Everyone’s life is split into two, very distinct halves. There is the “Pre-Golden Corral” half and the “Post-Golden Corral” half.
The “Pre-Golden Corral” half is the wonderful time of one’s life when he/she has not yet set foot inside a Golden Corral. This time is marked by a sense of innocence, a jovial chapter in your life buoyed by happiness and optimism. You walk the streets with a bounce in your step as “Mr. Sandman” by The Chordettes plays in the background. It this part of your life was an animal, it would be a baby seal.
Then, there is the “Post-Golden Corral” period which begins the instant you find yourself within the confines of a Golden Corral Buffet and Grill. No longer does “Mr. Sandman” play as the soundtrack to your life, but rather an audio recording of a family being burned to death in a car fire. Your brain will literally refuse to acknowledge that the words “hope” and “faith” exist. You will walk down the street with the thousand yard stare of a Vietnam War veteran. If this time period were an animal, it would be the grotesque fly/human hybrid Jeff Goldblum turns into in The Fly.
And this is permanent. There is no going back to “Pre-Golden Corral”. Once you experience it, you can’t unexperience it. There is no “Finally Got Over The Post-Golden Corral Period” period of your life. There is only “Post-Golden Corral” and then death. And even then, there there is probably a special place reserved in Hell for those who ventured into Golden Corral.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. You can avoid this, if you listen to my cautionary tale. Learn from my story and you may yet live a healthy, fulfilling life.
It all happened on a Friday night. While most people my age were going out to bars and getting laid at this time of the week, I was going to Golden Corral.
At the time it seemed like a fine idea. I had heard fairly good things about the buffet and hadn’t had the chance to check it out. I finally had a night when I was able to go out and just sit back and eat to my heart’s content.
I wasn’t taking this beast on alone, however. My friends Scott and Sam went along with me as well. I probably should use fake names for them to protect their identities, but it’s not like it matters. It’s too late for them, just like it’s too late for me. We’re already in “Post-Golden Corral.”
We walked into the buffet, laughing and smiling. We were faced with a crowded lobby, with a twisting snake of a line that you would be more accustomed to seeing at a bank than a buffet. We examined the clientele, and wonder if perhaps we hadn’t wandered into the Mos Eisley Spaceport cantina by accident.’
We shook off any ill feelings we had. The line crawled along and we could see into the actual interior of the buffet. Crowds of people were milling around, like a Middle Eastern bazaar. I half expected to have to pay in shekels when we got to the cash register.
When we finally did get to the cash register, we paid our $11.95 and entered the realm of Golden Corral. $11.95. That’s the cost of the human soul.
Well technically, it was like $2.00 for a drink too, so it’s more like $13.95. That’s the cost of the human soul.
After paying the fee, we awaited to get seated. The hostess squawked into her walkie talkie, “Party of 3.” After a few seconds she pointed into a forest of booths and tables and said tonelessly, “Lori is there waiting at your table. Enjoy your dinner.”
We looked through the moshpit that surrounded the dining area and saw a lone figure with her arm raised. She stood perfectly still, completely expressionless. She looked like a statue that you would see in some town square in Russia.
We walked through throngs of people to get the booth where Comrade Lori stood. Her eyes never followed us as we got to the table in front of her. When we arrived, she simply lowered her arm and walked away. Her deed was done and we never saw Lori again.
And there it was. The moment that minutes of anticipation had led up to. We made our way to the buffet and got our plates. As I looked at the different sections of the buffet, I could barely believe my eyes. A fountain that spewed melted chocolate? Cotton candy, like we were at a fucking carnival?? Was that lasagna followed shortly by pulled pork??? Which was adjacent to a table that had over five different types of chicken wings???? And motherfucker, were those taco fixings?????? I could barely stand as my knees buckled with excitement.
I worked my way down the buffet, grabbing anything that looked like it would be good in my stomach. Pizza, chicken wings, a taco, orange sesame chicken from a Chinese wok. It was like I had the United Nations on my plate.
