Food Crisis in Room 13

One of the challenges issued to us this month was to assume a different writing voice.
And to not bother with editing. Oy.

Here is my attempt.


lunchbox-xed out

It was another day in Room 13.

13—not my favorite number, but that’s how this school year rolled.

Unlucky from the get-go, as my dad often says.

But he’s usually talking about some football game he’s watching.

For me, it was unlucky in a lot of ways.

We had Mr. Jackson as our teacher.

He believed in writing.

A lot of writing.

He believed that if we sneezed, we should write about it.

And posters all over the room reminded us of how important it was to write.

There is no wrong way to start. Just grab a pen.

I am a writer.

Good writers practice.

It never ended with this guy.

The rest of us just didn’t want our hands to fall off.

And if you mentioned the computers in the lab for writing, he would shake his head and make some weird sound.

It sounded like, “Piffle”.

Anyway, today was unlucky in another way.

Our lunches were missing.

The whole barrel full of them. Gone.

And I was hungry.

The other kids were probably hungry too.

But, really, it was me I was worried about.

When it comes to food, that’s how it goes.

And I had missed my mid-morning snack.

Not a scheduled mid-morning snack like a lot of classrooms have.

Mr. Jackson didn’t believe in those.

So, on the way in from recess, I would snag my own snack.

A quick visit by my lunch bag, and—boom—granola bar in hand.

I’d crunch it up a little on the way to my desk and tear at the top.

And like clockwork, Mr. Jackson would start read aloud.

He’d be so wrapped up in James and the Giant Peach or any one of the Harry Potter books that it was clear sailing for me and my granola bar.

But, as I said, today was different.

Not a lunch bag in sight.

This was one of the few days when I wished I had a cafeteria account.

Something needed to be done.

“So, Mr. Jackson,” I said, “What are you going to do about our missing food?”

“Simple,” he said.”We’re going to write about it.”

Oh great. As if words will magically make my peanut-butter-and-apple-on-wheat to appear. And my bag of Doritos.

I’d take those Doritos over a steak any day.

Well, maybe not a steak, but you get the picture.

And in she walked. Emily Michaels. A sight for sore— and hungry—eyes.

She carried herself in just the right way.

A careful march toward Mr. Jackson’s desk.

Perfect balance.

Arms in exact position…

To carry six flat steaming boxes.

I knew those boxes. And I knew that smell.

Pizza from Gianni’s.

For all we cared, the missing lunches could be floating toward China.

“Happy birthday to me-e-e-ee!” said Emily, dropping the boxes, one arm at a time onto our teacher’s desk.

“But wait!” said Mr. Jackson. “We should write about this!”

Not a chance, Jackson. Not a chance.

We needed both hands for something more important.

More from the January Challenge

Nothing to Write About

unsure face

Well, Jeff Goins has suggested we write about hope, as in, “I hope I have something to write about.”

People often suggest regaling readers with images of the past.

But why would I want to write about the days in the ‘hood’?

Who wants to read about the halcyon days of the 60’s when our Chestnut Street and California Street intersection would be so quiet at night that Jimmy T and I could hang our heads out our upstairs windows and, from 50 yards away, hold a conversation without raising our voices. We just let the quiet of the night carry our words from one house to another.

And there really is no reason to share the ecstasy and the agony of my first Little League base hit. I remember making clean contact, pulling the ball to right field and standing there in disbelief that it was  A. in fair territory and B. whistling past the second baseman. As I said, ecstasy. Perhaps I soaked in that moment just a bit too long, as the right fielder promptly picked up the ball and threw me out at first base. Let me take a moment to ask: Shouldn’t that kid have been coached to automatically throw the ball to his teammate at second to make sure I didn’t take the extra base? [Assuming I would actually reach first base.] In essence, then, it’s all his fault that I suffered the humiliation of being thrown out at first from the outfield.

But again, that’s not even worth writing about.

Still on baseball which, unlike today, was the number one sport in the U.S.

We lived on the fields behind Lincoln School. Pick-up games were the order of the day and it was generally the same 12-15 kids. With five to seven kids per team, we had to make in-game adjustments. We would ‘close off’ parts of the outfield, depending on if the hitter was right-handed or left handed. We might leave out an infielder. But one game feature we insisted upon: the fence. We had to have an outfield fence. Home runs that sent some poor sap off to Maple Street or the blacktop just didn’t carry the same cache as a ball that cleared a barrier.

So, what were we to do? We weren’t about to set up wooden boards or something even equally inconvenient. Instead, we lined up enough of our Schwinns, front-wheel-to-back-wheel until we had our fence. Easy to shift and sturdy enough to take a few shots to the spokes, pedals, and chains. If the ball was flying out that day, shifting this fence was a matter of kickstand up, roll 20 more feet away from home plate, kickstand down, and ‘play ball!’. And when the ball flew well past that chain of bikes, we might as well have been hitting towering shots over the deepest spot in Candlestick Park.

But, the struggle to dig up meaningful enough content continues.

No need to bore readers with reflections on the Monopoly tournaments that ruled the neighborhood in mid-July. The blue and yellow and green cash filled the air whenever owners of Baltic and Mediterranean landed on Boardwalk or Park Place. Not a pretty sight.

And finally, I see no reason to revisit our adventures around the Lincoln School cafeteria to poke our heads in to watch the folks square-dancing. After all, any thing or place on the forbidden list was just what the doctor ordered for kids without the cash for trips to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk or evenings at the movies. Instead, we patrolled the playground and rattle those tetherball chains till the poor custodian stormed out to chase us off.

Now that was entertainment.

Well, seems I’ve at least entertained myself. So that’s something.

Your cards and letters begging me to stop writing? Keep’em coming.