Yesterday was Liz’s birthday, this was a bit unfortunate since it was also a work day. We made the best of it however and decided to go to one of those places that is generally a nice simple destination: Olive Garden. We’ve been to the Glendale Olive Garden a few times in the past, all but recently it wasn’t a bad experience. It wasn’t until they changed to their new policy of making lunch “Quick and Easy” that shit started going down. I’ve never seen a company act inversely of its promoted goal in such a startling way as the Glendale Olive Garden. I think I’ll start calling it GOG because that sounds ominous enough to be accurate.
If you weren’t aware you can go to an Olive Garden and get Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks. The salad isn’t terrible but it isn’t great, their tomatoes in particular however are magic and I suspect that someone somewhere is suffering for them to be so delicious. The magic from this menu option is the salad and breadsticks. The breadsticks at Olive Garden are made from divine bread bathed in the tears of unicorns. Every bite of a properly baked stick is enough to draw you closer to Valhalla. I can hear the siren song of angels for miles with every granule of garlic salt that hits my tongue.
They have a soup option called “Chicken and Gnocchi” which contains…well…Chicken and Gnocchi. For those of you unaware Gnocchi is conventionally a potato dumpling and when it is prepared correctly it’ll tickle your senses and be a very guilty pleasure indeed. Now if you really want to change your life, the kind of revelation that will put you down a new career path, take your breadstick.
Now lift that breadstick into the sky and plunge it into the heart of your Chicken and Gnocchi soup. You might want some space for what comes next. Once you bite into that breadstick now coated in the sweet nectar of Gnocchi.
You might be asking yourself where the death is coming into this story. I mean certainly if you ate this breadstick/soup combination every day you would live a blissful but short life. The salt alone is enough to preserve you for a few centuries. But no, lying beneath GOG is a deep dark evil. It has been stewing for some months now and I’m not sure if it will ever be defeated. It feeds on your sorrow and it multiplies with every wasted minute of your life spent at GOG waiting.
The last two times we’ve gone to GOG they’ve sat us somewhere mostly out of view and then seemingly forgotten that we exist. Five minutes go by, alright that’s fine I’m a patient guy. Then ten minutes go by, well that’s a little annoying. We don’t even have water yet. Then more time goes by. Should I…should I grab somebody? I’ve never been left to die in a sit down Restaurant? Am I dressed like I don’t have money? I’m probably going to be tipping better than anyone in this building.
Well I was going to before I was left to kill other guests for their meals and warmth in the cold GOG nights. The first time I walked up to the front and asked if anyone was ever coming by. The guy who had sat us down looked mortified. He apologized at the speed of sound and fluttered off to the back. Eventually a nonplussed waiter came by and grabbed our order. Amusingly they asked us if we needed time to think or anything like that.
No, I thought, after about a half hour I’m pretty sure I know exactly what I want. I want to have enough of a spine to just leave and go somewhere else instead of being a patient fool. But barring that I’ll have the soup, salad, and breadsticks. That meal went about as I expected it. The occasional appearance of our waiter interspersed just enough that we might not be found dead, our dusty remains nothing but bones and tattered fabric.
We left and I tried to forget about that experience. Fast forward a month or so (perhaps longer, it really was a moment I try to forget) and we are back for a birthday meal. As we approach the building Liz notices a large party in the main area. Oh dear, I hope they don’t stick us next to that birthday party. The majority of GOG was empty, this meant to me that we wouldn’t be sat next to the rowdy crowd of folks.
Oh, alright, sure put us right next to them. Bushes from their display hung over our table. I poked at them wondering if they were alive or not. Either way they hung down beside my face whispering sweet nothings in my ear. It was about this time that my free ear caught a message from the birthday party.
“In the past it was 70% burials and 30% cremations.” The voice rose cheerfully. “But now its flipped! 70% cremations and 30% burials! Now can you tell me why this is?!”
I glance over and notice there is a flip card display about death insurance (ironically called life insurance). Naturally, I think, of course GOG would set us, in an empty diner, next to a group of people talking about burning corpses to ash. That is the perfect lunch meal discussion to listen to. I learn about the financial perks of death insurance, Neptune (the company handling this meeting) explains that its a billion dollar industry.
Tim at my work responded to this bit of news with “Makes sense, we all die at some point.” when I tell him later. But I digress, she goes on to tell flowery stories about people who can’t have their spouses declared dead at their homes. They must wait for an ambulance to move the corpse from the home to the hospital before it is declared. She talks about how that same woman in the story got a bill shortly after paying for her funeral for moving that corpse.
It was 4,800 dollars.
I notice that I’m really grasping a lot of this story. You’d think while eating I’d be distracted.
