My friend Greg sat across from me in disgust. His mouth sneered into a toothless oval. Slowly, he gestured towards the side of his mouth, insinuating that I had something on my face. I reached up and pulled the nacho cheese away from my chin. I had just eaten an entire carton of grazing bar goodies without using any hands and it was obviously beginning to get to Greg.
"What the hell are you doing?" Greg demanded.
"What do you mean?" I innocently asked.
"Every time we eat lunch, you approach it with a gusto that clears the cafeteria. What's your problem?" Greg sputtered.
Hmm . Maybe Greg was onto something here. Why was I such a pig at lunch? I thought about what Greg said, and tried to understand who I was.
My problems with school lunches began when I was in the first grade. For the first half of the school year, things had gone great Ä I had a cool Marvel SuperHeroes lunchbox, and I was beginning to enjoy the afternoon light-headedness one gets from drinking warm Thermos milk. Things would never be that good again.
The problems began with the first sit-down conference I had with my parents about my poor school performance. In the first grade I had already begun to establish what would become a motif in my educational history. I wasn't "living up to my potential," which for me meant not paying attention in class and goofing off. What my parents didn't realize then, was that this behavior was not going to go away.
In their naivete, my parents had sat me down in an effort to pinpoint why I had been having problems in school. As my 6-year-old butt squirmed against the black vinyl of our barstools, my parents began the grilling.
"WHY AREN'T YOU DOING GOOD IN SCHOOL?" my parents pleaded.
My brain would process their question in the area where it stores life's other mysteries Ä such as "Is there a God?" or "Why is Sinbad such a jackass?" Ä and my young brain would form the answer that would prove successful time and time again in my life . "I don't know."
Unfortunately, that wasn't going to cut it this time. My parents demanded a real answer. After giving the question all the soul searching my young mind could muster, I decided to try a different tack. I realized that my parents were looking for something they could help me change. Perhaps there was a way I could use this to my advantage.
"I don't like my brother Joshua," I beamed.
"That's not good enough," my parents retorted.
Frustrated by my inability to find the way around self-criticism, I sputtered the first thing that came to mind. A statement that would haunt me for the next six years of life . an utterance that would enable my mother to be my Virgil Ä my personal guide to the levels of lunchtime hell.
"I'M SICK OF PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICHES!" I exclaimed.
"Fine," my parents relented. "You won't have another one again."
Thus began the endless parade of lunchtime torture devices my mother would employ within the brown paper walls of my lunch.
I don't want to use hyperbole to get my point across, so let me state my mother's chief weapons bluntly and quickly. Braunschweiger Ä the liver sausage of yore. Deviled ham. These aren't what the typical 8-year-old wants to waft towards his eager nose. Unfortunately, the sandwich didn't stop with the meat. To make things worse, my mother made her processed meat bombs with the scourge of the sliced bread industry Ä the infamous "thin-sliced" bread. My mom would buy bread sliced so thin that by the time I got to lunch, the centers of my sandwich would be soaked through, a globby mess of warm mayonnaise and pink meat spread. Needless to say, I didn't eat my sandwiches with any sort of regularity or zeal.
I've found that the Braunschweiger is a little more widespread than I had feared. It would seem that my mother wasn't truly showing her evil sadistic side, as a lot of my peers at least know of another kid who was always bringing in the infamous liver sausage. But then I realized that they could very well be talking about my brother.
As I think about it, perhaps there was a malicious element involved. I remember standing in front of the deli counter, gazing at the assorted roast beefs and hams. My mother would gently remove my brother's awestruck face from the glass, wiping away the remaining slobber with her other hand. "What do you boys want for lunch this week?" she would ask. My brother would start vibrating with meaty fervor. "Pickle loaf! Pickle loaf!" he would scream. My mother would nod, then turn to me to seek my approval. "OK," I would answer. My mom would give us a reassuring smile, then turn to the deli boy and calmly order the fabled meat paste.
By the time I was in the sixth grade, I finally had the guts to approach my mom and tell her it was okay to have peanut butter and jelly every once in awhile. However I had already weaned myself off of lunch completely. Now that I'm in college, it appears I'm making up for lost time. As I turned toward Greg to explain and apologize, I noticed it was too late. Greg had been inspired by my lunchtime fire and was entering the food area of Louie's Lower Level. By the time I caught up to him, he was already pouring frozen yogurt into his mouth, vanilla streaming into his hair. As he came up for air he started cackling. "I hate you Oscar Mayer! I hate you!" he screamed before bending under the machine again. I suddenly didn't feel so alone in the world of lunch.
Noah Lopez is music editor of the Wildcat.
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