Just the term “” incites thoughts of society’s underbelly. A place where actual pirates may sell pirated DVDs or even imitation Louis Vuitton leather goods that are made out of plastic. I recently found out about another seedy market right under our noses and none of our children are safe from it–the local school cafeteria!
My youngest son’s elementary school doesn’t have a proper cafeteria, and most of the kids brown bag their own lunches. As I may have mentioned in the past, my wife is a physician. It’s not just the fact that she is a doctor, but she is a skinny doctor whose knowledge of nutrition has worked its way into our daily existence. This is a very good thing for my boys. My children seem to have not only inherited my side of the family’s passion for chicken wings but also my genetic disposition for a large caboose. At this point I’m not even sure which comes first, the food or the butt; it's all a vicious circle. Regardless, since I do the grocery shopping, I can hear my wife’s voice over and over in my head that I keep the junk food down to a minimum.
This ensures that when I make my kids lunch bags I can regulate what their daily caloric intake is…or at least what I think it should be.
The other day I was a little surprised when I went to retrieve something from my son’s backpack and I found a collection of Oreo wrappers and half-eaten candy bars at the bottom. When I asked him about my findings, our relationship quickly transformed from father and son to warden and inmate. It was like I had just found a prison shiv during a room shakedown.
Upon questioning, I found out that he was “trading” items at lunchtime. Not only was he trading, but he also seemed to be the kingpin of this operation. He told me of different “street” values of certain things. His organic turkey sandwich on gluten-free bread was practically worthless, but his bag of veggie puffs was worth its weight in gold to a select group of kids. He added that mustard wipes out the value of ANYTHING, and juice boxes were also marketable as some parents sign their kids up for school milk. All of his “healthy” choices carried some market price to be traded for junk.
He knew who had a penchant for certain things, had specific allergies, and even what kids brought in on specific days of the week. As he went on he told me that sometimes he would broker certain deals between kids and take a small percentage of the booty. You know, do a deal and grab a few cheese doodles and a chocolate chip cookie, a disgusting pairing for almost any adult but I guess if you are ten-year-old boy, cookies taste better when you have cheese powder residue still on your fingers.
All I could think of was Morgan Freeman’s character in the Shawshank Redemption; a guy who knew how to get certain things for you. I was actually proud of him. I just hope next time he picks me up some Nutter Butters.