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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Can you be a lunch lady?

A typical weekday in the life of students who prefer the cheesy goodness of a couple breadsticks over a quick run to Chipotle involves a mad rush to the cafeteria line next to the little theater. Having always been curious about the other side of the line, I challenged myself to do something outside of my radar: become a lunch lady for a day.

As I exited chemistry with a mind fresh off of significant figures, senior Andy Fang taught me the prices of each item, spilling out price after price of this pizza, these fruit snacks, this drink and its differing price when in a carton. Fang has volunteered in the cafeteria since his freshman year, manning the cash register every lunch period as he’d hand out change to peers.

“OK, tell me the cost if someone buys a piece of pizza, two breadsticks and a soda,” Fang quizzed, and with a quick calculation, I responded with the correct answer of $5.

If only those quick calculations had followed me inside the cafeteria.

Admittedly, pushing through the line of starving students gave me a sense of authority, especially when glances of jealous hunger were thrown my way as we arrived behind the counter.

Then, a thick stack of $1 bills was pushed into my hand and the first hungry student stared at me expectantly, a look of starving impatience that provoked a small fear of mine that occasionally causes an inconvenience for others, an odd phobia of pressure.

A slice of pizza, a bag of Chex Mix and a fruit soda adds up to $4 … right? Change due, when given a $20 bill (which I should add were extremely convenient, note the sarcasm) was $16.

But as the sudden pressure of a line full of ravenous students weighed down on my shoulders, every single hour of math I had ever learned was thrown in the garbage as my brain repeatedly blanked out at each new student.

My horrible memory didn’t come in handy for the next 20 minutes. As I continually messed up, Fang would thankfully save the day with the occasional correction of my errors as he’d grab dollar bills from the wad in my hand, rushing over to the people who would walk away with incorrect change.

I caught a few looks of pity from friends who would pass through the line, but my brain was malfunctioning so much that my only response was a heavy injection of a “help me” in half a smile.

Time flew by, not the effect of having fun but more the fast and hurried feeling of pressure sinking over me. I didn’t expect to breathe out in as much relief as I did when Andy mentioned that we could close up, and we walked out of the cafeteria into the cool air, grabbing our backpacks.

“Are you OK? You look… frazzled,” Andy commented as  we walked away.

Frazzled was one adjective that could correctly describe how I felt, but I actually felt more knowledgeable about the cafeteria system.

Seeing impatient student after student wait expectantly, my brain felt fried with each new calculation; I feel enlightened regarding what a lunch period is like for the lunch ladies.

Next time I buy lunch from the cafeteria, I’m going to order something with the payment ready (and not wadded in a sweaty tight ball), a bright smile and a loud thank you prepared for whichever brave soul takes on the stressful task of being a lunch lady.

I recommend this civilized lunch line approach to my peers as well. I was surprised by the occasional students who remarked that I should “hurry up!” further increasing my exploding levels of stress.
They know who they are.

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