This is Part – 2 of Horseback Riding and Hell... and if you've been following along, you know that this is the part about Hell. The Capitalized Version.
If you haven't been following along – here's a quick recap... A couple of years ago, Charlie and I drove to Half Moon Bay to go horseback riding at Shithole Ranch. There was a girl with no pants, a mythical creature, and gallons of piss. After that, we found a diner nestled in the fiery pits of Hell. You have to read part one if you want to know anything more about the first half of our day.
In the interest of backwards thinking, part one of this piece is below part two, so you'll have to scroll down to read that if you want to read it before you read the rest of this. Hah.
Take that, common sense.
So, now we're parked in the lot behind Joe's in Half Moon Bay. As soon as we've appropriately calmed down from the non-stop thrill of the 'beginner's trail', we pour from the van amidst clouds of smoke. After riding a horse for about an hour in beach wind and hot-boxing a minivan – we smell awesome – so we immediately light a cigarette, because entering a diner smelling like an ashtray is slightly less embarrassing and definitely less conspicuous than smelling like Cheech and Chong.
The outside of this place looks like a non-chain version of Denny's – which is how some former patrons describe it on Yelp.com. However, as a self-proclaimed Denny's expert, I beg to differ. Denny's is the kind of place that has a “Rewards” program like Sears or Kmart or Safeway. They give you tarnished silverware wrapped in a napkin – but they don't bother to spring for the little paper band that goes around it, like some classier joints. Denny's has “build-your-own” menu items, including a milkshake menu that offers bacon bits as an additive.
Denny's has the Fried Cheese Melt Sandwich, which is a grilled-cheese sandwhich filled with deep fried mozzarella sticks. It comes with Bayer aspirin, and a coupon for artery stents. (That's not true, but probably should be.)
Joe's – while maintaining a very chic taupe-colored stucco facade on it's Mike Brady Designs exterior - is a completely different animal once you get inside. When you first walk in, you're greeted by a huge glass display-case that houses a pretty good selection of delicious confectionery creations like pies and cakes and eclairs. I was instantly impressed, because I have a special relationship with dessert items. Me and dem, we goes way back.
Next comes the waiter: white cloth over his arm, a slightly smug Mr. Belvedere look on his face. He was one of those waiters that would describe himself as a Professional Server at a Fine Dining Establishment. Don't get me wrong – he was a really nice guy, and I truly have the highest respect for servers and people who work in the food industry. I'm a huge tipper, and I'm incredibly courteous to wait-staff. However, I call it like it is, and a waiter is a waiter. And this guy was a Fantastic waiter.
But, – whilst he was gracefully escorting us to the huge dining room filled with high-backed booths that were akin to steakhouse/buffet in Reno circa 1988 - it's slowly dawning on me that we probably look like a real couple of winners...
We're as high as a couple of Grateful Dead followers. Our helmet hair makes us look like we just rolled out of bed. We smell like horseshit. And were being shown to a table adorned with cloth napkins and leather menus. It was a bit fancier than we were deserving in our state, but considering there was literally one other table with any guests (RE: three seniors accompanied by someone's 20 year old grandson who never put down his iPhone) I don't think the staff minded our company much.
We take our seats and the waiter leaves to get us our Coke's. The waiter looked a little like The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin. I didn't mention that yet. So imagine Steve Irwin in the classic black pants/white shirt combo.
(It's probably hard to imagine him wearing long pants... I wonder if he was buried in pants or if he was put in one of his little Cub Scout uniforms. I'll bet it was one of those gay little boy suits that assholes make their kids wear... you know, with the full suit top half, and the shorts with dress socks and shoes. Ew.)
He comes back with the bev's, “Have you made up your crikey minds yet, mates?” Just kidding. We place our orders, and nothing really seems amiss unless you combine how out of place we feel, and the weird feeling you get in any empty restaurant. The people at the other table aren't talking to each other. They're just kind of pushing food around on their plates and reading newspapers.
