Monday, November 2, 2009

Fixed at Friendly's

I've had a few watershed moments at Friendly's Restaurant.

Before I get into those, though, I need to deal with the apostrophe in the restaurant's name, which suggests that there was once a fried-food proprietor named something like William Friendly (mayhaps a contemporary of Bertram Applebee).

There was not. The apostrophe and the 's'--indicative of a culture-wide misunderstanding of possessives and completely nonsensical--were added in 1988.

That was about the time I ate my first non-kids' meal, a saucy chicken and rice platter at the Mohawk Trail location in Greenfield, Mass. (for $5.99, I think). I'd done something difficult to deserve the special meal, or something otherwise praise-worthy, but I can't remember what for sure.

It could have been passing kindergarten or losing a tooth or going to Connecticut in a car (quite taxing) or walking in a T-ball parade or bagging leaves with my dad or having a cowlick.

It's refreshing to think that such simple things used to be enough to warrant a small coke and a nice piece of bird. I look forward to celebrating my childrens' outsized milestones in a similarly friendly way.

During that late-eighties era, my mom awarded me a roast beef sandwich when I counted all the way to 1,012; this Friendly's meal was probably in recognition of a similar triumph. And because of whatever difficulty I'd gone through, my appetite was unquestionable. My parents could offer no moderating I don't know if you need all that.

"I remember you asking if you could not have a kids' meal," my mom told me. "It seems to me you thought you could eat more food." (My mom is like the family Google. I expect to suggest "Kids' Meal AND Friendly's AND 1989" and have her pump out the various sites of my life. When she can't remember my minutia I'm unjustifiably upset, as I am at the search engine when it falters. "A lot of things that happened when you were all growing up that I thought I'd never forget, I have," she told me).

Now I'm wondering if all that rice-gorging happened the day after my eye surgery. (Kids Meal AND Hospitalization?)

When I was little, my left peeper turned inward toward my nose, and I had it corrected in a procedure that weakened the six muscles that govern the eyeball. Now, I suffer from an outward turning glance, exotropia, a type of Strabismus.

It's Strabysmal, but I'm used to it.

In fact, I've always considered my peculiar ocularity to be a symbol of my own inquisitiveness. I look inward; I look outward. Hopefully, I see things a bit askew. My doctors have told me I technically have double vision but that my brain fuses the pictures--a and b blending to one impression the way what-was and what-I-imagine-was intermingle. I squint to make it all out clearly, the sidewalk, the past.


Did I use that surgical ordeal to my advantage in the campaign to eat non-kids' meals? I probably crossed my eyes even worse on purpose to score a sundae.

My mom remembers me telling her, after I'd polished off the food, that I should never have to eat a kids' meal again. Out of the corner of my wandering mind's eye, I imagine my dad quickly calculating that my upgrade might cost him an extra couple hundred a year. I doubt he disapproved.

And maybe he was a little proud, too, that his odd-eyed son was, at least according to a menu, not a little kid anymore.

He handed me a dose of his coffee in a half-and-half container. I felt the ridges of the tiny mug and looked up at him to see if he really meant I could drink it. It was luke-warm and exciting, a small sip of manhood, milk-sour and semi-burned.


I had coffee ice cream at Friendly's on my first date with my wife. She suggested the spot and I was thrilled; at the time, I would have gone to the abattoir if she'd had a romantic thing for bull carcass, so anything was going to work for me. But the fact that Friendly's was associated with a good portion of my nostalgia made it a particularly good choice. The night was bound to be transformative in a non-kids' meal way.

We'd never really had a real conversation before, though we'd circled around each other for a few years. We had a lot of built-up things to say.

I told her that my family had gone to Friendly's since before I could remember, two times a week. That we used to go to Friendly's with Robert Mitchum's grandson (friend of a friend). That both my siblings had worked there, that I'd always had birthday parties and cast parties and beginning-of-school parties there.

We talked about playing the little wooden logic games they keep on the table at Friendly's. About eating ice cream out of mini-Red Sox helmets, and about Fribbles.

I remember I drank about 23 glasses of water and then spilled the 24th. There was a flamboyant dishwasher there in a do-rag and our waitress was a Sherry. George Michael sang about Faith and something smelled funny to Megan. I was stricken. (The smell passed). When she got up from the table, I got up from the table, trying to be a gentleman in a strip-mall chain.

I'd shaved.

A guy named Chris whom we both knew walked in. We wished he'd walk right back out. We hadn't discovered whether we worked together yet, and we didn't want anyone else to have an opinion before we knew. She wore glasses and blue. I'd ironed my shirt for the first time in my life. Stevie Nicks said thunder only happens when it's raining. It was raining a little. (I'd run through it for emergency gum before the date).

Later, we sat on a bench together. I was starting to retire my metaphorical wandering eye. Though I later felt a smattering of natural doubt, I knew then that she'd be the only two girls I'd ever want to double-see. She smelled like yellow and blue. A guy walked by singing "I like the way you move." I provided the horn: "da-da, da." That was a fresh reference then: it made her laugh: we were fusing.


Just two days at Friendly's that left me totally content, that's all. One with saucy rice, kid-coffee, and a half-fixed eye. One in which I made up my mind.


Zach said...

I have been to Friendly's once in my life. My waiter was named Bogdan. I got a kick out of referring to him (out of his presence) as Bosham, a neologismal-nickname (far as I knew) that my father had for me and all the boys when we were children. I was also awarded a free sundae for ordering something made of chicken. An unqualified success, as qualified as the meal had to be. I think I may have had similar feelings about Cracker Barrel, once, as you do about Friendly's. Then Bob Evans, perhaps. My eye still wanders, wonders, etc.

Joe said...

Funny you mention Connecticut. The first time I really ever noticed Friendly's was driving through on the way to your marital fest. Friendly's as far as the eye can see, and we never made it inside. If only.

Joe said...

"I knew then that she'd be the only two girls I'd ever want to double-see"