The blue plastic lunch table, 3rd from the swings, is where we always sat at Arroyo Elementary School. Cafeteria lunch trays were never seen on our table. Brown bags, some soggy on the bottom, foil-wrapped sandwiches and fruits. Capri-Sun drinks (on special days) or those small plastic juice drinks in orange, red or purple covered our table. One by one, we would each lay out the treasures and disappointments we found in our bags. But there was never a more constant disappointment for me than each day that I had to pull out my clear baggy full of potato chips while everyone else at the table brought out their shiny, perfectly-sized, airtight snack-pack sized bags of chips.
Every Thursday when my mom went to Vons, I begged and pleaded with her to buy the snack packs. She never said yes; they were a rip-off. But when you’re ten years old, getting your money’s worth is nowhere near as important as what you bring out of your brown paper lunch bag at the blue plastic lunch table, 3rd from the swings. Why didn’t my mom understand this? She would buy the expensive Capri-Sun drinks (which, for her information, did not ease my snack-pack pain), so why wouldn’t she buy the snack packs?
The snack packs were key because you could have a different chip each day of the week. You could bring Ruffles on Monday, and then turn around and have Cheetos on Tuesday. Wednesday you could follow it up with Fritos. Thursday have the potato chips and leave the dreaded pretzels for last. No one in our group ever brought the pretzel pack on the same day because you always had to supplement the friend with pretzels with some good chips. Some in the group were even known to eat the snack packs flavor by flavor. And the great thing about the snack packs was that everyone anticipated what the other brought and liked to share with each other. Except with me.
I couldn’t participate in the chips exchange at lunch because no one wanted chips from a clear plastic baggy. Plus, if I had Ruffles on Monday, everyone knew I’d have them on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Sometimes that huge, bottomless bag of Ruffles could even make it to the Monday of the next week. So while everyone else at the blue plastic lunch table, 3rd from the swings, chatted away about how “Cindy and Ashley both brought Cheetos last Monday, too!” and how “Katie and I are going to bring Ruffles tomorrow, so Jessica, it’s your turn to bring pretzels,” I sat slumped over on the blue plastic lunch table, 3rd from the swings, and ate my plain potato chips from the clear plastic baggy.
All I ever wanted was to hear the sound of the vacuum seal break as I pulled excitedly on both sides of the shiny bag. I wanted to have the different chips and be the same as my friends. I wanted to call Jessica at night and plan which snack pack we’d bring the next day. I wanted to get mad because it was my turn to bring the pretzels. I was ten years old, and all I wanted was a snack pack in my brown lunch bag. The world was so unfair. Why didn’t my mom understand that it didn’t matter if I actually had more chips in my clear plastic baggy than my friends had in their shiny, air-tight snack packs? At our table, we weren’t concerned with the mathematics of who had more chips per volume. We were concerned with how Katie’s orange Cheeto bag matched her orange plastic juice drink.
My mom never bought the snack packs in all my years of bringing lunch to school, even when I got to high school and snack packs were no longer of importance. But my mom did manage to single-handedly transform the chip exchange at the blue plastic lunch table, 3rd from the swings.
One Thursday, she came home from Vons with a can of highly uneconomical Pringles. I was shocked. I couldn’t understand how she could make such a choice, especially without my influence. I just assumed she was getting them for her weekly bridge group. When she told me they were for my lunches, I almost fell over. But I still wasn’t excited because even Pringles didn’t come individually wrapped in different kinds of shiny, air-tight snack packs.
However, on Friday when I pulled out my clear baggy full of Pringles and set them on my lunch bag, Ashley noticed them. She tapped Katie, who tapped Jessica, who tapped the rest of the lunch table with one wave. A hush fell over the blue plastic lunch table, 3rd from the swings. Instantly, everyone asked if those were Pringles on my lunch bag. I shook my head, too mad about the stupid clear plastic baggy to speak. Suddenly the snack packs were put down and everyone wanted a Pringle. No one cared that they came from a clear plastic baggy. By the time I had given one to each in the group, I had only two for myself. And the next day, the same thing happened. No one cared that I brought the same chips everyday. In fact, they eagerly awaited the unveiling of the Pringles. And amazingly, my mom kept buying them despite knowing how much I liked them.
After that, I didn’t care that I rarely got to eat more than three chips everyday. It was never about how many chips I consumed, it was about something much larger.
Even now, when I am in control of what goes in the cart at Vons, I still haven’t ever bought the snack packs. I probably never will because they’re such a rip-off.