Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Y'all are doing so good on "outing yourselves." Congratulations! Keep it coming!

Haven Kimmel, my favorite author ever and that's saying a lot because I pride myself on being a voracious reader (at least in my feeble mind) has come out with a new book of her essays (also see A Girl Named Zippy or her novel, The Solace of Leaving Early). She inspires me to remember childhood memories, and out of those memories comes this with it what you will (which is just reading it and saying, "Ah...but I remember those cafeteria lunches!")

The topic of the keeping with the idea that if one gives you a random idea or object you might just find some holiness in it...was "plastic cafeteria trays."

Elementary school lunches in their plastic trays. So organized, placed in their proper locales. Large rectangle for main dish--beef and noodles, macaroni and cheese, turkey tetrazzini, bologna burgers, or the East Allen County Schools dreaded "Chef's choice." Miscellaneous line of squares at the top, neat compartments for assorted fruits, vegetables--canned peaches or buttery beans--soggy strawberries or overcooked broccoli. But the circle, the round area on the tray was the Bermuda triangle (Bermuda circle?)--the mystery place--the instant mashed potates with their pond of gravy--the carmalized rice, drenched in a brown sugar sauce--the sticky sweet potatoes, yams, turnips. The circle was the secret--the hidden quest. What would it be? I practically skipped to lunch some days when spelling was especially easy...just wondering...

Russell, the mean, bald, overweight custodian who mostly growled, stared down the first graders at Village Elementary school as we'd line up to "turn in" our trays. We'd carefully separate our silverware and clang it into the appropriate containers, afraid of risking Russell's wrath with a misplaced fork. We'd hand him our plastic flesh-colored trays, quickly, shyly, gazing through our long baby eyelashes as he'd grab the plastic trays from our tiny hands and in three quick, loud, successive bangs extricate the left-overs of soggy corn or warm pears from their designated compartments. When the mashed potatoes were stubborn or the sweet potatoes extra sticky a bonus and unexpected earth-shattering bang was warranted, as Russell grappled with his hidden aggressions and inner demons at the Village Elemementary School trash cans.

Perhaps Russell had many demons. Because those trays echoed through the cafeteria and the mention of his name can still make me shudder.

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