The Price of Admission

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Tuesday July 26, 2011

Dearest Sister of my Heart,

A “voice in my head” this week (meaning someone I am reading… don’t worry, I’m not totally crazy… yet) told me that if I want to start writing better, really digging in, to sit down and think about childhood.  But as you may know, that’s got WAY too much material to sort through so she also said to think about school lunches.  So I started thinking about them… and I started cracking up!

Fruit leathers.  That is the first thing I remember about my public grade school lunches… fruit leathers which were sold every Wednesday in the lunchroom full of picnic tables.  They were tangy, sweet, relatively healthy, delicious, and you always wanted one!  Everyone loved them and having one to enjoy was your entre into a sphere of experience with everyone else who had one to enjoy.  It made you part of a crowd generally acknowledged to be a fun group to belong to… the enjoyers of a fruit leather.  Twenty-five cents was the price of admission.  Twenty-five cents transformed you into one celebratory figure among many, drawing pleasure and cheer out of mearly being present with others of celebratory mood.  Much like fans at a ballgame who jump up and down enthusiastically for a home run which at home would have caused no more than a “Yes!” uttered from the couch all because of the surrounding energy in the crowd of the stadium.  A fruit leather was your path into the Mob.

Every now and then on a Wednesday morning before school I would remember to ask my mom for the quarter to buy this ticket but mostly it wouldn’t even enter my radar until we walked into the lunchroom and there they were coming around to sell them table by table.  I would sit there as a cloud of regret rolled in for the remainder of my day.  Once or twice a friend or just a classmate bought me one with an excess quarter.  Like those girls whose moms gave them a whole dollar and a fourth fruit leather was a luxury that they very flippantly could bestow upon me just as you might hand your doggie bag to a beggar on the street after a lovely dinner out and feel as though you’ve contributed.  Usually, though, I went without, retreating into myself mad at my mom for not knowing to send me with a quarter or two.  All sad and depressed at myself for always forgetting as well, swearing to remember next week.  Not much has changed.

I was a little off as a kid… still am.  I remember one time when I, of course, had no funds with which to buy my place in the celebratory sphere.  Wanting so terribly to be a part, I rolled up my zip-lock baggie from my “cheese sandwich” (another whole story full of prime material there) and in my own private world pretended to slowly savor the zip-lock flavored fruit leather.  A girl across the table from me, we’ll call her Amber, asked me what I was doing sucking on a zip-lock.  I promptly told her it was a fruit leather to which she obviously responded with contempt and ridicule.  I stood by my fantasy wanting in my deepest parts to believe it were true, knowing in the center of those same parts that I was a total fraud.  It didn’t do much for my image, as one might imagine.

Ah, childhood.  To be totally honest, not much has changed in the last twenty-five years.  I still forget most things like that while I’m busy figuratively imagining the sublime taste of my zip-lock flavored fruit leather.  I guess there’s something to be said for knowing who we are.

What do you remember about your grade-school lunches?

The Epistolarian

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2 responses »

  1. Yeah, lunch boxes were decidedly a problematic element, I would agree. B/c if you had the proper lunch box then it was a general enhancement to the lunchroom experience. If you had a questionable one however, like say a Rainbow Brite one year past her popularity and it was a sentencing to a school year of stressful lunches. I DO agree that hot lunches (while being accompanied by their own set of issues and social stigma) were, for someone like me, the safer of the options… at least you knew what to expect on a weekly basis… there were fewer variables.

  2. You crack me up.

    Funny, I can remember lots of lunch boxes. I used to get a new one very year. I remember being really sad and disappointed when we could no longer get the snappy clangy metal ones with the giant luggage latch and had to settle for some flimsy vinyl number with a weird sideways metal button that slipped through a metal slot in the lid and sealed with a twist. Except that their really was no seal, you could literally lift up the side of the soft lid and take out your sandwich without disturbing the clasp. And said clasp delighted in twisting itself open at the most inopportune moments like right when the bus pulled up and you had to endure the busload of people craning to look at you out of those weird slide-down windows wondering what the heck the holdup was.

    Sometime after that I started buying “hot lunch” and never looked back.

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