Cafeteria

Cafeteria: (n) a dining establishment in which customers serve themselves

My mother wouldn’t let me. (There are innumerable possibilities to go along with that statement.)

But in this case, it was eating in the cafeteria at school. Growing up, we lived so close to all of my schools that she insisted I come home
for lunch. So as is often the case in childhood, what you are forbidden to have becomes the source of your lust.

As I prepared to walk home to my house to eat my meager sandwich and soup, I would see all my friends on their way to the cafeteria to enjoy a mutual feast–and I assumed, great frivolity.

I felt cheated. I felt like an alien. I felt I had been presented a privilege which offered no visible benefit.

Then, one week my mother was going to be away helping out her sister, who was ill. She didn’t think it was right for me to come home without her there, so she gave me 75 cents a day, to eat in the cafeteria.

My joy knew no bounds. I was bouncing off the walls in anticipation. My friends squinted at me, confused about why I was so enthralled with eating at the common trough. They tried to explain to me that it was really pretty bad, and that I would be greatly disappointed.

But as I shuffled through the line, watching how my friends conducted themselves while conversing with the old women in hair nets who were dipping out the provision, I immediately noticed two obvious problems. All the food looked a little bit gray, and there wasn’t much of it.

For the first couple of days I pretended to enjoy the cuisine, but by the time Day Three came around, I found myself yearning for my fried bologna sandwich and tomato soup (with a few crackers.)

I made it through the fifth day, and when my mother returned on the weekend, she asked me if I would like to continue to eat in the cafeteria. I think she thought it was a pretty good deal–especially since she wouldn’t have to play cook and waitress for me at lunch time.

Inexplicably, I broke out in tears and was very embarrassed, but sobbed, “No, I wanna come home…”

It was pathetic.

But it was better than eating over-cooked macaroni, processed cheese and room temperature fruit cocktail.

 

 

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Ball

Ball: (n) a solid or hollow sphere or ovoid, especially one that is kicked, thrown, or hit in a game.Dictionary B

Thirteen years old is such a fussy, giggly time.

I was at church camp and one of the counselors had forgotten to bring balls for us to play.

First of all, being thirteen years of age, when the counselor announced that we didn’t have balls for us to play with, we all had to giggle uncontrollably. (You see, that’s the problem with the word “ball.” It has so many meanings that it’s nearly meaningless.)

But anyway, back to my story.

So when it was announced that we were “balless” (hee-hee) we thought that this adult standing in front of us was going to go out and acquire us … balls. (This article is doubling over with double-entendres…)

Anyway, he didn’t.

I don’t know whether he was lazy, or figured there would be some sort of other entertainment for us that wouldn’t require balls. (Oh, my God…)

So in frustration we began a great search across the campgrounds. After about an hour and a half, in a ditch outside of the cafeteria, we found an old basketball that obviously had been discarded, which was about halfway filled with air.

In other words, it was still round, but did not bounce. When we tried to bounce it, it more or less splatted.

But this became our ball for the week.

Since no other circular objects of play were afforded us, we changed the rules of every sport to use what was provided.

So our basketball game, rather than being a dribbling affair, became more like football, where one would run toward the goal, knocking people over, and then shoot it and try to rebound and catch it before it haplessly squatted to the earth.

So by the end of the week, we had discovered that the most logical way to use our hampered ball was to play game after game of kickball.

I cannot tell you how sad we were on Day Four, when the kicked and abused sphere sported a gash and lost its remaining air of life.

As important as it is to have a ball, it is much more important to have air in it.

Somewhere within, there’s a lesson for life, but since I am desperately trying to get out of this awkward column … I will let you draw your own conclusions.

 

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Alarm

Words from Dic(tionary)

dictionary with letter A

Alarm: (n) 1. an anxious awareness of danger 2. the sound or warning of imminent danger

Do they still call it a fire drill?

I’m not sure.

When I was a kid, about every six or seven weeks, the school bell rang uncontrollably, and we were told to rise from our seats, get into single file and march out of the building into the awaiting parking lot in anticipation of what could have been a fire breaking out.

Of course, we all knew it was just a drill. A practice, if you will. But it was still a bit alarming to hear the bell, and delightful to be able to escape the world of desks, pens, paper and droning “teacher voices,” to go outside for a few minutes with your friends.

Of course, in the adult world, they had plans set in place to rectify that potential for pleasure.

You had to remain silent.

This was the same thing you were cautioned to do when standing in line for the cafeteria, gathering for an assembly or even finding your path to the bathroom.

Silence.

I realize now that we were never in danger of fire. And I’m not being critical of the craft of preparation. I understand it thoroughly and agree with the premise.

But the alarming part of the process of leaving our school, considering the potential for a blazing inferno, was actually the fact that we were taught to be non-social.

  • Couldn’t talk in class.
  • Couldn’t talk in the cafeteria.
  • And couldn’t talk on the way to the fire drill.

And then we wonder why human beings grow up sheltered, protected, suspicious and just downright cranky. After all, we’re not about to let our offspring chum with one another when we were forbidden to do so.

