If I were writing a screenplay about struggling actors working in a depressing theme restaurant, it would be set here.
We enter. A woman with gold sparkles splattered on her face and a nominal command of language ushers us into the “spaceship” to Mars. My darling prodigies grab seats in the front of the empty spacecraft. Eventually we “take off” meaning the doors close and the video starts playing. Alas, the “spaceship” is broken.
“Why aren’t we moving?” my four-year old wonders.
“This is lame!” says the six-year old.
The kids spend the entire four-minute, pre-Pixar animation pointing out that the spaceship does not move. It ends. We exit into the “Mars spaceport” where glitter-face awaits.
“Was you payin’ attention to the movie?” she asks.
We was! We pass her quiz and are directed to a corpulent woman with glowing antlers. She’s seated at her station, looking down, chins resting in her palm. No eye contact. In retrospect she was probably hoping I’d deliver a quick death blow to the back of her neck.
“First name?” she asks. Still no eye contact. I answer. She directs us downstairs to the hostess… who asks me if my name is Brian.
From what I can ascertain, the primary function of the overweight alien upstairs is telling the downstairs hostess my name before I can tell her myself. Not that I want to contribute to the nation’s unemployment, but I don’t see why there needs to be a middleman or middlealien for that task.
We enter the restaurant area, a big room with fake red rocks and TVs hailing from an age when Michael Jackson wasn’t creepy, Mel Gibson was cool and George Lucas hadn’t murdered the Star Wars franchise. They run a looped video of an alien doing sign language from what looks to be a sixth-generation VHS copy.
We’re seated at a ridiculously crooked table. My kids clamber onto the duct-taped banquette. Nearby, the man who will be our waiter reassures a very large customer that he’ll correct her bill. Promising. Around us are couples without children. One has to wonder: Why on earth would anyone of sound mind come to a Mars-themed restaurant without kids? Yet, there they are. Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe the ramshackle Martian atmosphere is a great place to break up with someone or tell your wife you’ve been posting crotch shots on Craigslist.
One of the day’s specials is pesto linguine sprinkled with mozzarella and peanuts. Do they mean pine nuts? It says peanuts. Maybe glitter-face writes the menus. Or maybe the chef actually thinks that sounds delicious. The menu reads like Ruby Tuesday’s, but with space-related words randomly tacked on: Quasar Quesadilla, Nebula Chili Nachos, Astral Cod Fish Sandwich. Mmmm, astral.
The waiter is nice but doesn’t know what a gimlet is and has no idea what gins they offer. Why do I want a gimlet? Because their beer and wine selection is shameful. He returns to tell me, “Yes, they have Bombay and they have gimlet.”
A three-eyed alien approaches the table. The youngest buries his head in his hands. The older one is coloring his placemat. The alien does some hand gestures, blows a kiss and meanders off. I feel bad for the alien because she is a person in a costume as old and tattered as the establishment. Inside is some poor human being with hopes and dreams, her head stuck inside a filthy three-eyed alien helmet, breathing stale air and wondering if the résumés she recently blasted out will come to anything.
My gimlet is terrible but at least it’s strong. Another “alien” walks by in a mask and blue leotard. He’s in too much of a hurry to stop but offers up a wave. The kids are indifferent.
The food arrives. Plastic plates. The kids’ macaroni and cheese is elbow pasta floating in orange cheese liquid. My chicken breast sandwich – which my waiter told me was great – is a paragon of mediocrity. Flavorless white protein draped with soggy pieces of undercooked bacon in a fresh-from-fridge cold bun. A chicken’s life squandered.
Naturally, the arrival of the food activates my four-year old’s bladder. We dash to the restroom where I come to the mind-blowing realization that Mars 2112 has a washroom attendant. Until this moment I had always assumed they graced only the most pretentious establishments: Five star hotels, trendy nightclubs, “Gentlemen’s” clubs. There’s now a dramatic shift in my understanding of the rules of washroom attendantry.
Back at the table the kids nurse their orange pasta soup. We’re approached by a woman identifying herself with a straight face as Empress Gloriana, ruler of Mars. She asks how everything is. With no regard to the legal penalties on Mars for bald-faced lying I say, “Good.” She wishes us well and moves on to matters of more diplomatic import, I can only hope.
At that moment I decide life on Mars is depressing. I make the call to return to Earth immediately which thrills the kids to no end. Apparently they missed it.
[My Yelp page is here]