The Incident in the Lunchroom
First, let me apologize for my long bloghiatus. I just regained use of my fingers after the incident in the Lunch Room. Second, I would like to interject that with all the taxes we pay, we really shouldn’t have to volunteer in the Lunch Room at all. There should be enough money to pay for adequate numbers of Lunch Ladies. But apparently there isn’t, so they have us on a cycle. I always end up on duty with this Lebanese guy whose daughter is in my son’s class. He’s always saying we need to get them together to play. My son’s 11. She’s 12. It’s no longer a suitable suggestion, even if I were inclined to pursue playdates. The problem would not be my boy, who still only wants to play football with boys and covers his eyes if they kiss in movies. The problem would be with his little Lebanese hussy daughter who, along with a whole bevy of girls, is constantly rubbing my son’s hair saying, “It’s so thick and curly, it’s so thick and curly.” I’ve seen them because I cycle in. My boy asks me, “MOM, why do they DO that?” I answer, “because they are hussies.”
The little Lebanese one is the worst. And she looks like Kim Kardashian.
Anyway, her dad is always on my Lunch Room rotation. He has a tic. When he gets excited or scared, he squeezes his eyes shut, shrugs his shoulders up and down three or four times, and waves his open hands in front of his face real fast. And then, he opens his eyes up wide and shouts “CHA-CHING!!”
If you pause here and take a moment to do this, you will see immediately how distracting it is. I find that, even though I am expecting it, when it happens I gasp and my head moves back a fraction of an inch. I have never run away screaming or even shunned him. This is because I am exceedingly kind. And because he already has his hussy daughter to deal with. Why make it plain that I think he’s a freakshow? He named his daughter…wait…I shouldn’t tell you that. It’s inappropriate. But let’s just say her name suits her appearance and personality. (Imagine a name where one syllable ending in a vowel is repeated twice. Imagine that there is a consonant involved which we linguists call a post alveolar fricative…ya…that is never a good decision. And at the first sign your child might look like Kim Kardashian, it is time to find a diversionary nickname, like Mary). My Lebanese friend is heading for a long, hard stretch. Squinting, shrugging, waving and shouting CHA-CHING will not help. So I choose to be kind.
So anyway, we were volunteering in the Lunch Room and we were seated beside one another, because as soon as he sits down everyone else leaves, and the things is that I really can’t get up when I am the only one sitting at the table with him because it is just so rude and he has his whole soon-to-be-slut daughter to deal with, like I said. So we’ve arrived the mandatory 15 minutes prior to our Lunch Room service for the Orientation, and all of us are on time, because of Mindian and what she does if you are late. They always make us sit through the 15 minute safety and procedures Orientation even if, like me and my Lebanese friend, we have volunteered for Lunch Room duty fifty times.
But the thing is Mindian doesn’t care if you are a smartmouth, she only cares if you are late, so I say, as I always do, “Has anything changed in the duties? In the set up? Have you moved the ketchup? Have you rearranged the order of the cutlery? Is it now forks, knives, spoons instead of spoons, knives forks?”
“Mrs. Hampton, if you ever paid the least attention when we address this assembly, you would recall that we have long ago switched to the spork and certainly only a Cretin would think that knives were allowed in school in this dangerous age.”
“I was only being funny.”
“No. You were not.” She narrowed her eyes. (They all do that to me). “Knives are very dangerous Mrs. Hampton. Very.”
We are countrymen. She can not forgive me my levity and I can not forgive her her gravity. It is the natural state of the Indian to be at odds with other Indians.
Anyway. This is always happens because they think I am a smartmouth and I think they are mean. I think the kids are on my side. There is ample evidence. For example, Mindian is their nickname. For Mean Indian. Genius. I like to think of myself as the Shindian. Super Hot Indian.
When I arrive, the Greeter Lunch Lady who sends us to our seats always narrows her eyes, too. Before I’ve even crossed the threshold. I narrow mine back. I will not be intimidated. Despite their scissors.
The Lunch Ladies wear scissors around their necks on festively colored lanyards. They say these are to open ketchups, but the tale will tell. This time, when she narrowed her eyes and pointed to my table I stretched out a hand and swung the scissors. I’ve been wanting to for years. They just dangle there. It’s like they’re calling my name.
My Lebanese friend must have had a sense that this was a mistake because I heard him shout “CHA CHING” and when I looked back in line, he was shaking his head back and forth back and forth and flapping. Usually he shrugs. I knew this particular gesticulation was directed at me. I opened my eyes wide and smiled. I looked back at the Greeter Lunch Lady and said, “You know I was only playing right? Sometimes, its nice to have fun, right?” I smiled. Now let me tell you, you can’t actually see me, but I have a great smile, its all lit up and my teeth are really big and white, really, trust me. I’ve heard it’s infectious, my smile. But Greeter Lunch Lady just narrowed her eyes and she narrowed her lips too, and they started out pretty narrow. The whole effect was very scary. From somewhere behind me I heard, “CHA CHING! CHA CHING!” I chose not to look back.