I had made it to the end of the buffet and saw a salad bar. I figured that this was just some sort of oversight on the buffet’s part or an elaborate practical joke. Then I noticed a dish of blue cheese dressing and realized the salad bar did have a purpose. It was going to make my unhealthy chicken wings even unhealthier! I grabbed a bowl and ladled the shit out of that blue cheese into my bowl.
I got back to the table where Scott and Sam had heaping plates of their own. Words were hard to come by as we scarfed down our first plates. The pleasure center in my brain got a humongous boner, and I suddenly knew what a first hit of heroin feels like. As every calorie entered my body, my heart skipped a beat. This was too good to be true. So much food, all at my hungry little finger tips. The only limits were my imagination and whether or not my wrists would be able to handle carrying a fifteen pound plate of food back to my table.
Almost immediately after our first plates were polished off, the three of us got up for seconds. My brain excitedly shouted, “YES, PLEASE, MORE OF EVERYTHING!” My seconds plate was an encore performance of the first. Everything that was on the first plate was now on the second, except in even more disgustingly judicious amounts. My plate looked like a house from A&E’s Hoarders, a sloppy mess so large that it probably contained at least two dead cats. But I couldn’t give less of a shit.
By the time our second plate was finished, we were declaring the United States as the best country in the world. What other country is this sort of gluttony legal in, we questioned. It was criminal how incredible Golden Corral is, we all agreed.
I thought two plates would have been enough, but like Peter Jackson decided with The Hobbit films, I decided my meal would be a trilogy. I got up and got a third plate, as did Scott. Sam started to look like the food was catching up to him, but even he couldn’t turn down a steak.
It happened quick. Within seconds, actually. We were in the middle of our third plate when we all hit a wall. I felt a feeling in the pit of my stomach like an atomic bomb had gone off. I noticed the expressions on Scott and Sam’s faces also changed. Their laughter and happiness had been replaced by frowns and concern. They looked at their plates with disgust, as if the food had suddenly turned into maggots and severed dicks.
I looked down at my own plate and realized that maggots and severed dicks would probably look more appetizing. I still had a full helping of mac and cheese, a few bites of lasagna and three full chicken wings.
I groaned in despair over the task ahead of me. Would I really have to eat all that? My stomach churned and flipped over like a coked up break dancer. I could practically taste the bile as it rose up my esophagus. I was in downright pain, and judging by the worried expressions and sounds coming from Scott and Sam, they were too.
Whatever spell had been on us from the beginning had broken. No longer did this place seem like some sort of Shangri-La of food and fun. This was one of the 9th circles of Hell. I half expected to look up and see Dante and Virgil wandering around, examining us with pity.
I knew I had to muscle through it. I had to finish my plate, no matter what kind of misery I was in. In order to finish my wings, I had to cradle my arm on the empty chair beside me. I leaned down and gnawed the meat off the bone. Scott mustered up the courage to try and finish his soup. Yes, he needed courage to finish soup. Even broth seemed impossible to digest at that point.
The bare chicken wing bone slipped from my grasp as I finished it, mostly because my fingers simply lost all strength. Every pint of blood in my body was rushing towards the stomach to help digest whatever toxic waste I had just eaten. My brain, which had been cheering me on earlier, was now freaking out, yelling, “SHIT COCK SOME HELP FUCK.” I was lightheaded and delirious, and I started to spontaneously laugh.
Scott looked at me with disbelief through his now bloodshot eyes, wondering why I was laughing. He was speechless as I succumbed to an uncontrollable fit of giggles, my mind clearly broken. I tried to gain control of myself and when I finally did, my head ached like I was suffering a hangover.
Sam sat completely still, his head bowed like a monk. Scott tried to mutter some words.
“I’ve never…” he began, but his words trailed off, as it was too much energy for any of us to form sentences.
I looked around the buffet, bleary eyed from my manic episode of laughter. Suddenly, the high energy of the crowd of families that had seemed charming at first, was now dark, uncontainable chaos. Golden Corral was the International Waters of dining establishments. There was no rules, no law. Kids were screeching like howler monkeys as their parents waddled around with a gleam of madness in their eyes. Employees lurched around, their eyes hollow and empty as they took smeared plates off of tables.
