September 13th, 2009
This is my first blog entry that I write to you airborne on American Airlines flight 201 from New York to Los Angeles. I debated pulling an all-nighter as it seemed to make sense to book a 6:35am flight three months ago. At 1:00am I thought my “edgy journalistic self” would just saunter down to Smith Street , a popular nightlife destination filled with a writable mix of authentic artsy brooders and douchalicious gems. I’m a good candidate for this observational task because I’m young enough to blend and old enough to judge.
Um, yeah. This little middle of the night field trip never happened. But I assure you that such an escapade will be noted down the line after 8-10 overpriced Starbucks espressos.
So now I’m left 35,000 miles up in the sky(with internet access..thank you 2009) only to estimate how many Olive Gardens are in between JFK and LAX. I’ve always had an odd fascination with the über “American” Italian style eatery. I give the actors in their commercials a lot of credit for pulling off the believability factor of pretending to enjoy eating at a chain restaurant at a strip mall in Duluth. Olive Garden, I see that you’re trying to replicate Italia with your old-world, stucco walled and foliaged décor. Kudos for the addition of background music consisting of Italian themes. It’s very cute. But you’re a bit presumptuous to assume that “When You’re Here, You’re Family.” Really Olive Garden? Does that mean you’ll encourage me to contribute to a ROTH IRA to prepare for retirement? You’ll have the awkward sex talk with me when I’m coming of age? Should I assume some Lifetime Original Movie unpleasant family secrets might be revealed during Thanksgiving? I recall a commercial from years ago that had a red state-esque citizen exclaim, “When my Uncle Gino comes to visit us from the old country, we take him to the Olive Garden!” What we don’t see is Uncle Gino’s (you have to be kidding me) response...”Fuck Youuuuuuu.”
Maybe I’m being too hard on the OG. After all, there is something soothing about its reliable mediocrity. Accepting the mediocre works for us when getting a haircut at Supercuts, drinking draft beer and seeing a Julia Roberts Blockbuster(well, that might be one notch below the middle.)
Could there be something complex about this chain restaurant’s simplicity? Who are they hiring? What is the essence of the server of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl? I saw a more intricate angle of the Olive Garden after spending time(in my head) with longtime employee/waitress Boberta. You can refer to her as Bobert for shirt. Bobert for shirt? Yes, Bobert for shirt. Her freakishly masculine demeanor and Isaac Hayes low voice can be a bit off putting..especially since she has such nice supple breasts. After speaking with this born-again something, I saw the inner workings of the Garden and who they were willing to bring on board. I visited the restaurant in their Livingston, NJ location( still in my mind )and over the Five Cheese Ziti al Forno, Boberta shared her story. Interesting note, the background Italian melodies were replaced by The Young and the Restless theme music.
“Listen. I know. I get it. I’ve been mannish since my blood flowing years. Once puberty hit, my voice and mannerisms became what the doctors called “Delayed Onset Dudeness”. My dads turned down the idea of having me get a “a dudetectomy”….the risks of the procedure were just too high. My teenage years were filled with ridicule and shame. But then I had a salvation, a conversion, a spiritual rebirth if you will. My life altering moment came when I was introduced to the ballads of a musical group called Menudo, lovable teenage Puerto Ricans. As you might recall, this Latin group made a medium-sized splash in America during the mid-'80s The initial lineup formed around brothers Carlos and Oscar Melendez plus Nefty and Fernando Sallaberry. But, to the world’s dismay, each of these innocent Latin manboys were forced out once they reached the age of 16…only to be replaced by a new breed of awkward Puerto Ricans prepubescents. One ousted lad by the name of Enrique Martín Morales(Ricky Martin in layman's terms) was blessed with a divine perseverance that guided and empowered him exceptional courage to pursue a mediocre solo career of his own. One day while watching Die Hard: With a Vengeance, I decided that I too could overcome aversion and journey to the middle. I went to the closest Olive Garden(where they paved paradise to put up a parking lot) and the management saw this determination…this fire in my eye…they took a chance. Yes, they are more than a family restaurant…they are… my family.”