I wouldn’t say I was a “follower” in grade school. Neither was I a “leader” in the sense that I had no followers, with the exception of the weird kid who always wanted to challenge me to chess games during lunch recess. But for one brief shining moment, I was an anarchist – a skinny, pony-tailed, sixth-grade revolutionary.
At 10 years-old, though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I had a burgeoning food snob in me. I always refused to eat the school lunches at my grade school. Even the obligatory square Friday Pizza I found repulsive, if interestingly shaped. Even items that were technically palatable, like the tater tots, paled next to my favorite brown bag lunch: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Tastykake Tasty Pie (preferably Dutch apple, eclair, lemon or blueberry). To this day, I still have to avoid going into convenience stores, because I can’t leave them without 15 Tasty Pies, one of which I will have eaten by the time I get home. If they don’t have Tastykake, and you suggest to me a Hostess instead, I will slap you.
One day, sitting at the grade school lunch tables that folded from the walls of our gymnasium, I started talking to someone about how truly gross the school lunches were. For whatever reason, on this particular day, my ramblings caught the attention of the “cool” boy in our class. This curly blonde-haired kid’s name was Winner. (I swear, I couldn’t make that up.) Winner had an innate coolness and a flair for regurgitating the previous weekend’s Saturday Night Live skits, which had won him quite a following. The SNL memorization was particular fascinating for kids like me, who weren’t allowed to stay up and watch SNL. I had no idea his humor came from late night television. I just thought he was a comedic genius. I remember thinking later that, sure, Belushi was funny, but he was no Winner.
Winner and I shared our views on the school lunches, and soon the entire table started to exchange horror stories of soggy french fries and hairs in the shepherd’s pie. I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t just bring their lunch like me, and then, suddenly — everyone started to see things my way. No one was more surprised at this development than I. It certainly helped to have Winner’s political clout behind me.
The next day, a good portion of the 6th grade brought their lunch. Word leaked to the other classes at nearby tables, and by the end of the week brown bagging had jumped from about 5% to 75% school-wide. After all, the eight-graders couldn’t be following the company line when the sixth graders had gone rogue. We had a full boycott in effect.
I become dizzy with power and endlessly regaled my new enlightened army of brown-baggers with horror stories of lunch room food, extolling the virtues of thermoses large and small. I had started a revolution! Give me brown bags or give me death! Viva la Tastykake! My sparkling political future lay before me in all its glory: first grade school lunch reform, next high school lunch reform, followed by college lunch reform and finally the US Presidency.
The following Monday, Winner and I were called into the principal’s office. It seems our revolution threatened to bankrupt the school. Like early Americans refusing to pay the tea tax, halting the flow of 65 cent lunch payments crippled the grade school kingdom. Our small town principal, playing with relish the role of King George the III, threatened us with detention for life until we informed our fellow revolutionaries that they should resume eating mushy green beans and dusty chicken nuggets.
The principal made a very angry announcement at lunch that day. Spitting and frothing, his entire five-foot-four, red-headed frame shaking with rage, he decreed that everyone was to resume eating school lunches. Our boycott would end immediately, or there would be heck (this was grade school after all) to pay. I think “heck” at the time involved suspending outside lunch recess, which was probably as close to “heck” as our hyperactive young bodies could imagine, with the possible exception of the weird chess-paying kid.
Winner’s support for the cause dried up; he had better things to do, like memorizing Caddyshack. Anyway, some of the grade school moms were a little peeved that they had to wake up and make sandwiches every morning, instead of pressing sixty-five cents into the grubby palms of their offspring. Things returned to normal.
I still carried my lunch as usual, and quietly dreamed of leading my band of brown bag anarchists to victory as I scraped the Dutch apple Tasty Pie icing from my plastic packaging.