Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Heartbreak of a Muncie Valentine's


Don't go to Muncie for Valentine's Day.

If you already live there, you need to leave -- like, single-file-line, "Deep Impact" exodus-style.
Get on that motorcycle like Elijah Wood and Leelee Sobieski and get the hell out of dodge.
If you've never seen "Deep Impact" and you're blind to this brilliant analogy, all you need to know is this:

Don't go to Muncie for Valentine's Day.

While I've only spoiled two Valentine's Days there...that's enough.

The first time Muncie opened it's jowls and swallowed Valentine's Day whole was when I took Wifefriend to a so-called fancy restaurant.

I wanted it to be a surprise.

I had gone to Vera Mae's a couple times in college, and it was a fanciness I had yet to afford. I made sure I didn't place my elbows on the table, I folded my napkin in my lap, and my parents were nowhere in sight. They weren't taking me out to a fancy restaurant.

Instead, I was out with my boss and other highfalutin people. This quaint, old restaurant was impressive. I was a real adult, on my own, out to dinner with non-family members.

And I could have a glass of wine.

This. Was. It!

My lavish memory of this place was filled with deep burgundies and candlelight.

For Valentine's Day, why wouldn't I want to share this with the woman I loved?

This decadent watering hole took reservations, and you know it's serious business when there are reservations on Valentine's Day, and I didn't have to slip the doorman any cash.

It should've been a clear warning when, even with a reservation, we had to wait for our table -- a table that was a part of twenty other tables, placed at a diagonal to allow more walk-room for the waiters. They were dressed with white table clothes, but they resembled a conveyor belts, pushing us through each course.

I can't remember all the details...oh, wait. There were no details. The high notes I remembered had become low notes.

At 21, this was a fancy establishment. At 30-something, it was pure depression. My taste buds have obviously matured.

The magic that struck me when I had visited a decade before vacated and left room for only old ladies.

What was once fancy was now an old lady's paradise.

And it started with the mushrooms.

They were stuffed, lackluster and very benign. They arrived on a plate all small and brown.
They looked offended.

These were not affordable stuffed mushrooms from Houlihan's that taste good and aren't meant to impress.

I mean, it's Houlihan's. Sure, it's nice, but I'm not expecting anything James Beard. At Vera's, it may not be James Beard, but it could be...with just a little creative gumption, these mushrooms could've been something.

Instead, they were none of the above. It's like the kitchen staff ripped the plastic off of a package of frozen stuffed mushrooms from Gordon's Food Service, popped them in the microwave, and brought them out to us.

"Is that freezer burn I taste?"

As amateur foodies, we base the talent of a restaurant based on whether or not we could recreate the dish in our own kitchen.

Sad stuffed mushrooms?

Please. I can do that with my eyes closed, with way less money, and way less talent.

Then the main course came, and what arrived was like a person at a party that lacked personality.

The waiter placed the thick breasted white-meat chicken of unseasoned proportions in front of us and it was so bored, I could hear the food sigh. IV fluids would've helped moisten the chicken, taking it from critical to stable. Sure there was melted brie all over it, but the raspberry sauce, which should've brightened each bite with divinity, was an after-thought.

They must've been running out of the reduction because the Chicken Brie Sadness was the cheapest dish on the menu. Everything else was around $30, and none of it seemed appealing. I didn't want to pay $30 on uncertainty.

So, I went with the chicken.

Let me save your taste buds from disappointment: just go to McDonald's and get some Chicken McNuggets, instead. They're way more satisfying. Or go someplace where you know the $30 meal will kick you in the face so hard, you land in a food coma.

Just don't go to Vera Mae's.

That was the first time Muncie stabbed our Valentine's Day in the heart.

Tonight was the second.

As the saying goes: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...

Well, I was fooled twice.

Blindsided.

I didn't see it coming.

For this year's Valentine's gift, I purchased tickets to "Rock of Ages" at the Civic Community theater. We went last year for "Into the Woods," and we were pleasantly surprised. The performance was well-done, and we enjoyed our Sunday afternoon there.

To see another show there was a no-brainer, so I bought tickets to a musical using 80's hair-band music that Wifefriend loves.

I got seats dead-center, and as the lights went down on a full house, I looked forward to some community theater entertainment. This was their closing performance, so hopefully they were going to give it all they had.

Well, as the performance began, they definitely gave it all they had, but what they had wasn't much.
First, right off the bat, they had sound issues. One of the main characters mic's wasn't working, and a hand microphone appeared in his hands. Instead of keeping it near his mouth, he moved his hands around. The microphone went this way and that, and it picked up mere words -- not the sentences one needs to hear to understand this thing called dialogue.

I shook off this cringe-worthy moment, and started to enjoy the performance. Was the set shaking as they danced and sang on it?

Of course it was.

Did they have the best voices ever?

Well, no, but I could recognize the songs.

After the cast finished off a big number, the audience applauded their talents, and while the performance wasn't going to win a regional Tony, I clapped out of pure politeness. Because that's what you do.

One of the cast members, whose role "dancing 80's stripper," was one of the more weird moments of the show. Her hair was big and frizzed out in total 80's style. She wore a gold glitzy top and little black dance bottoms that, sadly, when she turned around, showed off parts of her actual fleshy bottom. I couldn't stop watching her. She resembled a former high school friend, Erin. It was uncanny.  Wifefriend mentioned how the actress had embraced her stripper role a little too much. She obviously didn't get to act this way in real life. 

Then, after another song, the audience hoot and hollered. I applauded, and while this time it felt more like obligation, I looked back over at Wifefriend who still wasn't clapping.

During intermission, after we exchanged notes, I realized we were watching two completely different performances. I was enjoying the terrible that was presented to me. It was bad, and I watched with glee.

It's why I try to stay away from terrible reality TV -- I could watch it for days.

"Bachelor in Paradise" is trash. Absolute trash. We watched one episode, and I enjoyed every drunk-contestant moment.

That's what this "Rock of Ages" was -- "Bachelor in Paradise" put to song.

It was the equivalent of a middle school performance.

Awkward acting. Mic problems. Bad dancing.

I was in heaven. The schaudenfreude was coming out of my ears.

Not for Wifefriend. She just cringed, watching bad theater. 

I bought some popcorn and M&M's, hoping to enjoy another hour of terrible, but the minute the actors (if that's what you want to call them) took the stage...it was torture. The magic was gone. 

We should've left at intermission.

As we left the parking, it was decided, no more Valentine's Days in Muncie.