Friday, June 11, 2010

Ah... The Lunchroom Ladies...

Ah... the lunchroom ladies.

At Jahn School, the more well behaved kids became either Patrol Boys or Hall Monitors. I think the cooler kids were Patrol Boys.  They wore an orange belt that had an extension which crossed over one of their shoulders.  Their job was to make sure that the kids walking to school didn't run into the intersection and get hit by a car.  Almost everyone walked to school in those days, which posed a problem only on those rare occasions in the spring when a huge thunderstorm was coming into the area and we would be held in the hallways and stairs until the principal thought it was safe to let the kids go.  (There was no doppler radar, so in retrospect, I wonder what God given knowledge they used to determine our relative likelihood of being fried by a lightning bolt.)  As far as I know, no one ever got killed by the sometimes severe storms that would drench Chicago as a northern cold front passed through the warm, moist Mississippi air mass pushing up from the south.  I do remember the graphics the weathermen used on TV to show us what was happening.  It looked a lot like my mom's flannelgraph depictions of Bible stories on Sunday morning.

Oh, yes, the lunchroom ladies...

I wasn't one of the cool kids.  I was last in the annual Marine Corps physical fitness tests that were administered in spring to all the kids in public grade schools in the city.  These tests had something to do with the government's concern for American children's health, I guess.  Maybe they were hoping that we would all grow up to be soldiers in the widening Viet Nam War.  In any case, I was last picked for all the team games held in the school yard during gym period.  This sad state of affairs actually led to the only triumph I ever had in school sports.  The football was hiked to the school jock and no one, absolutely no one, was able to get free from their defender.  All plays were pass plays and the jock had to get rid of the ball before the lone center would finish his one one thousand, two one thousand count  to 5 one thousand and rush him.  No one ever bothered to defend me because I had absolutely no chance of being thrown to.  Except this time.  I almost shit in my pants when the ball arced through the air coming directly at me.  Somehow, God, in His/Her infinite mercy allowed me to catch the ball for a touchdown.  To this day, and I am not kidding, I think back to my glory day (not days, mind you!) in sports.  So Danny, if I wasn't the best dad in the world for doing sports things with you, I trust you'll understand.  I hope that you will always enjoy riding your bike and if you ever have any cooking questions, feel free to call me.

We were talking about the lunchroom ladies, weren't we?

As Captain of the Hall Monitors, I was responsible for watching the few kids who didn't go home for lunch as they came out of the lunchroom to play in the school yard after eating.  Nothing ever happened, and I would read my book and occasionaly yell, "Walk, Don't Run!" as someone zoomed by me.  Occasionally, I would have to check the boys' bathroom if there was some strange noise coming out of it.  But, as a result of my official duties, I was let out of my class ten minutes before noon to get my lunch before any one else. 

The lunchroom ladies of the time were all stout and had ethnic European features.  I believe there was a lot of gray or graying hair amongst them, although that was hard to determine because of the white hair nets that matched their white uniforms and aprons.  They were not particularly friendly... except to me.  For whatever reason, I have always been able to earn the favor of the people who really make the world turn around.  Whether it was lunchroom ladies or housekeepers, transporters or IV techs, something about the way I approach them seems to engender a good relationship.  I first realized it when Gertie gave me a second piece of meat or a generous helping of spaghetti.  I believed then, as I do now, that I have an ability to earn the respect and admiration of everyone, especially the "real" people of this world.

Willy Lohman was a flawed man.  As opposed to Aristotle's definition of a tragedy being the fall of a great man, Arthur Miller proposed that tragedy can be found in the fall of an every man.  Willy's hamartia was his incessant belief that he was a great man... something that he carried with him to his death in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  Dad left me with the notion that I had to be the best.  He allowed no one to challenge his perfection, although there was ample evidence to the contrary.  I ruined my marriage because I needed to be perfect and I still struggle with the need to be the best to this day.  Not just a good dad, but the best dad.  Not just a good nurse, but the best nurse.  As Willy deteriorated, his understanding of reality blurred.  Past and present became one thing as Arthur Miller's prescient form of stream of consciousness illustrates the universal story of Willy.  I pray that Willy's story will not be my story and I offer the following recipe in honor of the lunchroom ladies who made baked cod and mac and cheese for the newly post-Vatican II Catholics on Friday.  Not because the recipe is better, but because it is simply how I like to cook.  God bless you, ladies.

Sauteed Shrimp and Linguine (Serves 2)
10 Jumbo Shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 oz. dry linguini, cooked to al dente
3 tablespoons best quality olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon oregano
3 garlic cloves passed through a garlic press
1-2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan Cheese
1-2 tablespoons parsley leaves
Salt to taste
Black Pepper to taste.

1. Melt butter in olive oil.
2. Add shrimp, oregano, and garlic, cooking over medium high heat until the shrimp are just done.
3. Add cooked linguini and cook for two minutes until everything is warmed through.  Add salt and pepper.
4. Arrange on plate, dust with parsley leaves and parmesan cheese.

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