The other night I ducked into Target to get some razors made of a rare metal that dulls after one shave, despite a per-ounce price that's higher than platinum. While struggling through aisles of cheap lingerie that still grab any guy's eye (don't tell me you don't look) to reach the razors, I noticed small displays of what could only be Christmas items. This compounded the outrage I'd experienced earlier in the day, after catching the first Christmas commercial on TV. (Couldn't they wait until after the World Series?) Before you know it, customer-service personnel will be on High Alert Rude Mode, local radio stations will play nothing but Christmas carols all day long, and the Salvation Army will be in front of every store, including Fascinations, shaking you down for spare change.

To get a grip on reality, I ducked across the parking lot to Applebee's (410 South Colorado Boulevard), another in the endless stream of chain restaurants that is Wal-Marting America. But I like Applebee's more than most of them, if only because it doesn't rely on an annoying jingle to hawk its wares -- at least, not one that's seared indelibly on my brain ("I want my..."). The worst this company has done is authorize a saccharin-sweet commercial in which a football coach takes his losing team to Applebee's to console them because he can't make them do wind sprints in the middle of the night without being arrested. As a reward, his wife and team have his picture put up on the restaurant's wall.

Which means it's probably up at every Applebee's. One of the real true beauties of this chain is that all the outlets are exactly the same, and the art adorning the walls never fails to send me back to more innocent days when I didn't have to worry about my cholesterol, life insurance or increasing back hair. In every Applebee's, you'll find pictures of ALF, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Darth Vader, and probably also a poster advertising The Towering Inferno starring ALF and Steve McQueen. I watched that movie at least a million times when I was a kid.



410 South Colorado Boulevard

More grown-up pleasures at Applebee's include happy hour, when you can get half-price food and beer served in a large glass called the "Brewtus." Its size might appear daunting to most men and women, but real guys know that when coupled with Applebee's wings and potato skins, the Brewtus lasts no longer than any of your other adult beverages. Consume a couple, and before you know it, this family-oriented restaurant is transformed into any other sports bar where you and your buddies can simultaneously watch the game and SportsCenter covering the highlights of that game, drinking enough to get your own pictures posted.

Traditions are important as we head into the holiday season, and I'll always have a soft spot for Applebee's, because it was the only place that kept us sane when we lived in North Dakota, a part of the world where there's nothing to do other than drink and have sex. And after a few Brewtuses, you might accomplish both in one night. Just remember to turn down the Christmas carols.


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