Oh that’s right. We have been left for dead again. Fucking great. Eventually as the planets align and the sun sets a dozen times over, a waiter comes by. “Would you folks like some drinks while you think?”
No, I’ve had children and they’ve gone on to finish college in the time it took for you to get here. I’m not an impatient man, that’s why this drives me nuts. If I walk to the front they might not realize I’ve been sitting here long enough to have watched a half dozen Sesame Street Skits. They’ll just figure its another 1 minute madman shouting the second he sits down. I shouldn’t care, but I do.
We tell them Soup Salad and Breadsticks. Also two drinks and two waters please. Not bad, I figure its an order so simple I could memorize it even if I didn’t speak English. Now back to the death talk because we have all the time in the world before he gets back. There was a mommy, she says, that was just three months from having a second child. She went to bed with her first born and they both slept soundly.
I thought to myself, ah damn died in their sleep. But no! I was wrong. She says that the child woke up before the mommy. Alright, not sure where this is going. The mother died?
Nope, again I thought too soon. She says the mommy then woke up and looked around for her child. Bummer where is that little squirt, teehee. Oh.
My child is dead in the pool.
The entire story is presented strangely optimistically. I wonder if people in death insurance think of death like prisons think of crimes. $$$, yum yum, sweet green nectar.
Finally the guy comes back, I’d call him a waiter but I think you need to actually… Oh wait I get it. He’s taking his job title literally, slick bastard.
Soup x 2, Salad x 1, and Breadsticks x 4. So far, so good. 2 Drinks and…darn. No 2 waters. He sprints off at the speed of sound before I can confirm that we’ll be seeing water. But I know the truth, Olive Garden is actually Olive Oasis. Everything is an illusion, there is only Death Party.
I learn about how when people die overseas there are incredibly expensive costs with shipping the corpses back to your home country. Neptune will cover your shit if that’s a problem. Want to leave super creepy messages for people? Neptune has you covered. I don’t know if I could sit around recording myself for folks in the case that I die. Or maybe I could.
You get a really sweet death package with your death that can be sent out to your loved ones. Or maybe that was the package you get while you are alive that is filled with lots of fun activities to complete before your untimely demise.
After her fourth or fifth story about unfortunate and horrifying death, she says “God Forbid” anything happen to anyone at the meeting. I wonder to myself when that has ever worked. Nearly 100% of all people in the history of people have died, if God is forbidding anything these days it would be living. But I’m digressing. This is not about life, its about death.
Apes have started gathering their army outside the windows of GOG. I worry that we’ve been here too long and the apocalypse has already overtaken the world outside. Our guy returns and asks us if we need anything else. I ask him for more water and then correct myself “I meant water, in general.” I wasn’t trying to be slick, my brain had apparently forgotten that this situation was as weird and tragic as it was.
Liz asked for more soup. He vanished into the ether and we didn’t see him for quite some time again. Liz told me wisely “You should ask for the check the next time he comes around.” Thinking that we might curb being here for an hour and a half to have some soup.
More death unravels beside us but nothing of much interest at this point. I’ve finished the breadsticks he had brought and dream of a time when they flowed like rain in Washington. He brings her the soup and me the check, then asks Liz if she wants any cheese. She says no, so naturally he leaves the entire grater and just walks off.
Cool, free cheese and a free grater. This day is looking up.
I put the credit card into the fold and wait.
And I wait.
The day is getting hotter as the sun begins to expand. Reaching the first stages of its ultimate death. Serendipitous considering the topic at hand beside us.
I begin to wonder how long you should wait to pay before you should legally be allowed to leave. Reminded of the time we ate at CoCos in San Jose and the staff appeared to have evacuated while we were eating. Nobody behind the counters, no waiters, no cooks within view. Nothing but us, our pie, and the check. In that situation can you just leave? Do you call the police? Do you scream? Light the seats on fire in hopes of drawing attention?
He eventually returns and gets me the bill. I hesitate to throw a 0 down on the tip but I don’t have it in me. I round off to the nearest ten dollar (which was about a dollar away). The folks at the neptune meeting shake hands and banter on about how many lovely luxuries they can experience then their last heart beat thuds within their chest.
I feel old about this point.
I’m not sure I can find any reason to ever go back to GOG. It has become the goto example for a terrible place to eat. I wonder if this is because I’ve had an incredibly lucky sequence of experiences in my life or if I’m correct. Because certainly there must be other places that suck worse. Food poisoning, credit card scams, and so on. But I’ll be darned if I don’t look at GOG and feel a shiver down my spine.
This is a place that probably shouldn’t exist. It looks so safe and friendly when you are walking by. But if you aren’t careful it’ll consume you.