Let me tell you about the most treacherous, unforgiving place on the planet Earth, and maybe even the most treacherous, unforgiving in the whole entire galaxy.
It is a place filled with such incorrigible evil and darkness that the only light that can exist there is that which emanates from the glowing red eyes of the devil. It is a place where iniquity is encouraged, where morality has not evolved since cavemen walked the high plains. It is a place where every misstep, where even the tiniest grievance, results in dismemberment + death. It is a place that looked at the most vicious, most unkind, most virulent quadrant of the most vicious, most unkind, most virulent jungle and laughed at its friendliness. It is a place that was told the story of Jim Jones, the cult leader responsible for the deaths of more than 900 people, and laughed at his incompetence. “900 people,” this place smirked. “Why so few? Was it a half-day?”
The cafeteria is a junior high’s version of the Gaza Strip, multiplied by infinity rattlesnakes and hungry great white sharks.
This place, the name of which I am nearly too afraid to even type, the name of which is used to keep hell’s demons in line for fear of banishment there, is one that I know all too well, for I have had to walk to and from it nearly every weekday for nearly eight years. This place: THE PLACE—a middle school cafeteria.
I wish there were series of steps or a list of calculated moves that I could pass on to you and to others that would ensure your safety should you find yourself plopped down in the center of a junior high’s version of the Gaza Strip, multiplied by infinity rattlesnakes and hungry great white sharks, but there is not. I’ve watched our cafeteria swallow up far too many smiling children for me to feel confident in saying otherwise. The best I can do is pass along these five halfway tips that will raise the likelihood of you not having your intestines sucked out of your body through your eyeballs from zero percent to two percent.
Good luck. And God speed.
Know your station. A middle school cafeteria is very much like a prison yard. There are certain pockets where you are allowed and certain pockets where your presence will result in multiple stab wounds. If you are an athlete, sit with the athletes. If you are an underachiever, sit with the underachievers. If you are a dork, sit by yourself.
Do not—DO NOT—sit at the table in the back corner. That is for only the unholiest, most menacing humans. You were not built for that lifestyle (you’re reading this on the Internet, is how I know that you’re not). Remember Con-Air? That’s basically what the cafeteria table in the back corner is like; just lawlessness unhinged. I remember we had a security guard at school that accidentally wandered over there once to investigate the area. #RIPthatSecurityGuard
Do not —DO NOT—eat the cheese fish. It’s just gross, is all.
If you have to talk, let it be to pray. I had a kid one year in my homeroom that was suspended from school because during lunch he got up, walked over to a table across the cafeteria, stopped at a kid, grabbed the pizza from his plate, smacked him with it, then started pummeling him. That’s a real thing that happened, bro. When he returned from his suspension I asked him why he thought it was an imperative that he smack a kid with a piece of pizza. His response: “I just felt like it.” The cafeteria grabs a hold of you like the Amityville Horror house. You think you’re impervious to its influence, and then that’s when you snap out of a daydream and find yourself standing in a bedroom holding a hatchet trying to figure out why your arms are so tired and where all the cut-off arms and legs in the room with you came from.
Know your number. Schools (our school, at least) no longer issue IDs. Students still, however, are issued ID numbers. And your ID number is what you type into the pad at the pay station when you pick up your lunch. If you do not know it, if you hesitate for even the tiniest amount of time, the mob behind you (some 300 students, usually) will erupt. The lunch lady, horns sharpened to an almost audible pierce, will howl fire, a trap door will open underneath you and you will disappear into an abyss that defies description. I heard rumor once that it led to a room inhabited by something called Tionagator, which was described to me as combination Tiger + Lion + Alligator. When I asked the lunch lady about it, she attempted to smile but really just snarled. “The Tion is no longer for this world,” she grumbled. “What happened to him,” I asked. She leaned in. Her eyes were blacker than the furthest part of space. She drew her hoof up from her side, then used it to slowly gesture at my lunch tray. “Enjoy your cheese fish,” she said. She laughed. All of the lunch lady spawns laughed. And all of my insides fell out of my butthole. #RIPme