“Are you excited to be here?” I ask.
“I’m, like, fucking cumming in my pants,” replies Tucker.
It is 8:45pm on a Sunday evening, and I am waiting in a fake Tuscan piazza with the members of Total Slacker (Tucker Rountree, Emily Oppenheimer, Dave Tassy and Zoe Brecher) — a Brooklyn band who specialize in slowed down, fuzzed out ’90s alt rock twirled around the fork of psych, grunge, noise and punk — for a table at the Olive Garden’s Times Square location. The lights of giant ads flash at us through picture windows which seem specially designed to let this happen. Foreign languages are being spoken, children are crying, and the three-story restaurant is filled to capacity with visitors seeking a taste of this most quintessential part of the American (if not the New York) experience. We have been waiting for nearly an hour (they don’t take reservations) and the giant buzzing token has just gone off in my purse, making us feel like we’ve won the lottery. Tucker is especially excited.
This is just the latest chapter in the Brooklyn grunge-psych band’s (or really, Tucker’s) one-sided love affair with the casual dining behemoth, which first became public last month when he posted a screenshot of his correspondence with the chain on Facebook. He also called up a patient customer service rep who took a sincere stab at answering the question “How do you conceptualize breadsticks?”
Corporate policy being what it is, his dreams of throwing an all-ages show and/or afterparty at Olive Garden Restaurants were soon dashed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t party there anyway, provided we take the proper precautions.
My one-hitter is burning a hole in my pocket as we take our seats. I recall the part about “immediate police action” with some apprehension as I note the numerous conscripts in New York City’s militarized police force patrolling Times Square like an anti-fun SWAT team. We are surrounded.
Our server welcomes us to Olive Garden Restaurant, noting when asked that [cartoonishly Italian name redacted] is, indeed, his real name. We must look a little out of place, because he asks us what we’re doing there. We say we like the food. “The guys who do the ads for Olive Garden are trying desperately to reach you guys,” he says, showing us an in-house ad intended to convey the notion that young people like to drink wine at Olive Garden after work. That sounds like a great idea, so we select a wine (“red”) from the three fine varietals on offer.
Approximately half of our fellow diners seem to be celebrating someone’s birthday. Tucker isn’t even high yet, but he goes around offering to take pictures of everyone: a large Hispanic family, a group of aging sorority girls, etc. The sight of a tall, floppy-haired manchild dressed like a nerdy third grader from 1990 makes all of them smile.
In that bowlcut festooned head of his, Tucker has hatched a plan: we will go into the men’s room together, toke up as fast as we can, and then flush all remaining drugs and paraphenalia down the toilet. This will require the sacrifice of my one-hitter, which I reluctantly accept.
Only Tucker, Tassy, photographer Terri and I have elected to participate –“I have to be drunk to smoke pot,” Emily explains—which is probably for the best, as only so many women can sneak into the men’s room at once. When the coast is clear, Tucker texts me and Terri to join him. I feel simultaneously thrilled and scared in a way I haven’t felt since my high school friends and I first smoked a joint in a public park. Time to blaze!
Tassy is the first to light up, and inhales with ruthless efficiency before handing the pipe to me. I’m too nervous to get a very good hit off it, but Tucker helps me light it, and I manage to inhale a small amount. Like Dave, Tucker seems calm, but his hands are shaking. One flush later, we exit the bathroom, only to run smack into one of OG’s millions of managers.
“You know girls aren’t allowed in the men’s room,” he says to us sternly. “They’re transgender,” Tucker replies without missing a beat. We return to our table. Are we in trouble?
The food we’ve ordered is starting to arrive, which is good because we’re all very hungry. Our server has hooked up the unlimited salad and breadsticks for us despite our only ordering two entrees between six people, and we dig in. The salad is actually pretty good, as iceberg lettuce salads go, or we could just be high. And, as Tucker promised, the breadsticks with marinara dipping sauce are incredible. But just as we are beginning to discuss Breadstick Theory, our server interrupts.
“My manager says there’s some issue in the bathroom, just so you guys know.”
We thank him for telling us and continue eating, our lack of contraband giving us the courage to soldier on. But I remember that I still have drugs on me, so I swallow the half of what I believe to be a Xanax that’s hiding in my wallet. This serves the double purpose of ridding myself of illegal materials and killing my paranoia.
