Grasping at Straws: The Lunch Table

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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Image result for school lunch table

The school lunch table is the ultimate breeding ground for the expression of one’s character and ambition. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in child or adult life.

A bar might be the closest parallel for adults, but even a bar can’t match the lunch table’s powers to promote near-free reign of imagination and juvenility. And while being a kid basically means you’re exhibiting juvenile behavior at all times, it is never more pure and bombastic than it is at the lunch table.

Despite the practice of eating at lunch tables is present throughout every level of grade school, for the purpose of this blog I’m going to only focus on high school. These are the years where the lunch table dealings are most fully formed, most likely to reveal information about the type of person you are and will become. The lunch table may appear to be simply a table top and connecting benches, but the activity it inspires elevates it to be so much more.

I’m aware it’s not revolutionary to claim that lunch was perhaps every student’s favorite part of the school day. It wasn’t class, for one. That fact alone made it appealing to just about everyone. But lunch was really the adults’ acknowledgement that kids must be given the ability to, within reason, do as they please for a period of time during a school day. Lunch was the jungle, and each lunch table was home to a unique habitat.

I’m not going to run through the classic stereotypes of high school cliques that are segregated throughout a school cafeteria. Mean Girls does it way better than I ever could in writing. It also does a great job of highlighting the inherit importance of the lunch table. Who you sit with helps define your identity in high school, for better or worse. Remember, it’s a movie, so most high schools don’t contain cliques with clearly defined characteristics such as those. However, your lunch table companions are often still a broad reflection of the type of person you’re aspiring to be in that moment of your life.

Even where you sat at the table went a long way towards explaining your personality. The alpha male/female often sat in the middle, where he/she can be an authority in conversations at both ends of the table. Those on the aisles were sometimes loners who weren’t even really friends with the other people at the table, possibly just friendly enough with them to be saved from the very-real terror of sitting alone. “Assigned” seats were common, as were readily apparent interpersonal dynamics and delicate balances of power. Disrupt any of that, and things could get very messy. Like food fight-level messy.

Also, food fights were a thing. They were every kid’s dream, and I’m extremely jealous if you participated in a food fight in high school. Consequences aside, they really seem like the absolute most chaotic, I-don’t-care-what-happens-to-me type of fun you could ever have. Being a kid is great…now back to the blog.

Step down from a macro, pseudo-philosophical viewpoint, though, and the lunch table is really just the spot for you and your friends to say and do a bunch of dumb stuff while you’re all together and not in class. The simplicity of that is what makes it so great. When you’re in high school, BS-ing with your friends is just about the most fun you could have. The lunch table was the town square where anything and everything could be discussed and acted out.

It could be normal things like trading some Green Apple Sour Power Straws for a Reese’s (that’s a steal for the kid getting the Sour Power!) or gossiping about fellow classmates or arguing over sports. It could also be just about anything you could think of too. A lunch table could easily erupt into a months-long, extremely competitive series of Charades. Or a two-table-spanning paper football tournament. Or an epic battle rap scene. It’s all on the table (you had to have known a lunch table pun was coming eventually).

However, none of these activities compare to the hallmark of every lunch table: trash talking. The art of trying to one-up your friend or fellow classmate by making better jokes and trying to make them look foolish so you feel superior. It’s a tried-and-true staple of every high school, and I believe it is essential to growing up and developing thick skin before you encounter the rest of the world.

Now, I’m not advocating for bullying. Please don’t get this misunderstood. Consistently tormenting another person for the sole purpose of being malicious is despicable and should never be encouraged. The trash talking I was referring to implies everyone at the lunch table being aware of the spirit of trash talking. When it’s among willing participants, everyone understands the stakes and what will be involved.

The lunch table is like a UFC octagon for trash talking. There’s no means to escape once you’re seated among the other combatants, and besides only a few truly reprehensible things, everything is permitted. This is where you learn how to verbally defend yourself, how to stare down your insecurities, how to think on your feet, and how to fortify your self-confidence. These lessons and opportunities for growth occur at the lunch table through trash talking. Generations of people have learned how to overcome adversity while sitting on old, brown benches with dried gum underneath them.

All this is to say that the lunch table is just as important to a kid’s high school experience as nearly anything else. Cherished memories are often made there, as well as potentially scarring incidents that become infamous through graduation. As unfortunate as the latter may be, the lunch table is home to both extremes and everything in between. It is an essential component of the journey through adolescence, yet is often overlooked as such.

I suppose this is understandable when you take into account that I’m talking about a table. It doesn’t actually hold any of the value that books and relationships and sports and many other things that your time in school provides. But as you read the 1000+ words I wrote about a simple lunch table, I’m extremely confident that a wave of nostalgia rushed over you at some point. An unexpected rush of emotions from your own personal experiences tied to a lunch table. Positive or negative, though I’m sincerely hoping they were positive.

That’s the thing about the lunch table, though. It does not discriminate. It does not favor one way or the other. It simply offers a space for the natural interactions of grade school students to unfold. The lunch table will forever be the home to our most substantive and personality-defining moments as a young person just beginning to figure out who he/she is.

Or maybe, I’m just grasping at straws.