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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by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter AAbbasid: (1) adj. of or relating to a dynasty of caliphs who ruled in Baghdad from 750 to 1258.  (2)  n.: a member of this dynasty.

I remember a time when the mention of guns would conjure in my youthful immaturity the concept of cops and robbers. Also, I guess, was a flash or two of soldiers.

It was simpler. As a young kid, I would finish my breakfast hurriedly and head outside on a summer’s day to play all around the neighborhood with my friends, to return for a lunch of a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of yucky tomato soup, to then run out the door again and play and play with wild abandon.

I didn’t have a monitor on me to make sure I wouldn’t be abducted, nor did my mother worry about whether the neighbors were perverts.

Now, you see, some of them WERE. Perverts aren’t new. We didn’t come up with them in the past twenty years. It’s just that perverts were aware that they were odd–and tended to hide their predilections away from the neighborhood.

The reason I bring this up is because when I read the word “Baghdad” in the definition, I thought about how much that word has changed in my mind over the years. When I was a kid, Baghdad was a place in stories where people rode camels and when they got tired of moving so slowly, they leapt upon magic carpets.

It was cool. It was magical.

I didn’t know they were Muslims … because I didn’t know what a Muslim was. I didn’t know they hated America … because why would you hate us when you’ve got TENTS that look small on the outside but when you walk inside, they’re palaces? I didn’t know their women were subjected and mistreated. In the stories, they were all princesses.

Move ahead a little bit and Baghdad turns into kind of a stronghold for some guy named Saddam, who lives next door to another strong-arm dude named the Shah of Iran–but we’re told it’s cool because they’re our allies. This, of course, pleased me. Because they were our friends, we had a lifetime supply of magic carpets available to us.

Then we find out the Shah is a jerk and Saddam is kind of crazy–followed by some of their people abandoning their carpets and jumping into our jets and flying into our big buildings–and those folks from Baghdad suddenly become our enemies. Since then, my public perception of this place has been going constantly downhill.

It’s too bad.

Maybe Baghdad people never WERE Ali Baba, but I’m sure they’re not all Ali Bad-Bad either. I’ll never know, will I? I’ll never get the chance to find out about their caliphs and their Abbasids, because basically they’re our enemies–or is it now our friends? It’s hard to keep up.

There are not a whole lot of things I would like to return to. I certainly think that knowledge has progressed us, holding back the tide of disease and stupidity, but it would be nice to recapture some of the trust and gentleness we felt towards our fellow-man–even those in Baghdad.