Yes, I would say the most alarming thing about hearing the alarm bell tell us to go to a fire drill, considering the alarming possibility of a burning school, was the fact that we weren’t allowed to be human and interactive.

I guess that’s true all over the world. I’m sure Chinese people discourage chattiness in their children just like Americans quell such outbursts. But I wonder if we lose something by being too alarmed.

Don’t we sacrifice the child-like instinct to enjoy ourselves, believe for the best and want to whisper interesting things to our neighbor?

 

Agency

Words from Dic(tionary)

dictionary with letter A

Agency: (n) a business or organization established to provide transactions between two or more parties

Every time I hear the word I break out into a small surface sweat.

Maybe someone just tells me I will have to go to an agency to fill out an application or form to gain approval to acquire something I feel I should already have.

Let’s look at the source of my fear. What is the origin of an agency?

1. It was formed because someone was afraid to say yes or no.

There’s a problem right there. We all know the power in life is being able to come up with a positive or negative answer, and let the chips fall where they may. When you decide you don’t want that responsibility, and you spread it over a breadth of people so as to remove guilt from yourself, you create the kind of nasty red tape that makes people suicidal instead of overjoyed.

2. Someone likes to “play office.”

He or she is the kind of person who stacks pencils, puts the stapler in the upper right-hand corner of the desk planner and has a can of air freshener nearby which also acts as a disinfectant for the phone receiver when there is “foreign” use. This is the same person who always volunteered to help the teacher pound the erasers to remove the chalk dust and the kid who wanted to be the hall monitor, to tell on everyone for their bad deeds on the way to the cafeteria.

We didn’t like ’em then; we don’t like ’em now.

3. Lacking power, we imitate power.

Because we don’t think our decisions have much weight, we like to have an acronym behind our points to make them more pointed. It also gives us somebody to blame if there are objections.

4. And finally, it gives us a way to be mean and disappoint others while hiding behind a desk or a series of rules.

After all, we’re not allowed to punch somebody in the nose without suffering the consequences. But sending a form letter of rejection or explaining in boring detail why something cannot work out is the method that an agency promotes, turning its employees into street thugs.

Now, you may think that I’m too critical, but that’s probably because you work for an agency and would like to keep your paycheck.

So the next time someone tells me I have to go to an agency to seek approval or acquire information, I will stop to realize that the BEST I can hope for is a diluted possibility.

Because the only thing an agency can ever muster … is to water down the liquor of life.

Account

by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter A

Account: (n.) 1. a report or description of an event or experience. 2. a record or statement of financial expenditure or receipts. 3. an arrangement by which a body holds funds on behalf of a client. 4. importance of: money was of no account to her.

It’s that last definition that I’m most familiar with.

As a kid, my mother and father often referred to local folks as being “of no account.” I suppose they might have had some insight on the issue because they owned a loan company and received payments from many of these citizens each and every month, or on other occasions, DIDN’T receive such remuneration.

As a youngster, I didn’t think much about the statement–it seemed logical enough. It communicated to me that there were certain people who were valuable and self-sufficient, and then there were those who hung on for dear life by their fingernails, waiting for others to solve all their problems so they could slip into the back door to the celebration party, sheepishly bringing some chip dip and pretending they were part of the miracle.

Here’s the problem: if we could actually extend compassion to another person without feeling supremacy, then such an action would have divine conclusions. But the minute we open our wallets, our hearts or the door to our finance to other creatures who are less fortunate, we tend to place a status on them which renders them incapable of solvency.

How can you help somebody while at the same time empowering them?

For about two decades, we have attempted this by using the verbiage of “self-esteem,” pumping people full of hot air like balloons. When we arrive the next day and they’re flat, we pump them up again. No one knows for sure whether it’s on the eighth pumping or the twelfth that we stop being gentle to these deflated souls. But as long as we’re using air to try to make people look plumper instead of the opportunity  to be viable, then a part of our society will remain of “no account” and another portion will be nasty and snide.

Are there people who are just destined to be dependent? I don’t know. But the minute I believe that’s true, I cease to be of any value to the world around me.

I think we should approach life as if it’s an elementary school cafeteria. We all stand in line, get the same plate of food, walk to similar tables, with identical eating utensils and we either devour our portion with joy, producing energy, or we get too damn picky and end up hungry fifteen minutes later, looking for a snack.

The message? Encourage people to eat. Sometimes the food is a little less satisfying than other times, but eat it up. Sometimes it’s your favorite meal and you arrive at the next dining opportunity disappointed because it’s not repeated. Eat it up anyway.

Why? Because today has just enough in it for you if you slurp it up joyfully, granting you the opportunity to be successful.

I do believe that NoOne is better than anyone else. I just think some people finish their plate instead of scraping it into the trash. Those who do make it through the day understand why it happened. Those who don’t gave up somewhere along the way and lift their hands to the heavens, wondering why in God’s name it happened.

My mom and dad were wrong. There are NO people descended from Adam and Eve who are of “no account.” There are those children of Eden, however, who decline the provision given to them, dreaming and yearning for the magical apple.