Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Owner of Olive Garden Endless Pasta Bowl Pass Now Addicted to Andes Candies

Anne-Marie Remington of Naperville, IL purchased an all-you-can-eat Endless Pasta Bowl pass to her local Olive Garden with an eye toward sampling all conceivable combinations of the Olive Garden pasta menu.
“The endless soup and salad are really just a tease for me, you know, to get me in the door. What I’m totally fixated on is the crazy selection of Olive Garden pasta dishes. That’s why I bought the pass; just thought I’d dive in head first. I mean, with the Cucina Mia Create Your Own Pasta Bowl it’s pretty much sky’s the limit!
What Anne-Marie didn’t expect was to find herself growing addicted to another Olive Garden enticement, something so easily forgettable; an afterthought. She found herself getting hooked on the little Andies Candies mint and chocolate treats that Olive Garden slips into the leatherette case that holds the bill.
“I guess you could say it took me by surprise. I always fancied myself a carboholic, bread, cereal, chips…pasta, obviously. But after about a half dozen visits to The Garden I realized that I was just mindlessly chowing through the endless pasta bowls to get to the check. And those little, green foil wrapped bites of heaven. I began to ritualize eating them, slowly unwrapping that perfectly folded little envelope, revealing the rectangular brown and green vision inside. The snap of that first bite, and then it was all over; I just wolfed the rest. I found myself asking for seconds…and thirds. I knew I had a problem.
Soon she was at her local Naperville Olive Garden in the Fox Valley Mall seven nights a week. The wait staff even held a table for her and the seating hostess made a little folded name card that said “Reserved for Anne-Marie Remington – Endless Pasta Bowl Awesome Customer”.
“Of course I was gaining tons of weight, but I didn’t care, I really didn’t care. It got so bad at one point that I found myself standing in the local Staples Office Supply staring at a 250 count jar of Andes Candies meant for like, someone’s desk or something. When I came to and realized I was still standing there, just staring, an employee was asking me if I needed help. I didn’t know how long I had been standing there like that. I just whispered, “Yes, I need help” and ran out. I could see his red employee shirt out of the corner of my eye as he followed me out of the store asking what I was looking for, his little name tag “Friendly Staples Associate Mitch How Can I Help You?” bouncing on his shirt. I just kept running. I had hit rock bottom. I was so ashamed.”
It’s been six months since Marie has been inside of either an Olive Garden or a Staples Office Supply store and with the help of “Overeaters Anonymous” she is beginning to gain some perspective, and new friends.
“I found like five other “Endless Pasta Bowl Pass” owners at my meeting and we’ve pretty much bonded together as a group of survivors. Survivors of the most delicious and insidious festival of gluttony since Potbelly’s A Wreck.”
One thing Anne-Marie has kept to herself, however, is that her particular fixation wasn’t on the Bucatini and Five Cheese Marinara or the Giant Rigatoni with Spicy Three Meat or even the Whole Wheat Linguini with Asiago Alfredo but the little addiction bombs wrapped in green foil like some kind of a pre-Christmas gift from food addiction hell.
“Yeah. Everyone else in my little OGOEA crew, that’s Olive Garden Overeaters Anonymous, by the way, is hooked on one of the dishes from their menu and I front that my addiction is to the Cavatappi with Creamy Bacon and Sun Dried Tomato. I don’t want them to feel like I don’t, you know, belong so I keep the Andies Candies part private. I’ve made tons of progress; I basically won’t go within five miles of The Garden and that’s been super helpful. And the thought of a Staples Office Supply literally gives me the shakes.
Anne-Marie grows contemplative, her face taking on a dreamy, slightly troubled look.“I still dream about them, you know. In one I was actually inside that desktop jar of all those little green monsters and I was swimming and yelling and just as I was about to unwrap one I woke up. That night I didn’t get back to sleep. But I won’t give up…I won’t give up. It’s a journey.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Mad Men Recap: Hello, I'm Don Draper With McCann-Erickson

OK, first things first because Mad Men NEVER does this, but in last night’s episode, Lost Horizon, they engaged in a little fan service. At one point, in his new digs at McCann, Don leans toward one of the large plate glass windows lining one wall of his office and tentatively tests the security of said window. SHOUT OUT to those of us who have been watching him fall through the air in the graphic at the beginning of every episode for the last seven seasons. Later, we watch Don gaze out of the McCann conference room window, watching a jet trail the skies past the Empire State Building in an homage to one popular end game theory, namely that Don is the mysterious DB Cooper. We get it; you’re paying attention to us. Thanks?
