Day 32: A Portrait of the Artist as a Well-Fed Man

Usually I’m behind the camera but today I got confused and reversed the polarity.

Almost there…

Stay on target…

Let’s eat this thing so we can go home!

Oddly enough they forgot the onions on the salad. Chrissi asked them to remove dressing and croutons as per her obscure and convoluted religious diet convictions, and I guess they got a little zealous and cast out the onions as well.

Which is fine because onions at best are too spicy and at worst are vegetarian worms.

Yet even as I ate my sanitized salad, I couldn’t help but miss the onions. They do add color–both to my plate and my palate. Without them you lose a bit of fire.

There’s probably some lesson in that but I’m really not in the mood to tease it out tonight.

Instead here’s a picture of a lamp. The most important piece is the chain swinging it, which serves to represent our unbreakable link to this restaurant.

Just like in the photo, it seems that the world beyond the Olive Garden is so close, so easy to enter and slip away. But, perpetually, the chains of endless pasta bring us back.

Is there freedom in these free noodles?

Turns out there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Although you can get one free of onions.

1: linguine, shrimp (they added extra garlic for some reason and that was great!), mushroom Alfredo

2: linguine, mushroom Alfredo (supposed to be the same thing again but they must have realized they gave me too much roasted garlic and took it out of my shrimp this time around)

Breadstick: 1

Weight: 167

Height: 67

Day 31: A Whole Month of Olives

Month of Olives, Mount of Olives. What have we learned? What have we given?

Da da da. Dada.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Like T. S. Eliot wandering through The Waste Land, I have to ask myself–

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.

All these littered crumbs of breadstick, half-empty bowls of marinara, and leftover leaves of browning lettuce mark a trail. But where does it lead?

Eliot’s way through the wasteland was a simple quest: the desiccated man just needed a drink of water.

What do I need? Obviously after eating so much sodium this past half year, I, too, require a big glass of hydration. One breadstick the other night was so thoroughly coated in salt as to almost eclipse the point of edibility. “It’s one stick,” somebody in the kitchen must have said, clutching a salt shaker (or, more likely, a salt-shooting rubber hose). Without remorse, the cook probably shook out a little more from the salting nozzle before throwing the bread in the basket for our server to collect. “One stick of salt won’t kill nobody.” Nobody but Lot’s wife, I guess.

But when you’re walking through the wasteland and living in the drought of the ages, you have to start to wonder after a while about whether or not that’s true. It’s like the straw and the camel’s back: which salt crystal will be the one that pushes your blood pressure over the edge? Which drop of oil will shut up the last artery? Which modified synthetic animal protein will scream its way up your bloodstream until it reaches the center of your brain and explodes impossibly, inevitably?

Maybe this breadstick is one too many. Maybe this is the last one.

The wasteland is where we realize that death will cure us, that drought can end and be born unto the waters, but it’s also the place where the first drop you drink is the last one: the refreshment you find means you have died and resurrected.

Like everything else in life, if it’s good for you, it’s going to hurt.

What do they feed you after you cross the wasteland? Apparently it’s some chicken gnocchi soup. It’s not bad, exactly, but there’s a ton of grease that, when left to cool, begins floating at the top, like the evil in men’s souls. I’m picking on it here, but really what I’m saying is there were only four of those little gnocchi guys in there and that felt super weak, despite the fact that I could have asked for a refill. I didn’t, out of principle (What principle, you ask. At this point, I have no clue.), but in retrospect that was probably a good idea, considering how much sodium I was getting elsewhere from the meal.

After six months of olives (in the salads I order each time), tonight was the first time I ordered the soup instead. And as disappointing as it was, I think I’m back to salad.

As per the last post, my photography sucks, but I mean look at that mess. So much pointless oil rising up to meet you.

That’s not a blessing, but a curse.

Also, here’s the weird picture of some kid that was behind me. He’s holding a paper (?) balloon at a fake (?) gelato counter. I’d love somebody to explain Olive Garden decor to me someday. Somewhere there’s a massive warehouse full of the sets they used for this crazy, crazy photoshoot. At least I hope so.

