When Eugene Warrington died at the age of 95 last week, hundreds of people laid flowers at his site. Not the site of his grave, but of his grill. Walter’s Hot Dog Stand in Mamaroneck, New York, just 20 minutes from where I grew up in Westchester County, was founded by Eugene’s father, Walter. It was—and remains, according to many—the home of the greatest hot dog money can buy.

When I was a kid, it didn’t take much money: two dogs for a quarter and a watery orangeade for another dime. The line began forming about 10:00 a.m. in front of the food stand, inexplicably a Chinese pagoda (it’s worth a Google search). While waiting, customers could read postcards affixed to the outside of the building from locals traveling abroad who missed their Walter’s fix.

The coveted fare was a dog, a bun, and some mustard. So what was the magic? Maybe it was Eugene’s cooks (always his immediate family) who meticulously lined up the franks on the grill in order to keep an accurate account of the orders. Each hot dog was butterflied with a small knife so two sides of the meat could simmer on the well-oiled sizzling surface.

The buns were carefully laid out on another grill, which was lightly drizzled with butter. While the hot dog was cooking to perfection, customers selected their toppings. You had two choices: mustard or extra mustard. I suppose “no mustard” was an option, but an abstainer would be scorned the same way a St. Elmo’s customer would be for ordering the shrimp cocktail without the sauce.

Each order was wrapped in tissue paper, the last inch of bun and meat peeking out. Those slathered with extra mustard were completely enclosed, making them more easily identified and preventing the inevitable ooze before the first bite. I had my share of stained shirts, a badge of honor for all Walter’s aficionados. The mustard, by the way, was a secret recipe. Everyone knew there was a hint of relish, but that was the only hint you got. You can buy the mustard online. I looked at the ingredients. There’s something they’re not telling us.

All you could get at Walter’s for decades was a hot dog and a drink. When they added fries in the ’90s, people complained the place risked becoming too McDonaldy. No need for plastic knives or forks at this establishment. And no paper plates.

I never miss a visit to Walter’s when I am back in town. On several occasions, I’ve run into old high school classmates who either still live in the area, or like me, make their pilgrimage to the pagoda, a must-eat stop on every return trip. The building still looks exactly the same, almost frozen in time. Which reminds me: They sell ice cream now, another diversion from the original concept. And another source of disgruntlement from grouchy old frank-o-philes like me.






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“It really hurts,” I said to my wife as my knee buckled under me.

“Good,” said Mary Ellen.

That’s not the kind of support you expect from your spouse.  It’s bad enough I have virtually no support from my knee, which is why I’m getting a new one next week. Unlike a heart or kidney, you do not get someone else’s knee: it pretty much comes in a box like a pair of shoes from Amazon Prime. You just have to pray it’s going to fit. And there’s a lousy return policy.

Now let me explain my wife’s apparent lack of sympathy. Every time I’ve had a couple of pain-free days, I’ve started to question whether I really need this operation. This drives Mary Ellen nuts. When we go on vacation, my wife wants to hike all morning and go to museums in the afternoon, and I usually hurt too much to tag along. To end this agony, I’ll need a new knee.  To avoid going shopping, I’ll need a new excuse.

And I have another issue.  I have never spent a night in a hospital in my life, and I’m afraid I will get very antsy and impatient until I get to go home. I’ve stopped going to the Minute Clinic at CVS because the last time I was there, it took them twice as long to treat me as the name suggests.

Mary Ellen and I arrived at the surgical center for a pre-op class and were directed down a corridor that said JOINT HEALTH.  I’m a big advocate of medical marijuana, so this was a good start. Kimberly, the RN conducting the class, wanted each of the attendees to know that no matter which surgeon was performing our operation, he was the very best. There were six of us having this procedure­—all with different docs—so it was pretty obvious that five of us were being hoodwinked. The previous week, Dr.  Estes told me he had done 1,700 knee operations. That made me feel better, but I’ve done 7,800 TV shows and I still mess up more than half the time.

Kimberly  taught us several exercises and carefully went over guidelines we had to follow prior to surgery. I always have trouble concentrating, but I remembered her saying no alcohol four hours prior to surgery. Despite my love for beer, that seemed manageable. My wife claimed she said four weeks.  I went with Mary Ellen’s recollection because she’s a better listener, and that’s why I wanted her with me through the entire orientation. When I went in for my EKG, the nurse told Mary Ellen she need not accompany me during the procedure, “unless you’d get a kick out of watching me rip the adhesive pads off your husband’s hairy chest.”

The last stop during the pre-op visit was the hospitalist, the physician who looks at all your medications to help avoid any complications with the anesthesia. The nurse referred to him as “our very own medicine man,” which made me so nervous my knees started to shake. That made my bad knee really hurt—which is why when we left the hospital, Mary Ellen was feeling pretty good about everything.


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