AUTHOR: Beth TITLE: DATE: 9/29/2004 03:07:00 PM ----- BODY:

Broken Covenant

I cannot tell a lie--I have broken a promise. That promise, which I rent utterly and shamefully asunder yesterday, was never to patronize the Friendly's Restaurant on Montvale Ave again. My battle with this place has been ongoing, and yesterday, I lost. It was the chicken parm sandwich. It called me like a siren, weaving her bewitching song on razor-sharp rocks, calling the wayward sailor toward certain doom. Damn you, chicken parm sandwich, you ghost of the deep! And the shoestring fries. Goddamn, those shoestring fries. Plus Steve had come down to meet me for lunch, and I didn't want to go to the drive-thru when it might be the only time we might see each other all day (turns out the story I'd been assigned last night fell through, but I of course couldn't know that at the time). We were goddamned going to sit across an honest-to-Christ table like civilized fucking human beings and talk over lunch, thank you very kindly. That and the eerie spell of the chicken parm sandwich proved more than I could bear. Friendly's it was. I am a weak and wretched being. There was a strange stink--as I have been noticing more and more often during the most recent visits I've made to this godforsaken establishment--that greeted us newcomers to the door long before the server did, some combination of soured milk and baby vomit. We asked for our check with our meal and synchronized ourselves with the huge clock all Friendly's restaurants seem to keep just inside the door, though it looks like it belongs outside. 12:30. Maybe, just maybe, we could be out by 20 past one, if the gods were smiling and we played this right. "What do you want to drink?" The waitress lisped. Like many of the workers at this Friendly's, she had a physical quirk to separate her from the rest--in this case, a speech impediment that was quite pronounced. We ordered, and before I could slip in that we'd like to order lunch as well (the better to keep her from wandering off and forgetting about us for forty-five minutes), she had limped off, revealing another of her sideshow-like qualities. We sat back, basking in the stench. I focused on the chicken parm sandwich with all my might, thinking of the warm, buttery toast, the juicy breaded chicken, the sloppy helping of marinara sauce and gluey parmesan cheese holding the whole thing together. This thing, I shit you not, is heaven on two slices of white. And no Friendly's makes it quite like this Friendly's. Dear God, the chicken parm tortures me even now. Just thinking of the salty sting of the marinara, then the saccharine pang as I wash it down with a sip of regular Coke makes me shiver with craving. Add to that the provocative mixture of the pickle spear with the other two tastes, till there's a kind of three-ring salty-sweet-bitter circus going on in my mouth...bliss. This may be hard to understand, but I get cravings for that chicken parm like I've never craved any single food before. Because if I get a craving for a cheeseburger, any ol' beef patty with any ol' slice of American will do--Mickey D's, BK, Wendy's, homecooked, or generic. Chinese food? That taste can easily be accomplished at any number of establishments. Ice cream? Ben and Jerry's, the local stand, Haagen Daaz, Hood in a gallon block, low-fat, high-fat, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, whatever. But when I want a chicken parm, I want that particular Friendly's chicken parm from that particular horrible Friendly's, not any other kind of chicken parm, not from any other Friendly's, even--it has to be that chicken parm from that place, period. Regular Coke, slightly crunchy shoestring french fries, tons of ketchup, and the all-important pickle spear. So, hanging my head in shame, I went, for this diabolical sandwich over which I must now admit I have no power. And I was rewarded with the otherwise shitty experience I've come to expect with chicken parm excellence. It took twenty-five minutes for our food to come out. Twenty-five minutes. I don't understand it. I've gone to restaurants and received chicken marsala in under fifteen. I've received slow-cooked grilled-to-perfection steaks in twenty. Why does it take twenty-five for toast, nuke the chicken fingers, slap the sauce and cheese on, throw fries on the plate, pickle spear? How does that take more than ten minutes? It's not like they need to painstakingly whittle down every fry from a whole potato. It's not like they're actually making anything, for Chrissakes. All that's needed is a microwave, a pair of functioning human appendages, a brain capable of setting a microwave timer, and slight sense of urgency. Goddamnit. So the waitress finally comes back, slaps down our food (presentation is not key, here) and stands there looking at is as if she's been suddenly robbed of the ability to speak the moment a critical message occurred to her. Finally, she springs into action, runs halfway down the aisle, comes back, fishes around in her apron, and produces a slip of paper. "There," she beams as if she expects to now be admitted into the Order of the Garter for her contributions to Western Civilization, "I remembered." Oh. Our check. Right. What am I supposed to do, applaud? Maybe if she was a monkey. I suppose a lack of opposable thumbs might make that an impressive feat given the circumstances. We eat as leisurely as possible given that we now must stuff our entire plates into our mouths in about five minutes in order to be back in time for me to go back to work, and ignore the check for a little while. Finally I pick it up. $34.00!!! What the... Picture, then, a gathering storm cloud over my head as I look at the check. It is substantially longer than a check with two simple lunch orders would be. It lists honey barbecue chicken, clam chowder, side salad, honey mustard chicken sandwich, sundaes, and so on. Just by happenstance, I glance over at the next table. Honey barbecue chicken, check, clam chowder, check, side salad, check, honey mustard chicken sandwich, check, sundaes, check, and so on. Okay. Let's step back, here. I realize I may be unreasonable about this, especially given my history with this place, but for some reason this never ceases to infuriate me. There are approximately three people besides us, and the table next to us. There are approximately three waitresses on duty. How is it that a simple request for a slip of paper with our food and its cost listed on it could be so royally fucked up? Especially when the waitress went out of her way to make a big show of fishing it out, looking at it, plopping it down on the table, and announcing she'd remembered it? And thus the entire purpose of asking for the check was negated. I now had to flag down the waitress, which was what I was looking to avoid in the first place by asking for the check with the meal, since every time I have attempted to flag down a waitress at this Friendly's after food delivery has been accomplished, I have failed fairly spectacularly. This was no exception. When we finally flagged her down, it took three tries to explain to her what had happened. "Oh!" she finally exclaimed, and you could just see a dusty, bare light bulb flickering weakly on above her head, "I gave you the wrong check! Ha ha!" And then she disappeared. When she finally came back with our check, I discovered to my dismay that we would require change. Another kiss of death at the Friendly's on Montvale Ave. The waitress had, of course, already left again. Another interminable wait ensued, until she came back and asked us brightly if we needed change. I said yes. She took our $30 and the check and disappeared again. Now. The bill had come to $23 and change. I had a twenty, Steve had a ten, and I had four ones. As ridiculous as this experience had been, I wasn't going to leave a 26-cent tip, and hence the need for change. The change from $30 was $6 and some coins. I expected six ones, as would be common courtesy given that a customer still has to figure out the tip and may want to divide the money any number of ways. Nope. The waitress returned with the $6 in change represented by a five, a one, and the requisite coins. So, excellent. Not knowing I had the four ones, she was essentially setting it up so that I a) would need to wait again, as well as be a total asshole about it and ask for change for the five, thereby appearing a cheap, petty bitch; b) would need to leave a dollar-and-coins tip, thereby appearing a cheap, bitchy miscreant, or c) would need to leave her the five and call it even. I was tempted to take choice b. I would have been tempted to take choice c if I'd still had my beverage to leave the five-spot submerged in. I was feeling that nasty. Instead, drawing on the serenity of a chicken parm safely in my belly, I deployed the four ones. "I hate this place," I told Steve. "Let's go."