It started, as so many incidents do, with a piece of bologna.
It was also a perfect storm.
On one front were the students.
It was May of 1984. We were about to move out of 8th grade and middle school. It was the eve of exams and we were 88 13-year-olds who were under a lot of pressure.
On the other front were the teachers, or in this case a lack of them.
There was a scheduling screw-up of mammoth proportions. Somehow, that day, during 8th grade lunch, there was not a single faculty member in the cafeteria.
At my private school, the cafeteria was in its own building, on the opposite side of campus from the main academic buildings. When the fronts collided, adult intervention was a long way away.
In the 23 years since, many have claimed to have fired the first shot (or tossed the bologna in this case).
I was actually at ground zero. While I won’t use full names, I will say that it was MR who first decided to see if he could throw his slice of lunchmeat like a Frisbee.
The next few seconds went by in slow motion.
SP launched a spoonful of green jello.
CJ threw a handful of Shrimpies.
Then came the official call, the one every teenager dreams of, the one that had never been yelled in our school’s lunchroom.
Immediately the lunch ladies went into a full retreat, pulling down gates and locking themselves in the kitchen. They may have picked up a phone and called for help, but they knew help wasn’t coming soon.
For some food fighters that day, it was a matter of brawn. They threw whatever they could get their hands on. They overturned tables for shelter. They aimed to kill.
For others, it was all about creativity. Shrimpies throw well, but they don't make much of an impact. Dunk those same Shrimpies in cocktail sauce and you have a weapon that leaves a mark.
For still others, stealth attacks were the name of the game. The same MR who first threw the bologna never saw SF creep up behind him with a full bowl of minestrone soup.
TM fell into the brute force category. He was a catcher on the baseball team, and even in 8th grade he could gun a base runner down at 2nd. I don’t remember why I turned when I did… a shouted warning, a spotted movement of shadow, maybe just The Force. What I saw was his arm coming down and a Red Delicious heading for my head. Remember that scene from the Matrix? I invented it to escape a flying fruit.
Mr. A was a math teacher and the varsity football coach. He had no idea what he was walking into. Actually, it could have been a lot worse for everyone, but someone was watching for trouble through the window.
“Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” It sounded like a siren. Just as fast as it started, it stopped. Those of us lucky enough to be on the east side of the building had an escape route. The fire exit let out on the opposite side of the cafeteria from the door Mr. A was about to walk through. An entire building stood between us and identification.
Some others found the secret tunnel that led to the auditorium. It was a daring choice since there was a risk of entrapment. Had there been a drama class in session, those kids would have been screwed.
And then there were the ones who were left behind. They were the real heroes. While they had to clean and serve detentions, not one pointed fingers, no one named names. But they also got to see Mr. A's expression when he walked in. For years they said it was worth it.
Some of us got away clean. Others didn’t.
MR was one of the first out of the fire exit, but the blazer covered with minestrone was a dead giveaway.
There were a lot of khaki pants with cocktail sauce splatter patterns sitting in the front office.
In the years that followed, we remembered fondly of that spring day, and there were a few attempts to relive the moment.
But you can't remake a classic.
And you can't get into the school cafeteria without a teacher.