I woke up from a nap the other day with a completely random memory of school lunch from Junior High. My Mother always insisted that my siblings and I avail ourselves of the opportunity to eat a “good hot lunch,” so we ate “school lunch.” Now, “good hot lunch” was a relative term. In grade school, the food wasn’t too bad at all (or my memory has become clouded with fond nostalgia for the lunch tables that folded into the wall and the Principal, Mr. Glacier, who would serenade us with the accordion when it was someone’s birthday). In high school it wasn’t all bad, either, especially since, during the second half of our tenure there, we could DRIVE and have food at RESTAURANTS.
Junior high “school lunch,” on the other hand, was an ADVENTURE IN CUISINE. I ate with my two best friends, Kris and Janae. Kris ate “school lunch” like I did, but Janae ate what we might call “Joan concoctions.” She pulled amazing things out of that brown paper bag. Her Mother, for instance, often prepared sandwiches with Cheese Whiz®, cream cheese and that paper-thin vaguely-recognizable lunch “meat” that came in plastic packages. Sometimes she would have cookies that were made from, among other things, frosting mix (it’s TRUE – I saw them put together at some point). Janae would often have yoghurt (hence we learned to gargle yoghurt – but that’s a story for another time), or, better yet, a pudding-like confection called “Kistle.” I’ve never seen the stuff before or since.
These are fond memories, indeed, but I awoke to quite a different recollection. It was a particular “pizza” day that I remembered. “Pizza,” at my school, was a square glob of dough-like substance upon which a vague tomato-like “sauce” was placed, and then “toppings” of an indeterminate nature were used. Kris and I were walking to a table with our “pizza,” anxious to see what odd delights might be in Janae’s lunch bag that day, when I noticed an unusually peculiar “topping” on my “pizza.” Upon further examination, I determined that it was none other than a SPIDER baked right onto the “pizza.” I am not picky, truly, but this was just not acceptable. I went back up to the lunch counter (no doubt waiting in line again, because that’s what residual shyness does to you), and faced one of the “Lunch Ladies.” My memory paints a picture of a curt, burly woman with a bad dye-job. In her mouth I see a cigarette – half ash – precariously hanging from her lip right over a vat of pudding or some other glutinous substance. I know that the cigarette part can’t be true, but I do not doubt for one moment that she was curt and burly, dressed in that ubiquitous garishly-coloured “apron.”
“Pardon me, but there is a SPIDER on my ‘pizza,'” I timidly said.
She grunted impatiently, grabbed the tray, and gave it a cursory glance. Then came the quote of the decade:
“It’s just a FLY,” she retorted, and shoved the tray back at me.
I stood there for a moment, completely floored. I surmised that this was the moment at which I was expected to express great relief and say, “Phew – just a FLY. Bonus ‘pizza’ topping day for me!” But I could only remain mute with disbelief.
After a moment, she rolled her eyes in disgust, took the plate, and gave me new one with an insect/arachnid-free piece of “pizza.” Had it BEEN a spider, in her mind, (and damn it – IT WAS) then perhaps she might have reacted differently. But a completely serendipitous BAKED FLY – apparently, I had turned up my nose at a wonderful BONUS piece of protein. Oh, the ingratitude of youth.