The restaurant is playing some sort of instrumental crap through overhead speakers – the kind you would hear while waiting on hold for your doctor's receptionist. It's a familiar song, and it only takes me a minute to peg it – an orchestral version of “You Light Up My Life.” We both start singing along for a bit, and laughing at each other. Soon, we're just talking about the horses, and the black cowboy on a segway, and the huge piss, and just recounting the day.
I would say about fifteen minutes goes by before we realize that the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life is still playing. Or playing again. That was how the conversation went for the next couple of minutes. Is it just a really really long version of the song? Like some drawn out twenty minute piece of repeating shit? Or maybe another song came right after we stopped paying attention to it, and now this one is playing again because the restaurant only uses the free version of Pandora which replays the same handful of songs in random order. Or perhaps, in our current state, the conversation that felt like fifteen minutes was only a few minutes, and we had just caught the song at the very beginning – so it's bound to end soon, right?
We decide to just keep our mouths shut, and listen for the end of the song to make sure. After a half dozen finale-style crescendos that trick us into thinking it's about to end, the overhead speakers finally fall silent. There is a brief silence that feels like forever... and soon the music quietly starts playing again.
It's the instrumental version of
You Light Up My Life.
This is now the third time we've heard the song – Confirmed. There was a conversation that lasted roughly fifteen minutes, during which we can neither confirm nor deny that said song played through or restarted from the top. Now we have to determine if the song is indeed so lengthy that this is the third time, and not just the second time around for some crazy long version. We spent the entire song in hushed whispers, so as to not miss the end. It is a really, really, painfully long, drawn-out version of the song, but it lasted – at best – eight minutes.
During this time, the waiter brings us our food and we all have a really awkward interaction since neither Charlie nor I want to speak because we're concentrating so hard on the song. The waiter looks a little weirded out, but we tell him everything looks great, and he leaves just in time for us to hear the last of the six final climaxes to the song and another 15-20 seconds of silence.
Followed by the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life.
This is now the fifth time the song has played. We've just determined it is less than eight minutes all the way through. Since we took note of the first time it played almost a half an hour ago at this point, then had a conversation during which the song must have played an additional two times, considering that by the time we noticed it was still playing we had to wait another five minutes or so for it to end again.
My math works. If you don't follow me - fuck you, dummy.
We're baffled, to say the least. I think we actually spent the first few seconds of the song trying to hear something else – attempting to mentally warp the sound waves it into a different melody so we didn't start bugging out. I think the only thing that helped us keep our cool was having a heaping pile of food in front of us. That's one thing I will say about Joe's – they give you a ton of food, and it's pretty good.
The both of us are knuckles-deep in some major burgers when the song comes to an end, and the next song to come on is the mother fucking instrumental version of You Light Up My Stupid Life.
This is the sixth time.
Through a mouthful of cheeseburger I yell, “Youb goffafee fuffing gibbing meef?!!?!?” Chews, Swallows... “You've got to be fucking kidding me? Six times? Six Times?!?!” I'm so blown away – I'm not even irritated with it yet, I'm still amused. It's like wanting to exit a parking lot, but being stuck behind some old lady in a brand new Cadillac who decides to make a 16-point turn a' la Austin Powers to get her boat of a car pointed the wrong way down the aisle. You would be annoyed if it wasn't so funny.
By the time the waiter rolls around to see how we're enjoying everything today and can he get us anything else for now? The stupid song has played a total of eight stupid times.
You know how the waiters at every restaurant seem to approach the table and ask if we need anything and how are we enjoying everything so far right after you take a giant, non-lady-like bite of food, and so although you just finished saying to your husband that you were going to ask for a side of ranch dressing, you wave him away with a mayonnaisey smile, wide greedy eyes and satisfied nods of the head.
Not me. Not this time. I held my finger up in the international symbol for – Defer To Me, For I Am Busy With Chewing But Request That All Present Shut Up and Look At Me While I Chew And Swallow My Food Because What I'm About To Say Is So Urgent That There Is No Way The Conversation Should Be Allowed To Continue Until I've Added My Two Cents. I make him stand there while I finish, and I look him dead in the eyes and ask, “How do you deal with listening to the same song play over and over again?”
