Wednesday, December 12, 2012

School Lunches

A conversation with some guys at work recently got me thinking about the good ole days of school lunches.  You were either a “Bringer” or a “Buyer”.  Some Bringers actually got to buy milk at school to eat with their lunches but that didn’t change their status to a Buyer.  After all, it was only milk.

Bringers were a sub-culture all our own.  I was a Bringer.  It was cheaper than buying even the subsidized school lunches, and often fresher and of better quality.  I must have consumed 3,000 sandwiches brought from home during my pre-collegiate years.  My regular was ham with either Swiss or American cheese and mayo on white bread.  My second most common lunch was probably tuna.  Nothing fancy.  No relish or onion or celery bits chopped into the tuna.  It was just tuna and mayo.  As I think of it know, between the tuna and the ham sandwiches, I must have consumed a jar of mayo a month.  Kinda gross as I think of it now but it was just the way it was.

Even though we had the fresher lunch, us Bringers always coveted the life of the Buyer.  The Buyer typically carried cash money to school everyday, stood in that line that disappeared into the kitchen in the school cafeteria, and then later emerged at the cashier.  Us Bringers never got to go and see the inside of that kitchen.  It was a private club for members only.  If you were a Bringer, you never got to handle money.  Never got to stand in that line.  And never got an exclusive invite into the kitchen.  We were outcasts.  Second class citizens.

I would relish the days when my Mom forgot to run to the supermarket to replenish the ham or tuna and she would let me, for an exclusive, limited engagement only, become a Buyer for the day.  I felt special.  I always remember thinking about what I would buy for lunch.  When I’d get to school on those oh so special days, I would check the school lunch calendar that always hung in our classroom.  What would the “hot lunch” be for today?  Turkey Tetrazini?  Pasta with tomato sauce?  Roasted chicken?  Lasagna?  The hot lunch always came with either a vegetable or a piece of fruit, some sort of dessert, and a container of milk.  If you got the hot lunch, you were sitting pretty.  The envy of Bringers everywhere. 

If the hot lunch for that day was something I didn’t like, I’d venture out and try some of the other specialties of the house.  There were usually things like chicken fingers or chili.  Or the ever-reliable square chunk of pizza.  In retrospect, that pizza was more like a big slab of bread that had been swabbed with sauce and sprinkled with a few shredded morsels of mozzarella cheese and then baked in the oven until it resembled a brick.  Typically I’d get a slice that was all black and charred on the bottom and rock hard on top.  I would scrape the charred bottom of any cheese and sauce with my teeth and then toss the rest.  Occasionally (or should I say “rarely”), I’d get a piece that was undercooked.  The bread was soft and mushy, the sauce a little cold and the cheese barely melted.  Any you know what?  It was awesome!!  All I needed was to get one of those soft, mushy slices every once in a while and it kept me coming back.

Of course, whether you were a Bringer or a Buyer, everyone shared in the universal pastime of “trading.”  The cafeteria had its own economy, and every food item was currency. 

“Trade you a half of a sandwich for a brownie?” 
“What kind of sandwich?” 
“Tuna on white bread.”
“No way, not for my brownie.”

Brownies were like trading gold bouillon.  Like diamonds straight off the boat from South Africa.  There was pretty much nothing you couldn’t buy if you had a brownie.  You were at the top of the food chain – literally. 

Now if you had an apple?  Good luck unloading that.  Who wants that?  An apple was a fruit which was pretty much as close as you could come to a vegetable without actually having one.  Sad to think how many apples I ended up tossing in the trash because I didn’t want it and couldn’t get anything good for it on the lunchroom trading floor.

Shockingly, I do remember this one time where I was able to trade an apple for a half of a sandwich.  I must be kidding, right?  Or I’m not remembering it correctly.  Maybe it was a caramel apple?  Yeah, that must’ve been it. 

Nope.  I had traded with a kid who was new to the school and hadn’t yet learned the value of certain items on the cafeteria stock exchange.  At the time, the kid seemed very happy with his(my) apple.  And I was thrilled to have scored an extra half of a sandwich.  I guess I shouldn’t have taken advantage of the new kid.  And in truth, I felt a little bad about it.  But only for a little while.  

Thanks for reading.

-- Frosty

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this post--it really took me back! My memories of those days seems a bit hazy, but to the best of my recollection, I was a hybrid creature. My mom packed a lot of lunches, but we must have looked ahead at the schedule, because sometimes I bought my lunch. Usually on pizza days, ham sandwich days, pasta days. And I know exactly the pizza you're talking about: there were the "real" pizzas that were a little rectangle with some kind of thin, floppy crust-like flour product, and then there were the "French bread pizzas," which were the stale, leftover hoagie buns slathered in sauce, cheese, and maybe pepperoni, then overcooked to oblivion. I hated those.

    The most common lunch I can remember being packed was a peanut butter and honey sandwich, pudding (in a metal can!), Hi-C drink, and I'm sure there was more to it. Probably apple sauce. Probably a homemade dessert, too.