Brown Bagging It

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

(Once again, kiradault was knice enough to provide a topic to write about.  She’s kind like that.  See for yourself.)

Brown Bagging It

My school lunches could be described in one word; compartmentalized.  Admittedly, that is a rather long word to describe a bologna and cheese sandwich, but it still fits.  In the three years I spent in high school, I can recall many a memory.  I could talk all about how I got my first, and so far only, black eye because I lost a fight with a chair.  (To be fair, it was a pitch black room and that chair was an obstinate jerk.)  I could talk about the girl who ran up to me and asked me to help her out of her dress.  (It was a scene change during a one-act play, do not get too excited.)  But I can not remember one single time that I bought lunch at the school’s cafeteria.

I always pondered what the school’s offerings would taste like.  I never had tater tots or nachos of my own.  I did not once stand in line to buy a pizza.  Now, having to provide for myself as a mostly-functioning adult, I do not think that I was missing out on much.  I assume that the tater tots were the typical grease-globs that one comes across.  The temporary crunching that occurs right before its components break down and dissolve on one’s tongue were probably a poor reward for the coating of grease that would shimmer and coat a child’s formally dry finger.  (That is all assuming that the slathering of ketchup on the tot did not accelerate the decomposing process.  Ketchup, an all-consuming flavor in its own right, only adds to the moistness of the tot and makes the resistance of the outer skin that much less satisfying for a kid’s teeth to chomp through.)  If I had to guess, I would figure that the pizza was probably no better than the microwave variety available now.  I do not remember seeing a golden tinge to the individual-sized circles.  I would imagine that the top layer, made up entirely of cheese and nothing else, probably tried to slide off of the tomato paste with the first bite.  I did not pay attention to the other kids while eating so I will choose to believe that the cheese slid off in one collective sheet when one tried to take their first bite of their pizza while holding it close in their small hands.

No, mine was an entirely pre-assembled parcel.  The carrier, as always, was a brown paper bag.  I, being an early nut for recycling, tried to convince my mother that this wrinkled mass of wrinkly, crackily paper was like a pair of good jeans; it should be broken in.  I tried to patch each tiny hole with duct tape (which you can thank MacGyver for), reasoning that it would just last that much longer.  The trees could be saved if only we could maintain the structural integrity of this bag that had been folded and crumpled into submission.  She ignored my entirely logical protests and would hand me a new bag filled with food.  Logic in the adult world is much different than logic in the teenage world.  I felt she was being resistant to my brilliance.  She probably felt that a bundle of a thousand paper bags easily cost less than a roll of duct tape and she still had a massive stash of them to draw from.

The actual lunch was a testament to the wonders of plastic.  Trying to get a teenager to keep track of Tupperware containers is laughable.  We all know this.  My mother did not even try.  The fruit was placed in a small sandwich bag.  The crackers were placed in a sandwich bag.  And, as one would hopefully deduce, the sandwich was placed in a sandwich bag.

My lunch was always a bit different than my siblings’.  They might have an orange in theirs, but I had to have apples.  (Today I maintain that it is because of my adamant loyalty to Washington.  And I think pulp is gross.  Plus there’s that overpowering smell.  Clearly apples are the superior choice.)  My mother was kind enough to comply with my demands.  Not only were apples put in my lunch, but much of the time I had pre-sliced apples; no core or seeds to slow me down.  She sprinkled some mystery white powder on them so that they were still crisp and robust when I got ahold of them.  Quite often I would bite half a slice and spend scant seconds as a toucan with an apple-slice beak.

She also indulged me with my sandwiches.  My brother and sister were quite fine with peanut butter and jelly.  I wanted no part of their pro-nut agenda.  I did not like nuts, I did not like Almond Joys, and I did not like peanut butter.  (The exception to that rule was the little cracker sandwiches; the ones with the orange crackers?  Those were simply too good to pass up and I devoured them without explanation.  I was too busy letting the orange crumbs fall silently on my shirt as the cracker broke and shattered into little pieces in my mouth.)

