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July 23, 2009

2 kool 4 school lunch

lunchbox%20happy%20500fx.jpgLet me just say that my memories of school lunches involve having to eat liver and spinach on Fridays or no ice cream. Owl Meat's are a little...different. Here's guest poster Owlie. EL

Sometimes a new relationship involves fights – fevered fractious fracases full of frenzy, fried flesh, frosh and flying food. Our first independent restaurant experiences began in school cafeterias. We chose our companions and meals and practiced social skills. Over time the food got better and we stopped throwing it.
Unpacking my totally uncool red-and-black-plaid lunch box in the grade school cafegymatorium in Reading, Pa. Lebanon bologna sandwich. Carrot sticks. Oreos? Oreos? Come on Oreos. Aww .. dried apricots, but I never objected like Little Gordon Ramsay (NSFW).

Junior high in Tucson, Ariz. – total freedom to eat doughnuts or get high in the desert. Everybody was divided into jocks or freaks. No respect for sardonic malcontents ... yet. ...

bootsy.jpgBack in Reading, I attended a large urban high school. A thousand kids ate in each of the two lunch periods. For me, lunch was raconteur training. Lunch table politics was Hobbesian; switching tables was socially hazardous. You needed a loyal crew.

One day Stacy Gottschall pointed a fish stick at me and said, "People either love you or hate you, Bob." 

Yes! This was now my lunch table. I was the roller of big cigars.
The cafeteria was a tinderbox of itchy teenage angst, with teachers slurking about the restive herds. Inexplicably we had a juke box and every day for weeks someone played the P-Funk classic Flash Light.
♫ Ha da da dee da ha da ha da da da ...
I'm sure that if poet Wallace Stevens was valedictorian of Reading Boys High School, there was no Parliament-ary funk debate on whether to get up or get down. He had empires of ice cream to consider.

I sneered at the trippy funk jam. I banged my elbow on the table to the beat in mock enthusiasm. Then I started feeling it, really feeling it. It became a ritual for my table. Soon half the caf was elbow banging, dinging glasses with forks, and chanting along.
Flash light
Red light
Neon light
Ooh, stop light
Sardonic loner meet sardonic stealth-funk lunch table insurgent – Che Groovarra. My antic metastasized into a farrago of ironic, derisive, and genuine enthusiasm of white, black, and Puerto Rican kids. Why? Teacher torture. They trundled around muting our tempo-taunting tables, only to have the tintinnabular tapping pop up at others in a Whack-A-Mole slurry of chaos. Our pubescent tribes were briefly one nation under a groove.
On Hoagie Friday a fight broke out during Flash Light. The teachers swarmed the brawlers. Instead of getting up, we got down and banged to the beat and bleated Flash Light ... creating a funktastic West Side Story rhythmic throw-down.
The legacy of that year's valedictorian: I whipped in cafeteria cups a cacophony of concupiscent nerds. During my graduation speech, I burbled out some approved banalities, but in my head I was going ...
♫ Ha da da dee da ha da ha da da da ..
Sometimes the finale of seem is not be but beat.
P.S. I'm doing a weekly guest post on Midnight Sun called Tipsy Tuesdays.  The new posts and 15 previous guest posts are collected here.lunchbox%20sneer%20500fx.jpg


(Photo credits: Getty Images and

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 10:39 AM | | Comments (64)


What I remember about school lunch was the incredible bargaining power afforded to the kid whose mom packed him Doritors. If you a had a bag of Doritos, it was like being in Mexico with a pocket full of greenbacks. Whatever you wanted you could have at no real expense. Kids would trade sandwiches, cookies, smokes, whatever just for two or three of those red salted triangles.

And Young Republican RoCK discovers the magic of the free market.

I never traded any part of my school lunch - I always liked what Mom packed for me.

Reading, PA - we love visiting the Amish country in Lancaster. Lots of good cooking in those parts.

The shortest distance between one point is a circle.

Che Groovara?

