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.