“I'm sorry?” he asks.
“The music, overhead, it's been playing the same song over and over again – eight times now.” I explain.
“What music?” he asks, quite seriously.
Charlie and I exchange glances, and I know that he had the same horrifying thought... Are we hearing things? Are we having a shared hallucination?
But the waiter finally laughs and says, “What I mean is, I've gotten really good at tuning it out. That's all.”
The relief hit me like a shot of Kaopectate. “I see. But... It's been the same song – the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life – eight times in a row now. Do they really just play the same thing, over and over, all day long?”
“Well, not exactly” he says, “There's a CD with a bunch of crappy songs from that era – but done by a symphony – it's got about a dozen songs on it and they just have it set to random repeat I guess.”
“It's not very random” I say.
“Yah, guess not. What can you do?” he says walking away.
“You can change the damn song, for one thing.” I say to Charlie, as we've been left to just simply deal with it, and enjoy our cheeseburgers with another round of You Light Up My Stupid Fucking Life again. I swear to it – that little Crocodile-Hunter-Looking-Bastard didn't do anything. He didn't try to skip the track, he didn't change the CD, he didn't even lower the volume. Dick.
While the song played another few more times – seriously, a few more times – we got to talking. This is the scary part. It might only be scary to me because to this day I believe we came closer than any religion or myth (same thing) ever has to what Hell is truly like.
I believe the idea started with the suggestion that we might be on a hidden-camera type television show. But the premise of repeating such an old song that's been rewritten for restaurant play, and at such a low volume felt more like real-life torture, and didn't feel like your typical wacky TV antics. The place was just too empty for that scenario – but it started to make us feel like we were being watched. Then one of us said, “What if we died on the way here in a car crash, or back at the ranch in a horse crash? – and this is it. This is Hell.”
The Real Hell: You're trapped in a diner. It's a boring diner. And you will be there for all of eternity.
It seems comfortable at first. Not so bad, really, for being Hell and all. There are big booths, and the wait-staff is really accommodating. There's a pretty diverse menu, and a tasty selection of desserts. It's not crowded; no crying babies, or cackle-backs.
(Cackle-backs are a breed of women, who tend to stay in groups and loudly cackle back and forth to each other, as if there isn't anyone else near them in the restaurant, fitting room, bath room, break room, et cetera, who might not be interested in being forced to listen to the inane conversations of said Cackle-backs.)
The diner is downright nice at first. Especially if this is supposed to be Hell. There aren't any fiery pits, or demons prodding you with pitchforks. There's no forced sodomy or having to hold political conversations with Hitler. In general, it seems not so bad.
But you're stuck there. Forever.
Think about it - Are you going to curl up and sleep on one of those big comfy booths every night? They aren't going to seem so comfy after an eternity of nights in fetal position, using a pile of sugar packets as a pillow, and as many of the linen napkins you can filch for a blanket. And – holy shit - what if everything you do or everything that happens just resets every night – like in that (awesome) movie Groundhog Day? So, you'd spend a whole day using the dental floss from your purse to stitch the napkins together into a little quilt to sleep under, only to wake up cold and shivering at 6AM and find the linens have magically wrapped themselves back around the silverware.Then there's the wait-staff – They seem so friendly, and helpful at first. But they are only there to try to keep things at peace. They pay you compliments, and offer you coffee when you look cold. But if you mess up – they turn into claw-footed demons, with fangs and horns. Or maybe they just use mind-control, or black magic to make you submit to the boring, docile order of the diner - you start talking about trying to find a way out, and they seal your mouth shut. You try to lash out, and hit them – they stop your arm mid-air and make you punch yourself in the vagina/balls.
