Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Those Good Old Cathedral High School Food Fights, Part 2

Am I going to be expelled? Arrested? Excommunicated?JUNE, 1980

Like throwing a Frisbee, I fired my tray with a flick of my wrist, and it landed on another table with a loud clatter. It was bedlam in the cafeteria—food flying everywhere—but the tray got everyone’s attention. A collective “whoa!” was heard throughout the room, and then the cheers and applause during the non-combatants’ standing ovation that followed every food fight.

“What the fuck was I thinking?” I said to myself as I bolt to the door with the rest of the food-covered stampede of students. I don’t know.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” asked my friend Kevin O’Malley as we walked briskly down the hallway, away from the scene of the crime.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I don’t know.” What the fuck was I thinking? Am I busted, or what? Somebody’s gonna rat on me. I threw a tray, for Christ’s sake!

All right, let me confess. I didn’t tell my whole story of the Good Old Cathedral High School Food Fights in Part 1. I mean, what good is a blogger if he isn’t honest, right?

O.K. Yes. I fired a tray during a food fight! But it’s not what you think. I tossed it at an empty table, a few seconds after everyone had cleared away from it. But that fact didn’t make what I did right, and it certainly didn’t let me off the hook. I knew, as I made my way to the bathroom to wipe the sloppy Joe stains off my shirt, that there would be a thorough investigation. Sister Mildred Marengo, who was on lunch duty that day, would be determined to uncover the tray-thrower.

Sure enough, her voice bellowed on the intercom: “All the boys from the third lunch wave please return to the cafeteria and sit in the places you were sitting.”

“OK,” I thought as I re-entered the food-splattered arena its walls, floors, tables, and even the ceiling covered with meat sauce, milk, and jello. “I wonder whose fucking loose lips are going to sink my ship? After all, I heaved a tray!”

Sister Millie was pissed. How pissed? Her hands were trembling as she set up the familiar portable amplifier and microphone. Usually she just went through the motions of trying to find out who started the food fight, and then she inevitably told us to grow up and clean up the mess. But this time it was different. We went back to our chairs, some of which had been toppled. In the confusion I suavely took a tray from another table and placed it on my table, right in front of me. Surely I couldn’t have been the tray-thrower right? Here’s my tray. I’m innocent.

But the ruse was no use. The place was too trashed, the rows of tables zig-zagged and trays scattered everywhere. No one could claim ownership of any tray. But maybe the pandemonium would mask my guilt. I just had to play it cool.

“Throwing a tray—I can’t believe—who would—sigh—this is such a dangerous thing to—I don’t know,” she stammered into the microphone, practically speechless. “Can this person be SANE?”

“No sister,” said a couple of my friends with a snicker. “He’s gotta be insane,” said Kevin O’Malley.

“Do you think this is funny?” she asked Kevin incredulously. “Anyone think this is funny? Throwing a tray?”

“No, sister,” said a few people in unison.

“Which direction did it come from?”

Silence. Thank God.

After a few more threats and admonitions, she ordered us to clean up the mess. Wow, did I just get away with that? Holy fucking shit. No one said anything. How lucky can I get?

Photo: I guess its not just a seventies/eighties thing. Food fights have been quelled at Cathedral in recent years, due to low enrollment and consequently the lack of overcrowded cafeteria conditions that existed a quarter-century ago. But there are still high school food fights in America, and YouTube is full of em. The quality of the footagemostly cellphone videois mostly poor, and the outbursts are lame, but the one pictured at some school called Armstrong, which can be viewed here, isnt too bad. Another one, at a cafeteria at Horizon High School, captures the chaos pretty well. No flying trays, though.

Well, I wasn’t out of the woods. It turned out that somebody had said something. That wasn’t surprising. Hell, a tray was thrown. But as I mentioned, I wasn’t aiming at anyone. Here’s some background: there had been rumors of an imminent food fight during the week prior to the outburst, and on that fateful day word had been circulating since homeroom period that our eruption was indeed a few hours away.

Don’t ask me why food fights—involving dozens and sometimes hundreds of people—broke out at Cathedral High in the seventies and early eighties. Maybe it was the hormones raging and this was a harmless way to release a little aggression without anybody getting hurt. Maybe it was our way of telling the nuns that they weren’t totally in control. Why ask why?

Anyway, on the day of the wayward tray, some jocks at the table next to ours let us know at the beginning of lunch that they would be firing their food at us when all hell broke loose, and we said, “Bring it on.” Then, as Sister Millie made her rounds to the other side of the cafeteria, one of the meatheads from the Italian table wadded up a bread roll and tossed it across the room at the druggie table, and that’s all it took. Instant bedlam. Food flying everywhere. And then the stampede to the doors.

So I tossed the tray. Maybe a psychiatrist could one day help me explain my dirty deed, but I’m guessing that I thought it would be the icing on the cake on a fun-filled food fight. I don’t know. I watched it sail in slow motion, realizing as it was in midair that there would be consequences. When a tray takes flight, the law of gravity dictates that it has to land. Loudly.


Two days later: Shit. Apparently, someone said the tray came from our table. Kevin O’Malley told me that Sister Millie asked him about the flying tray, but he said nothing. So far so good, I thought. The issue will die in due time. Well, not quite.

Three days later: “I got called into 229 this morning,” said Bob Miller. He was referring to the office of Sister Julie Edwina, the school disciplinarian. “She and Sister Millie asked me who threw the tray,” he said. “It looks like they’re narrowing it down.”

“Shit! What did you tell her?”

“I told her I didn’t see anything—that I heard it land, but I didn’t know where it came from.”

“Good thinking.”

“Yeah, well, be prepared for a trip to 229.”

“I guess…”

The funny thing is, they never did call me into Room 229. Sister Millie had given five or six of my friends at our table the third degree—to no avail. She had also interviewed guys from the jock table, and someone told her the general area of the tray’s launching pad, but nothing more specific. I had to give the hockey and football players credit. They may have been assholes, but they weren’t rats. The cliquers knew I threw it, but they didn’t spill the beans.

“Sister Millie thought it was suspicious that everybody saw the tray flying except for us,” said Kevin. “We were the only table that didn’t see anything.”

And I was the only guy from our table that wasn’t questioned. She knew very well who threw the tray. But she wasn’t pursuing it. Why? Again, why ask why?


I walked by Sister Millie at the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Holyoke a few years ago, and she gave me a nod of recognition, and then a little smirk, all but confirming what I suspected all along: she knew I played a little tray Frisbee all those years ago. Or did she?

You know, for the sake of this blog, I should give her a call and admit to the whole thing. That would be hilarious. A great interview.


That smirk didn’t mean anything. The fact of matter is that my sailing tray was a direct assault on her lunchroom authority. She might not be a good sport about my confession.

God forgives, but Sister Millie may not.


Colleen Ann said...

more great memories...

Unknown said...

I just found your blog. Just finished reading about all the iconic signs from sixteen acres. I did in fact borrow the big boy at Allen and Cooley in the mid eighties, I also may have tossed a tray during a cathedral food fight. Will start reading from the beginning. Thank you