Mood (De-)Enhancer

by Tom Swift

There are places in America that are downright depressing. You might be perfectly content. You may otherwise be in a pleasing part of town. It could well be a beautiful day. Then you step in the door and your mood immediately sinks.

I think we can all agree that Applebee’s is one of these places.

Look: I had gift certificate — OK? The thing’s been burning a hole in my wallet for months. Heck, to think of it, I am pretty sure I have had that plastic card for a year or more. I can’t recall, frankly, which Christmas the gratis riblets appeared in my proverbial stocking. Finally in the “neighborhood” yesterday and ready for a free meal — shuddup — I whipped it out and walked in.

I sat down at one of the faux wood tables in the bar area. Before me, a women’s World Cup game was on two large screens (which sounds cool, except the game, England versus the United States, had been played two days before). Elsewhere within easy view, on three, maybe four other screens, I could watch what I gathered was a sort of East-West all-star football exhibition — high school or college, I could not tell (it is July; I do not know who plays football in July) — in which both teams wore the color black. I believe theMinnesota Twins were live on another small screen in the corner. The sound was not on any of these televisions.

I picked up the plastic menus. I say menus, plural, because there were like eight of them, each unique. Some had pictures of fajita platters (cedar lime cilantro chicken — sing it with me, people) and others advertising cool liquid concoctions (there was a blue one, a yellow one, and at least a couple that were various shades of green). I had a dessert menu. Of course. There was a specials menu. I also had the combo-platter menu in which I could order either two salads or one appetizer and two full entrees for $22. (Which makes you wonder which is more real — the food or the wood.) I had a full length biography on my person that had fewer words to decipher.

The staff, save for the guy behind the bar, were college-age. They hung out in the corner, sipping from glasses and laughing amongst themselves. It was not busy in the “neighborhood” bar and grill, at least not at that time.

I wanted much to order just enough food to use up my certificate. It was my own personal game of Price Is Right. In my mind, I could not go over the $25 price on my gift card or I would have surely lost.

Well, I did not go over and yet it cannot be said that I did not still fail. I ordered a steak salad that came well short of the $25 and yet was so much food it fell over all the sides of my plate with the first forkful. I mean it was big. And I even found a few strips of steak in there among the sea of tortilla strips and black-bean-corn. I can put away me some food. But I could not justify ordering a burger or a basket or a “USDA real” steak also when I could not finish the salad.

When I stood up to leave I left a ring of blue cheese and lettuce on the table. I half apologized to Libby, my undergrad server with a necklace tattoo, who assured me this display was perfectly OK — it happens here in the neighborhood bar and grill.

I walked out still in possession of the card. I have $10.05 left to use the next time I find that I am feeling entirely too happy.