I went to an arts boarding school for my junior and senior year of high school, and the cafeteria was a common meeting point for the students. It was run by a towering, red-headed woman whom the student body referred to as “Barbara Manhands” not too lovingly. It was by all accounts a beautiful cafeteria, with a full salad bar and freshly baked cookies every day. Barbara would organize themed nights like “Winter Carnival” and “Asia Night.” Asia Night meant there were chopsticks and a giant ice sculpture in the middle of the room (of a penguin, if my memory serves me correctly, although maybe that was for Winter Carnival) and bowls of noodles laid out buffet-style. On Asia Night my junior year, I ended up near the ice sculpture in a conversation with Barbara Manhands about her work.
“Ah, yes, Asia,” she said, nodding. “You know, my sister was made in Taiwan.”
“I–what?” I said, unsure if I’d just heard Barbara refer to her sister the way she’d talk about a cheap sweater.
“Yes, made in Taiwan, born in the States,” Barbara said.
I turned away and picked up a fortune cookie from a large punch bowl. Cracking it open revealed this statement:
“Go ahead and be as sexy as you can.”
Well, first off, a high school cafeteria’s Asia Night is the weirdest place to open a cookie like this. Was this actually a fortune? What was it predicting?And what tone was I meant to read that in? Oh, go ahead, TRY and be as sexy as you can. Or, cheerleader-like, go ahead! Be as sexy as you can! You can do it! This fortune has haunted me emotionally for years…
Very bizarre. But, the cafeteria was a bizarre place. The kitchen was staffed with an assortment of people, some of whom had been released from jail and (I’m assuming) were placed in the kitchen as part of a work-release program. Which makes sense. Jail…children…right, I see it. One morning, my classmates were abuzz because on the news, one of our kitchen employees was killed in our parking lot. He’d gotten in an altercation with his girlfriend in his car, and she’d stabbed him in the neck with a hair pick.
One of the more colorful characters in the cafeteria was a middle-aged, whiskery fellow we referred to as “Roger the Pirate” because of the bandana he wore tied around his head. He’d been in jail (or so the rumors said), but seemed harmless enough. He ran the wrap station.
One day, I ordered a chicken caesar wrap (this was a popular wrap day in the cafeteria, and lines were usually long). Roger the Pirate whipped the ingredients together, then asked if I wanted anything else.
“I don’t know,” I said, running through vegetables in my mind. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
Roger raised one bushy eyebrow, smiling slightly. “You don’t know?” he said. I could’ve sworn I saw the glint of one gold, pirate-y tooth. “Is that what you’re gonna say on your wedding night?”
I stared at him. In retrospect, that was a completely weird and inappropriate thing for Roger the Pirate to say. But in the moment, I wasn’t sure he’d said it, so I just repeated, “Uhh, I don’t know?”
The next year, Roger the Pirate was let go by the school, or at least, he stopped showing up.
I don’t know what happened to him. I really don’t know.