I stopped eating in the lunchroom after elementary school. It just was too horrible, and there were teachers who'd let some of us take refuge in their rooms if they had 4th hour planning.

I was not one of the cool kids, needless to say.

The shortest distance between one point is a circle.

I think that's supposed to be insulting, but thank god I'm too stupid to get it.

A conversation with Lissa on Facebook gave me the idea for this post. The pointing fish stick was my madeleine.

Did anybody have a particularly interesting lunch box? I was jealous of the cool lunch boxes kids had in grade school. I think that if my mother had thought to crochet a lunch box she would have.

I vaguely remember those metal lunch boxes being great weapons on the walk home.

I had a Hop-A-long Cassidy lunch box. That dates me as being very old. :-) The lunch room at PS #83 served a mystery meat that after all these years I can still taste (shudder) Lunch was 15 cents & milk was 2 cents.

Owl Meat Groovarra,

Still the sardonic stealth-funk lunch table insurgent.

My lunch box staple was sardine sandwiches. Sometimes, leftover meatloaf sandwiches. And when Mom was feeling particularly indulgent, liverwurst sandwiches. Chips were something other kids had, but then we got homemade applesauce bars.

You're one of the cool kids now, Lissa.

Didn't Bucky post a photo of his Roy Rogers lunchbox? I'd like to think he still takes it to work. Nah, too ironic.

Strawberry Shortcake, metal lunchbox. Those were the current plain blue softsided lunch box just isn't as much fun.

nor is the healthy lunch.

I asked my parents for one of those big black lunch boxes, the kind a construction worker uses. Anyway, I had this belief that more space would lead to more food. A vacuum is always filled theory. This theory was disproven. My hopes for a second sandwich, extra fruit roll-up, or six instead the usual four Chips Ahoys never materialized.

Oh my! I just had a flashback to my first year of college and the student union jukebox inexplicably playing Natalie Cole's Joey over and over again!

Gosh, remember the poor kids who brought thier lunches in the big old paper grocery bags or the leftover family size bag of chips rolled up to a smaller size instead of being either in a baggy or lunch sized? Oh those poor kids were just so humiliated!

In my pre-ironic days I probably just wanted to not be noticed. Plus knowing how thrifty my mother was, had I had a celebrity lunch box it would have been the lamest one ever because she would have gotten it in the 5 cent embarrass your son by making him look like a dork department. I can't even imagne the horror she would have made me use. I was a freakin Indian every year for Halloween. Costume = racist Indian mask and a blanket.

RoCK, I wanted one of those construction lunchboxes, too, for the same reason! I got paper bags.

I didn't know you could make sandwiches from sardines. Will have to try that. I have always loved liverwurst, but wasn't allowed to take it to school for some bizarre reason. Instead, I got peanut butter on whole wheat (I refused to eat white bread) with an apple. On swim practise days, I got an extra apple.

Gods, I was a boring child!

Wow. I always wondered what it was like to be in therapy. Thanks Owlie.

btw: My lunch box was a bag ... or sack. What was cool was seeing how many weeks or months you could make the thing last before it tore, blew, or disintegrated.

My first lunch box was a G.I. Joe one, after that I went to one like RoCK describes. By high school though, I used a bag like jl describes.

The tunes that played incessantly over the cafeteria sound system (it was an 8-track tape player!) during lunch were from a Yes album. I don't know which one, but if I never hear Starship Trooper again, it will be too soon. Every now and then we'd get a break, but mostly it was Yes.

Wow. I always wondered what it was like to be in therapy.


I was stranded somewhere in Istanbul for about eight hours and the the soundtrack to Grease played over and over. I think part of my brain ate itself.

Nice alliteration or as you described it on FB, thesaurus porn.

My daughter went through a Grease phase in middle school. I think it was on the VCR about 23 hours a day for what seemed like a year. She claimed the attraction was the music and dancing and I pretended not to know that it was really young Travolta.

I had a metal lunchbox with puppies on it. Of course. From first through eighth grades, I bought a "hot" cafeteria lunch once: on the first day of first grade, after looking at the unidentifiable slop on my tray and smelling it (could it have been... beef str..NOOOO!), I never bought my lunch again.