Anyway, for me Lost Horizon was the episode that really began to get things into high gear and with two episodes left in the show’s run that’s a good thing. The SC&P offices in the Time/Life building are nearly empty, save for Harry’s precious computer which is being loaded out of its private room and, according to Harry, retired for good as McCann’s got an entire staff devoted to research. A few eps back I officially named Harry “the worst” for his sleazy hit on Megan and tonight’s colors are no better on him. Harry’s exchange with Roger is smarmy and superior, now that he has nothing left to fear from the newly defanged old lion. Roger has always despised Harry and has never tried to hide it. This last exchange, highlighting the newly upended power dynamics, only serves to make Harry look, if not worse, certainly no better. Since I’m pretty sure this might his final bow, it looks like Harry’s going to go out a douchebag. Bye, Felicia!
One of the themes of this episode was the bright line dividing those who would find a way to fit in at McCann (hello, Ted, Harry and Pete) versus those who, for various reasons would not (hello Don, Joan, Roger, Shirley “advertising is not a comfortable place for everyone”). So where’s Peggy in this line up? Well, Pegster’s making do at the increasingly creepy empty ex office of SC&P, trying to be productive in spite of her previously-on-assignment staffer making calls all day to what sounds like Russia and basically not giving a shit when she tells him he’s still employed by her. Even Peggy knows that’s weak tea and finally bids him farewell with a promise to call when she gets settled at McCann. Peggy is stuck at the old building because the knuckleheads at McCann, seeing her name, just assumed (of course they did) that she’s a secretary and don’t quite have an office ready for her. Wankers. No matter, Peggy is nothing if not resilient, so she comes to work each day, dressed and coiffed and refusing to occupy any temporary work space at McCann (that secretarial pool was actually suggested) until her office is ready. You go, girl.
Sadly Joan is not faring so well. Keeping her chin up Joan receives the McCann welcome wagon, a small group of fellow women workers who bring her a plant and an invite to join them at the Oyster Bar where it’s promised just to be fun “absolutely only consciousness lowering”. When next we see her Joan is on a call with her client at Avon and is stuck with junior account rep Dennis, one of the McCann Neanderthals who, in a previous meeting, suggested that Joan should sell bras. Anyway, the call goes disastrously as Dennis blunders his way through with Joan frantically trying to mend each fence that he breaks. With the tone deaf bluster of a drunken frat boy, Dennis suggests that, when they are next in the client’s hometown of Atlanta, that they get together for a friendly nine holes at Augusta. Do you like golf? Dennis asks. The client delivers an icy “No” and the call ends. A furious
Joan informs Dennis that the Avon client is confined to a wheelchair and demands to know why he didn’t bother to read the brief that she had spent the entire previous night preparing for him. They argue and Dennis storms out, finding a way to pin the blame for the disastrous call on Joan. So now we see, as does Joan, that this is the way it’s going to be for her at McCann. Nicht git. She appeals to Jim Hobart’s second in command, Ferg Donnelly, asking him to set Dennis, as a junior account man, straight and ensure that he gets an attitude adjustment. Ferg, more oily and less obvious, but just as odious, as Dennis, instead informs Joan that he’s going to partner with her himself and insists that their first order of business should be a trip, just the two of them, down to visit the client in Atlanta. Ferg says it will give them a chance to get to know one another better. He follows up, the next day, with flowers whose card reads: Pick Any Weekend, Ferg. Oh, Joanie, your collective fan base is so sorry that after all you’ve been through, the thanks you get is to end up with these human turds.
But Joan is not one to give up and raises the stakes by approaching Jim Hobart himself. Jim, the outwardly hospitable, oozing-bonhomie McCann dream-crusher-in-charge, tries to initially placate Joan by slow talking to her as if she were a child, giving her the new lay of the land, as it were. Basically, Joan, you’re fucked here at McCann, we don’t particularly give a shit who or what you were at SC&P, you don’t work there anymore and our plan doesn’t include you, at least not in the way you seem to be expecting it to. “Besides”, Hobart says, “you can’t expect Dennis to work for a girl.” This will be a scene that will launch 1,000 GIFs, as well it should; Joan, not one to be intimidated, meets Hobart without fear or apology, informing him that she will bring the righteous rage of the nascent feminist/EEOC/ Betty Friedan tornado of hurt upon McCann. We finally then see the real Jim Hobart, as he demonstrates that the misogynistic tone at McCann begins at the top. He tries to threaten Joan and shame her but our girl does not back down.
Finally he offers her fifty cents on the dollar to buy her out of her half-million partner’s stake to get rid of her. Joan stands firm and Hobart sneers that he’ll ruin her and then orders her from his office, demanding, like some kind of ancient Pharaoh, that he’ll not see her face again. This was one scene among a few where I actually cheered at the TV. In the year 2015 it’s probably hard for younger viewers to believe that such an exchange would have actually taken place, but Mad Men is nothing if not period true; Jim Hobarts were, sadly, among the dominant majority. At the end, Hobart dispatches Roger to deliver the news to Joan that the half price sell-out is all he’s offering. Roger tells her: “He’s not afraid of you.” To which Joan replies: “Then why did he send you?” Burn! In the end, though, Joan decides to accept Hobart’s offer. She takes her photo of Kevin and her Rolodex and leaves McCann. Fuckers.
Back to Peggy at the old digs. As she tries (and fails) to make herself a cup of instant coffee, she hears noises coming from another part of the deserted office space. Mad Men playfully adds an old timey, scary movie organ soundtrack to accompany Peggy as she warily walks through the empty space, calling out “Is someone there?” Someone is indeed there, and it’s Roger, playing an organ. HAH! The scene that unfolds between the two of them is among the more sentimental and affecting we’ve seen this season. Roger tells Peggy an old story from his days in the Navy and, as he scans the empty space around them, announces that SC&P was a good, old boat. Cue the waterworks, as this exchange between Roger and Peggy, steeped as it is in nostalgia for the old days, works on three levels, one of which is directed at viewers as a kind of reminder to and for us, that the show we’ve been devoted to for these seven seasons, has been, as Roger says, a good, old boat that will be missed by the actors, their fictional counterparts, and us.
The two of them drink Vermouth, the only bottle left in the deserted office, and Roger gives Peggy one of Cooper’s paintings, a 150-year-old Japanese work depicting a woman being sexually pleasured by an octopus. Peggy worries that, should she hang it in her office at McCann, the men she works with will get the wrong idea about her and it will undermine her credibility. In one of the sweetest exchanges of the series, Roger kindly assures Peggy that she doesn’t have to worry about how she acts while working with men. He might as well have said, Kid, don’t worry; you’ve got the chops, go out and do good work. As the scene ends, a drunken Roger is playing the organ and a drunker Peggy is roller skating through the empty SC&P hallways, a delightful visual. When last we see Peggy it’s the next day and, wearing dark hangover glasses and with a cigarette sticking out her mouth (ala Betty as she shoots the neighbor’s pigeons in Season 1), she’s walking through the gray halls of McCann to her now ready new office, her belongings in one arm and Cooper’s painting under the other. The camera shot is in slow motion as Peggy struts down the hallway, cutting a swath through the men of McCann who scurry to either side of her as she mows through them like a hot knife through butter. I want to believe that good things are in store for Peggy and that last scene makes me smile. For the second time in the hour I tell her out loud: You go, girl!
Finally there’s Don. He gamely arrives at his new office and, as mentioned above, peers out the window and tests the strength of the glass. He is welcomed by Jim Hobart and Ferg Donnelly, who upon Hobart’s insistence, does a very bad impression of Don. Apparently Ferg is McCann’s resident impressionist. Douchebag. Jim Hobart reminds Don (and us) that it’s been 10 long years that he’s been trying to get Don over to McCann. “You’re my white whale, Don.” Jim tells him, then reveals that he wants Don on a new account with Miller beer, something about a diet beer. As Don opens the door to leave Jim’s office, Jim prompts him, insisting really, that Don say his new tagline. Don obliges, and like a well-trained animal says: “I’m Don Draper with McCannErickson”. He looked like he wanted to take a shower and frankly we all did, too.
The next day as he enters the Miller meeting, Don is surprised to see a conference room filled with all of McCann’s creative directors, uniformly clad in white shirtsleeves and dark ties, each one grasping his roast beef sandwich box lunch. Don sees Ted who has saved him a box and everyone sits down and is introduced to Bill Phillips, the McCann head of research. As everyone sits around the conference table, pens poised over notebooks to capture what Bill is about to say, Don finds himself, again, the odd man out. Dressed out of uniform, in a blue suit, Don is shocked to find out that the Miller diet beer account isn’t truly his at all, he’s just part of a much larger team who have been brought together to collectively sell Miller’s new drink. As Bill Phillips begins to address the group of men, weaving the story of who, according to his research, their target customer is, (the kind of thing we’ve seen Don himself do many, many times before) Don’s attention drifts, gazing out the window at the aforementioned jet cruising past the Empire State Building. A few moments into Phillips’ pitch Don gets up and leaves the room. He heads over to the Francis house, ready to pick up Sally and deliver her back to school, only to find Betty there alone, reading Freud. Betty tells Don that Sally has already left, having gotten a ride from her friend. At first miffed that nobody thought to tell him, and after learning that his sons won’t be back for several hours, Don leaves, but not before offering Betty a genuine wish of good luck in her new studies (Bertie, you knock ‘em dead) and a quick shoulder rub.
We see Don in his big boat of a Cadillac take an exit west off of some freeway and we know that Don is pulling a Don and heading out to points unknown. Of course, where he’s headed is to Racine, Wisconsin, in search of the mysterious Diana. As he drives, late at night, he’s joined by Bert Cooper, in the shotgun seat, telling Don that chasing after mysterious, troubled women is not what he should be doing. Thanks, Bert, but you know he will anyway. Daylight finds Don in front of the home of the former Diana Bauer. He knocks on the front door and it’s answered by a woman in an apron, clearly not Diana. Don identifies himself as Bill Phillips and that he’s there to deliver a prize to one Diana Bauer, a new refrigerator full of Miller beer. The woman, somewhat confused, tells Don that he should really speak with her husband and invites him in to wait. Once inside Don is approached by a dark-haired girl, clearly Diana’s surviving child, who tells Don that if her mother won a prize that it should rightfully go to her. Don sadly agrees and then the girl walks out.

When the husband gets home Don tries to keep up his ruse but Diana’s ex is having none of it and calls Don on his subterfuge. Flustered, Don apologizes and tries to change his story to one of a humble bill collector, but again, the husband calls bullshit on him. Don retreats back to his car but Diana’s ex follows him out there, leaning in the driver’s side window to continue berating an abashed Don. “Your fine suit, a Cadillac; you’re no bill collector. Do you think you’re the only one that’s come looking for her? She’s a tornado and leaves people in her wake.” Shaken, Don apologizes again and leaves, but not before the ex-husband tells Don: “God took my daughter and the devil took my wife.” He then offers Don salvation in Christ and walks back to the house.As the episode ends Don is still driving, to where we don’t know and likely neither does he. The terrain tells us it’s still the Midwest; flat road with fields as far as the eye can see on either side. As he drives a hitchhiker appears and at first, from our distant vantage point in front of the car, he appears to be a hobo, harking back to Don’s encounter, as a boy, with the hobo at his father’s farm, the hobo who had left a wife, and a job to roam the open road in order to be able to sleep again. As Don slows the car to pick up the hitchhiker we see that he’s a hippie and that he’s headed for St. Paul. Don shrugs and tells him “I can go that way.” David Bowie’s eerie “Space Oddity” plays us out as the car heads off into the distance. Don is unmoored and with two episodes left that’s a fun place for a fan to be. I’m all in.