All teenagers look alike.
This phenomenon is even more pronounced when one is a newbie Lunch Lady in a regional high school with an enrollment of a thousand students, at least seven hundred of which file through five lunch periods in a cavernous space and are seen “through a deli case, darkly.”
For two weeks I couldn’t tell the boys from the girls or one race from another or the blonds from the brunettes from the redheads, pink stripes, or rainbow hairs. The unpierced might as well have been the lip-disk-ear-plug peoples of eastern Brazil.
The short kids might as well have wobbled in on stilts, the tall kids crouched down on skateboards; the happy kids come dressed in black and wearing berets, the surly kids arrive decked out in Hawaiian shirts or flower-power tees and petting Tribbles.
There were two boys in particular who, after my first week–and only a four-day one at that!–would appear at the wrap station and exclaim in a state of astonishment, “I come here every day, and you still don’t know what kind of sandwich I eat!”
“Some provolone and wry with your whine?” I eventually responded. Because I couldn’t very well tell them the truth…
You all look the same to me.
But, mercifully, by the middle of week three some of the kids began to distinguish themselves. So, without further ado and in the paraphrased words and cadence of my favorite reality TV star, “Meeet my teeeeeeeenagers!”
Red Chicken Girl: Medium height, jet-black shoulder-length hair. Not a word passes between us. We look at each other, poker-faced. I point to the Buffalo popcorn chicken. She nods up and down. I point, one index finger to the shredded cheese, the other to the shredded lettuce. She nods up and down. I wrap. We nod. It is done.
Shredduce: “Real” name, Abigail. Tallish, brown hair, smiling visage. With a slip of the tongue she has coined a new word for “Yes, I’ll have the shredded cheese and shredded lettuce on my wrap, please” and earned a forever place in the heart of the new Lunch Lady, who, unbeknownst to Shredduce, is an editor by trade.
Lehddurce: My name for all the Iberian exchange students who pronounce lettuce in this way. Hearing it is a highlight of my day. Thank you, Foreign Student Exchange Program!
Gross Sandwich Boy: Chicken salad, tuna salad, bologna, American cheese, and barbecue sauce on a roll. Oh yes, he did…
Bad Karma Girl: Mousy brown hair, dismissive, stern-faced, chunky, angry. Took an immediate past-life-association dislike to me, proclaiming aloud, “SHE can’t do it right,” to which I responded with a Mona Lisa smile and sustained unblinking stare, staying focused until she looked away first. The next day brought an outright “I don’t like HER,” for which she received my unnerving full-on pooh-eating grin. Never mess with the Lunch Lady. She might be skilled in the art of silent intimidation.
8 Mile: A veteran of Juvie. One day I say to him, “Every time I hear you yell, ‘Yola,’ I think about my cousin.” “That ain’t no cousin,” he says, “that’s Juvie slang.” I ask him, “What’s it mean?” but at the same time we say, “Never mind!”
Angel Girl: Appeared out of the blue on the very day I was sent to work the hot-lunch line. “Hey, you’re the sandwich lady!” she says, smiling. I say, “We are wrap traitors.” She laughs. “Did you get promoted?” she asks. “Exiled,” I say. She says, “I love when ‘they’ hire new people who are nice. I love it when you make my sandwich.” “Awww…,” I say, and mean it. “I love it when sweethearts like you make my day. Thank you. Mmmmwah!” I have not seen her since, and so I logically conclude that she was a guardian angel sent to shore me up on a day I felt like quitting.
These then, for now, are my teenagers. But be advised: “Any resemblance to actual persons–currently in school or graduated–is purely coincidental.” 😉