Pre-Fourth fun. Lenny Hoops shows tourists from Brooklyn how to hula hoop.

(photo by Matthew Hynes)

If you didn’t realize that the Fourth of July is upon us, you’ll likely know it by the ka-booms and rockets red glare Saturday when the city has its fireworks show at Santa Monica College at 9 p.m. Personally, I much preferred the fireworks from the Santa Monica Pier but, inexplicably, the city once again did not consult me.

July 4 already? I swear, the older I get the faster time flies. In what may seem like only a few weeks, I’ll be writing about Thanksgiving.

In any event, next Wednesday marks the 236th anniversary of a truly remarkable, though flawed document, the Declaration of Independence. It begins, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Of course that didn’t apply to African Americans, Native Americans and women. Apparently, the only ones who were created equal were white men who owned property, but that’s for another column.

How fireworks became part of Independence Day celebrations may date back to July 2, 1776. In a letter by John Adams, he predicts that the holiday would one day be filled with “illuminations.” It should be noted that Adams was referring to lighting candles, not cherry bombs.

A more recent July 4 tradition involves eating an obscene number of hot dogs. According to legend, on July 4, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument over who was the most patriotic. (With the Russian revolution the following year, it appears demonstrating one’s patriotism would go from eating hot dogs to hating Communists.)

Somehow that 1916 contest morphed into a giant Fourth of July Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest which, in 2011, was attended by 40,000 spectators with an additional 2 million viewers on ESPN.

Talk about having a lot of free time.

“Thanks Jennifer, but I’m going to pass on the hike in the Santa Monica Mountains, I want to sit home and watch guys stuff hot dogs down their throats until they get sick.” (Speaking of sick, last year Joey Chestnut won the competition by eating 62 Nathan hot dogs in 10 minutes and was awarded the first prize of $10,000, much of which I’m guessing might have been spent on Pepto-Bismol.)

Out here, not to be outdone, Lenny Hoops, a friend of mine, is staging the second annual Santa Monica Hot Dog on a Stick eating contest on July 4 at 3 p.m. just south of the Santa Monica Pier. To be entirely accurate, as I’ve told Lenny, I think it should be called the first annual only because last year’s event was “BYOHD.” (Bring your own hot dog.) This year I’ve been assured that the Hot Dot on a Stick stand will provide free hot dogs but on a first-come, first-serve basis. So, if you’re up to the challenge, get there on time.

I say “challenge” because Lenny’s contest involves giant, hand-made hula hoops. (He provides them to contestants.) An entrant has to keep the hoop twirling while eating the hot dog. Remember the saying, “He’s so dumb he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?” I’ve given this some thought and, frankly, eating a hot dog and twirling a hula hoop simultaneously may not be that easy.

Hot dogs aside, in addition to his drumming on an African djembe drum, Lenny has been a pied-piper/teacher of hooping down by the pier to kids and adults since 2010. His spirit is so upbeat it’s impossible not to be entertained.

Originally from Savannah, Ga. and after serving in the Navy, Lenny’s performing career began in 1987 in stand-up comedy. He appeared on “Showtime At the Apollo” eight times and was the house M.C. at Rodney Dangerfield’s in New York City. Lenny also appeared on HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam” with Martin Lawrence and performed in Las Vegas before coming to Santa Monica and finding more joy in street performing. He frequently entertains at children’s birthday parties and is available for bar mitzvahs. (Actually, I made up the bar mitzvah part, but it isn’t a bad idea.)

But back to wolfing down hot dogs. Whereas Nathan’s gives out $20,000, Lenny will be awarding hula hoops and T-shirts. Clearly these don’t match $20,000, but the hula hoops are fun and colorful and Lenny reminds me that the T-shirts are handmade and one of a kind.

Frankly, I’m still thinking about those immigrants arguing over who was most patriotic. Maybe the founding fathers weren’t the super patriots we’ve always been led to believe. I don’t imagine they ever ate hot dogs or hated Communists.

In summary then, it would seem that not only is the Fourth of July an opportunity to celebrate our heritage with fireworks, hula hoops and hot dogs, but it also gives us time to reflect on an important issue that divides our nation ¬ó mustard or ketchup.

To reach Lenny go to Jack is at

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