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Lunch is Served
My name is Zachariah Daniels and I have the greatest seat in our school cafeteria-behind the lunch counter of Express Munch Line. Yes, I am one of those student workers who gets free meals for working during lunch and simultaneously doesn't have to worry about who to sit with. I have Mrs. Chen, the cashier lady who loves zebra nail tips.
On top of getting to serve the charming inhabitants of Ben Franklin High, I do it while wearing a stupid chef's hat, despite not actually cooking anything. But whatever. I stopped caring about what people think of me after the first month of freshman year—I'm a junior now. Everyone knows it's not what's on the outside that counts. It's what's on the inside. Seriously. I've found what people eat is a much better reflection of who they are. If more of us paid careful attention to the lunch hour (that for some reason is scheduled three hours after breakfast), we would get to know each other much better.
I, for example, know a ridiculous amount of info about my fellow high school students just by checking out their lunch orders four out of five school days. (Fridays, I go to AV Club meetings.)
The bell rings and the cafeteria begins to fill with the buzzing sound of hundreds of conversations and rumbling stomachs and screeching girls. I pull on my saran wrap gloves, slap on my cream puff hat and prepare to serve.
My first customer is a scrawny boy, freshman I bet, who orders a footlong with the works, two bags of Doritos Nacho Cheese, a Dr. Pepper and a chocolate cookie. This kid is either overcome with joy for high school food or he is certainly deprived of junk food at home. I want to break it to him that by week two, he is going to despise the cafeteria food as much as he'll despise gym, but his toothy smile is so refreshingly innocent, I simply hand him his food with a nod.
The next group jumps to the counter with smug faces that scream " We just cut in front of the whole line. What you gonna do 'bout it."
Nothing, of course. They've been line cutters since birth. I've no doubt when the nurses were scheduled to deliver in the next room, these wise guys forced their ways out of their moms early just to be a pain.
As the dudes shout out their orders, I'm forced to pick up and put items back as one guy chastises them in questionable language that he can't afford to pay for all their crap. They laugh as if I'm some poor pawn in their game and take several more minutes wasting my time and that of the rest of the people in line. Their final order turns out to be fried chicken boxes and Gatorades. Greasy and neon-colored. And that's why they're such slimeballs.
Following them is Phil, who orders every carb and protein packed item we have. I noticed he's been recently trying to bulk up for wrestling. Plus, he's been trying to impress this girl, Shelby.
" Wanna try this new granola bar?"
I hold it up over the glass. He grabs it and scans the nutrition facts.
He scoots to the cashier station. His unenthusiastic tone worries me. I wish he hung out with more encouraging athletes that didn't see their diet as a miserable punishment. But who am I kidding? I would sooner down a dozen donuts than a salad.
More students order lunch, nothing special. Which explains why I don't know anything about them. It's the people that like mustard and vinegar on their sandwiches like Victoria or nachos with ketchup and jalapenos like Mark that are worth remembering.
The next customer is my history teacher, Mr. Wahlberg. Instead of being like the normal teachers who collectively put in an order at Wally's Taco Stand and eat in the lounge, Mr. Wahlberg insists on "rubbing shoulders with his pupils" and "dining with the masses." There should be a rule against this.
" Zachariah, my main man," he says, putting his hand up for a high five.
"I touch food,sir."
" Right," he mutters. "So I'll have an iced tea... Uh, a cheeseburger and ... some Cheetos."
He acts like it's a tough choice, but he has the same order every day. The iced tea is his weak attempt at a caffeine source, the cheeseburger a soggy excuse for manliness and the Cheetos-so he can "look cool" licking orange fingers.
I glance at the clock and then she's standing in front of me. She stole my heart when she ordered a salami and swiss cheese sandwich, milk and Double-stuffed Oreos- my favorite snack. I've been taking Katie's order for over a year. She says she doesn't like bringing lunch because she enjoys the spontaneity of cafeteria food. Gosh I love her.
"Hi Katie," I say in my most suave manner.
"Hey Zac." She runs her fingers through her amber hair.
"So I got a great one for you today. How about a teriyaki chicken—"
" I'll have a water and some crackers,please," Katie interrupts.
"Sorry, we're out of the Nurse's Office Special. How about chow mein? Onion rings and relish?"
"I don't eat that stuff anymore."
Suddenly a ridiculously skinny girl strolls up.
"Helloo, we're waiting."
Katie eyes me nervously. I look at her, trying to bring her back to me with my stare.
"I'll get right on it," I say finally.
I open the fridge to get a bottle of water, grab a packet of crackers, then slam them on the counter.
"Enjoy," I say lamely.
As they link arms, I remember not to judge Katie by her new fake friend, but by my lunch philosophy. I'm sad to report my soulmate is barely holding on, floating on little salty lifeboats in the choppy waters of peer pressure. I wish I could save her, but from where I sit, I'm not close enough.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
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