The school year is upon us once
again. Clothes and supplies shopping days are in a
adolescent mood swings are in agonizing
arrhythmia. The school bus drivers are buying extra
strength earplugs. And, of course, my thoughts turn
Last year I noticed that the students at the high
school by our house were buying lunch from food trucks.
The kids were out in the street getting hot dogs,
burgers and pizzas. This was not the way it was when
I went to high school. We ate in our high school
I have an olfactory memory of this cafeteria that
sunk somewhere in me. This smell is as ineffable as
some other familiar school days scents
paste, freshly mimeographed test papers and our gymnasium
locker room at half time.
When I was sixteen, I spent a summer working at my
high school as a janitor to make some money. One day
I was told to help the lady who ran our cafeteria
organize her walk-in freezers. Believe it or not,
her name was Mrs. Cook! During the past school year
I had my adolescent body nourished by some of the
stuff in there.
Here I discovered, with a sense of power, is where
they stashed the foundations of such mysteries as
"Macaroni Wiggle," "Salisbury Steak"
and the ultimate of mysteries, "Mystery Meat"
(itself!). Mrs. Cook asked me to straighten out the
bags of frozen vegetables and fruits that were stacked
to the ceiling. I had other plans. I intended to find
out from what tissue this staple of high school menus
When I finally found the box labeled "Mystery
Meat Entrées" I was shivering so much
that I lost my grip on a 25-pound sack of frozen blueberries
that sat upon it. Of course it hit the freezer floor
just as Mrs. Cook poked her head in to check on my
progress. The bluish pellets ricocheted in every conceivable
direction, including her once white smock. She ordered
I determined that from that day forward I was not
cut out for cafeteria work. The secret of "Mystery
Meat" would elude me forever.
Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2000