And it’s either found in the Twilight Zone, or at the far, far end of the wasteland.

1: Linguine, meat sauce, breaded chicken (don’t ask)

2: same as it ever was (see above) (This was an experiment to see if I’d get the entire breaded chicken breast that they obviously had to microwave. They cut it in half, as per orders. I don’t recommend the breaded chicken unless you’re feeling about five years old which I am most of the time.)

Breadsticks: 2

Weight: I ran this morning!

Waste Lands: only one but that’s plenty, it turns out.

Day 30: Spliced to an Olive Garden Booth

Olive Garden ahoy! Also, avast!

Whenever I take photographs they seem to embody a sense of motion, dynamism. It’s as though you are being thrust right through the two-dimensional approximation of reality that my phone lens captured and forced to make your way through a nonsensical reality that pitches and heaves, rises and plunges in turn.

This is not by design. It would be hubris for me to presume that when I aim my camera lens at life I’m actually capturing an image on purpose. No, I’m just trying to blunder after a visual marker can use to remember the day. That’s why after multiple photo attempts, the above picture of brown vinyl is the best representation I can offer you of my booth bench. Brown vinyl. Yikes. As bad as my photography is, the Olive Garden interior designers (may they rest in peace, because there is no way this restaurant was designed within any contemporary lifetime) did me no favors. Obviously they did not intend for people to be marching through their restaurants taking pictures of their food and tables and benches, but it’s like a brown plastic bag of bumps you’re supposed to get comfortable with. Neutral tones, I get it. But is brown even neutral? It masquerades as one, like cream or tan, but brown like this isn’t really neutral at all. It stands out. And there’s nothing worse than a seat that stands.

Anyway, what’s great is this particular seat rocks. Not in the “cool” way, but in the dangerous way. Like, the whole thing rocks from left to right. I don’t know what happened, but some part of the cushion either deflated, broke its bonds, or grew wings, and the result is a wooden-colored beam rocking from starboard to port. Or is it larboard?

The seat has become the sea. The settee has become the ship. The seated has become the sailor.

When I was practicing verses from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner last fall, I taught James two of the important bits:

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

At the time, he could recite most of this quite well, although both of us have forgotten most of the poem by now. He still likes the poem, though, which–no doubt inspired by our Olive Garden journey–he renamed, Rime of the Ancient Marinera. I’m not making that up (always the hat tip to Dave Barry).

So now, finally, tonight, I have the chance to become the Ancient Marinera, rocking back and forth across the silent still seas, swimming between snakes of linguine and blood-red bowls of marinara. The sunny lamp shines down at us with an unblinking eye.

Like Captain Ahab, spliced to his whale, I am now forever inextricably linked to the Olive Sea.

My seat, rocking now, slowly, working with the carbohydrates to put me to sleep on my own Pequod, my own ocean of Italian cuisine.


My white whale may be made of alfredo, and my albatross is no bigger than a pair meatballs, but, like Ishmael and the Ancient Mariner, I knew what I was getting myself into. Our yearlong voyage to Italy was no mistake.

Ishmael said it best:

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly [March] in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before [bus stops], and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my [fanatical rages] get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s [butts] off—then, I account it high time to get to [The Olive Garden] as soon as I can.

At least, I think that’s what he said.

1: linguine, breaded shrimp, mushroom alfredo

2: lnguine, meatballs, marinara

Breadsticks: 2

Weight: 166

Thar: She Blows!

Day 29: A Stranger Is Just an Olive Garden Server You Haven’t had the Pleasure of Meeting Quite Yet

There are a million people working here. No exaggeration. Although that was an exaggeration.

I guess the tips are probably okay. But you have to dress like a 90s undertaker to work here and do the whole Italian bit and it really seems like too much.

I’m glad people work here and they seem like a decent local employer, since they’re presumably paying half of Lane County to work in the building, but really that payroll must be about two miles long.

