That day’s high school lunch was my favorite — macaroni and cheese. To this day, some 46 years later, I have not tasted its equal.
Because I loved it so much, when my turn came, I asked the lunch-lady for a double helping.
She ladled on a generous glop of that gooey goodness, so that it overspread my entire plate. I paid my 50-cents and scanned the cafeteria for a table. Normally, I could find a place with the kids who had few friends. You know, kids like me.
But today, I saw my occasional girlfriend, Terri, sitting with the so-called cool kids. Everybody loved Terri, even the cool kids. She gestured for me to join them.
This is too good to be true.
I, Scott Ott, will sit with the cool kids at lunch. An unprecedented feat.
The table is already full, but I manage to squeeze my tray about halfway on.
I gaze around at their faces, and privately revel in my good fortune. Deciding to avoid speaking until spoken to, I grab my fork to dig into the steaming heap of mac and cheese.
I don’t even notice that I had rested my forearms lightly on the edge of the tray. Because the tray is not fully on the table, physics happens.
The front edge of the tray rises. The heavy plate slides downhill. Catching the near edge of the tray, the plate flips, dumping its piping hot, viscous cargo into my lap.
The cool kids draw a collective gasp.
Mouths agape, they stare at me in silence. In the world of high school kids, this is an unmitigated disaster. Suddenly the people who had either ignored me or openly scorned me, project a kind of empathy which surprises me.
It’s as if they put themselves in my place and imagine the shame. They feel my pain.
I look down at the hot mess in my lap, and then back up.
Question: What would you say?
Here’s what I actually said, just seconds after my favorite lunch landed on my loins in full view of the cool kids…
YOUNG SCOTT OTT: “Well, someday this will be a funny story. So, I might as well laugh now.”
And I did.
And then…they did.
But they weren’t mocking me. They laughed with me.
That’s as close as I ever felt to the cool kids. For a moment, they showed their humanity.
For decades, memory of that episode sustained me through embarrassments beyond number.
Epilogue: Back in the day, there was no one at my house who could hop in the car and fetch me from school. So, I waddled down to the Home Economics classroom. The Home Ec teacher laundered my jeans. I stood pantless behind a partition for what seemed like eternity.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.