Day 44: Secret Menu Item 3!

I know, we forgot about building the secret menu. I’ll try to make it up to you with this crazy healthy, delicious hack!

I know how much everybody loves Olive Garden breadsticks. I’m the same way. What we don’t all love is how halfway through a fresh stick you end up with a tongue full of salt and this quickening in your chest that probably isn’t caused by the excitement of eating at your favorite restaurant.

So, if you want to enjoy your bread and eat it, too, here’s a simple secret you can try.

Step 1: order drinks (just water for me, thanks)

Step 2: when the waiter starts to leave, make this hurried sound like you just remembered some other thing you wanted, so he doesn’t think you’ve been planning to screw up their system or anything (oh, I’m sorry, would it be possible to get the breadsticks plain? Without the topping?)

Step 3: after the waiter nods, and says, sure, you cut off anything else he wants to say to dissuade you from throwing a wrench into the kitchen’s gears (we don’t mind waiting!)

Step 4: clearly he doesn’t mind waiting either if he’s still working here. As he goes off to complain about you to the chefs, you can relax and count how many more breadsticks you can eat without the topping on it.

The fact of the matter is, when these babies are fresh, they’re great. And even if they’re not painted over with a salt-and-grease wash, they’re actually quite good. Especially if you dip them into your sauces, in particular the Alfredo sauces.

Now, this isn’t a health tip unless you want to pretend it is. But I’d rather eat my salt and oil with flavor, rather than just heaped on top of other salt and oil. Call me uncultured.

Also, since they go to all the trouble to bake you up some clean bread, the waiter will usually bring you out a bigger basket of them than you’d get with a normal round. So even though refilling that basket might take a while, you likely won’t need to.

Anyway, if you forget these tips, just tell yourself this:

Use your head: wipe the bread.


Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, grilled chicken


Breadsticks: 2

Weight: 168

Wait: “Oh, I don’t mind, thanks so much!”

Day 43: Greening

Here’s a plant that separated us from the booth next to us:

This plant is going to hear an awful lot of dumb conversation in its life.

Because nobody’s coming here to have some kind of deep moment of clarity: everything is against it. You eat too much heavy food to have heavy talk, and nobody just comes here to order coffee or tea.

It’s not that you can’t have a good conversation here, it’s just that there’s always somebody on the other side of the grass. Okay, well, in the picture there’s nobody present, but about five minutes later a couple were seated over there. And I heard them talk about things. I don’t know, it was actually Wednesday, so I don’t remember. Oh, yeah, they were talking about the challenge of buying a house in this place. Which is something I also understand. But they seemed like they were closer to it than we are, and that just made me feel annoyed, because these two jokers who CHOSE to eat at Olive Garden, rather than we who are COMPELLED to eat here by this ball and chain we call a Pasta Pass, are somehow making better financial decisions than we are.

So don’t go to Olive Garden to have important conversations, because I’m just going to be sitting there, annoyed, wondering what your life has to do with mine, and why yo’re eating in my dining room.

I’m not territorial about the place, just more about the purpose of the place. This isn’t where you share life’s milestones: this is where you go when your car breaks down on the Delta Highway and you squint through white smoke until you’ve limped the thing over the bridge and pulled into the Olive Garden lot and then called the AAA tow truck and found out exactly how long it’s going to take for him to show up, and figure you might as well just eat here, since it looks like there’s no way you’re driving to Red Robin anytime soon, and so you order what looks like the cheapest filling thing on the menu, which is spaghetti and meatballs, and you don’t want it, but you force down have of it anyway, because who knows when you’re going to be able to afford to eat out again after paying for whatever new engine this stupid Corsica needs, and then you ask for a Styrofoam box for your leftover pasta because the tow guy is finally here and then dash out to the parking lot to help him put that red mess on four wheels up on back of the truck, and then cram yourself in the tiny cab with the guy and make pleasant, Olive-Garden-level conversation while sweating under that styrofoam box that somehow didn’t cost you $15 but $1500 or whatever it takes to get the car back together.

So if you’re thinking about visiting The Olive Garden, just remember the grass is greenest at home, so stay home.


Item 1: linguine, mushroom alfredo, shrimp


Breadsticks: 2.5

Weight: 167

Memory: Permanent

Day 42: Life, the Universe, and Everything

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams explained that the meaning of life is 42. That’s what the great computer, Deep Thought, came up with at least. But the answer is 42 what?

Is it 42 pieces of lettuce in my salad?

Is it 42 trips to the Olive Garden?

Is it the 42 lessons we learned along the way?

I was reading the Book of Job last week for personal reasons. I love this book despite never really wanting to read every word of it. In some ways it’s the most human book in the whole Bible, because it’s concerned with suffering and injustice and the inscrutable will of God. It’s also intensely opaque and ambiguous: you could read the book and feel that life is arbitrary, or not. Because what was the point of Job’s suffering? To make him realize what he had, and appreciate it when he got it back? I don’t think so.

