McClatchy's America

Is a hotdog a sandwich? Question sparks student’s passionate essay

Lexington Day Treatment Center student Carl Garner’s essay on why a hotdog is not a sandwich was featured on the John Hodgman podcast.
Lexington Day Treatment Center student Carl Garner’s essay on why a hotdog is not a sandwich was featured on the John Hodgman podcast.

Carl Garner Jr. was one of the quieter students at the Lexington Day Treatment Center, and he didn’t often take part in class in the public school program for those who learn while receiving treatment and counseling.

But then teacher Eric Little posed the question, “Is a hotdog a sandwich?” and saw that “a light kind of flickered” in Carl, igniting a passionate response — asserting that it isn’t.

Little got the assignment idea from the national weekly comedy podcast Judge John Hodgman, emceed by humorist John Hodgman, who is known in part for his work as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s Daily Show.

Carl, 17, a junior, wrote an essay answering the question in the form of a letter that was so persuasive that Little emailed Hodgman. With Carl’s permission, Hodgman shared the essay on his Jan. 7 podcast.

“A sandwich is two pieces of bread,” Carl wrote. “In between those pieces of bread might be some mayonnaise, some tomatoes, some lettuce, and some baloney. It’s like someone trying to say that you’re making a baloney sandwich without lettuce and mayo. It would still be a sandwich because that’s what it’s been called for years and years. We can’t change history.”

As for hotdogs, Carl wrote, “Even the Hotdog and Sausage Council states that a hotdog is not a sandwich. These are experts in the area of hotdogs, and if there is a higher hotdog authority, I don’t know what it is. … Hotdog buns specifically state that they are for hotdogs only.”

Little said in the email to Hodgman that you never know what’s going to spark interest in young people. “Turns out he feels passionately about sandwiches and hot dogs.”

Getting praise for his essay was good for Carl, said his mother, Luwana Waller. “I think it gave him confidence. He felt important.”

The Lexington Day Treatment Center is run by Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government in collaboration with Fayette County Public Schools and the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice. About four dozen students in grades six to 12 take classes with school district teachers in a smaller environment and receive individualized treatment and counseling from the Division of Youth Services professionals, the center’s website said.

Waller said her son could have left the day treatment center and gone back to a regular classroom, but he is doing so well there that she decided he should finish out this academic year there.

Carl, meanwhile, said the attention he has received has inspired him: “I’ll write more.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears