There was this girl in high school named Shannon who was one of the funniest people I’d ever met. Everything she did was deliberately hilarious, from the way she’d walk down the hall, eat her lunch, or say hello to the phys-ed teacher. She had fantastic comedic timing. But it was exhausting being around her because you’d constantly be trying to keep the jokes going. One time we were driving down Talbot Street in St. Thomas, Ontario, trying to choose a drive-thru during our lunch hour. I don’t remember the make of her car, only that it was a funny shade of green and very, very long. It was probably the longest car I’d ever been in. Shannon said her signal/indicator didn’t work so, with her right hand on the steering wheel, and her whole body slouched low in her bench seat, she would perform hand signals out the window with her left arm. I think she was also talking in a hillbilly accent the entire time. I remember laughing uncontrollably.
Instead of a drive-thru, we settled on Pizza Hut for lunch. We laughed our way through our Caesar salads and our delicious, oil-soaked mini pizzas. And when the bill came, we got our money and waited for the change. The server was no where to be found. In fact, no staff member was anywhere to be found. So Shannon said we should just leave. It wasn’t our fault, she reasoned, that nobody wanted our money. I remember feeling morally conflicted for about three seconds but then who wants to be the stick-in-the-mud with a friend like Shannon? And I mean, wouldn’t it be HILARIOUS to just walk out of the Pizza Hut and not pay for our lunch?
It wasn’t exactly hilarious when I got home from school and saw the look on my parents’ faces. Turns out Pizza Hut called the cops on us, after the bus boy recognized me (I was extremely popular in high school.) My parents had to go in and pay the bill. One footnote here: I wasn’t a troublemaker back then. In fact, I was a great kid who did well at school, performed in school plays, was a Varsity athlete and had a part-time after-school job. (And I was extremely popular in high school. Actually, I peaked in high school.) So my parents were new at this game of punishment. They asked me what I was thinking when we walked out on the bill. I told them that I wasn’t thinking and t it had been Shannon’s idea in the first place so I’d been peer-pressured into doing it. There were some moments of silence as the three of us worked through this new territory in parent-child relations. And, if memory serves correct, there were even little smirks on their faces, like they were thinking, this is so weird! This kid never fucks up! It’s almost…funny!
The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes when you think you have an hilarious idea, it’s best not to execute it: Some things are simply funnier in theory, like going to Red Lobster for example.
For years, the Beast and I–for reasons unknown–have joked about going to the Red Lobster outpost at Bay and Dundas in downtown Toronto. Another foodnote: it’s not that Red Lobster is hilarious. In fact in some cities, Red Lobster is a great restaurant option. But in Toronto, a city that’s bursting at the seams with all sorts of interesting food destinations at all sorts of price points, going to Red Lobster is sort of like buying a loaf of Wonder bread in the middle of Paris.
But the Beast needed to buy a special hair product at this specialty beauty supply store that’s located right across the street from the Red Lobster. Our time had come.
Foodie: Do you realize that there are three menus before us?
Our server must have sensed our fear.
Server: Well hello there! I’m Elizabeth and I’ll be serving you tonight. Do you need any help with the menu?
Foodie: There are three of them!
Server: Our Shrimp Lover’s Fest is on right now and then we’ve also started a “fresh from the grill” menu and there’s our regular menu too. Have you two been here before?
Beast: Maybe once when I was twelve. There used to be a treasure chest, right? Do you still have the treasure chest?
Server (laughing): Oh no. They phased out the treasure chest a long time ago I’m afraid. Well, how it works is that for most meals you get a choice of salad to start and then you choose either a baked potato, french fries or rice to go with your main.
Foodie: What about those famous cheese buns? Do we get those?
Server: You get as many as you like. The only reason I haven’t brought you any yet is because they’re just about to come out of the oven so they’ll be warm and fresh for you.
Foodie: How lovely! Well, I know what I’d like. I’m going to have this shrimp festival thing and I’ll choose three options from this here list: I’ll take the garlic shrimp, the Cajun shrimp and, oh, I don’t know…
Server: Get the crab-stuffed shrimp–it’s my favourite!
Foodie: And the crab-stuffed shrimp it is!
Server: And for you sir?
Beast: I think I’ll have the Fisherman’s Feast.
We both opted for Caesar salads and baked potatoes for our sides. And before too long, the mythical cheese buns appeared on our table.
Foodie: These are very, very good.
The Caesar salad, sadly, was not.
Foodie: So let me see this hair product you came all the way down here for.
Beast: It’s called “Booster”. I noticed that my friend Dave’s hair was looking particularly shiny, wavy and healthy and he swore by this product.
Beast: I don’t know.
Foodie: Well I can hardly wait to see how luxurious it makes your hair! Did you notice the music playing in here?
Beast: Just that it was non-offensive. Why?
Foodie: I’m just shocked that there’s so much “indie-rock” playing. It’s just so hip.
Beast: If we were in a movie right now, and this was the soundtrack playing, Jason Reitman would be the director.
Foodie: Or whoever directed 500 Days of Summer. But then we wouldn’t be conversing right now. We’d just be staring wistfully into each other’s eyes. I still can’t believe that movie was on so many top ten lists. I mean, it’s about a couple that we’re supposed to find so interesting and so darling but they only ever exchange about ten words at a time before getting cut off by a song.
Good thing I got cut off: Our server Elizabeth arrived with dinner perched atop a gigantic tray.
Foodie: WOW. Does anybody actually clean their plate here?
Server: Believe it or not, yes.
I counted 25 shrimp in my shrimp festival thing. TWENTY-FIVE.
Foodie: How is it?
Beast: It’s good. To be honest, I just got this Fisherman’s Feast because it had a lobster component. But the lobster is sort of the weakest part of the plate, which is kind of astonishing since this place is called Red Lobster. How’s your shrimp?
Foodie: The garlic shrimp is really garlicky. The Cajun shrimp is tasty. I feel sort of sad though because the one Elizabeth the server recommended is my least favourite. It tastes like it’s just got Cheese Whiz all over it.
Beast: Let me try!
Foodie: Have all you want. I think I might be done soon.
Beast (tasting my crab-stuffed shrimp): Oh, this is amazing!
Foodie: You’re full of shit.
Beast: You haven’t even finished half your meal.
Foodie: This is the most food I’ve ever received on one plate in any restaurant. This is enough food for three people. And there’s so much sodium pumping through my veins right now that my fingers are swollen.
The Beast cleaned his plate. I ate half. The bill was reasonable, so I can understand why a family of six would want to come here. Also, it’s easy, there’s something for everybody, and it’s easy. But I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon. As for the Beast…
Foodie (Outside Red Lobster, walking home): I feel terrible! Don’t you feel terrible?
Beast: Yes, like hell. That was an expensive joke.
Foodie: But dinner wasn’t that expensive.
Beast: Yes, but jokes should be free. We just paid for a joke.
Foodie: I see your point. How many stars would you give Red Lobster?
Beast: Four stars.
Foodie: What?! Are you kidding me?!
Beast: It was delicious.
Foodie: But we both feel sick and everything tasted the same and I had shrimp with Cheese Whiz on it!
Beast: I’d give it four stars on the strength of those cheese rolls alone.
The line between jokes and reality was so blurred, I just let it go.