Tassy has ordered nothing but beverages (wine, wild berry smoothie, Dr. Pepper), which he alternates between. I ask him if he’s high, and he says not really; “I was really thirsty when I got here.” Tucker is splitting a cheese ravioli and some spaghetti with Emily, but is way more into the breadsticks, obviously. “I’m vibing out, man,” he says, waving his buttery carb wands around like magic talismans or glowsticks. “I’m zoning. There should be zoning regulations.” He asks if I’m a viber, a zoner, or a chiller. It depends, I tell him, but right now I’m definitely feeling like a chiller.
The $15 plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce (a dairy-less alternative to their “red sauce” and “marinara sauce”) which I’ve ordered mainly as a good faith gesture is suddenly very appealing, and I dig in to find it a decent approximation of meals I’ve made myself for under $5 when broke and/or lazy, minus the protein and the vegetables. Tucker is now using his breadsticks as utensils to eat his pasta in an unholy orgy of refined carbohydrates.
“I think that breadsticks are somehow used by Olive Garden as, like, a pacifier for a cultural synopsis that they try to pull over the middle class demographic, and that pacifier keeps the middle class sedated so that they don’t think about their classist situations, keeps them sedated so they don’t worry about their 9-5 dead end jobs or the greater problems of America,” he says.
“Do you really think breadsticks have that much power?” I ask. “Or are they just, like, a metaphor?”
“Neither. There’ s no power in breadsticks, it’s a symbol of family, comfort, home, and all these things that really don’t exist. OG has this beautiful power to sedate the wild human spirit and make you think everything’s okay in society even though its all a shambles. But I love it.”
I ask how he can love such a sinister thing, and he replies that “it works.” So it’s like drugs? “Yes, that’s beautiful. It’s like, corporate drugs, chemically engineered.” Then, on the same subject: “The Ramones would have loved this restaurant. You know why?” (Pause.) “I wanna be sedated!” The rest of Total Slacker flinches.
Feeling the good vibes, we continue to talk about the government, time travel, aliens, the time they met Rosie O’Donnell at an airport, and whether Jay-Z and Beyonce are members of the Illuminati. Tucker has two watches on, one of which tells us what time it is exactly seven years in the future (2:15pm). Why the future is seven hours behind goes back to the breadsticks.
As it turns out, it’s Tucker and Emily’s three year anniversary, so they tell the story of how they first met at the laundromat: she was reading a book on the Trail of Tears, and Tucker managed to use that as an excuse to chat her up. The man has skills.
(Random fact: Although it might seem like Tucker is the crazy one, Emily once punched a guy at a party who refused to stop groping her and her friends, which is awesome.)
We’re all starting to feel a bit bloated, so we ask for the check. We tell our server it’s Dave’s birthday. He probably knows we’re lying, but he brings out a couple of other waiters to sing to him anyway, despite us not ordering any dessert. We thank him for his service, take a few pictures, and triumphantly exit the building. On the way to the subway, we go in Forever 21, which has caught our eye by putting shiny metal studs on everything. Stud connoisseur Dave admires how well their clothes are studded, and we all admire Sky Ferreira’s ability to make Forever 21 clothes look less like cheap crap. I buy a vest and some Forever 21 brand sour patch kids.
On the ride home, Tucker pulls out his iPod to play me some of the new album, which he says has the same sense of humor as the first, but “more like a dark comedy instead…like a dark rom com from Netflix.” He also notes that Emily currently looks like Netflix, if Netflix were a person. It’s a little hard to concentrate on the music, as the band and some of our fellow 7 train passengers have begun trying to catch my sour patch kids in their mouths, but as far as I can tell, it sounds tighter, faster, and more bitterly ironic. I ask Tucker if he’s ever been told he sounds like a brattier Thurston Moore, which I instantly regret, because of course he has.
My stop is coming up, so I give the earbuds back. Tucker has spilled the balance of my sour patch kids on the floor. Emily is admonishing him not to eat them, so he does her one better by eating one off the bottom of his shoe, which is simultaneously gross and impressive. Before getting off, I give everyone a big hug and wish them luck in the long night of digestion that lies ahead. In any case, it’s a small price to pay for an evening of friend making and rule breaking in the dark heart of the holy American empire.