I noticed amidst the anarchy, a little girl drifting through the people, alone, holding nothing but a straw and an expression of sorrowful curiosity at her surroundings. I blinked, and she was gone. Had I imagined her? Was she real? Was I real?
“I need to get up,” Scott said, breaking me out of my trance. He got up from his chair with the quickness of a 90 year old quadriplegic, his chest heaving as he stood up and stretched his muscles. He creaked away like an Ent slowly marching towards Isengard and vanished into the crowd. I was genuinely concerned I would never see him again.
Sam was still quiet, his head still bowed. I would have thought he was maybe praying, but my faith in God had been lost in the previous five minutes. God would not allow something like this to exist. He would not allow someone to feel the pain I was suffering. He would destroy every Golden Corral, like Sodom and Gomorrah before it. He would wipe humanity out for creating such a devilish place and he would replace us with a species devoid of free will so that the same mistake would not be made.
As I came to this existential epiphany, I noticed Scott again. He was passing by the dessert bar. He looked like he was at a wake, looking down at the casket of a loved one. His face was etched with grief as he gave a look of regretful mourning at the various cookies and fudge brownies available. His face grew longer with each dessert item he surveyed and when he saw the cotton candy, I could have sworn that a tear rolled down his cheek.
He came back to the table and groaned. “That wasn’t a good idea,” he said.
We could do nothing but sit and wait as our bodies tried to futilely digest the sludge that was settling into a stagnant pool in our stomachs. Every one of my organs screamed in protest and ached with suicidal rage. My digestive tract had been reduced to such a scarred wasteland, it would have made Pripyat look like a bustling metropolis.
I felt a sudden urge to go to the bathroom, but I figured that would bea fatal mistake. The act of jettisoning out whatever waste the food had turned into would be an explosive ordeal and I was not about to endure something like that in a public setting. If I did in fact decide to take that dump, every Geiger counter within a five mile radius would start clicking like a dolphin during mating season.
Every minute felt like an hour. By the time twenty torturous minutes had passed, I felt like I had aged a decade. I checked my phone. It was 8:40. The three of us had plans to meet a group and go bowling at 9. Being faced with the concept of getting up and walking within the next twenty minutes seemed like a physical impossibility, let alone bowling for 3 hours. How were we going to make it out alive? Golden Corral would become our mausoleum.
After another ten minutes of agony, we realized we had to get up. We had to somehow force our bodies to leave the buffet, even if it killed us (which was probably what was going to happen, anyway).
We got up from our tables, swaying like we had just beer bonged a fifth of whiskey. I truly felt like I was having an out of body experience, like I was no longer in control of my movements but just a mere spectator as I lumbered out with the gangly uncoordinated gait of a giraffe with Ménière’s disease.
We panted and grunted as we got to Scott’s car, mumbling words of warning to the unsuspecting familes who were just coming into the restaurant (at 8:50, no less!). We made it to the car, pried open the car doors and collapsed into the seats.
“Can we just bowl from the car?” I asked with complete sincerity.
“I hope,” Scott answered with equally legitimate seriousness.
He slowly turned on the car and we backed out of the parking spot, amazed the tires didn’t simply pop out from under us from trying to support our weight. If had stepped on a scale at that moment, it would have read, “The fuck!?”
Slow as our progress was, we made it out of the parking lot and back onto the street. It felt like we had just visited a distant planet and were finally back on Earth. It was calming and reassuring to be back in normal society, where there is some semblance of law and order.
It’s not easy recounting the events of that night, but I feel obligated to. As I said earlier, perhaps my tale can ward others off from making the same mistake as my two friends and I had. But most importantly, it’s to remind myself of the brutal ordeal I put my body through so that I myself don’t return to that insane asylum posing as a buffet.
Because even after all of that…
I feel the urge…
Nay, the need.…to go back.