Day 52: All Good Things…

It’s taken me over a week to get to this point. You might attribute that to a desire for the never ending pasta pass to never end. Actually it’s just I’ve been busy and tired. Like all of you.

Here are some of the final moments of our yearlong foray into carbohydrate depravity. Final curtain call for our team of pasta fans.

Goodbye to this purple friend. The first one didn’t work right, but the restaurant was always nice about charging meals off anyway until I got corporate to send another one.

Goodbye to these salads. They’re honestly quite solid if you just want some greens and all that nonsense. I do love their dressing, but it’s pretty heavy duty. And the peppers are my favorite. Just nice to have never-ending salads to offset some of the heavy stuff.

Last meal was meatballs. Tradition trumps health. I love meatballs, despite the whole waking-up-at-3am-with-dry-mouth thing from the unholy amount of sodium in these bad boys (and, let’s be real, in EVERY SINGLE DISH at this establishment). Like, I get that things have to be shipped in frozen and all that, or sit on a shelf for a while until somebody like me comes through to eat it. But the levels of salt in all the food here are simply unreal, and that’s one thing I am absolutely not going to miss about this year.

Goodbye to all that. So many stories we found at these tables. It was a refuge from the reality of healthy meal-planning, cooking, and clean-up. It was the kind of conspicuous assumption that makes you both proud and ashamed to have been born in this great American land.

One last SECRET MENU ITEM for those of you keeping track. This is the saddest and least necessary one of them all! See, if you order meatballs on your pasta, and you just take some of the breadsticks and just shove that pork and beef sphere straight on in there, you got yourself a MEATBALL SUB. Just like grandma used to make them back in nowhere, never. Honestly, this is actually probably my best secret menu item, because this is something I would actually eat. I don’t know what that says about me at this point.

Last meals aren’t supposed to be cheery, but this one wasn’t so bad. I think about T. S. Eliot, here at the end. I think about him most of the time, but also here at the end of something. I think about that line, too–Ernest Hemingway, his story, “The End of Something,” even without the story it’s such a wonderful little captured line that I drop into so many situations, that comes up all the time. Just being able to sit there and label some piece of life, “The End of Something.” But I was going to say, before Robert Frost broke in, with all his matter-of-fact about Hemingway–I was going to say that I think of the first line in Eliot’s poem, “East Coker” a lot, and the last line. He begins it with:

In my beginning is my end.

and finishes with:

In my end is my beginning.

…and I like that because it means that time is a circle and things will always come around again and we’ll know what to do better next time. From the start we see the finish line, and from the ending, we know where we began, and we’ve come up upon it again. We start again, over and over, and end the same way all over again, somehow, but we know it when we see it this time around, we know we’ve come once again, to “the end of something.”

I like that realization because it’s not even profound, it’s just there, and it’s just true.

Eliot finishes those Four Quartets with this:

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, remembered gate…

And he leaves us at the end in the beginning of the grandest mystery of them all: that we might go around this circle again and again and again and maybe one day we’ll know why:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

And so, at the end of something just as noble and just as ridiculous as most of the things we make our lives out of, I bid thee, goodbye, friend, until we circle back around once again.

Item 1: whole-grain linguine, meat sauce, meatballs

Breadsticks: 2

Final weight: 169

Weight change: +3 pounds

(What does that say about my other eating habits?)

Day 51: Where Do We Go from Here?

The Olive Garden year was supposed to provide a sense of stability and sameness for us. Instead it seems to have presided over a year of massive change.

So as we begin to say goodbye to this past year and this nearly-passed pass–I can’t help but wonder where we’ll go next.

The biggest changes this year seemed to surround my work–first my tumultuous old job and now my wild new one. But the real biggest changes in my world resides with James. He’s grown up the most through this year, despite having no pass of his own.

And so I look to this sign in the to-go/pick-up area of our restaurant and wonder at that: where are we to go? When this chapter closes, which story begins? How are we now to live?

The good news is that with change comes direction. One chapter of my life closed so firmly this past year and a new one opened so clearly that I don’t have to linger in the Olive Garden lobby for hours or weeks or years wondering what happens next.

It’s just that, after this year of change, I still can’t help but expect the same. Wherever we seem to be headed now, I have to wonder–is it real? Will it always be?

But like I said, there’s still James. He changed a lot this year, but it only made him more clearly himself. That’s what I’m hoping for: as I embark on this new teaching adventure, as I embrace new colleagues and friends, as I challenge myself in new ways, I have to believe that it will only make me more me. It won’t take me away from the things I love and believe and hope for, but it will bring me closer to them.

Where are we to go?

Gen. 12: 1: Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

I guess that’s always where you go.

Item 1: whole grain linguine, meat sauce, breaded chicken

Breadsticks: 2.5

Weight: 170

Destination: The Promised Land

Day 50: Secret Menu Item 5

If you want to accomplish a couple of tricky maneuvers in one go, here’s how you do it.

Say you find yourself wanting some shrimp. You order shrimp.

They bring you chicken.

That’s fine, because actually you wanted chicken–but you didn’t know it.

By now, the Olive Garden staffers are so familiar with our lives and needs and wants, that they can predict them. So, they know that if I order shrimp simply to keep up appearances, I really mean, “bring me chicken.”

And then they can bring the chicken, and I can make a big show of being quite all right with it, and this allows me to seem magnanimous to the rest of my party. So, I get the chicken I secretly wanted, and I also look like some kind of nice guy for not stirring the pot and insisting that they bring me the chicken of the sea.

So that is most likely you last Secret Menu item ever that I will be giving you, and that’s quite all right.

At this point the blog is about as interesting as watching the walls. They do change, if you stare at them, but so slowly you won’t notice at all.

Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, breaded chicken breast

Breadsticks: 4!

Weight: 169

Weeks to go: <4

Day 49: Signing Day

Big day today: signed a contract to return to my alma mater. Exciting and exhausting. I start tomorrow. Yikes. I think it will be good.

This year has been a blur: like the bicyclist in this photograph. And, like this bicyclist, I feel like we weren’t supposed to be at the center of it all. Like we accidentally happened across the place where others had plans, and instead of their own landscape of conversations and meetings and moments, we’re the tourist hurtling obliviously through the foreground, coming from who knows where and aiming for the same. All these plans are drawn up, and then this person shows up and changes everything.

But, like that rider, I’m trying to zone out the problems and hang on to the possibilities. Don’t go looking for trouble, simply ride on to the next place and see if things make a little more sense there. This is quite literally what I’ll be doing starting tomorrow. And though I won’t be commuting by bike initially, it might not be out of the question entirely, as my car finds new ways to limit its functionality. So far these are mostly aesthetic limitations, but you kind of have to wonder.

Also, they messed up Chrissi’s salad, and then tried to take it back, and I said, “No, no, I’ll certainly eat that one, too.” That is the secret trick to getting two different salads.

Item 1: whole grain linguine + mushroom Alfredo + grilled chicken

Breadsticks: 2

Weight 169

Jobs: 0-2