The cafeteria smelled like the two things I have the most dislike for... old people, and cauliflower. I was so distracted by the smell that I lost track of the horde of people I was following, and managed to find myself wedged between two vending machines. How I managed to wriggle out is a different story. I promise you, I will, someday, write that tale.
However, as expected I found myself in a most disastrous calamity at the cafeteria. There were TWO lunch lines. How confusing is that! Back in Provo, people of questionable immigration status would simply bring us our meals on little silver serving platters, and we’d announce our preferences with displayful waves of the hand. It was a simple scheme and it worked.
Here, I was, of course, confused, but I realized I to make a quick decision. I regretted my decision almost the instant I made it. Immediately an African American took a place behind me. It should be obvious to you, my gentle, gentle reader, that there were two lines, and surely you, therefor, share my deep suspicion as to why he would choose mine over the other. I must point out that this is simply not about race. I’ve never been a racial person, and since I feel an instant desire to defend my apprehension, I assure you that I did know an African American back home.
He attended my Church and I knew his name was Jerome. Jerome and I had a discussion once outside the Church where I asked him why people of color always played the bad guy in white movies about vampires. He had no answer, surprisingly, and cut the conversation short, as he said he had a ride waiting. I’d definitely call Jerome a friend.
So, I’m not a bad person. In every color of the rainbow, there are, we all know, “bad ones and good ones”. And here, in this line, confronted with that haunting evidence, I was clearly in a pickle.
If I switched lines now, I would stand out so much. I had to stay there. I began to scope out the cafeteria so that I had somewhere safe to point my eyes. Besides, I needed to be ready to sit down at the correct table when I got out of the line. I held my breath and pretended there was no black guy behind me. What would Jesus do, What would Jesus do, I kept telling myself.
Most of the people I saw were white, which reassured me. But not because I'm prejudiced or anything, it's just because I'm white, and I, like all of you, feel more comfortable with people who have something in common with me. Suddenly my attention was drawn to a movie-star-attractive jock who was leaving the line with his food tray. On the way to the jock table, he passed by the nerd table, and dumped all the contents of his tray on top of a nerd’s head. A large piece of meatloaf stayed on his head, and everything else flopped and dripped and seeped down the front of his face and onto his sandwich and his open laptop. The nerd seemed to take this in stride. I laughed so hard I almost forgot that there was an African American behind me. This type of crazy antic was happening in high schools all across the country, and for a moment, I felt at home. It was the joke that never stopped getting old.
Then it got old, and I began to worry about the African American some more. The lady at the counter offered no relief. I was hoping to grab a quick Caramelized Onion and Walnut Tart and be on my way, but they had no such thing. Of course not. I could feel his impatience behind me so I quickly ran through my options. Endive spears? No. Rissotto? No. Not even Bruschetta. With goat cheese nowhere to be found, I leaned in and whispered to the non descript lady in a hairnet. She was wearing the hairnet. I wasn't.
“What vegetarian choices do you have?” I hissed.
The lady must have clearly recognized my dilemma because she immediately dumped an entire basket of hot, dripping French Fries onto my tray in an obvious effort to help me flee the line as quickly as possible. I made a mental note to thank her later, and immediately forgot it.
As I emerged victoriously from the lunch line, I saw the fat bubbly texting girl from English class, and suddenly realized that she wasn’t nearly as ugly or lame as I had previously assumed, because she was sitting at a table full of regular people. I was completely enthralled by this. I studied her longer than I normally would have bothered. She was, as I said before, too fat. Her short cropped hair hugged her onion shaped face and her glasses seemed to disappear behind her gum bubble cheeks. Beside her was a book entitled “The Chaos Theory or Butterfly Effect? A Primer for Undergraduate Work.”
“Hi, Stella.” She looked up cheerfully, breaking my prolonged stare, “Care to sit down?”
I had nearly had it with all the decisions I’d been forced to make that day, but I was learning that maybe this was going to be a constant in my newfound life. Having to choose between how exactly I was going to respond to her, and whether or not to simply sit down, I acquiesced, sitting down silently beside her, across from her two acquaintances.
Across from me sat the helpful guy from Russian class. I had never had a chance to study him. He was athletically built and someone I figured would be popular with the girls that people in Spoons thought were pretty. The girl beside him, the cheerleader type, prattled on about something that was so obviously going to be inane, I ignored it. She was your average gorgeous girl and I had already made up my mind that she was probably an airhead. She was clearly destined to drop out of school before graduating to marry her high school sweetheart. A part of me felt sorry for her. A part of me felt a sense of longing. I secretly despised them all.
“How are you finding Spoons?”, the cheerleader asked me.
“With a map”
Blondie looked at me with concern. She looked genuinely interested in what I had to say but clearly, and I should not have been surprised, could not pick up on my rapier wit.
Fatty beside me chuckled, and I was relieved that she didn’t snort or fart.
“She’s joking, Jessica”, said the “nice guy”.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Stella, I thought so but…”
“So, anyhow, what’s your name?”, I asked Fatty.
“Oh, I’m Veronica, pleased to meet you.”
I forgot it the same moment she said it. Over the course of lunch Fatty prattled and prattled on about her devotion to helping her community, her little sister program, her A average, blablabla.
Six things were clear to me. The cheerleader liked the average guy. The average guy was fascinated by me. The cheerleader was put off by me for this, and I wondered how she would try to exact her revenge. Potential Schemer. And Fatty? Fatty had to lose some weight. These people were beneath me. And most importantly, I, All American Average Girl, deserved something.
And that’s when I first saw them.