Friday, September 18, 2009

The Corridor of the Undead

It's like a rite of autumn around here: the back to school nights in schools, with nervous teachers explaining their policies and parents sitting there smiling, silently judging them.

I used to be the teacher up there; now I'm the parent. I try not to judge them. Last night, I got there five minutes late (which is pretty good for me) and I had to stand next to the cafeteria doors. I think all cafeterias look the same in schools everywhere - something like this:

with the student area resembling:

although that is a much nicer cafeteria than I remember from grade school. I remember broken benches and stains that we all decided were from some gruesome event that had befallen previous students -

of course, there is generally someone who looks like this:

encouraging you to eat the meal that looks like:

The sinks in my daughter's school are large enough to slaughter a cow in. And the kitchen is made of cinder blocks with dancing vegetables smiling from the walls. The onion looked a little like Osama Bin Laden.

The evening opened with a speaker from the county health department. You can bet I was listening to a forty minute presentation on the H1N1 virus. I only heard the part about 91K being spent on installing hand sanitizing stations. So then, swine flu is a virus that isn't airborne? I didn't quite get that, then again, while she was speaking, I was imagining the onion with a turban.

I can't think of a whole lot of writing that has taken place in school cafeterias, yet it's an experience we have all shared. More so than say sports which I completely bypassed in high school - yet there are lots of books out there involving sports or where the protagonist is involved with a sport.

I had forgetten all the memories I had of my grade school cafeteria until I stood in front of the window last night. I remember a lunch lady standing over me when I tried to slide an untouched lunch into the garbage can. She stopped me and ordered me to try a Swedish meatball. I was in the second grade and she was straight from the corridor of the undead. She picked up my fork and held it up to my mouth. I was too scared not to eat it, so I swallowed it and nodded, then ran. To this day, I have never been able to try Swedish meatballs.

I also remember a tremendous amount of gossiping at the lunch table. We exchanged notes, hair barrettes, phone numbers and party invitations. That time, even though it was probably only about forty minutes a day, was the best time of the day.

I'm trying to think of children's books that involve the cafeteria. Is it one of those places that you stop remembering once you get past college age? I can't think of a single title...


Elizabeth Bradley said...

Oh Anne, you had me laughing, especially with: the onion looked like a little Osama Bin Laden.

I think that same lady worked in the cafeteria back when I was in grade school, she made me eat a forkful of carrot and raisin salad. Shudder...

Mary Witzl said...

Remember the spoonfuls of mashed potatoes and the pats of butter catapulted onto the ceiling?

The protagonist of my WIP loves cafeteria food and thinks it's great when her mother lets her have the school lunch.

And I must be hungry: that lunch photograph you've got there looks great. Maybe I've just spent too much time on the WIP. Or maybe it's time for me to give up on my diet.

storyqueen said...

Anne, you have GOT to check out Jarrett Krososcka's new Lunch Lady series. I probably spelled his name wrong, but his blog is (or something like that).

Books are funny!


Anne Spollen said...

There's only one lunch lady I think, Elizabeth - everyone remembers her no matter where they went to school. I think she exists like Santa.

Yup, Mary - all kinds of food on the ceilings, and occasionally the walls if they were nearby.

Get off that diet! Go have some chocolate to bring your senses back -

Thanks, Shelley, I will go check out his blog. Cafeterias make for such great settings I'm amazed there aren't more.

K.C. Shaw said...

*shudders at those pictures* Mostly I remember the lunchroom smell--cold, unappetizing, a mixture of cleaning supplies and hot dogs. Barf. Then again, my memories of lunch were refreshed during my student teaching a few years ago. School lunchrooms are nothing but evil to me now, although I do remember enjoying lunch when I was in elementary school. (In middle and high school, I skipped lunch and hid out in the library.)

I can't think of any books specifically set in a school lunchroom, although there is a Junie B. book partly set in one.

adrienne said...

Here the kids eat lunch outside, thank goodness. Those cafeteria pictures made me a little queasy.

I think the Arthur books, Captain Underpants and the Wayside School all feature the cafeteria occasionally. The lunch lady in Wayside is Miss Mush and she serves Mushroom Surprise (which tastes like hot dogs and grape jelly).

Carrie Harris said...

I was a huge geek, so cafeterias were the source of a lot of emotional trauma. This may explain why all of my books have at least one cafeteria scene.

I am so tempted to put a dancing onion in one of them now.