I’ve been at this teaching shit for a long time now. A very long time. How long? Let’s just say that I remember coming home from work one January Friday and watching President George Bush’s inaugural parade on TV. The first George Bush.
Which makes the following statement quite extraordinary: This year marks only the third time in my long, un-illustrious career that I have had cafeteria duty. And after only five weeks of thrice weekly half-hour stints in the most disgusting room in any high school, I would like to send a long overdue “thank you” to all the administrators who assigned me to other duties over the years and a hearty “fuck you” to whomever made up this year’s duty schedule. Each of my past duties was infinitely more pleasant than lunchtime cafeteria duty, a statement I would make even if those past duties had included tampon washing and vomit mopping. It is by far the most unpleasant task I’ve ever had in this job.
Of course, being an inept, ineffectual and generally lazy piece of shit, I am not exactly doing a bang-up job of policing all the food throwing, drink spilling and line-cutting that inevitably transpires during this daily, hour-long clusterfuck.
Take three weeks ago, for instance. I see this one long-haired, Arkansas-looking fucker throw a couple of tater tots at some girl. I ream him out. I walk back to my position policing the lunch lines (more on this later) and turn around just in time to see more tater tots in parabolic flight through the cafeteria air. So I have to go over to these kids again and commence to bitching. I’d rather be scrubbing shit off the men’s room floor with a wet paper towel than have to deal with this, but deal with it I must.
A girl, in full indignation mode, explains to me that she was throwing tots only because a girl at another table, the very girl who is now the ex-girlfriend of her current boyfriend, threw a tot at her first. (In case you’ve forgotten, or in case you already know this but swear to fucking christ that it can’t be true, what with the childish behavior I’m describing here, yes, I do work in a high school, not a middle or elementary school. And these are not even freshmen I’m talking about.)
So how does the Cafeteria Monitor of The Year handle this? I go all King Solomon on her ass and say, “Listen, I don’t give a shit. You’re not throwing food in here. Handle it some other way.” And in a testimony to my authoritative powers, that’s exactly what she did. She stormed out of the cafeteria, found the girl in the main hallway and began to pummel her with fists instead of tater tots. Two ten-day suspensions ensued. And I still find the occasional stray tater tot on the ground near their table.
As much as I hate dealing with piddly shit like that, I’d prefer to spend my entire duty policing the throwing of food than doing what I spend the bulk of time doing: monitoring two lunch lines. Six years of post-secondary education, 25 years on the job and a depressing number of years lived, and this is what I do for 90 total minutes each week. What’s worse, I do it badly.
No matter how diligently I police these lines, some little fucknuts still manage to cut in line when I’m looking the other way, and if I don’t actually see the kid butt into line, there’s nothing I can do about it. If you ever want to experience the sensation of being a total piece of shit in the eyes of someone less than a third your age, here’s how you do it.
Miss the butting in line of two large, angry and potentially very volatile black girls. Turn around and suspect that they weren’t there just a few seconds ago, but don’t say anything because you’re just not sure. Move your eyes a few people back in line and see two or three scared little white freshmen girls looking at you with eyes that say, “How the fuck didn’t you see them cut? What is your problem? Are you that stupid, or that apathetic, or just that scared to say anything? We just saw you look at them for a few seconds, and you know, I mean, you just fucking know that they butted into line when you were watching the other line, but you don’t have the balls to initiate a confrontation that will no doubt lead to lots of screaming denials and civil rights-level refusals to move. And we don’t dare say anything because we don’t want to see our blood and a few swatches of our hair on this cafeteria floor after the ensuing fight that your scared ass would probably also ignore.”
Don’t misunderstand me. I kick out every kid I catch butting in line, and I take a pathetic amount of pleasure when I get full compliance. But this good feeling is always trumped by complete depression when the following scenario plays out. Some kids will just flat-out refuse to leave the line, even after I tell them a second time to get out. I don’t begin an argument or power play. I just let them move through and get their food. When it comes time for them to enter their student ID number on the computerized cash register, I see the kid’s name pop up on the screen, jot it down and turn it in to the discipline czar, who then gives them lunch detention or, if they are total assbags all day long in school, a Saturday detention. This ensures that at least that little asshat will no longer cut in line, and it also ensures that this same kid will look at me with year-long hatred every time he takes his place at the back of the goddamn line. It’s quite satisfying.
But as irritating as all those facets of the Duty from Hell are, it’s seeing the actual food these kids eat that is by far the most disturbing part of cafeteria duty. I stand near the two exit lines, and I see a nonstop parade of unappetizing, stomach-churning plates of slop go by right under my nose. No matter what the sandwich is, it always comes out looking the same – a breaded, fried patty of beige dryness on a stale white bun. The word pizza should sue the cafeteria for using its name in such a slanderous fashion. This gag-reflex-testing miasma of grease and pseudo-sausage would sit untouched on a Somali buffet table. I’d like to tell you what the black bean burger on wheat bun looks like, but alas, no kid has yet to take the “healthy” route. The fries are the one item that I might be able to choke down if I were, oh, a member of the Donner party and all the best body parts had been eaten, but even these look like they were soaked in grease instead of actually being fried in some. I’ll have to ask for a review of the fries from the one fat teacher who always comes out with three containers of these sickening spuds, rendering my already churning stomach that much closer to ejecting whatever healthy, homemade fare I had so unwisely eaten before I went on duty.
It’s only October and I’m already suffering from a debilitating case of cafeteria fatigue. I think first thing tomorrow I’ll check the master duty schedule and see if there is someone on Blood Borne Pathogen Clean Up duty who would be willing to switch.
Ned Bitters teaches high school and dreams of one day seeing one of his former students on stage at a strip club. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.