Since Chooch’s birthday party is two weeks after his actual birthday, I thought it would be nice to take him out for a (small) family birthday dinner over the weekend. I kept trying to think of fun places we could do this, but he picked Olive Garden for some unknown reason. He’s never been there, but he’s seen commercials and doesn’t quite understand that just because he’s obsessed with Italy, that doesn’t mean he’s going to suddenly like Italian food. Because he doesn’t. One of my favorite Italian restaurants is a family-owned joint in McKeesport called Tillie’s, but every time we take Chooch there he bitches about the “stench.”
That “stench” is homemade tomato sauce. God!
Anyway, while I’m not much of a fan of Olive Garden (or any chain restaurant, really), it was his choice, so that is where we went. Henry’s mom hasn’t been feeling well, and Blake and Robbie couldn’t make it (that is, assuming that Henry even ASKED them, which was his only goddamn job), so it was just us three, plus Janna and Corey. The perfect number, really.
Originally, we were going to meet at 4, because we wanted to beat the dinner rush, but also because I wanted to be home in time for the hockey game and the world revolves around me, Chooch’s birthday or not. (In fact, I bought myself a limited release Jonny Craig record on Chooch’s birthday, because I deserve presents too.)
Around 3pm on Saturday, Henry started getting antsy and decided that he wanted to go sooner rather than later, and he was acting akin to some Southern elder afraid of missing the blue plate special. I couldn’t take his weird pacing any longer so I texted Janna and Corey to tell them we were bumping up the time. Corey wound up getting there right after us, but Janna, even though she said she was leaving, didn’t get there until after 4.
I know that the odds of dining with a roomful of octogenarians is par for the course when you go to a restaurant in between lunch and dinner, but it was like hospice in there. I’m not even trying to be a dickhead about it, either. One elderly woman was wheeled in on a hospital bed to a table right behind Corey and he was so uncomfortable knowing that she was behind his chair. Another frail, elderly woman at a table next to us looked like was dying. And then just other deathly quiet Olds were scattered around our section making for a totally morose and funereal ambiance. It was like a nursing home field trip.
Corey kept saying, “OMG I just want Janna to get here!” so she would sit next to him and shield him from the decay & inevitable pleurisy-powered coughs happening all around us.
Meanwhile, Chooch told the (totally adorable) waiter that he would be having “1% low-fat chocolate milk” to drink.
Then Janna arrived and Chooch told her she’s a disappointment.
I think the last time I was at an Olive Garden was the summer of 2004 when Henry and I were staying outside of Cleveland, Ohio for the Cure’s Curiosa Festival, and I was throwing one of my patented “If you don’t feed me ASAP, I will make Lorena Bobbitt look like an angel of mercy” tantrums. Of course I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat and we didn’t know what else was around (no Smartphones, yo), so Henry practically dragged me by my hair to the Olive Garden next to our (probably shitty) hotel. I had a vague recollection of really enjoying the portobello ravioli and was happy to see they were still on the menu.
Friends, try to remember back to when you were a kid, how fucking sensational Chuck E. Cheese pizza tasted to you. How you never minded having to stop playing in the ball pit when your food was ready because that pizza was the motherfucking BOMB. And then try to remember the first time you had that pizza as an adult. How it was like Sad Trombone playing between mouthfuls of mediocrity.
And that is what it was like for me at Olive Garden on Saturday. I mean, I’m no gourmand, but this nothing like what my 21-year-old jejune palate once deemed as “better than sex.” But, it got the job done.
We also ordered some sort of lasagna appetizer thing, and also chicken strips and fried mozarella per the birthday boy’s request. Chooch had a nice time concocting his own menu items by shoving fried mozarella into hollowed-out breadsticks.
Chooch was adamant on ordering alfredo (which he kept pronouncing phonetically as “fred-o”) sauce with his pasta, so Henry sighed and told the totally adorable waiter (who we found out later graduated a year after Corey from the same high school we all attended) to please bring it on the side. Chooch was like, “Wait, I’m not done” and also ordered a meatball and Italian sausage, and chose mashed potatoes as his side.
I have never seen that child eat mashed potatoes. Ever. Not even on fucking THANKSGIVING.
Our food came and Chooch proceeded to eat everything with his hands, even though ten minutes beforehand, he had been preaching about how Olive Garden is a “fancy” restaurant. I kept telling Chooch to stop eating like a vagrant when I noticed that among the pile of noodle refuse under the table and around Chooch’s feet was one that had landed perfectly in a pretzel shape. I should have taken a dumb picture.
“It’s nice to see that Corey can cut his own food now,” Henry said, in a rare moment of audience participation. He’s usually mute when Corey and Janna are around, and I think it’s because he knows he can’t match the wits of us young’uns. Maybe one day, us whippersnappers will be interested in talking about gas prices, nondescript t-shirts and hemorrhoids, and then we can enjoy a real, multi-lateral round table discussion, but hopefully somewhere cooler than Olive Garden.
Back to Henry’s comment: Ten years ago, me, Henry, Janna, Corey and Chooch’s godfather Brian went to the Harmony Inn for a murder mystery dinner that my friends were performing in, and Henry had to cut Corey’s pork chops. I think that was the moment Henry finally accepted his fate as Everyone’s Caregiver.
My favorite Henry/Corey memory though is also from 2004. It was one of the weekends Henry’s kids were staying with us, and Corey—who is the same age as Robbie—decided to sleep over. For some reason, Corey REALLY WANTED SPRINKLES. No, we weren’t eating ice cream or anything. He just wanted a fucking bottle of sprinkles to drink. It was already kind of late, and we made Henry drive around looking for an open store that might sell sprinkles.
Yes, Corey eventually got his sprinkles, and then made himself sick on them. GOD, HENRY! WAY TO ENABLE MY BROTHER!
We managed to wrap things up (literally: Chooch put nary a dent in his plate and we had a ton to take home for Henry to devour later) before any of the old people expired atop their bottomless salad bowls, although there was some issue with the lady in the hospital bed that required someone to pull out a roll of duct tape.
Chooch said he had a good time, and that’s all that matters. He kept us (and the super adorable waiter) entertained, that’s for sure.
EDIT: I have just been informed by Corey & Henry that in addition to the hospice party, a little person was also there OMG.