Friday, May 16, 2008

"Hairnets Off!" to Lunch Ladies

Lunch ladies have a bad rap. Sure they look weird with their eyebrows scrunched down by the webbing of the hairnets. Sure they’re grouchy and abrasive. People don’t realize what a tough job it is to be in a cafeteria behind the scenes. To really understand a lunch lady, one has to walk in her orthopedic shoes.

I have limped in those shoes.

I accepted a job at our local middle school lunchroom. I had worked in my college cafe and I run my own home and kitchen. I work out. How hard could it be? When I showed up on my first day, I quickly assessed that I was at least 15 -25 years younger than the other employees. This was going to be no problem.

Never underestimate a senior citizen wearing a hairnet!

Day 1. Lifting, moving, baking, hot pads, freezers, lifting trays, steam, flies (sounds like a Haiku). Holy Crap!  Those old women can move boxes like pacederms! They must be taking "Lunch Lady Steroids."  They never stop moving either…. and it’s HOT in the kitchen.  I was sweating down planes of my body that had never been sweat down before. The food service general issue “Lightly-Powdered Surgical Gloves” I was wore were filling at the finger tips with sweat, so that I had to keep changing them.  No one else looked amiss.  Was I in hell?  Was this to be MY hell-- to be miserable with no one whosoever to commiserate with?  At the end of the longest 4 hours of my life (which includes labor and delivery of my son, Jon and my daughter’s 4th birthday party) a coworker (looking dry and unaffected) yells at me for not being fast enough.   I went and bawled in the bathroom.  I looked at myself in the mirror when I got home and said out loud, "You loser.   They’re laughing at you.”

Old Ladies 1. Heidi 0

Day 2 -. I’m armed, and I’m dangerous. I've brought a 64 oz water bottle.   I am suited up in ALL cotton underwear, a cotton sports bra, and ankle socks.  I am wearing earrings and cool,yellow Chuck Taylor hi-tops to show how unaffected the previous day’s chewing-out has left me.  There’s a new kid in town.

Day 2 didn’t go well.  I'd downed my 64 oz water bottle in less than 2 hours and I was miserable. Standing aside the food heaters, listening to the senior lunch ladies call out:
"Did you do this?"
"Where is this?"
"Why didn't you do this?"

I felt first faint, then nauseous.  I straightened and tried to tough it out, but nope--I felt shaky and nauseous--definitely.   I tell someone I have to go to the bathroom.  I was so sweaty that I slid OFF the toilet seat and onto the floor.  Worse yet, I couldn’t get my pants back up (idea: they should have issued lightly powered PANTS for me).  At last, I emerge and my supervisor sees me and takes me to the office where I can sit in the only air conditioned room in the building for the rest of my shift.  The other ladies are serving, rushing, and shuffling kids, undaunted and not missing me a bit.

Old ladies 2. Heidi 0

Day 3. Aside from redeeming myself as both a woman and a useful member of a school kitchen, my two new goals are as follows: a.) not to cry and b.) not to be taken to the office.  It is only then that I realize these are the same goals I had as a kindergartner.  One of my coworkers has made me her “ward” and goes over everything I do, saying things like:

"Did you clean this, HONEY?"
"You've gotta tell someone, HONEY."
“Make sure you put the safety valve on the hot pretzel cheese, HONEY or you’ll scald yourself, HONEY.”

Old Ladies-Slam Dunk.

Upon my exit that day, I tossed my hairnet in the air, like some warped "Mary Tyler Moore" beginning sequence.  Hail, lunch ladies of the world!  I bow to your resilience, your no-nonsense attitudes and your ability to wield a laddle.


Kathy said...
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Jenie Altruda said...

Here Here! I am thinking the same thing! You rock. You need a column. You're gonna be rich.