They would be oh-so patronizing and sweet all the time, and it would eat away at you how they would never act like anything more than a friendly waiter. You would never become real friends, or have a real conversation with them. And every single meal you have – they will approach right after you take a big messy bite, and ask you the same question, “How is everything? Can I get you anything else? You want a refill?” Every meal. Every day. Eternity. And you can't throw your Coke at them, or spit your mouthful of food at them or anything - mind-control, remember? - so you just have to wave them off, or ask for ketchup through a mouthful of food.
And how about those meals? From that “pretty diverse” menu? Not such an extensive list of choices after you've had everything on it... a dozen times over... A hundred times over.... A thousand times over. I love french fries, but after eating them every single day for a few years, I would definitely get sick of them. (Don't judge me about my daily diet of fries, I'm already dead and in Hell in this hypothetical). I love coffee, but having to sit in that coffee smell day in and day out, all day long would make me puke, and then eventually shove the puke up my nose because I'd rather smell the puke than continue to smell weak restaurant blend coffee.
Variety is the spice of life... I don't care if you have a menu like the Santa Cruz Diner (where it's all about quantity of items, not quality, and there's literally over 300 mediocre menu items to choose from). If I have to eat from the same list for the rest of eternity, I'm going bat shit crazy. You may be saying – but Meg... if you're in Hell, you're already dead, you don't have to eat, remember? Well, Stupid. You're wrong. I've decided that's not how Hell works. You can refuse to eat all you like. But you'll still feel hungry, your stomach will growl, you'll shrivel like you're dying of starvation, but there will never be any relief of death. And every day, while you try to abstain from eating so that someday you might slip into a coma, that damn waiter is going to come ask you if you still need a few more minutes with the menu, or if you'd like to hear the specials.
And don't forget.... you get to listen to the song... that song... the same song... the whole time...
At least it's not crowded, right? Wrong. Charlie and I have a wonderful marriage, full of laughs, and great conversations, and new ideas. And I know we may have vowed something along the lines of “eternity” when we said our vows (who remembers? I don't think either of us do) but I think if we did vow marriage to eternity, we were both under the impression that there would be other people around to talk to.
I guess eventually, we would both go insane, and that might make for some more interesting interactions. We could pretend we were other people and have conversations in character, such as: I'm Carlos Mencia, and Charlie is Whoopi Goldberg, and we get to debate who's a crappier comedian while speaking only in alliterations. Or we could discuss in strict iambic pentameter whether or not Shakespeare really wrote his plays. That sounds like fun. But... eternity?
We never really settled what kind of role the people at the other table would play. Did they get there the same time as us? Have they been at the diner for hundreds or years already, and that's why they don't react to us? Or talk to us?- Because they've been there so long their souls are retarded now? Or maybe they are just fixtures like the waiters and cooks, and they don't engage in any real interaction with us or each other due to a pre-programmed Matrix-like existence.
We talked about all (most) of this while we ate our food, and actually had the auricular fortitude to order dessert (the best goddamn chocolate eclair that has ever been in or around my mouth place) All while the instrumental version of You Light Up My Life played over and over and over. We never heard a single other song.
When we got up to leave, my heart was beating at super-speed. I had really convinced myself that the door would be locked, and we would really be stuck there. Some of the theories that we had passed around were spooky; we would open the door and a rush of heat and smoke would reveal those missing fiery pits of Hell, scorching our eyebrows and forcing us back into the diner; or you open the front door, just to walk right through the back door of the diner, in an endless chain of diners.
Can you imagine if the door had been mistakenly locked? I'm prone to panic already – I would have simultaneously screamed, peed, and fainted.
But the door opened just fine. It didn't stick or anything, and we left – after hearing the stupid god-forsaken instrumental version of You Fucking Light Up My Stupid Goddamn Life FOURTEEN TIMES IN A ROW.
That, my friend, is the real Hell.
Alright Folks – Let's see some comments on this shit. You just read through over 3,600 words – you've got to have at least a few of your own...
VVV Right Down There VVV
You don't have to be a member of Google+ or anything. So, go ahead... Leave me a comment... It's not like I check it every day and never find anything but one comment from 3:30AM from my drunk friend – which, by the way Stephanie – totally made my day. :-)