Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Want Candy

When I was in third grade, my school had a tiered lunch system, where some classes would eat in the cafeteria at 11:30, another group at noon, and a final group at 12:35. It was a major point of contention between early lunch kids and later lunch kids, because the privileged early lunchers would find out what the cafeteria was serving before anyone else, and after eating, they'd gloat like little monsters as they paraded by the classrooms that hadn't been released to lunch yet.


Nobody liked vanilla.


The good stuff never lasted long—tasty lasagna would give way to lukewarm spaghetti, meatloaf would be replaced by rubbery salisbury steak, chicken nuggets with oily fish sticks. When spread of more desirable items running out and being replaced by less appetizing dishes, it caused panic in the masses. Kids cried over macaroni and cheese being replaced by tuna casserole. Once, when the brownies were replaced by cups of fruit salad, the fallout was so severe I'm surprised the student body didn't burn the entire building to the ground.


The worst days by far were pizza days. The early lunchers always got slices of real pizza, and when those were depleted, the lunch ladies brought out those dreaded pizza breadtangles. Breadtangle pizza was the worst. Giving a breadtangle of pizza to a kid is actually considered child abuse in 14 states.


Pizza day happened once or twice a month, and the real pizza was always in short supply. By second lunch, perhaps a dozen slices would be left for hungry children to scramble over. I was a second lunch kid. Since my classroom was a fair distance to the cafeteria, I'd never once gotten real pizza. But I came close, once.

I was standing in the lunch line one morning, feeling grumpy about the futile prospect of True Pizza, my mood made worse from having to watch lucky bastards at the front of the line walk away with delectable slices. As I inched forward, I became aware of a growing murmur up ahead, and became excited at what I heard being passed down the lunch line. Apparently there was extra pizza today—real pizza. And I might get some. I fantasized about what it would be like to get a slice.


As I was daydreaming about my new pizza-filled life, a kid named Shain cut in front of me in line. More specifically, he did that shady form of cutting where he hopped in front of his friend, and then his friend jumped in front of him—also charmingly referred to as "Chinese cuts" by insensitive, clueless '90s children. I was immediately filled with rage, but I didn't say anything, because Shain was a bully and I knew if I complained about his cutting, it would cause trouble. So I remained silent, glaring angrily at the back of his head as the lunch line crept forward.

When we reached the front of the line, everything seemed to slow down. There was one slice of pizza left. Shain saw it, smirked at me, and extended his grubby little goblin fingers toward it.


I was overcome with a hopelessness unlike any I'd ever felt before. I watched Shain walk away from the serving station, that beautiful, impossible slice of pizza draped across his lunch tray like a bygone dream. I grabbed a limp, lukewarm rectangle of replacement pizza, plopped it onto my own tray, and sulked away. As a lowly second-luncher, I'd been a fool to believe I could possibly be blessed with authentic pizza.

I sulked through the cafeteria looking for a place to sit. When I passed the table Shain was sitting at with all his bully friends, I noticed something peculiar. Shain had his hand in a brown paper bag, and as I watched, he pulled out several items—first a Lunchables, then a little Tupperware of brownies, followed by a grape Fanta and finally a bag of tropical Skittles. I realized Shain's mom had packed him a lunch, and he'd still inserted himself into the lunch line to get pizza. Pizza that should have been mine. Shain did not deserve my pizza. Shain had to pay.

My entire body trembled with rage as I approached Shain's table. I firmly set my tray down in front of him, leaned forward, and through gritted teeth, exclaimed:


To my surprise, Shain obliged. Clearly shocked, his mouth slightly agape, he picked up his pizza slice and gingerly put it on top of my own nasty breadtangle. I narrowed my eyes at him, not completely trusting his actions. For good measure, I demanded he hand over his brownies. He did. I didn't even have to ask for his Skittles.

I suddenly felt heady, drunk with power. Before I was even aware of what I was saying, I made an announcement to the table.


Without a word, all of Shain's friends did as I said. I was astonished. Frowning, I piled everyone's candy—Skittles, Gushers, Fruit by the Foot—onto my tray and left them in stunned silence. I marched out onto the lawn to enjoy my spoils.


I should've felt elated at my triumph over Shain. He was mean to everyone, but for some reason the candy didn't taste so sweet.

I still ate it all, though. Of course I ate it all. I was a lanky twig-child, but deep down inside me, a fat, greedy bastard has always resided.


The worst part is that after literally gorging myself on candy, I couldn't bear to eat the pizza I'd been so concerned about. When the lunch bell rang, I wrapped up my hard-won treasure in a napkin and quietly tossed it in the trash, making sure nobody would see me dispose of it. Somewhere in Ethiopia, a newborn baby shed a single tear.

Trouble started about an hour later during math class. Mrs. Brockhart had just finished reviewing multiplication tables with the class and everyone was quietly filling out exercise sheets in their seats when my stomach made an audible groan. In the silence of the classroom, the sound was dark and foreboding.


I tried to laugh it off, but I knew all was not well down below. My stomach gurgled as I fruitlessly attempted to do math problems, but my efforts were useless. The numbers on my work sheet seemed to move around like ants. I couldn't focus. I felt sweaty. My stomach lurched.

It had become clear to me that the cornucopia of candy I'd consumed was not going to stay down. I debated my options. Shelby Nutkins was sitting in front of me—I could quietly barf into the hood of her sweatshirt, and maybe she wouldn't notice. Maybe if I took a few deep breaths, the nausea would subside... but no, it was coming. I turned around in my seat to face Mrs. Brockhart's desk and raised my hand, intending to ask if I might be excused. Unfortunately, I didn't get a single word out before a tidal wave of rainbow vomit spewed forth.

I can't imagine what it looked like to the rest of the class, watching another student interrupt the silent classroom with a tsunami of rainbow barf. It must've looked like the future MySpace page of a teenager named Tiffany.


At first, nobody spoke. I sat there in silence, shocked at what had just occurred. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, especially Shain.


After a moment, Mrs. Brockhart reached for the phone on her desk and punched in some numbers. "We need a janitor in room 134," she said. She set the receiver down and added, "Adam, head to the nurse." I wiped a droplet of barf off my Trapper Keeper, closed it, and left the room without a word.

Confucius once said, "Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves." In retrospect, I should've done just that. Then I might've had a hole in the ground to barf into.