I took my seat at my table and soon the Lebanese friend joined me and everyone else left, as usual. He leaned over and said, “Sujatha, I believe they are discussing you. I believe it is conspiratorial.”
“How can you tell?
“I am Lebanese.”
He nodded. He lifted his chin and raised his eyebrows. I looked the direction he indicated and there they were, the whole group of Lunch Ladies with their heads bent together, in their white uniforms, their scissors swinging ominously in and out of the circle. I could see the glint of the metal between their heavy upper arms and pendulous bosoms. For the first time, a shudder went through my body.
They turned around and Mindian took center stage as she is the Lunch Lady Leader. She gave the same announcements as always, the times in and out, the grade levels and what order they would come and go, the procedures for trash bags and dismissal from the cafeteria, the protocols for handling 1. lost lunch, 2. bathroom breaks 3. sharing food 4. talking in line 5. talking at the tables 6. cleaning tables 7. getting condiments/napkins/plastic ware, and 8. opening condiments. And when she said “Opening Condiments,” she looked directly at me, and only at me. Until that moment, she had addressed the entire crowd and had decidedly ignored me, which was great for me, because I was composing a chapter in my mind and that’s easier without scrutiny.
Suddenly, I shifted my eyes to her chest where her scissors hung on a green lanyard. Green. Slytherin. Of course. I raised my eyes up to meet hers. We stared at each other with equal contempt, but Mindian’s eyes shone with malevolence. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a mean Lunch Lady wearing scissors around her neck? Then you know what I was feeling.
Before long, we could hear the shouts and feel the rumbling in the floor of stampedes of children heading for the cafeteria. My Lebanese friend and I took our stations. We had been assigned the eastmost trash can as home base. This is the one they use for fish.
“We stand beside the fishy trash can because of your irreverence.”
He was right, there was nothing I could say.
If you have ever done lunch duty you will know it is like herding cats while balancing slobbering dogs on your nose and opening milk cartons. Milk cartons are designed to keep us in our place.
Throughout the whole afternoon, Mindian and the Greeter Lunch Lady were harrassing me.
“Move faster, they are waiting.”
“Mrs. Hampton? You were extremely sure of yourself, ready to shrug off Lunch Duty orientation, and now I see you struggling with milk cartons.”
“And spork wrappers.”
“And thermos lids.”
“And the table over there, they need their…condiments opened.”
I saw the gleam in their eyes and yet I went over to open condiments, and they followed. And what happened next is in dispute and I am not trying to get any Lunch Ladies fired, as I do not want to…shorten the duty cycle…but we all know what happened. We just choose to be quiet. Even the kids know. I have heard that lunch is an entirely silent affair now…since the incident.
I approached the table of first graders with their beautiful little faces and red lips all open, waving their ketchups in the air, “Me! Me! Me! Me!! Mrs. Hampton, open mine.” They know my name because I am famous and kind. The lunch ladies, trailing behind, noted their fascination with me and it displeased them. I could practically hear their indignation, “This one is disrespectful of Lunch Duty and a scofflaw and yet they love her, is there no justice in the world?!”
I reached out for the first ketchup packet, and looked for the notch indicating where to open, but it was unnotched! I looked on the other side, and no, no notch, so I struggled. The sweat began to run down inside my blouse and I looked left and right for help. I caught sight of my Lebanese friend, but he was struggling over a milk carton. I was on my own. I looked behind me and the legion of Lunch Ladies stood smugly by, smiling.
Finally, I said, “I can’t open it, honey, let me get you another.”
“There is no TIME for that, Mrs. Hampton. Weren’t you listening to the briefing on opening condiments? We are not speaking to hear the sounds of our voices. The information is crucial. Crucial.”
And that is when it happened. All of them lurched forward with their scissors raised on their long lanyards, and they came for me. And before I could put down the packet of ketchup, or hand it over, they proceeded, all together, to cut it open.
I believe, as I fell to the floor, I saw the boy whose ketchup it was, faint as well. The last sound I heard was “CHA CHING!” I can only hope the others 6 year olds thought it was ketchup, not blood.
Because it was blood, not ketchup.
The bandages just came off yesterday, and this is the reason for my long bloghiatus. 200 stiches over all my fingers on both hands. 100 stitches a hand. 20 per finger.
And yet, I will not press charges. Because I am kind and good. And like I said, I do not want to spend one day longer in that lunch room due to lack of Lunch Ladies.