“Why are people forgetting their plates on the walls?” James asks. Great question. He really takes issue with the decor here and to be honest it is sort of trying. Like it’s trying because they’re not trying at all. Literally decorated bowls nailed to the walls. Try that in your living room and watch your home value teeter.

We’ve moved on by now from David and Saul in the cave to David and Bathsheba on the roof. I see the cheese grater and I want it. Possibly the most unbelievable thing about this whole experience is that I’ve had cheese added to my dish like once this entire time and Chrissi and James have done it no times.

Like everybody else here just piles it on, but do you not realize that there is butter and cream and cheese in everything already?

I love dairy, too, but how does it make sense to keep piling cheese on top of cheese?

“Do you come here often?” The photograph asks.

Yes, we come here often enough that our expressions mirror theirs in anomie and ennui.

Item 1: whole grain linguine (I may have been misspelling this in every blog post!), mushroom Alfredo on the side, and 3 meat-a-balls.

Item 2: linguine, 2 meatballs

Breadsticks: 1

Weight: I just came back from vacation, weirdo

Practical concerns: nil

Day 28: The Color Out of Olive Garden

I’ve been reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft and if I were to describe his works in two words it would be: public domain. And I mean that in the best way possible. Because it’s really annoying that so much stuff is under copyright for about eighty years after you lose all interest in reading it. Looking at you Disney and Sonny Bono you moron.

Lovecraft is great at building eerie worlds that you just can’t help but fall into. Kind of like how Olive Garden is with pasta.

Imagine some misty New England morning. You’re walking along some overgrown path through an old wood. The kind of place where half the trees have died of old age and nobody has cut them down out of either respect or fear.

Close enough.

One of Lovecraft’s favorite themes is that there are creatures inhabiting this world that we don’t generally know about or encounter. There are alien beings persisting in ancient, forgotten places in forbidden hills or under the deep seas. But if you are the kind of curious person that is likely to keep after a mystery until it kills you, you might just run into one of these aliens. Say the right (or wrong) words and you just conjured up Cthulhu and congratulations you’re dead.

All this has been in my head lately so of course when I’m eating in the most alien place I know–The Olive Garden–naturally I find parallels.

We sat in a new booth this time (is anything here really new anymore, in any sense?) and I photographed the photographic image duct-taped to the wall paint. I hesitate to call it art.

In this image, we see a market in a city. Probably supposed to be a bunch of Italians doing Italian shopping for Italian things. Everybody is enraptured by the deal on these gross-looking veggies. Except that one guy in the bottom left.

Everybody is focused on what they want or need. The woman standing in the right foreground is sort of looking at the camera, but we’ll chalk that up to bad photography.

But that guy in the bottom left is staring, frozen, freaked out of his mind, at something in the bottom right of the shot. There’s nothing visible in the photograph except the road next to the vegetables. I doubt there was a car or bicycle accident occurring at the moment this photograph was taken because the photographer would likely have been bowled over by it, or at least the others would be running or shielding their children from the crash.

No, I believe the man is looking at the flash of my camera. This is his “color out of space,” his Lovecraftian moment. For he lives in a world of black and white and nobody else seems to notice except him that the flash of my own camera left a golden glare in the corner of the image.

But he saw it. He sees color he’s never seen before. He sees a flash from beyond he never imagined.

He wants to beg his companions, demand that they say they saw what he saw. They didn’t see it, though, you can tell that their faces register no such alien encounter.

At once this man realizes he has seen something more than he should have ever seen, and he sees his loneliness in that eternal moment. He can never share that knowledge–no one would ever understand.

To chase spirits and aliens, to see beyond what the eye may ken, is to make a hermit of oneself. To walk through a door is to realize you may never go back.

That’s what they call:

The Call of Unlimited Breadsticks

Item 1: linguini, mushroom Alfredo, battered shrimp

Breadsticks: 3

Weight: 166

Sight: beyond