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Friday, December 21, 2007

My Kingdom for a Fish Stick!

Robert Avrech’s post about his wife Karen’s Free Lunch at Yeshiva of Flatbush, coupled with my recent obsession with finding old elementary school mates on Facebook, just kicked up an old memory.

Halfway through first grade, my mother finally took me to an allergy specialist in Manhattan who determined, after several long hours of poking, prodding and scratching which would probably have been a violation of the Geneva Convention, that my incessant coughing, sniffling and eye rubbing was due to me being allergic to…EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING! Cats! Dogs! Mice! Trees! Grass! Dirt! Flowers! The entire month of May! And just about every food imaginable. And so, armed with this invaluable bit of diagnostic determination, she sent me back to school one day with a note laying out to the teacher exactly what, and more importantly, what NOT, I was allowed to eat at the school lunches.

Now, for the last 13 years, my wife and my kids (and rarely, me) have packed up sandwiches, juice boxes, cut-up apples, yogurts, and snacks, and zipped them into little lunch boxes and launched our little ones off to school where they would suffer through “cold lunches,” not knowing any better. Not so where I went to school. In Yeshiva Dov Revel, EVERY day was a hot lunch day. We lined up to have our trays loaded with noodles, potatoes, veggies, fish sticks, and the occasional vegetable cutlets (I called them, in my usual charming little way, “cocklets,” for such they resembled). I’m sure there were many kids who didn’t like these lunches (and for them there was always peanut butter), but I relished them.

Until, of course, the day my mother sent that note with me. Now, the truth is, I did pretty well with most of it. I didn’t miss the peanut butter sandwiches. I lived well without the “cocklets”. I even deftly avoided chocolate in all of its forms, and my mother and my friends’ mothers were quick to accommodate me with vanilla treats instead (until the day I found out that Twinkies weren’t kosher, but that’s a tale for another time).

But once a week, my resolve was sorely challenged, and crumbled. Fried Flounder Day.

I don’t know what it was about that meal. You could smell it all the way up to the classrooms. The aroma would waft through your nostrils during the march down the stairs, and it would permeate you during the long line up at the doors to the cafeteria. And of course, when my turn at the counter came up, I would take a serving on my plate.

And then the teacher…she was a Sabra, that one…militant in her determination to carry out my mother’s orders, would remove them from my plate and send me to sit in my place down towards the middle of the table. Where I would sit and stew and stare down at what remained of the meal, usually mashed potatoes and some macaroni…and plot my next move.

Which, at the age of six, wasn’t all that sophisticated. It amounted to me shoving all of my potatoes on to my buddy Jonathan’s plate, and then him sliding his fish, which he hated, onto mine. And then, timing my move down to the nanosecond, waiting for the teacher to turn and greet a colleague, I’d duck down under the table and consume my contraband lunch on the floor.

And sniffle and cough my way through the rest of the day. But man, it was worth it.


Foust said...

Well, Doctor, i rescind my previous comment. Dont write stuff that aint funny!!!!!!!!

of course if it is funny you are free to post at will.

And being a child i cant really appreciate the humor of this scenario so... whatever

Baila said...

Wow, all that for fried fish! I remember that smell from my elementary school. There was no escaping it and most of us skipped lunch on that day, or went with the peanut butter.

But, ahh, the tuna fish on that soft white bread--now THAT was a meal!

fudge said...

i'll bet if i submitted this piece in my creative non-fiction course...

you know our writing styles are virtually identical?

fudge said...

now that's what i'm talking about! that was amazing!

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

There was no escaping it and most of us skipped lunch on that day, or went with the peanut butter.

PEANUT BUTTER? Allergen of Allergens? Food of Death?!

RaggedyMom said...

What a post!! Sounds like you guys at YDR had way more enticing food options than we did at YCQ. Some of the ones I recall are:
Chicken Chow Mein
Turkey Roll
Kasha Varnishkas

And of course, that healthy side of salads. The same browning iceberg with one sad tomato, they called it something different every day:
Fresh salad
Garden salad
Tossed salad
Israeli salad
Winter salad
Health salad

School lunches - what nostalgia!

feefifoto said...

As much as I hated to admit it, and still won't even if faced with this post and a contraband video of me typing it, there were some school lunches I actually anticipated with something approaching pleasure. Was it the extreme fat or salt content? Who knows? i bet I wasn't the only one, but as I'd never admit it out loud, I'll never know.

pobody's nerfect. said...

ezzie can vouch for me on this one.
HAC lunches were either incredible or awful.

Friday french fries (alternating weeks for the girls and boys) rocked.... sloppy joes were nasty... the hot dogs could bounce... all pasta was awesome, especially when it was floating in a way-too-much cheese sauce.... of course, some subsisted on white bread (i could eat like 11 pieces back in the day) with butter/PB/mustard/ketchup.

how do kids survive??

the school i work in now gives optional hot lunch to the rich kids and the kollel kids. (those who can pay, those who are on scholarship) but they're REALLY good. catered by chap-a-nosh.

Shira Salamone said...

Ah, food allergies, remember them well (not fondly, but well). What was I *not* allergic to as a kid? Tomatoes, orange juice, chocolate all gave me and one of my brothers hives until we were well into high school.

The irony is that, with this stupid GERD/acid reflux/persistent heartburn business, I'm now supposed to lay off many of the same foods that I had to avoid back then. Orange juice? A thing of the past. But really, tomatoes? How can I survive without Israeli salad and pasta sauce? And me, give up chocolate? Not happening. I'm not a particularly good patient. I usually say that, if I'm going to have an acid reflux attack, I might as well at least enjoy getting there.

SaraK said...

Unfamiliar with these things you call school lunches...I grew up in BALTIMORE!

therapydoc said...

Horrible having to miss out on things!

Ezzie said...

Just to back PN... we used to have lots of milk carton competitions, as that was all we could eat some days, and we would race for the loaves of white bread to make our ketchup sandwiches (usually 4-5). And it WAS sad that fries was the best main dish.