On the last day of Eastern Standard Time in the spring of 2020, I found myself in a Wendy’s. It was a throwback visit of sorts. I hadn’t been in this Wendy’s or any Wendy’s since early in 2012. The Giants were finishing beating up the Falcons in the first playoff game ever hosted at MetLife Stadium (there hasn’t yet been a second). Stephanie was getting her hair cut and called me when her appointment was complete. Wendy’s was steps from the hair place, which doesn’t strike me as much of an advertising slogan for a restaurant, so we had a late lunch there. A month or so later, my doctor advised me, in so many words, not to visit Wendy’s anymore.
I took him at his word for eight years. This past Saturday, though, we were running an errand close to five o’clock and Wendy’s was right where it was in 2012. I’ve passed it countless times but ignored it. Same for its major fast food brethren. I more or less follow doctor’s orders pretty well. But for whatever reason, after the errand was complete, Stephanie asked, “How about Wendy’s? Or would that be crazy?”
It was ruled within the bounds of sanity. I’m out of fast food practice, so I needed a moment to take in the bounty that is the Wendy’s menu. It seemed more expansive than it had on my last visit and worlds removed from my initial exposure to the chain forty-two years ago. Back then it was three sizes of hamburger, chili, fries and two flavors of Frosty. Chicken and baked potatoes came along in the ’80s. Nowadays there appears to be much more, plus there are kiosks for ordering and monitors to tell you when your order is up. It’s not quite space age, but I did feel at least a decade behind.
I went with the No. 1 combo, Stephanie with the No. 12. More fries than necessary were included. Tall cups identified as medium were handed to us for drinks. Ketchup was still left to our discretion in much smaller cups. You had to pump hard to produce any condiments. My wife shared a generous fraction of her chicken sandwich. I offered up bites of my burger three separate times, but she demurred. I recalled Wendy’s double with cheese as state-of-the-art circa 1978. In 2020, I concluded that once you’ve had Shake Shack, your expectations are unreasonably high for a burger you unwrap from anywhere else.
Sitting in this Wendy’s, I performatively remembered that Sunday when the Giants beat the Falcons. “How do you remember that?” Stephanie asked. The answer, as always, was I just do. Then I remembered when this Wendy’s used to be a Roy Rogers. Stephanie didn’t remember that at all, but I clued her in. It was a Roy Rogers when we first moved to this town the first time. A few weeks before she graduated from college, I set up day camp in what was about to be our new apartment and awaited the delivery of our first box spring and mattress. It was supposed to come between ‘x’ and ‘y’ in the afternoon, a compressed enough period so that I could anticipate signing for it and being on my way to work elsewhere on Long Island.
That was an April afternoon in 1990. The Mets were playing a day game. To the extent one could enjoy waiting for a delivery in an empty apartment, I planned on making the best of it. I packed a folding lounge chair, the kind I’d take to the beach; a battery-operated radio, because I wasn’t sure if the utilities were turned on; and my usual hefty stack of newspapers so I could read about the Mets’ young season: the News, the Post, Newsday, almost certainly the Times (though I may not have bothered since we usually had one in the office) and definitely the National, which had become a mostly daily presence in my sporting life with its winter debut. Whatever I brought in the way of food and beverage was sufficient for a desk lunch, nothing more.
The mattress took its sweet time getting to me. The Mets and Pirates — reading about them, listening to them, absorbing the details of the pre- and postgame shows — weren’t enough to soak up the hours. Cable companies would have envied how long this took. Whatever I did eat wasn’t sufficient to hold me, either. As the day dragged toward evening, as the papers ran out of news, as WFAN blathered on once Bob Murphy and Gary Cohen had signed off, I had one thought: I really want to go to that Roy Rogers up the road, ’cause it’s been a while since lunch.
Eventually, the bed was delivered. It was the wrong brand. I remember paying for a nationally known name. I want to say it was Stearns & Foster, because it tickled me that there was a Stearns & Foster out there who weren’t John & George. Whatever showed up wasn’t them. It was had a Cross in the title — like “Red Cross,” but probably not that given trademark infringement concerns. My lousy consumer self-esteem, combined with my impatience, led me to not be cross and just take delivery. It must’ve been six o’clock by the time it came. Just give me the bed and I’ll lay in it.
Actually, I won’t. I’ll lock up in the dark (I’m trying to remember if there was enough daylight to lead the deliverymen to the bedroom; perhaps I’m forgetting the electrical situation and there was a functioning lamp around) and hit Roy Rogers on my way to the office. I think I went to the office that night. There was work to be done and I was never much worried about so-called working hours. Maybe I went directly home instead. I don’t exactly remember.