Every single day for eight years I had a jumbo (Pittsburghese for "baloney") sandwich on white bread, except on Fridays, when I had grape jelly on white bread. Usually my mom packed fruit, carrot sticks, and a few cookies, or a slice of homemade pie in a plastic container shaped just like a wedge of pie, so it wouldn't squish. My parents gave me milk money so I could buy a carton of "white" or "chocolate", and sometimes an ice cream sandwich as a special treat on Fridays.

The nuns made the girls in grades 6 through 8 clean and wipe down the cafeteria tables and floor after lunch. Since there were so many students, we were stuck with this task only a few times during the school year, as the duty was rotated to different teams.

We dreaded one section more than any other: the section where the boys sat. It was nicknamed "The Pig Sty". It was littered with chunks and piles of uneaten, smashed, and spit-out food, puddles of milk, wadded-up, dirty, and shredded paper napkins, and smears and gobs of condiments and sauces dripping from the edges of the tables and on the floor. God help us if chili, spaghetti, Sloppy Joes, or my own personal favorite B--f S-------f had been served, for then the scene was even more horrifying. Even though it was by far the smallest section, we prayed that our team wouldn't be chosen to clean that circle of Hell. I still wonder why the nuns allowed them to get away with that kind of mess, considering the iron-fisted control they insisted on in their classrooms. Why was behavior which wouldn't be acceptable in the classroom, something they could turn a blind eye on in the cafeteria? (I'm not even going to address forcing the girls to clean up the ungodly mess...).

Amanda C, you have a good memory.

I've taken it to work a few times. It's always a conversation piece. It used to prompt conversation like, "Yeah, cool...I had a (fill in the blank) one like that." Now it prompts, "Who are Roy Rogers and Dale Evans?"

Leave it to YumPo to come up with a great story about being a kid and food. I'm guessing that there was no P-Funk in Catholic school. My parents actually gave us the choice to go to Catholic school or not. I opted out because of a conflict with my five year old atheism. In retrospect I wonder if I made the right choice because the Catholic school girls seemed a lot cuter.

Laura Lee - I grew up watching in horror my father eating sardine sandwiches (on white with mustard). I remember those old tin cans they came in, the ones with the "key" to peel back the lid. Just the sight of those little fishes all lined up soaking in the water/oil...Fortunately, he never imposed his taste for them upon the kids.

the Catholic school girls seemed a lot cuter.

Nothing turns a man on like bobby socks and saddle shoes.

Plaid skirt, white shirt and navy blue sweater. Boys don't care about shoes.

Going to school in Balto. County, the only good time to buy school lunch was when they had peanut butter fudge. Everything else was inedible.

So lunch from home: one piece of lunchmeat on two pieces of white bread, no condiments, sandwich wrapped in wax paper. The same paper lunch bag had to last all week. I never got a lunch box because older sister clobbered some kid in the head with hers and thereafter lunch boxes were forbidden in my family. Can't do much damage to someone with your 4-day old paper lunch sack...

And what would have been the content of the valedictory address delivered by Owl Meat Graduate in a Jesuit school?

Trixie - I have a stack of sardines in my pantry. I eat them with mustard all the time and I love the peel-back can...

YumPo, those nuns were just making darned sure you'd all grow up to be feminists.

Owlie as a Jesuit...he'd have fit.

valedictory address delivered by Owl Meat Graduate in a Jesuit school?

Too weird to contemplate. My speech was pathetic. I wish I had never even gone to graduation. I never went to another one. The faculty advisor/censor for my speech was a special ed teacher. I swear. She told me I couldn't use overly complicated words like "relationship". Wallace Stevens was held up as a role model and I couldn't use big words like relationship.

I swear that my English teachers said WS was valedictorian, but I can't find any documentation on that, so rather than risk the flaming scorn WS scholars we edited that out. The only other famous person to graduate was some actor on a TV show called Room 222 who played the principal.

