Welcome to the thrilling conclusion of All Love Garden - 50 First Plates: Season Two; 50 Plates Darker. It was a hectic season and not everything went according to plan. That's love for you.
Today we'll reveal the winner of the Grand Prize trip to little Italy.
If you want to start at the beginning, you can do so here.
If you want to view a showcase of all the contestants and place your bets on who won, check out this page.
Major ALG-50FP:ST;50FPD spoilers ahead.
The last 37 dates I went on have been with Lu, the winner of All Love Garden season two. I have documented these dates in a few short essays in an attempt to show why she was able to steal the show and end our season in record time. I hope they make you feel about her the way that I do.
"Is Kenny Loggins' head more thick or more...square?"
"Kenny Loggins has kind of a nintendo Mii default head."
"That's your answer for everything."
Lu is on the couch, creating Kenny Loggins in Dark Souls 3 for her Etsy shop, Logginspiration. She drags a slider marked "Upper Cheekbone Lateral Rotation" 6 degrees to the left, rendering the face imperceptibly more Logginsesque.
We have long since passed the point in this activity where I can contribute. Even on my best days the Kenny Logginses I create are mistaken for an old version of the guy from Nickelback. The avatar on my TV does bear a striking resemblence to the 1970's dad rock icon, but that was true even 20 minutes ago when Lu began her fine tuning.
"Uh. I thought he had...shorter hair?"
Lu shakes her head. "That's 80's Kenny Loggins." There is a dry detachment in her voice. The cheesy King of Soundtracks
of the 80's is Lu's least favorite incarnation of the Loggins mythos. "We're doing Outside: From the Redwoods Kenny Loggins."
"Ah, you passed my test." I give her an approving nod. I think she buys it.
Or maybe she didn't hear me. She's already editing the RGB code for the skin tone, adjusting one digit at a time to hone in on optimal Kenny levels. I know from experience that this is the longest part of the whole process. My suggestion that she simply memorize the "correct" value and use it in all future Logginses was rejected due to the same color visualizing differently depending on rendering engines, lighting, and display technologies (OLED Kenny vs LCD Kenny is 'night and day').
I settle in next to Lu on the couch and she tilts her head to the right so that it rests against mine. Her round eyes narrow, and her digital scalpel removes 1% of Kenny Loggins' body fat. Her features soften, the gentle lines of her face relax as she appreciates her latest masterpiece. The blanket wrapped around her and her contented expression give the impression of a small houecat. She breathes slowly out of her nose, and breaks her gaze away from the TV for the first time in half an hour.
"Well. What do you think?"
You start dating someone for the big things -- sense of humor, attractiveness, etc -- but you fall in love for the little things. The curl of their hair, the way they stare at the ocean. Here are some of Lu's.
- She describes interesting things as "fascinating" and bullshit things as "highly unlikely".
- As much as possible, she does not eat carbohydrates. Eating at Olive Garden was just the start of a lifelong list of things Lu does for my sake that she doesn't want to do.
- She looks EXACTLY like 23% of Free Southern Theater Pamphlet.
- When she makes a particularly bad pun she immediately follows it up with "do you still love me?". She's usually kidding.
- She lets people feel smart. She lets them feel funny. When you're around Lu you're the important person that, deep down, you always knew you were.
If you take the long view, 0% of my relationships have worked out successfully. Maybe I'm unlucky, but odds are better that dating me can be charitably described as a subtle art. And fast on the way to becoming a lost art, given that I hadn't been in a committed relationship since 2013. Some examples of things Lu has endured through from the past few months:
- Took her to Taco Bell for our first road trip, christmas, and new years
- Made her go to Chess! The Musical! and then made her walk out
- Regularly said, out loud, "OwO what's this?" (rhymes with "oh no")
- Didn't check my blind spot when changing lanes, cutting off the guy behind me and almost causing a three car pileup on the highway. After the tire screeches and horns died down, Lu gave me a "wtf was that" sort of look. "Man," I said, lost for words, "I fuckin' owned that guy."
- Initially added her to my phone as 'Lu Le Reddit XD' and didn't change it until we had been dating for two months
- Referred to cashiers as 'my good shopkeep'
If you've ever struggled to find meaning, everything that makes life worth living is in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is the most complete answer I've found to the nihilism that is creeping through our generation, and I gave Lu a copy within a week of meeting her.
This is a diorama that she made for me. The scene is framed by a junk drawer and each of the knickknacks within relate to a central concept from the book: a ceramic fox waiting to be tamed. A drink of water. A rose unique in all the world. The objects themselves are nice to look at, but their context gives them beauty. This is a kind of Little Prince-ian idea.
Taken together with the personal touches (the scarf/napkin from our first date, among other things), it's the best gift I've ever received.
Lu, congratulations on winning All Love Garden Season Two and the some-expenses-paid trip to Little Italy in beautiful San Diego. After this date, you will be free of the contract you signed when you agreed to appear on my blog, and will no longer be legally required to stay in this relationship -- but I hope you will.
Thanks to everyone who's followed the story or the long-term fans who've been reading this blog for the several years its' been out. Feel free to email me (check the about page) or follow me on Twitter/Instagram (also on the about page). I'll be posting more again soon.
The big winner of All Love Garden: Fifty First Plates: Season Two: Fifty Plates Darker will be revealed here tomorrow as a special Valentine's Day treat! Which of our contestants do you think won?
