Thursday, November 20, 2008


The carpet is cut pile Berber of a hue that calls to mind the rough and dark skins of old growth trees in a shady wood, cacao brown with deep black cracks. Despite its already short fibers, it lays close to the ground. The wear and fray of its tiny olefin hairs is noticeable only to the ant that has found its way from the lush green jungles of the wide world to this synthetic prairie. He tipety claws gingerly upon his six dainty legs, stepping from one cut loop to the next, mandibles at the ready, antennae twitching eagerly as they guide him in his quest. Towering high above him is the flat black acrylic coated bottom of a folding picnic bench. The tops of the table and attached benches are covered with a faux wood veneer. Lined up from one end of the cavernous assembly hall, where a stage hides behind a velveteen goldenrod curtain, to the other where the Berber gives way to the textured laminate of the cafeteria kitchen, the picnic benches wait patiently like headless prehistoric beasts. Children sit upon the benches like birds perched upon the backs of rhinos, swinging their legs while digging into their brown paper bags to retrieve foil wrapped ding dongs.
Just beyond the edge of the Berber forest, twelve feet into the speckled laminate plains, a wall separates the kitchen from the auditorium. A rectangular window with a 20 foot perimeter reveals the faces of stainless steel appliances and the bodies of two plump women wearing paper hair nets, white cotton coats, and aprons. Moving hurriedly about, the women resemble nurses in their sterile bleached uniforms. Their skin in ruddy, their movements swift and mechanical. One removes industrial sized cookie sheets smothered in tatter tots from the opened mouth of the gargantuan oven while the other places poly-carbon trays on the sill of the serving window. The trays have 4 uniquely sized compartments and come in either the subdued aqua hue of toothpaste or in a pastel yellow. One compartment features the meat patty on a bun, another houses the crispy golden tatter tots, a third is home to a one fourth cup serving of slippery fruit cocktail, and yet a fourth compartment awaits the one quart carton of chocolate milk that rests with the less desirable cartons of white milk in a free standing refrigerated corral. This apparatus, near the border that parts cafeteria from assembly room, stands open like a cooler laced with sparkling frost.
A pair of tinted glass doors propped open with little rubber wedge shaped stoppers allows a steady stream of children to flow into the building where they lift a tray from the sill and troop to the cooler and select the chocolate milk before joining the brown baggers. Another matching pair of doors set in the same wall positioned at the opposite end of the building to allow access to the auditorium, stands shut. Outside the rain slaps the asphalt mercilessly, turning it an oily black color. It drums on abandoned aluminum picnic benches. Helpless to defend themselves against the eager droplets of water, the ribbed benches remain still as always, completely resigned to the unjust punishment being bestowed upon them by the pure force of nature. Hugging the wall of the building, the children stand in a long line under the awning. They talk loudly, laugh and jump in place. They pull their arms inside their sweaters to warm their hands and occasionally dart out into the rain to wash their rubber boots in a particularly irresistible puddle before funneling through the open doors into the warmth of the auditorium.

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