Monday, December 14, 2009

The Lunch Table

Over the years, lunches and the lunch table have changed, yet sorta remain the same. At my last job, we all sat together. It was a small company so we'd all check on each other and make sure we had food before leaving to purchase anything. At the ad agency I worked at prior to that, nobody gave a crap. Maybe because there were 40 of us, but nobody planned to sit with me or asked what I was doing. Once in the cafeteria, we just sort of gravitated towards people in our departments. If I saw someone eating alone, I'd ask if I could join them. Honestly, I'm not even sure how they felt about that.

When I think of high school cafeterias, I automatically envision images of the nerd or the jock table. Famous scenes from '80s movies where someone leaps on top of a table announcing a food fight or proclaiming something embarrassing. I vividly recall several horrific scenes of a nerd being tripped while innocently escorting a tray of food to their table. Most of these scenes involve John Cusack, but regardless I feel like I've missed out on all of that and maybe it's a good thing.

The infamous high school cafeteria was rather insignificant to me because in high school we had what I believe was referred to as "open lunch." We were free to roam to the local 7-11, Burger King and Magic Bagel for a bite. Armed with intense hunger and $3, we were welcomed with an array of choices back in 1988.

My BFF Scott and I would even go as far as splitting a $2 Burger King special which included 2 burgers, 2 fries for an amazing 2 bucks! Asking for "a cup for water" was his sneaky method at snagging us a free drink from the drink station. We'd of course share a Diet Coke since free refills weren't a problem. Here I was thinking we were so bad, lying to get a free soda meanwhile other kids were in the park filling their Wendy's cups with beer or Vodka. I was so clueless until years later when other former students filled me in.

Lunch in grammar school was more memorable to me for some reason. Our Catholic school didn't offer hot lunches. Every few months, the mothers would have a hot dog or pizza sale. It was so exciting to us. For once, we could ditch our brown bagged crap and enjoy a slice of pizza like the public school kids. It truly was a treat. I'd rush home with my permission slip and convince Mom to check off "2 slices" if it was a pizza sale or "2 hot dogs" if they were pushing wieners.

We didn't have a real cafeteria like other elementary schools. We had the big huge room under the church filled with folding tables and ice cold metal folding chairs. This was where they held bingo and other fundraisers like bake sales, New Year's Eve dances for the older folks, our 8th grade dances and of course the holiday bazaar.

I was discussing this with my husband the other day in the car ride to Philly. He said he too didn't have an official grammar school cafeteria which shocked me. He was raised in a very wealthy town with an excellent school district. How could this be possible? He said they sat at folding tables, much like I did, in a room referred to as "The Multipurpose Room". Wow! Could you imagine? Like at my school, they didn't have hot lunches, but they sold ice cream for 25 cents a cone.

My school sold snacks too. If you wanted to buy one for lunch, you had to do so in the morning. One responsible good student (it was never me by the way) was appointed as the snack monitor. He or she would gather up our orders for pretzel rods, "Big Cookies" as they were called (over-sized chocolate chip cookies) or soft pretzels. They were also in charge of handling the money and making change. I'm guessing they also doled out the snacks later at lunch.

Between third grade and eighth grade, we had a very small class which ranged from like 18-20 students. We all sat at the same table. Nobody fought or made anyone feel bad. We all just sat together, chatting and munching. I would fill everyone in on the latest episode of Saturday Night Live, I was the only kid allowed to watch it in 5th grade. My mom later told me the only reason I was watching it was because I would sneak back down to watch TV after everyone went to bed.

As my husband was telling me stories about his grammar school lunches, we both began to reminisce about what other kids would eat. It's amazing how you can remember that sh*t. We both knew a kid who often brought a slice of cold pizza wrapped in tinfoil which wasn't very appetizing. We both complained about the kid who ate bologna with mayo which reminded me of "K.P." who often brought ham and butter on Arnold's white bread. I'm not sure if she liked it or not, but at the time I thought it was the weirdest thing.

Another fellow student, "K.S" always had the best lunches. Of course the girl with the best lunch was beautiful and very slim. I doubt she ever even took more than five bites of her sandwich. Her dad worked for a major deli meat provider and she always brought a delicious looking sandwich and yummy snacks. I wonder if her dad got them by trading with other deli-food-provider sales guys. I could be wrong, but I learned this when I worked in the publishing biz. The guys in distribution would trade stacks of magazines when they ran into each other. I picture her dad trading turkey for boxes of Drakes cakes and Lays chips. Her kitchen pantry alone was a chubby kids' dream--seriously! It's no wonder I loved her slumber parties so much :-)

"J" was a very mature boy from what I remember. He once told me that he would go to sleep early, then wake up at midnight and work on his homework assignments. That amazed me for some reason and I never forgot it. He was a nice kid and a terrific student. He often brought himself two slices of Wonder Bread, a tiny jar of Jiffy peanut butter and a plastic knife. We'd watch while he made his very own lunch right there at the lunch table. He was so mature!

"D" was in a similar situation. The youngest of about 8 kids, his mom was probably so over making lunches by that time. His lunches were two Kraft Singles and a hard roll. Like I did with J.M., I'd watch him assemble a sandwich right in front of me while I wolfed down a turkey sandwich lovingly prepared by Mom. I was so immature compared to these grown-up, lunch-making kids!

What was your favorite school lunch? Do you remember the grossest item on the menu or what other kids brought? Am I alone in remembering these few standout lunches?


B.J. Thompson said...

I'm afraid I was as anti-social then as I am now, and ate my home-made lunch at any free desk in the school while doing my homework...

NOT because I was a nerd with no friends.

But because, even then, small talk with people with whom I was forced to sit made me choke, even then...

My friends usually found me and after eating, we'd all go outside and yap on important crap, just our gang...the cafeteria was never my scene...just too social for my tastes and my Mom was a better lunch maker than what could be obtained there anyhoo!

LOVED this post though...brought back TONS of great memories...THANK-YOU!

Lifebeginsat30ty said...

My friend Krissy always had the best lunches ever. Usually some kind of cut fruit and dessert snack. I specifically remember these small round cookies with hershey kiss shaped chocolate on the top. Mmmm. Although my mom would cut my cheese into shapes of animals. I also fondly remember the treat that was tater tots. And the boys at the lunch table mixing all of their food together and then daring each other to eat it ;)

Cara said...

I remember that my absolute favorite lunches were in 6th grade. In the morning kids would check off an order form for cafeteria items, and at lunch someone would go get our class' box. I would get this once a week, usually on Fridays, and I loved the change from my regular sandwiches. I used to order the mini pizzas most, and they'd come in a small styrofoam container with plastic wrap on top, still hot of course. I can't tell you how much I loved them. I'm pretty sure I used to get chocolate milk with it, too, which of course made the whole thing ten times better.

I don't remember ever actually eating in a school cafeteria until junior high, though. We always just ate in our classrooms, at our desks. (I went to Catholic school until 7th grade, although it wasn't a private school system.)

Sabrina Steyling said...

I went to a private Christian school and had a lunch room very similar to the one you describe - long folding tables and cold, hard, metal folding chairs to sit on. Ugh. I had 20-25 kids in my class. One of my best friends in school used to bring ketchup sandwiches - yes, ketchup on bread - and I used to think it was the most disgusting thing. I still do. ;)


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