More than a year ago, some people on the internet wanted to buy me a soul portrait, and gave me $150 to commission a mentally ill person to photoshop god lasers and dumb tigers on to my high school yearbook photo, or my driver’s license mugshot, or something. I of course refused, but graciously accepted the money anyway, and proceeded to labor over the spiritually meretricious document myself. I additionally made a somber vow to spend all one hundred and fifty dollars on a humorously mediocre Italian meal served at the Olive Garden, a chain to which American families compliantly fork over their dinner plans each year by the tens of billions, probably. I also pledged that I would record the endeavor carefully, in a drawn out faux-journalistic spiel that had loads of jokes in it. But since I’m currently weighed down with an olympiadic bronze statue’s fist worth of shitty pasta in my belly, and feeling a bit off, I give you this essay instead.
I should say in my defense that after pocketing the choice soulbux, I did manage to dog the everloving balls out of this expedition for well over a year. When I first sealed the pledge, I did so with a spirit of adventure, but this quickly gave way to an understandable sense of all-consuming dread. If I even suspected I caught a whiff of the unique melange of garlic and body odor which persistently howls from any Olive Garden’s exterior ventshafts, I would begin to shake uncontrollably. But these articles have always been mostly about conveying how brave I am, so it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I eventually triumphed over this adversity to become way more admirable than the guy who climbed Mount Everest without a spinal cord.
In dogging the trip so bad, to be honest, I had some help. From God. Any time I reluctantly made plans to go to the nearest OG, which always seemed to be at least fifty fucking minutes away from wherever I was, those plans would get sabotaged by an angry wrathful God who hates me, and yet still took time to derail my Olive Garden plans because even He wouldn’t wish that on His worst enemy (which I probably am). One time last winter, Ryan North was in town looking to be shown a good time, so I was like, hey, there’s this Olive Garden thing I’ve been dragging my shit on forever, we might as well join forces and put a bullet through the head of that long suffering obligation. Because when he said “to be shown good time,” I misheard him and thought he said “to experience major gastrointestinal surgery.” Sadly, neither thing happened, because that’s when the Weatherchrist dumped five feet of snow on New England and we couldn’t even go outside. I never saw him again.
Flashforward to now, when I saw him again. He was heading into town to sign books, and we were both like, do we DARE tempt fate again by resurrecting the nasty reeking spectre of my Olive Garden pledge? Obviously we did (brave) and Ryan was richly rewarded from the malevolent Beepbeepjesus by having his car break down between Toronto and here, and he was forced to spend the night in a weird little town. Our mistake was probably in making the plans out loud or something, rather than winking via text message. Or in making the plans even remotely specific, by scouting out the location of the nearest Olive Garden, which was brooding somewhere in the fecula of New England’s black asshole, Springfield Massachusetts. Fortunately, Ryan shares my adventurous spirit and disdain for sparing expense, and applied about 10,000 Canadian dollars toward getting his vehicle operational. He texted me something like, plan’s back on tight brotimes, and after an involuntary series of spasms, I replied with something like, cool, as long as the rig is sturdy enough to launch us over one of the broken highway ramps to clear the perpetually flaming wall of garbage that surrounds Springfield.
He assured me his vessel was sound. He’s a modest guy and tends to understate, so you see when he pulled up to the curb in his once humble gray Ford, it was now tricked out Mad Max style for our journey into this shrieking gulf of hate. Ok that was a fucking lie. Just a little embellishment to make you laugh, ok? The first and only you’ll see in this essay. Sorry.
Other people starting catching wind of this plan’s curious brown stonk and soon the affair snowballed into a BFD. Jeffrey Rowland was like, this sounds retarded. And I was like, awesome, Jeffrey’s on board. John Keogh was musing to himself that he couldn’t even remember the last time he vomited, so what the hell. KC Green took it as a matter of personally directed malice that one was not supposed to be able to locate the bottom of the breadstick basket, so he snugged up his bib and said let’s goddamn mosey. Agent Paperklip and Softowl were ensnared by the promise of spectacle. The ladies get codenames on #OGnite. That’s how shit works.
We took two cars because that’s a lot of people. I went in Ryan’s car. Ryan has a GPS navigator, and in his own voice he had re-recorded all the audio files it uses for navigation, like “in ___ miles” and “take a U-turn.” This sounds like it could be the second lame embellishment of the story, but it really isn’t. When you turn it on, his voice says “Oh my god, do everything I tell you.” And when the thing is supposed to say “then” in between instructions, Ryan draws out the syllable almost sarcastically, as “theeEEEEEeeennnnn.” And when you miss a turn, he interrupts, “Hold on. Someone messed up.” Turns out we would hear that last one a few times. The thing is, if you want Ryan’s soothing, masculine voice to get you to your crappy pasta destination, you actually have to program the right fucking Olive Garden into it. We plugged the wrong one in, while Crew Jeffrey was speeding toward a different restaurant. The only thing worse than a big party trying to get to one Springfield Olive Garden is a big party accidentally trying to get to two totally different Springfield Olive Gardens, and anyway the last thing you ever want to do in Springfield is split up and divide the strength of your numbers.
So Jeffrey makes it to the correct OG about 20 minutes before we do, calls us and says, guys, there’s a 25 minute wait to be seated. I pause and say, there’s really that many people there on a Monday night? He says yeah man, I think they’re here ON PURPOSE. I’m like holy shit. As incredible as it seems, hundreds of Americans DELIBERATELY piled into this little stuccoed commercial building covered in idiotic Mediterranean trellises, and did so for ENJOYMENT, as a thing they ACTUALLY WANTED TO DO. This is it seems for many people a recreational evening activity pursued regularly, which they seek out by dint of something approximating free will. I had to doublecheck with Jeffrey, so like, these people AREN’T here as a culmination of a half-decade-spanning, barely comprehensible internet scam? “Yeah, man…” he trailed off, palpably spooked.
Team Ryan rolls in finally, and we gather for five minutes before being seated, puzzling over a gregarious public awash in their strange appetites. In the mirth of the environs and perhaps as a form of euphoric release after a long and arduous journey, I must have struck passers by as guy totally psyched about this piece of shit restaurant. A guy completely chuffed off his ass to be scoring exactly ONE divided by ZERO breadsticks tonight, shit, yes. Though to be fair, my resplendent soul was probably betraying my true feelings.
In the next installment of this gauntlet’s recitation, I will describe the meal. Stand by.
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