[Originally published November 10, 2010.]

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We go to Olive Garden all the time because we have officially given up on life. We may only be in our mid-thirties, of neutral good looks, and, as a group, represent a refreshing, but not uncomfortably diverse cross-section of ethnicities, but we are already fully resigned to a life of endless bowls of mealy pasta drenched in tomato-themed high-fructose corn syrup and bread sticks that we’ll joke look a little like uncircumcised penises, because we are dead inside.

Look at us. We look so happy in this commercial, laughing over a joke one of us just made during the voice over. I will tell you the sad and painful truth: It wasn’t a joke. Michael just told us that his dog died. And we laughed. We laughed at Michael’s dead dog. Because we are in so much pain that we’ve come out the other side.

I know what you’re thinking: “You look so pleasantly surprised at the way your waitress brings you your multiple shallow bowls of flash-frozen-then-convection-heated meat-styled entrees. You look like you are enjoying both your meal and your company.” Do not be deceived. We are each living our own personal hell. Not even unlimited refills on salad can revive our withered souls. We are the damned.

Four out of the seven nights of the week you will find us here, trying to drown out our tears with gallon-sized frosted glasses of spiked lemonade. But our tears fall into our glasses, and we drink them up again, and they are bitter. Bitter and a little bit lemony, from the lemonade. Or perhaps we have begun to cry lemonade tears. It makes no difference to us.

This is the stucco archway of broken dreams. This is the table of the last supper, fed to the innocents who are fattened and led to the slaughter. We would despair if we cared enough to notice the depths to which our lives have sunk. Instead, we plaster on our grease-paint grins, gird our loins, and order the dessert that comes free with our meal. Because, damn it, Olive Garden, you owe us that much.