stand it for a long time. Why didn’t I just swap out a dog-food label on a can of hash so it looked like I was eating dog food? Couldn’t I shut off the stage lights and make it look like I’d eaten seven hot dogs? I don’t know. I like that it’s real dog food and real hot dogs. And logistically, lazily, it’s just easier than the sleight of hand; I can assure you I am actually killing myself.
I get something called a “seasonal savory Danish” with my coffee from Hungry Heart, a cottage-cheese Danish with four stalks of asparagus on top. It’s a solid treat, but the one actual meal I will allow myself to ensure the appropriate amount of Feral Hot Dog Hunger will be had with Sophie and our friend Beth Anne at Tin Shed Garden Cafe.
Here’s the thing about Tin Shed: I go every time I’m in Portland, I always go with Sophie, we have a huge crush on a waiter there, and we are delusionally convinced that he has no idea. He’s working on this day and tells Sophie it’s been a while since she came in, all but confirming she will tip her life savings. It’s a beautiful space with great food, the sort of place where you can refill your own coffee, a brilliant innovation that allows me to blow out my own bowels without inconveniencing anyone. I order the gnocchi bowl with mushrooms, asparagus, eggs, and bacon next to the signature biscuit and locally sourced raspberry jam, alongside a mimosa served in a beer stein.
The rest of the day is foodless show preparation at Sarah’s house. She will be hosting the Q&A portion of the night and then I’ll do my play about killing Joey. This particular piece requires around 40 hot dogs, enough to fill both a glass bowl and a leg of pantyhose that I stuff with hot dogs to look like a length of linked sausages to tie around my waist like a belt. Most of them won’t be ingested, so I go plant-based for the majority, saving the precious meat dogs for eating. Sarah is the world’s greatest friend and runs out for more when I have my mid-show-day meltdown and realize I’m still about 12 dogs short.
By the time the show begins, I haven’t eaten in seven hours. The Q&A is a blast, so I ask Sarah to perform the first food-based gag of the show, in which a trusted audience member baby birds a hot dog into my mouth. I receive it eagerly, almost like someone who hasn’t eaten all day, nearly kissing.
Monday, June 12
After months of touring, this is the day I go home and figure out whether it’s still my home. I wake up in Sarah’s bed on these really comfortable sheets that are supposed to either give you softer hair or better skin, I forget which. I feel guilty. It’s wasted on me!
I’ve been having trouble sleeping, and instead of continuing to search for sublets in New England I get out of bed, shower, and walk to McDonald’s to surprise Sarah with an Egg McMuffin. We’re not married, but we are married.
We eat our McMuffins and visit Sarah’s niece one more time before Ricky drives her to preschool, and I hug the family and Sarah good-bye. The Portland airport is very special because you can buy a plane beer for $2 before boarding, and I let the local brew hit my head in the early afternoon paired with Alaska Airlines pretzels and Diet Coke.
My apartment is just as I left it three months ago. I’m so tired. I need to call the tenants’ union, call my friends who’ve been evicted in the same way because of COVID protections being lifted, and decide where to go on a much faster timeline than I imagined. I’m so lucky. I ate seven hot dogs onstage and people paid to see it. I love my job. I love my friends and family. It’s time for a change. And some more booger bread.