If food is social history, I’d like a recent Thursday evening deleted from mine.
When I was growing up, we only ate desserts on occasion. This wasn’t an attempt at austerity or strictness on my mother’s part. It was just how we did things. Dessert was something we ate on birthdays or holidays. As an adult, I rarely finish a meal and say, “what’s for dessert.” I do love baking. I do love making desserts. But it isn’t an automatic reflex.
My husband, on the other hand, is a big time fan of dessert. His family marks the end of a meal with something sweet, and so his evening doesn’t quite feel complete until he’s had dessert. Having spent the past couple of years figuring out what our own family rituals will be, we’ve settled into something of a dessert compromise. My husband is no longer in the habit of anticipating dessert every day, and I’m in the habit of baking up something sweet more often. It’s nice for a novice baker to have a ready-made fan club, and it’s nice for a dessert-lover to be married to someone who uses baking as therapy.
However, even as we try to meet in the happy middle, there are days when we haven’t had dessert in quite a long while. I don’t tend to notice this, but my husband does. He can only go so long without dessert in his life. That’s how we found ourselves at Friendly’s on an evening early in the summer. We were out shopping for a gift for my sister-in-law, and my husband suddenly realized that he needed ice cream. Badly. Friendly’s was in view down the road, and, having seen it, he could go no longer without consuming a Reese’s Pieces Sundae.
I tried to talk him out of it. I started by attempting to reason with him: “That’s really one of the poorest food choices you can make,” I said. This failed, and so I moved on to guilt: “Do you know how gross that is? Really gluttonous and disgusting. It’s so bad for you.” This also failed. “I don’t care,” he said, in his usual voice of reason, “it’s delicious. I want one.”
I then tried my weapon of last resort. I simply said, “No. You can’t eat that.” This isn’t a tactic we often take in our relationship, so I knew it wasn’t my best option. He just smiled and laughed at me, which is exactly what I do to him if he ever tries to tell me that I cannot do something.
With a scowl on my face and a final desperate plea—“No!!!!!”—my husband pulled into the Friendly’s parking lot. “Yes,” he said, with a devilish grin, “it’ll be great.”
The big red building loomed above me. High on the side, in curly white letters, it said: Friendly.
“It says ‘Friendly’” I pointed to the letters, “not Friendly’s. Where’s the apostrophe-s?”
“I don’t know,” said my husband, “does it matter?”
“Maybe,” I responded, “I can’t be sure. I can’t be sure of anything. I’m walking into Friendly’s, where healthy eating habits go to die.”
“Okay, Diet Police, just come inside and give me ten minutes to eat a sundae.”
And so I did. The restaurant smelled like bleach and fried food, with a bit of the je ne sais quoi that is the Friendly’s smell. We sat down in the nearly empty dining room. The foam benches covered in red plastic squeaked and squished as we slid into the booth. I was not convinced that the table was clean. I think the bleach smell may have been piped into the restaurant to give the illusion of cleanliness.
Our waitress came to the table and my husband placed his order with a grin more at home on the face of a five-year-old. I couldn’t help but feel a little jolt of happiness seeing his unapologetic, absolute joy at the promise of a Reese’s Pieces Sundae. Whether or not anything in that sundae would be an actual foodstuff found in nature seemed like less of an issue. But only slightly less. I ordered water and a small orange sherbet.
“Oh, yeah, can I also get a water?” my husband asked.
“Good idea,” I said, “all of the competitive eaters drink water.”
“Ha, ha,” he replied dryly. “You’re just jealous of my delicious, delicious ice cream.”
Of course, there was a time when that would have been true. As a teenager, I loved a huge Reese’s Pieces Sundae after having spent eight hours of a scorching summer day in mid-August engaged in something my high school field hockey coach called “pre-season doubles.” I called it “purgatory.” I apparently had to do something gastronomically drastic to replace the 4,000-or-so calories I burned training for field hockey season. I try to avoid that sort of self-inflicted torture now, so I no longer find myself needing to eat like a lumberjack. That, and at some point during my late twenties I lost the ability to digest things I loved as a teenager. Things like Wendy’s baked potatoes, anything from Taco Bell, and Friendly’s ice cream sundaes.
I even had issues with my orange sherbet that night. I thought it was a pretty safe choice, but it seemed that just being in Friendly’s made the sherbet indigestible.
My husband does not worry about these things. He was happy to eat the sundae and suffer the digestive consequences. Come what may, he wanted that ice cream. And so, his sundae arrived.
I stared at the sundae, aghast. It was enormous. It looked like an inverted mountain of semi-liquid foods. The Friendly’s slogan is, “Where ice cream makes the meal.” It seemed to me that ice cream was the meal. Who could eat a meal and then, immediately afterward, consume a monster sundae? Blah. I’d like to suggest a new slogan: “Friendly’s, Where ice cream goes to die.”
“Are you seriously going to eat that whole thing?” I asked.
“Yup,” my husband said, matter-of-factly, diving in.
Spoon after spoon, bite after bite, I watched him joyfully devour the heap of ice cream, hot fudge, peanut butter, candy, and whipped cream.
He was in his happy place. I was in chain restaurant hell. The people at the table next to us seemed to be having some sort of domestic dispute, a man three tables over was eating a heap of food I could only imagine was one of the “melts” described on the menu, and the carpets looked like they had been installed during the Reagan administration. I was relatively certain they hadn’t been cleaned since then either, but the wild and crazy pattern made it impossible to discern filth from fabric. Friendly, indeed.
It was a trip into my own personal bizarro world, the place where everything is the opposite of what it should be.
When we walked out of the restaurant, I proclaimed, “I hope you enjoyed that, because it’s going to have to tide you over for a long, long time. I’ll be feeding you nothing but kale and tofu for the next month.”
“Yeah, right,” my husband replied, knowing it was an empty threat. “And just think,” he went on, in a tone of sarcastic optimism, “now you’ll have something to blog about.”
Indeed, I do.