What I do remember — and this is why I’m going on about it — is that I listened to a Mets game. When I was regaling Stephanie with the origin story of our first box spring and mattress (or re-regaling, because after thirty years, i don’t have that much new material), I mentioned the game in question: Frank Viola started and John Franco finished. It was Franco’s first save as a Met.
This charmed her to an unexpected extent. “John Franco’s first save?” She laughed heartily at the thought. Although Stephanie moved to New York at the end of the same month that John Franco began pitching for the Mets, she’s never been fully baseball-cognizant of a time when Brooklyn’s own John Franco hadn’t pitched or been pitching or seemed to have been pitching for the Mets forever. He was there when she started paying attention by osmosis and, for the balance of fifteen seasons, he never left. He was always closing games or leaving them open. I knew I’d inadvertently passed my Met microbe along to her when, sometime in the mid-1990s, she heard me grumble for the umpteen-thousandth time about a ninth inning lasting longer than it should have and she asked me, “if Franco’s so bad, why do they keep using him?”
That shouldn’t have made me as happy as it did back then, but it did. Seeing her light up over this weekend at the concept that there was a discernible beginning to John Franco’s cautious dance with save opportunities did, too. I totally got her reaction. Yes, I said, it doesn’t seem possible that there was a time Franco wasn’t the Mets closer — and what you may not know on top of all that is Franco had a whole other career with the Reds. He was in their bullpen for six seasons before we ever got him. (I didn’t bother mentioning that I was visiting Stephanie at college in Florida the December 1989 day the Mets traded Randy Myers to get him and surely provided her with an on-the-spot scouting report.)
Wendy’s was over, with only the slightest indigestion, sort of like the bulk of Franco’s save opportunities. We went home. In our current bedroom, atop the dresser that faces our current bed — a Serta — there is a dusty blue baseball cap adorned with the uninspiring Citi Field logo. Stephanie gave it to me many winters ago not for what’s on the outside, but the inside of the lid, namely the signature of a lefty reliever with more saves than any Met ever. A work outing brought Stephanie to the ballpark for a holiday party sometime in the first third of the 2010s. John Franco was the alumnus designated to meet and greet all comers. He signed giveaway caps and posed for pictures. Stephanie sure as hell knew who he was when it was her turn to pose and collect. She didn’t ask him to explain why they kept using him.
Catapulted back in time Saturday night, I looked up the game I told Stephanie I listened to while I waited for our box spring and mattress. I realized I had the wrong game in my recollection. The Viola/Franco combination was the day before, the second game of the 1990 season. It was in all the papers and it was how Murph and Cohen led their broadcast. They were the St. John’s boys coming together to secure the Mets their first win of the year. Opening Day was a bust, Bobby Bonilla and the Bucs battering Doc (which I listened to at a McDonald’s on Northern Boulevard, when fast food was too often what I ate). It was Frankie V and Johnny F to the rescue the next day. Yes, that’s right, I clarified for myself Saturday night. I could even, in the mind’s eye, see the National story.
The game I listened to in the ever-darkening living room of our first apartment wasn’t nearly as joyous. It was a 6-2 loss, Neil Heaton defeating Sid Fernandez. Heaton I’d had it in for since he’d declined to sign with the Mets when they’d drafted him more than a decade earlier. Sid was Sid. A world of talent, rarely a continent of results. The more I placed myself in that wait for the bed in 1990, the more I remembered the disappointment of an early-season game that doesn’t go your way. You’re all stoked for baseball because there’s been so little to this point — even less in 1990 given that there’d been a Spring Training lockout and a week’s postponement to the season — and you have the opportunity to settle in for a matinee, and your team loses by some disturbingly definitive score like 6-2.
If there was an upside to the third game and second loss of 1990 is it lasted an hour longer than the second game and first win of the year. I needed all the baseball I could get since the guys from Sleepy’s were going to take the scenic route to my new apartment. Our new apartment, I should say. That was a weird yet exciting interval in time for me. My fiancée was about to graduate and head north. I’d been out of college plenty long but had never bothered to leave home. My mother was ill and my father was probably more of a wreck than I allowed myself to suspect. The timing was all wrong, in a way, but it was also time to move on and move in. It was just a few miles, after all.
Our new life was starting. The bed would be there. The Mets would be there. Stephanie would be there to meet me soon. And John Franco? He was always there.
Except, on Saturday night, before we turned the clocks forward, I had to offer my wife a correction. Hey, I said, that day waiting for the mattress and the box spring, when I went to Roy Rogers — that wasn’t John Franco’s first save. That the was the day before. I was reading about Franco while I waited and they made a big deal about it on the broadcast while I waited some more, but just to be clear, Franco wasn’t that day. We lost that day, 6-2.
Stephanie gave me the smile she’s been delivering on time for the thirty years we’ve lived together and went back to watching her movie.