The only other famous person to graduate was some actor on a TV show called Room 222 who played the principal.

Was it that delightful Jackee.
No wait, that was 227. Sorry.

Wasn't Michael Constantine the principal??
Elementary school was strictly brown bag..milk was two cents and came in a small glass bottle...
Kids who lived close went home for lunch

This thread reminds me of the time a coworker picked up her small son from Kindergarten at his Catholic school and the sister was playing Puff Daddy (as he was known then) for the kiddies.

Mr Owl Meat, I think you need to seek professional counseling. Your brain is not normal.

Normal is boring.

Mr. Berg,
Owlie is NOT normal but that's why we love him.

BTW...OMG!! You actually used your given name?

I was one of the Free Lunch kids in my school, so it was school lunch Every. Single. Day. from third grade through graduation. The one standout detail was that Friday was ALWAYS pizza, because there were so many Catholic kids in my town.

How come you can't get a sloppy Joe in a restaurant?

Oh, VP, I'm sure there is some hipster doofus place that serves up post modern sloppy joes and ironic tater tots for $18.99 on an authentic blue plate.

Until you find that place, you'll always have cafeteria memories.

No doubt. I can't believe how people are always saying that this place or that has the bestest tater tots. Really? Are they different? Aren't they just greasy processed potatos?

I love sloppy joes!

VDP, have you tried Sloppy Joe's?

Ha! I was there a long time ago. Great sushi in Key West.

Yes, but how was Sloppy Joe's sloppy joe sandwich? (It's on their menu.)

I don't think we went there. It seemed too touristy.

So there is this touristy restaurant here in town called Dirty Dick's Crabs. As you might guess, the t-shirts are a big attraction. The place offers steamed crabs and crab cakes along with a lot of other seafood items. I haven't been there since the place is usually packed and the reviews on Yahoo are quite snarky, about the long waits for overpriced and terrible food. If a place is that bad, why go there? My guess is the rude T-shirts. And menu items that advertise tater tots as Dick-Taters.

But it does intrigue me, in that one of their mascots is Chester-peake, the pelican from Natty Boh fame. Perhaps they do a real MD crab cake?

Now there's a t-shirt I'd be proud to wear, Fl Rob!

I will seriously agree though that Chester-peake is a rather intriguing clue. Does the place smell like Old Bay? Sounds like ex-pat Balmorons have possibly landed in your little part of the world.

Claude--Catholics have to eat pizza on Friday? Huh?

Dahlink, it would have been plain cheese pizza. The Catholic kids weren't allowed to have meat on Fridays back then.

The no-meat-on-Friday rule was later repealed. I wonder if the souls already in hell for the meat-rap got pardons?

Come out, Virginia-

Don't let me wait.

You Catholic girls start much too late.

Ah! But sooner or later it comes down to fate.

I might as well will be the one.

meatless fridays was not a hell situaton

Of course--cheese pizza.

Kimmer, OMG confessed to being a member of the League of Roberts some months ago.

That doesn't mean it's true. Maybe I just wanted to fit in.

And that's why I changed my name.

Bird -

Amanda outed you on the name.

Yes, but I already admitted to being a stealth member of the League of Roberts many months ago and a friend called me by name on FB. Roberts rule!

Lots of forms of Robert, so I'll just call him Owlie.

Dahlink, you are another Robert?

Dahlink, you are another Robert?M/i>

Really, she doesn't look like a Robert. Very girly.

As I recall, she was Darlene. Dahlink is her e-gangsta name.

I've run in to some very girly looking Roberts a time or two. Which probably tells you something about the kinds of places I hang out in.

And what shall I do without you? Oh, Gabriel, I don't think you ought to go away. You've been with me so long -- through bright times and dark times -- such old friends as we are -- that it seems unkind almost. I had fancied that if you leased the other farm as master, you might still give a helping look across at mine. And now going away!

I somehow missed the latter part of this thread. No, I am not now and have never been a Robert. Or Roberta. But more than one person has called me girly.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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