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The time I was in an actual food fight in our cafeteria

January 28, 2018

7A cafeteria food fight is like a Force 5 hurricane; you have hints and even warnings that it is going to occur, but you really don’t understand how bad it can get until it actually happens.

This is true in my high school experience.  Something was afoot at lunchtime.

At Delmar High School of Delmar, Delaware, our public school had been sensing the impending high pressure of an explosive event.  It had been a long, ice-blasted winter with cabin fever setting in among the public school populace.  The teachers were getting edgy and snappish, the students aloof and ornery.  The gap was widening between the faculty and pupils and attitudes were souring despite efforts of distraction.  A cheerleaders’ candy fundraiser was met with a yawn.  A band concert drew no excitement.  Even the fact that classmate Shawn had discovered a new item called Krazy Glue and was at lunch attaching every possible bowl and tray to the table was of only minor interest to the surrounding patrons.  It was Spaghetti Day but nobody had the usual excitement – a telling sign of potential unrest.  I was in my sophomore year and my brother Brent was a soon-to-be graduated senior, ready to head out into a career that would take him far away from our little village.

Brent was zoned on finishing up his studies and was as serious-minded as anyone I had ever seen.  He and his senior buddies had settled in about midway into the cafeteria and were now centering their discussion on college, military, and other career options.  This was a No Fly Zone for the rest of us; our student population all got along, but the seniors were respected by the rest of us and given special unwritten privileges, one of which was to let them have their own space at lunch.

But all it took was one kid to breach that zone.

From a respectable distance I could see Brent talking with Artie and Kevin, and the conversation seemed to be unusually serious.  From our section of the cafeteria – a mix of sophomores, freshmen and a few juniors who were somewhat socially inept – a thick-skulled kid I will call Randy raised himself in a half-crouch and threw an unpeeled orange in the direction of the seniors.  The orange sailed over my head and I watched as it bounced along the Seniors’ table and rolled into my brother’s lap.  The orange grenade had not detonated but Brent knew the implications of what could have been.

And he got angry.  No, mad.

Brent stood up and zoned in on the region of the assault and whipped the orange right back at the group.  It had its effect; Randy got splattered … and so did Barry and Les.  They cried out and immediately assessed their resources –  some Italian bread and a few meatballs – and let loose a small but significant volley.  Their aim was as blunt as their intellect and the food landed twelve degrees off mark, right onto Hope, Joanna, and Cyndy (spelled with a “y”).  The ensuing banshee screams and fluttering hands drew the excitement of the rest of the winter-weary student body, and all eyes went over to the Teachers’ Table.

It was empty.

The guard had left.  The inmates were in control.

The sky went dark with food.

My best friend Mark and I hunched over as we saw bread rolls and meatballs whistle overhead.  We were in a Swiss mindset, considering ourselves neutral but unsure when we would get pulled into the conflict. We laid low and watched the volleys.  You had to admit, some of the ammunition was creative.  After the bread chunks came an apple core, an unpeeled banana, and a half-sandwich of tuna content as best as we could observe.  Most likely an entry from the brown bag allies.

It was fun until we started hearing the screams of the casualties.  A freshman girl got her white sweater splattered.  A passerby was felled with a piece of tomato.  For some reason Danny took out his frustration on the midget-sized bully Rex by smashing a thickly-buttered Kaiser roll right into his face and twisting it like a corkscrew.  The table hooted in glee.

Then the paper airplanes took to the skies.  Whoops of delight followed.

A current classroom fad in our school was to invent the smoothest sailing airplane possible and launch it anonymously whenever a teacher was facing the blackboard.  Points if you launched it; double points if it made its landing without being detected.

Here in the cafeteria you could get all the double points you wanted, since no teachers were around.  Paper filled the air, dodging airborne fruit pieces and squished bread missiles as they glided in attack mode.  Screams alternated with cheers.  A roar of approval and awe was raised when David Melville let loose a two-foot aircraft made from construction paper he smuggled from Art Class.  However, Shonna turned to gaze at the attack and the plane hit her directly in the eye.   She went down like a shot.

More food.  More planes.  This indeed was a masterful battle.

Then the cafeteria metal door smashed open. 

Mr. Pyagai, the Korean shop teacher, stepped in. 

Mr. Pyagai was the biggest man on campus, bigger than any of the sports coaches or student athletes.  He had steel girders for biceps and a mysterious background we could never uncover.  It was said that in wartime he was commanding a tank on the battlefield and an armor-piercing bullet took out his kneecap, causing his now-famous limp.  It only made him more terrifying.  Pyagai had entered this battlefield.

All air strikes stopped immediately.

He advanced and viewed the scene with a steely look that caused open whimpering.  Mr. Pyagai’s glare could shatter windows, crumple locker doors, and knock a freshman right back into middle school.

The place fell to a deadly silence.  Only David Kapanka made any noise, leaning against a table and  – I am not making this up – gagging on a mouthful of Strawberry Jello that Dyson Miller had artfully spoon-catapulted from his Snack Pack cup directly into Kapanka’s mouth.  His Jello-heaving kept him from looking up and facing the Pyagai Stare of Death.

Even Shawn stopped Krazy Gluing.

The place was a mess.  Oranges, rolls, spaghetti smears and crumpled airplanes were everywhere.

Pyagai growled.  The entire cafeteria populace leaped into action, cleaning everything in sight.

The resulting tribunal was broad-sweeping, with those who were caught red-handed indicted on the spot.  Community clean-up was swift and brutal.  Lysol was used by the gallon and rags were rubbed down to their primal fibers, such was the fear. Shawn was given a crowbar and instructed to un-Krazy Glue.  He complied with a panicked obedience that had rarely been seen in his life.

Brent, however, was never arrested.  I do believe that he volunteered for clean up but his spotless school behavioral record was never besmirched.

There was never a food fight in the history of Delmar High school to this day, I am told these forty years later.  Such was the Fear of Pyagai.  However, our teacher/student relations remained fairly chilled up to my graduation, which was a shame.

As a teacher for these past few decades and on the other end of the spectrum, I can appreciate the orderliness of the present cafeteria at my school.  Moreover, I am amazed at how well we teachers get along with the students and josh along with them – although food fights and paper airplanes have never even part of the activities here.

I think that one of the important parts of our Christian academy year as we slog through the winter months is that the teachers have such a connection with the students and the interaction between faculty and learners is in a true and honest Biblical friendship.  The line of over-familiarity is rarely if ever crossed; the students understand that we indeed are the authority.  However, we like to have fun.  Our principal played the guitar and sang Yuletide songs at our Christmas assembly. We teachers have been in talent shows and outdoor games alongside the teens.  We have entered pie-eating contests, played Tug-of-War and battled in Dodgeball against the students during assemblies.  We have created campus-wide games and contests.  I even took on some of the football players in a push-up contest last November, and I’m fifty-eight years old, man.

Most of all, though, I enjoy the fact that our entire GCA staff has an open-door policy that keeps a true bridge of friendship open for the pupils of any classification.   Teachers from all studies continually mentor, tutor and counsel students in studies, careers, family problems and spiritual needs.

This year’s verse?  Well, let me see.  I think the power of  Psalm 133:1 would best sum up the student/teacher fellowship:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  

We get along quite well.

And I have never been hit by a piece of Italian bread.



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