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!