Jackie Hope: Best time of the year
School starts tomorrow, and you know what that means, right?
School lunches? The best! Someone else does the cooking and the dishes. Just belly up to the serving window, and the lunch ladies ladle up steamy servings of mashed potatoes and gravy with sorta-beef, or noodle casserole with chicken or tuna or something that looks like hamburger but maybe isn’t.
And you gotta love the lunch trays. Each food has its own little compartment, so the corn does not migrate into the butterscotch pudding. Don’t you hate it when the corn migrates? You think there are butterscotch chips in the pudding, only to find whole kernel corn, instead.
Hey, did your mom save TV dinner trays and recycle them with Thanksgiving leftovers? She’d, like, put day-old stuffing, turkey and gravy in the big compartment, potatoes in the upper left-hand corner, and corn in the right-hand corner, and then freeze the whole shebang. And the corn would migrate into the gravy. But Mom’s gravy was usually chunky, so nobody ever noticed the Great Corn Migration.
One of the best parts of school lunches? Chocolate milk smoothies. You know how to do a chocolate milk smoothie, right? You take some of the ever-present chocolate pudding — the stuff that comes in 20 gallon industrial strength tins — and lob it into your half-full chocolate milk carton. Oh, BTW, chocolate milk cartons are never half empty; they are always half full. That is the Optimistic Corollary to the First Law of Chocolate.
Choc up that milk carton, then shake it up, baby, twist and shout. Add a straw. Smoooth. Better than when some New Age manic-organic puts a mango, a papaya, a prickly pear and some yogurt in a blender, then tries to convince you it is delicious. When it is mostly mauled fruit, and a waste of good yogurt. In fact, we are going on record here, saying “blended” is an adjective best used for whiskey, not for fruit.
You guys ever get “hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes” for your school lunch? That was epic stuff. There was this mountain of mashed potatoes, with a volcanic crater in the middle, spewing gravy and little hamburger bits. OK, not spewing. Get that image out of your mind. Picture this, instead: Chunky gravy leisurely rolling down the sides of a mashed potato mesa. Like in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” only with beef-i-licious groovy gravy. Stop thinking about spewing chunks and gravy.
This kid, Mickey, figured out h could siphon up the gravy thru a straw, hamburger chunks and all. If you turned your back to fatmouth with somebody at the table behind you, “Slurp!” Mickey’d have your gravy. And there would be your potatoes, sitting high and dry in the master suite of the divided lunch tray. The lunch room mafia fixed him by switching to bendy straws, ‘cause he couldn’t get the hamburger around the elbow joint in the straw.
Then there was Billy. He sat in the Naughty Row. Your homeroom had a Naughty Row, right? The front row, where the guys who made — and flew — awesome airplanes had to sit. We’d sit up there, making original origami planes with aerodynamic gull wings and … Uh, I didn’t mean “we.” I meant to say “they” sat up there. Me an’ my peeps sat way in back. Really.
Billy. There is no way to say this delicately. Billy ate Elmer’s Glue. He said it was made by Borden’s, so it qualified as a dairy product. Billy always looked like he was wearing a layer of white Chapstick. Come to think of it, he ate Chapstick, too. Mickey liked to sit with Billy in the cafeteria, because by lunch time, Billy would be so full of Chapstick and Elmer’s Glue, he wouldn’t have room for lunch. So Mickey would eat it, instead.
Alright, who’s up for a road trip to the big-box store for school supplies? We can get those yellow wooden pencils, a spiral-bound notebook, and a 64-pack of crayons. Yeah, there’s also the 96-count box of Crayolas, but it is a bummer because it’s only a pair of identical twin 48-counts, tarted up like something new and different. Gimme a box of 64, some construction paper, and a fresh bottle of Elmer’s. And I’ll give you an airplane to die for. You won’t even have to sit in the Naughty Row.