Saturday, March 03, 2007


As the Missus and I were watching “You Think You’re As Smart As A Fifth-Grader, But You’re Really A Fucking Moron” a couple of nights ago, I thought about an aspect of elementary school life that generally stays buried deep in the dark recesses of my reptilian cerebellum.

School Lunch.

Lunch was a relatively uncomplicated matter back in my Snot-Nose Days. You went to school. At some time during that school day, you had a lunch period that generally lasted about 45 minutes. During that lunch period, you either queued up to purchase the school’s hot lunch, or you bought a half-pint of milk (for the grandiose sum of 3¢) and used that to wash down the peanut butter-and-jelly on Wonder Bread that your mom packed for you.

There were kids that brought their sack lunches (metal lunch boxes being for the younger set), and there were kids that bought hot lunches. The boundary between these two groups was fluid; kids shifted between the Sack Lunch Mafia and the Hot Lunch Tong all the time.

The times I’d bring a sack lunch, there would generally be a sandwich of some kind: the aforementioned PB&J on white Wonder Bread, or cream cheese and jelly. On occasion, there’d be something more aromatic, such as sardines and cream cheese. It may have been more pungent, but at least it had no jelly that would, invariably, saturate the bread, turning it into a gooshy, purplish mass. Dessert would be a crapshoot, entirely dependent upon the Motherly Whim. Some Hostess Creme-Filled Cupcakes, perhaps, with that ineffable white squiggle in the center of that glossy chocolate topcoat? A Twinkie? An apple (gag)?

But the Hot Lunches...ahhh, now there was a Value Meal for you. My elementary school hot lunches cost all of 25¢ - a tariff that increased to 35¢ when I hit middle school. And what did you get for your quarter, Johnnie?

Well, for starters, you got a half-pint of milk in a cardboard gable-top carton. That was back before they used polyethylene to coat the cardboard - they used wax, which meant that there would inevitably be small chunks of wax floating in the milk. It was good old homogenized, pasteurized Vitamin D milk, none of that low-fat crap. Chocolate milk? Soda? You gotta be fucking kidding.

The entrée would vary from day to day. Sometimes we’d get hamburgers, square grey meat-pucks atop of which sat gobs of congealed grease. Sometimes it would be hot dogs. These bore no resemblance to the flavorful all-beef franks we had at home, no, no. These were made of pig rectums, and they had a vile porky taste that put me off ball-park franks almost permanently. As if the hamburgers and hot dogs were not bad enough, the servitors would slather the buns upon which they were served with (gaaah!) butter. Butter! Butter has no place on a frickin’ hot dog bun, people!

[For years afterward, I would avoid Wendy’s fast-food burgers like the plague. It was the square shape that freaked me out, giving me flashbacks. Yeef.]

Once a week, we would be served pasta: either spaghetti (boiled until it attained a hardness on the Mohs scale somewhere between “cottage cheese” and “Grandma’s ass”) or lasagna, both sauced with a nondescript tomatoey sauce that was kicked up a few notches by the addition of whatever unfortunate animals had been flattened on the road in front of the school the previous week. Feh. It was not until I married SWMBO that I would be able to enjoy lasagna again.

Salisbury steak was one of the better meals, consisting of a thick chunk of hockfleisch (possibly the bastard offspring of a Forbidden Union between a hamburger and a meatloaf), buried in a gummy brown gravy redolent of onions. Sitting next to it would be a plug of mashed potatoes (instant, no doubt) with the consistency and flavor of library paste.

Friday was Fish Day. Back in the day, when Catholics were still forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, the school system indulged this segment of the population by always serving fish on that day. And where I grew up, this was a not-insignificant segment of the population. Between the Irish and the Italians in our area, pretty much everyone was Catholic. Except me.

No, that’s really an exaggeration. We had a few Protestant families around as well...and a goodly minority of us Hebrews. But it was only when I moved to Texas as a young adult that I realized just how Catholic-rich was my early environment. In Texas, Italians were downright thin on the ground (which explains why you couldn’t buy any pizza that wasn’t outright shite).

Back to Fish Day. This was not a bad thing, mind you. In fact, Fish Day was reliably good. You’d get a substantial slab of fried flounder, accompanied by buttered new potatoes flecked with parsley (better than Library Paste Glop any day!) and chopped, steamed spinach. I looked forward to Fridays.

I know there were desserts that came along with these hot lunches, but I’ll be damned if I can remember them. In fact, about the only thing I remember about Lunch Period - aside from some of the food - is that we had a kid in third grade who could belch like a champ. And, no, it wasn’t me.

But thanks for asking!

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