Have you ever hit one of those dietary mental brick walls where you just can’t come up with any good ideas for what to eat? Me neither. That’s why my phone has a lot of carryout numbers stored in it. I did have one option come up recently that I never would have thought of if left to my own devices and cravings.
No, really, I went to a cafeteria and had lunch with a bunch of munchkins recently. Okay, so I didn’t just whip into the parking lot, walk up to the window and ask the cafeteria lady what was on the menu. You can’t cold-call school lunch. My niece invited me to join her and it was perfectly acceptable. Apparently lunch has become a social event at school. You can invite your parents to join you, or you can reach way down to the bottom of the guest barrel and invite an uncle.
Thinking ahead, and trying to maximize my own enjoyment (because, really, it’s all about me), I did some research and found the school lunch menu online. One day that I thought would be free for me had a McRib as the entree. That seemed like a better risk than some of the other offerings, many of which tended to run toward the fowl meat line of products. Besides, who wouldn’t love a pork-like product in the off-season? We all know that the McRib shows up in the fall for a limited time only. Ronald McDonald can’t be butchering hogs every day of the year. He likes to mix it up. Think Shamrock Shake. August doesn’t come to mind, does it?
Once I cleared my schedule, I got the official paperwork done with the school for my appearance. That amounted to sending my sister an e-mail to let her know which day worked for me. Then she let the school staff know I’d be there.
On the appointed day, I pulled into the parking lot at the school and saw herds of munchkins marching toward the building. I knew I had to go to the office first to sign in and maybe go through a security check, but I wasn’t sure which entrance was the one I should take. I decided I’d just follow a munchkin caravan and totally blend in unnoticed. We got inside and no office seemed obvious to me, so I kept walking down the hall.
Funny thing. Back when I was in elementary school in Ridgeway, the ceilings were taller, the clocks were much, much higher on the walls, and the lockers seemed pretty big. I specifically remember a trip to the lunchroom in Ridgeway when a dare was made as to one person’s ability to jump up and touch the clock as we went by. The future Olympian took the wager and managed to just barely hit the 6 on the clock. Had the full panel of judges been there, he’d have been lucky to get a 2.0 out of anyone, especially the East German judge. Sadly, it was an audience of one who witnessed the maybe-future-high-jumper. That one person happened to be the principal, who had quietly slipped out of the library and headed to the lunchroom a few paces behind us. Surprisingly, no action was taken, but the principal didn’t exactly high-five the leaper. No, it wasn’t me, either. I was an innocent bystander. I knew my role in life, and being the topic of a phone call from the school office to the Ryan household was not part of my master plan.
Once I found the office and got my ID badge and lunch ticket handled, I made my way back through the maze of little people in the hall to find my niece’s class. Sara is in second grade. As I wandered down the hall, looking around aimlessly (I am a guy and, no, I didn’t ask for directions), I heard a young voice say, “Jeff!”
It was Sara. She and her class were ready to head to the lunchroom. Turns out she was the leader for the day, so she was standing by their door. Not sure if that was a coincidence or if her guest swayed the appointment. All I know is that it moved us to Bob Uecker status and we went to the front. As we made our way down the hall, I had to keep dodging timepieces that were nearly clocking me squarely on the melon as we walked by. Sara told me at one point, “I told my friends that you were really tall, but they didn’t believe me. Now they do!”
In the lunchroom, our meal was handed to us and we made or way over to the tables. Interesting setup these days. All the tables have seating on only one side. There is no one sitting directly across from you to talk to, or to wrangle for the tight real estate of a table that isn’t all that wide. Seems to me that even prisoners get to sit at both sides of the table.
Another thing caught my attention in a hurry. It was really, really loud in this lunchroom. I don't recall there being a whole lot of noise at lunch. We didn’t exactly eat like monks in Ridgeway, but I sure don’t remember it being so loud. As one teacher walked by, Sara informed me, “That’s Mrs. Schmitt. She’ll quiet us down when she claps. She always does.”
Sure enough, a minute or two later, Mrs. Schmitt clapped her hands maybe two or three times and the decibel level dropped by 90%.
Okay, nice Pavlovian response with the clapping there, Mrs. Schmitt, but lemme see if you can do the same thing with a herd of cattle instead of a herd of rug rats. Better yet, do it the day after we wean calves and I’ll give you your own Two Guys Farming hat AND let you drive the Ranch Hand to school one day if you get the same controlled response. Make them line up for a meal in an orderly fashion and you may just find a nonconformist in your freezer by summer vacation.
Once the main event was over, I figured my time was done and I was free to get back to work. Not so. Believe it or not, you’re not just allowed to invite someone to lunch when you’re a student these days. You can invite ’em to recess, too! That’s obviously part of the No Uncle Left Behind legislation.
Guess what? Big goons don’t really fit in or on most of the playground equipment used by second graders. The scene running through my brain at the time was one where I was headed home with a tourniquet around my neck to staunch the bleeding from all the times I banged my head trying to get into, onto, or out of some brightly colored play implement. I opted to stay on the ground, in an upright position. However, I did get a lot of questions from Sara’s friends as soon as they realized I wasn’t going to be playing on the slide. Remembering how most munchkins tend to get a stiff neck when looking up at me to ask questions, I got down on one knee for my inquisition. That pretty much put me eye to eye with them. That also moved one question I knew I would get way up in the rotation.
“What are those bumps on your head?”
Oh, that’s a clock injury.
No, seriously, I didn't go the reminiscence route with them. I explained that I had some scars from brain surgery. That generated a question about exactly what I had done, so I did my best to give a second-grade-quality answer without making anyone forfeit the lunch they’d just consumed minutes before.
Too bad these kids were too young to remember The Bionic Man or The Terminator. How cool would it have been if I had thanked my audience, made some cyborg-type moves, then hopped into my buggy for a Six-Million-Dollar-Man-style exit.
Trust me, as I drove off into the wild blue yonder, there'd be theme music — preferably something from ZZ Top and not The Jonas Brothers.
Guy No. 2