It’s ambiguous, like that number 42, in part because it’s hard to figure out who’s right in the book. Most of the text is just Job’s idiot friends yelling at him for screwing up, and Job firing back that he didn’t do anything wrong, at least nothing that he knows about. And we have to agree with Job, that he’s the good guy, except that in the end after God is done telling Job’s friends to make sacrifices because they’re so bad at giving advice–and telling them that He’ll forgive them only because they’re Job’s friends–God turns around and tells Job not to forget his place in the universe.

And that, my friends, is real life. Even when we’re the good guys, even when we didn’t do anything wrong, God still says that He’s the only one who can make those judgments.

It’s like you want God to run down like a boxing referee and swing Job’s fist into the air and hail him the winner of the philosophical bout, but God doesn’t do that. He says Job’s friends are wrong, but Job is wrong, too, for counting himself righteous. He can’t make himself good, God, implies, and neither can anybody else.

It’s dispiriting for those of us who might tend to feel a little self-righteous at times. Why doesn’t God pat us on the back for being so right?

Oh, and one other thing about Job’s story: there’s 42 chapters in it.

Maybe 42 really is the answer.


Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, mixed veggies


Breadsticks: 2.5

Weight: 167

Wait: not long at all




Day 41: Good

When in doubt or despair, these two will cheer you up again and again and again:

When you’re feeling down it’s good to be with the ones you love.

Because they’re the proof that things are good always.

There’s a song by Israel Houghton, I believe, and it’s either called “You Are Good” or “We Worship You.” As worship songs are kind of hard to parse out online, that’s as specific as I’m going to bother to get. However, in this chorus, there’s a mantra that emerges, as you sing:

You are good, all the time,

All the time, You are good

You are good, all the time,

(And) all the time, You are good!

(Note: you’re supposed to repeat that chorus for an hour or two, depending on the enthusiasm of your worship leader.)

Anyway, you’re singing it to and about God, so it’s one of those interesting places where you’re talking to somebody else, but really you’re not, because He already knows what you’re talking about. It’s like when you introduce somebody and say, this lady did this thing, and that thing, and the other thing, and here she is, welcome! but she already knows all that stuff about herself. She hasn’t just read her resume–she wrote it.

So at some point you realize that even though the song is addressing God, it’s really also a way of talking to yourself. And that’s especially true because, even though God is pretty familiar with Himself, we aren’t always. Which means that we get to ponder this simple axiom over and over again and consider what it means.

Whenever I’m going through a difficult time, this song and these verses pop back into my head and start jabbering at me when I’m trying to go to sleep. It’s probably some kind of protective reflex for my psyche, because I don’t want to live in a world where nothing makes sense. But it’s also an interesting study in philosophy. Because if God is good all the time–if He refuses to take any days off from being good–then what does that say about my circumstances?

If God is really good all the time, then is he not in control of the bad things that happen to me? Or if he is good all the time, then are the bad things that happen to me actually good things?

Either way it’s a tough sell, but that axiomatic lyric gets stuck in your teeth. …He is good, all the time, all the time, He is good…

It means you have to think: it forces you to face complications. Like, maybe this terrible thing that’s happening in my life is only terrible from my point of view: maybe it’s necessary to make me into who I need to become. If a good God is allowing evil to happen to me, then maybe it’s not evil after all.

This is the kind of thing you have to think about on your own terms. I would never walk up to somebody suffering and tell him that God was doing a great work through his suffering. First of all, because, I don’t know why he’s suffering, and second of all because I don’t think words like that actually help people who are in pain.

But if somebody asks me about my experience, I can say that somehow, inexplicably, God is good all the time, and all the time, He is good.


Item 1: Linguine, alfredo, meatball

Item 2: Same as above


Breadsticks: 2

Weight: 167

Weight of Glory: infinite

Day 40: Flat

I feel flat. Like this picture:

It’s been interesting seeing the before and after art at the Olive Garden that’s being remodeled here in town.

The thing about it is that the art still feels really flat, two-dimensional.

Like it’s literally flat, but it barely even pulls off the illusion of three dimensions. It hardly even tries. The buildings are all mashed together and that ruins the frame of reference, and sort of squishes the foreground and background into one level. The people might as well be cardboard.

In art class we learned that the reason you’re supposed to paint the real pumpkin sitting in the middle of the classroom instead of painting it from a photo is because photos and images flatten things. They don’t want to , but they do. The lens of the human eye, in contrast, keeps some of the roundness. So if you paint from real life, you’ve got a little more hope of representing reality.

But I feel flat because suddenly my job ends at the end of summer and that’s the end of so many things.


Item 1: linguine, meat sauce, breaded shrimp


Breadsticks: 2

Weight: 167

Expiration: Soon