My sandwiches were specially made.  They would consist of a slice of Ovenjoy or Wonderbread, a slice of Oscar Mayer bologna, a slice of Kraft America cheese, and then a second slice of bread.  The end.  Every day I would eat that same sandwich.  This went for five (or more) days a week, probably for eighteen years.  There were no surprises with my sandwich.  I would pick it up and it would respond by lying limply in my hand.  I did not care how robustly the food held up, there were no surprises.  No magic pickles were going to appear in my hand, there was no mustard to suddenly start dripping.  There were only three ingredients and they all stayed in their places like good little ingredients.  If I was feeling extra stern, I would squish down my sandwich to one third the thickness of its original composition.  I told myself that getting all that air out of the bread just made it easier to digest.  I ignored the fact that it looked like someone had sat on my lunch.  When it came time to chew, a toddler would have had no problem.  There were no crunchy or gooey parts to try to contain.  I bit into the bread, which offered no fight.  Then my teeth quickly slid through the partially melted cheese that most likely wanted to maintain the temperature that the fridge at home had worked so hard to maintain.  (But what chance does cheese have when faced with the trials of a teenager’s backpack?)  And then there was the bologna.  Any fight it once had was long ago mass-produced out of it.  It chomped through without a second thought, a quick send off to a suitable substitute for meat.

The sandwich was always the main ingredient, but the side dishes were always plentiful.  A typical lunch would consist of:  sandwich, an eight-ounce can of TreeTop apple juice (I told you, I was Washington-raised), a bag of cookies (not-factory sealed, my mom pre-bagged some for each kid), and a bag of fruit, be it apples or grapes.

I always had a fondness for grapes.  They had to be seedless, and I always preferred the greener variety.  The non-bruised ones were naturally the best and most deserving of my attention.  I would promptly use my teeth slice them in half.  (They had some mass and resistance to them; they could take it.)  Most of the time I would try to bite them exactly in half across their longitude.  I would place them between my front teeth and chomp; the crisp skin breaking open and giving way to a little burst of juice flowing on my tongue.  In my fingers was a little mini-football helmet.  I looked at the dome, examined the tiny veins in the middle of its structure, and then I tossed that part into my mouth as well.  (If I was really feeling wacky, I would slice the grape along its long side.  Somehow, I thought this made the grape resemble a watermelon, even though now I think it probably looked more like a water trough.)

I do not think that I was extreme enough to try to save the handful of plastic bags for another use, but I would not have put it past me.  The paper bag was always saved, unless it had gone through some tragedy.  Even the best intentioned diner will tear a massive hold in their bag or spill a drink all over the table.  What use is there for napkins when there’s a brown paper bag just sitting there to sop up the mess?  The TreeTop can was a different matter.  I probably saved that for last.  I liked hearing the sharp “pop” as I bent the tab backwards and the metal gave way.  It was an effort to get my finger between that loop and the aluminum surface that it rested against, but I made do.  The juice was quickly consumed; one slurp or two usually was enough to send the entire contents cascading down the parched throat of a kid who had devoured his lunch with much ferocity.   After the liquid was all gone, including the requisite tapping on the bottom to get those last two or three precious drops, then the can squishing began.

Some may have crushed their cans.  I squished.  I was not the strongest of high school kids, so my efforts necessitated more precision from me.  I worked my fingers around the middle of the can, making small dents in its torso.  Then I would go back and make the dents bigger and bigger until I was left with an obese hourglass.  Only then would I put the top and the bottom, the only flat surfaces left, between my hands and push with all my might.  That usually shrank the can down to a three or four-ounce size.  It was hardly impressive, but I was typically pleased with the results.  (The lopsided result always bothered me.  I wanted the crushed can to look flat and if one side was more resilient than the other, then I was vexed.)

That is how I survived my childhood without cafeteria lunches.  I thought vending machines were terribly cool because I rarely got to partake from them.  Trips to the airport were made special because we were actually allowed to make use of these wondrous machines.  Even then, I knew that the prices at airports were much higher than anywhere else.  But I still had my dollar and I still got to choose a candy, so prices meant nothing when compared to this rare privilege.

I do not remember specific incidents when I dove into the high school vending machine, but with all the after school drama activities, I am sure that I partook in a bag of chips or two.  The food trays though, those I can guarantee were never used by the teenager with the unadorned, but thoroughly wrinkled, brown paper bag.


About Cosand
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

One Response to Brown Bagging It

  1. Pingback: Small Assignment 3: Vacation | Small Assignments

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