Greatest Strength -- Using pure will, finished a very heavy pasta dish just for the refill
Weakest Weakness -- Lack of imagination due to extreme moral tenacity (see below)
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "I haven't been here since college. From what I remember, the pasta isn't very good...but the breadsticks are."
"Okay," I begin, "your creative challenge is as follows. Imagine you are the health inspector for Olive Garden. You've been successfully bribed, and -"
Allison's face immediately hardens. "No, I haven't."
I'm at a loss for words. "Well...this isn't actually happening. It's just a creative exercise."
She shakes her head. "I would never take a bribe. Come up with something else."
Creative Challenge --What would you look for as a health inspector in an Olive Garden, as opposed to, say, Chili's or Applebee's?
What do the employees
do with the breadsticks
[drawing of two happy employees, one normal and one cyclopean, wielding cricket bat-sized breadsticks]
Allison intially chose to match with me on tinder because she was certain I was a bot or viral marketing campaign, and she wanted a coupon. She enjoys travelling, correcting me, and long battles of attrition with her sworn rival: pasta.
Vino's Vegan Victual:
37 dates to go! Thanks for dining with me, Allison -- may all your dates be so fruitful!
Greatest Strength -- Upbringing in theater from a young age left her immune to all forms of rejection (a very valuable skill to have when online dating)
Weakest Weakness -- Missed out on the part of a lifetime (Young Nala) for not being "ethnic enough"
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "It's terrible. I'd rather go to The Old Spaghetti Factory."
Snapshot: Chelsea and I are discussing how rude people can be to waitstaff. She tells me that when she worked as a waitress, people treated her differently.
"It's like," she says, jabbing fruitlessly at a dry rigatono, "the second you put on that apron, you're suddenly..."
Creative Challenge --Olive Garden seems to focus the brunt of its marketing towards its core demographic of middle-aged suburbanites. How would you change the messaging to appeal more to millenials and the economically disenfranchised?
Marketing Plans for a Millenial Olive Garden
-More alternative Diner Options
-Gluten Free, Vegan, Organic Etc.
-More "culturally aware" procedures
-A buy one, give one structure
-More charitable opportuntes
-Promote their ethical practices
(Well paid employees, local farms)
-Lose their earnestness + participate in the current climate of social media (ie Wendy's sarcastic Twitter posts)
Chelsea is a former child actress (had to give it up due to chronological pressures) who was notably "on" throughout the date. As a struggling artist myself, I am keenly aware of this feeling. It's like you're always on stage, entertaining others. It sounds worse than it is, and I am probably overthinking it and putting too much of my own personal experience into someone I only sort of know. I can be a little self-obsessed. For example, in this paragraph that is ostensibly about Chelsea, I've used personal pronouns seven times.
Let's try again. Chelsea has a great deal of mental agility and is fun to talk to. She even has her own podcast about stupid movie sequels snappily titled The Stupid Sequels Podcast, which you can listen to for free! It's like being on a date with her without the hassle of going to Olive Garden.
Vino's Vegan Victual:
Apparently, Not Worth Finishing
38 dates to go! Thanks for dining with me, Chelsea. My pick is The Fox and the Hound 2.
Hey everyone, Vino here!
There will be an approximately one-week hiatus on All Love Garden while I take a trip to Spain. If I am not murdered by Catalonian revolutionaries, you will see more dates and more pastas starting October 17th!
Thanks for your patience.
Greatest Strength -- Mastery of the C language lets her keep a cool header under pressure. Helpful and always willing to give out pointers.
Weakest Weakness -- Specialization in computer science leaves her susceptible to hacky programming jokes
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "I've never been. All my friends discouraged me from going."
Snapshot: "Okay," I say, "are you ready for your Creative Challenge?"
"Ugh...if I do one, you have to do one too."
Creative Challenge -- "Write a haiku that contains the word 'basic'."
I lack basic knowledge
I write an awesome haiku
Vino's Sad Attempt
To see with the eye;
A fundamental level
Jee has lived in more countries than I can name (four) and is also a master programmer! On top of all that, she taught me that writing a haiku on the spot is a lot harder than it looks. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop forcing people to do it, though. As someone once told me, "art is suffering".
Vino's Vegan Victual:
39 dates to go! Thanks for dining with me, Jee. I hope your first ever Olive Garden experience was a good one!
Greatest Strength -- Confidence. Katrina is still in college but already has her next two jobs planned out!
Weakest Weakness -- Traumatic experience at a young age left her unable to appreciate the cinematic stage presence of Radiohead
Feelings about the Olive Garden -- "I think it's really good. People act all superior, but come on. It's just pasta."
Snapshot: "I run a radio show. It was gonna be about love, cause that's universal, right? But love is boring. So it's about sex."
Creative Challenge -- "Consider the Olive Garden experience - a menu, a waiter, a check. Design, from the ground up, a fundamentally improved experience."
Okay, so, the table becomes your menu - it's a touchscreen, and you see photos of the food you can order. You swipe to find different entrees, and once you choose one, you can edit it to your liking. The food is brought to your table automatically by underground pipes. [Vino's Note: ???]
There's also a card reader in the table so you can pay right there.
Katrina seems to have no end of talents - software architecture, project managment, and radio show host are just a few of her many hats. Someone so clearly skilled deserved a special creative challenge, and I really think she knocked it out of the park! I hope Darden is reading this blog and taking notes, but since the Italian Sausage is still on the menu, probably not.
Vino's Vegan Victual:
40 dates to go! Thanks for dining with me, Katrina. You're super nice!