Paper Bags And Crushed Sandwiches

When I was in grade five or six, my mother made me stay at school for lunch for several weeks. The reason behind this was a mystery to me. She likely told me what that reason was, but I was too busy worrying about eating lunch in the art room with all the then-termed "latch-key kids" to care what the specifics behind my situation were. I just wanted to make it through the next few weeks intact.

My modus operandi was to sit at the back, keep my eyes on my lunch, and talk to no one. I don't know if the kids in my school were more mean than kids at other schools or not, but they were certainly rowdy and took joy in human cruelty. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched other kids, made eligible by their dental work, be marched up to the front of the room and handed small wads of tin foil. The one who managed to chew through that electric pain long enough "won", which meant not being kicked around at recess. Some chose to be kicked around at recess. I kept quiet and concentrated on my sandwich.

I brought my lunch to school in small, brown paper bags. This in itself was not embarrassing, but the state of some of the paper bags was. My mother reused everything, and since a puppet-making stint I had had a year or two before, these brown paper bags had had eyes or puffy lips or, worst of all, remnants of yarn hair on the bottoms. These puppet bags made me feel vulnerable and vaguely ridiculous. Were they to be found out, I was sure I would find myself chewing tin foil with the other unfortunates, so I tended to dump my lunch while simultaneously crumpling the bottom of the bag with my fist in order to conceal the evidence.

This crumple-and-dump approach to opening my lunch meant that my sandwich was often crushed in the process, but a crushed sandwich was a small price to pay for avoiding notice. It was my contention at the time that peanut butter went with everything, so I ate crushed peanut butter and something sandwiches every day. The peanut butter was usually paired with marmalade or cheddar or corned beef or some mix of the three, all on white bread and wrapped in nearly impenetrable cellophane that my mother had bought in 500-foot rolls from some infomercial on television. I could never find the packaging's edges properly and usually ended up stabbing through it with safety scissors from the supply closet.

I preferred it if the sandwich did not have cheese in it, because the corned beef or marmalade offered at least a little more slipperiness to help me swallow that sucker down and escape the lunch room before the other kids finished eating and started to look for victims. I also preferred it if my brown paper bag was, on that rare occasion, not sporting huge blue eyes with curly lashes, and I preferred it if the weather was warm so that I could make a break for outside without having to stop at my locker for a jacket. Basically, I preferred anything that facilitated spending the least amount of time possible in that lunch room.

Luckily, my tenure there was short-lived. I managed to escape the suffering that was chewing tinfoil under threats of physical violence, and, afterwards, as before, I ate lunch at home in front of The Flintstones and tried to drag out the hour as long as possible, pleased that it was my father and not me who was stuck with those ridiculous puppet bags.

Ever since those days, I have held an unwavering belief that children should not be housed together in large groups, because if there is one thing I learned while I cowered at the back of that room two-and-a-half decades ago, it is that children are largely untamed beasts ruled by sadists. They gravitate toward the worst kind of power structure in which those at the top are those with the the fists or those who are friends with those with the fists. When William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies, I would not be surprised in the least if he was channelling his own memories of being corralled together in a lunch room filled with largely unsupervised children. I wonder how he liked the taste of tin foil?

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This post was written in response to a writing challenge from {W}rite-of-Passage, a "...group of writers seeking a challenge, getting critique, and finding community." Here is a list of the other participating entries: