UB
Views
3086
Comments
22

 

When I was in second grade, I had this terrific lunch box with a race car theme. The lid featured a white Le Mans style racer leading the pack, jumping right out at you. My friends said it was 'tough.' The really tough part was that it came with little magnetic cars and a race course board game on the back. We would crowd around the lunch table in the cafeteria, eating baloney sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and racing around the back of my lunch box. "Oil slick! Go back 3 spaces!" we would scream. "Awww tough!"

 
 
"Quiet down!" the lunch lady would shout through a fog of cigarette smoke. She hated interruptions from her magazines and had the power to invoke the ultimate punishment--forcing us to sit alternating boys and girls. Besides being known carriers of cooties, girls did not appreciate the toughness of magnetic race cars. We played quieter.


Bobby Murphy, who had ears the size of fly swatters, made a rule that to enter the race you had to put a cookie on the table; whoever was leading after each lap got to eat a cookie. This was fine with me, since my mother was always buying cheap Hydrox cookies instead of real Oreos. In the heat of the race, no one seemed to notice that one of the cookies in the pile tasted like burlap anyway. "Pit Stop! Lose a turn!" "Awww tough!"

Mitchell Oshetski had a Munsters lunchbox that was cool, but definitely not tough. There weren't any magnetic racecars to play with, just a picture of that roadster they drove in the TV show. "That Munsters roadster is really tough," he would offer each day at the lunch table, but no one would respond. Maybe it was because he always had Frito crumbs on his face that he wasn't much of a style setter. Still, he was welcome to play the race car game because he contributed Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies to the ante, and they were the toughest cookies of all.

On the first day of third grade Mitchell showed up with an "Apollo: Mission to the Moon" lunch box that had its own magnetic rockets and board game. Race cars and oil slicks became merely cool, while tough was reserved for spacemen and asteroids. Now everyone crowded around Mitchell at lunch time, waving cookies and clamoring for a magnetic rocket playing piece. Mitchell changed the ante rule so that only Oreos and Nutter Butters were allowed. He called it the "Burlap is not Tough Rule."

"Those magnetic race cars are really tough" I would offer each day, but no one would respond. I asked my Mom to quit buying Hydrox cookies and start getting Nutter Butters instead.

Soon other kids were emulating Mitchell's Frito crumb look, trying to master the intricate task of turning processed corn meal and saliva into paste. Bobby resorted to gluing the crumbs on with rubber cement until Mitchell called him on it, saying that using rubber cement in this manner was not tough. It was common knowledge that the only acceptable use for rubber cement was to smear it on your desk and then roll it into a giant bouncing ball flecked with eraser bits and a dead fly or two, so we all toadied up to Mitchell and agreed with him. Bobby sulked right up to Christmas vacation.

After the Christmas holiday, Bobby came to school with an Estes Rocket lunch box, including a real balsa wood rocket that flew hundreds of feet in the air and a parachute that brought it safely back to earth. The rocket engines used gunpowder, which was definitely tough.

Bobby didn't have any Fritos glued to his face that day.

He assembled the rocket slowly, letting the tension mount to unbearable levels. Finally he looked around the hovering crowd. "Does anyone have... a match?"

Having your own matches in third grade qualified you as beyond tough to super-tough, tougher even than putting playing cards in your bike spokes or having a Dad who was a fireman. We all hung our heads. After a painful silence, someone remembered the lunch lady. We debated the sinfulness of taking her lighter--first communion and its associated first confession was just next month--until Bobby said that taking the lighter couldn't be a sin because lighters didn't exist when Moses made up the Commandments. The "Whomever Purloins the Lighter Gets to Launch the Rocket Amendment" passed on a unanimous voice vote.

Bobby returned to the table a minute later, lighter in hand. "I promised her we would be quiet," he warned. We all nodded solemnly.

The rocket spewed flame and roared toward the ceiling, smashing a bank of fluorescent lights before veering sideways to set the stage curtains on fire. The nosecone popped off and the parachute opened as advertised, the rocket drifting back through the smoke and falling debris until it landed softly onto our table.

"Awww tough," we murmured in unison.

We launched the rocket every lunch period for weeks afterward, always keeping our strict promise of quiet. Mr. Cole, the janitor, eventually placed wire mesh over the fluorescent lights and the spring recital was a big hit despite the smoldering curtains. We found that we could put the cookie ante into the rocket's nosecone so that whoever caught the rocket on the way down got to eat the cookies--the famous Cookie Payload Regulation, or CPR. It was glorious fun chasing the rocket around the cafeteria, leaping across flaming tables to snatch the drifting rocket and its cookie prize.

Only Mitchell was unexcited about the rocket. He sat alone at the lunch table caressing his lunchbox. "That old asteroid game sure is tough," he offered through Frito encrusted lips. None of us could hear him, now that we had fly swatters taped over our ears to look like Bobby.

One day in March, someone jostled the rocket at lift off. It bounced off the window and skittered along the lunch table, spewing smoke and flames like a crashing jet. Everyone dove after it, scattering limbs and lunchboxes and the occasional charred Twinkie. Running atop the table to join in, I accidentally smushed a girl's peanut butter sandwich. It really wasn't that bad--I peeled most of the bread off my shoe and offered it back to her--but her wailing irritated the lunch lady.

...

Alternating boys and girls at the lunch table was worse than going hungry. We ate in miserable silence, our fly swatter ears drooping more each day until we stopped wearing them entirely. I tried pushing the magnetic racecars around my lunchbox alone, but that simply added to my gloom. With no hope for partners to play his magnetic astronaut game, Mitchell began bringing the old Munsters lunchbox. A girl sitting nearby said, "I like the Munsters. They're funnier than the Addams Family."

I started to spray for cooties but Mitchell didn't notice.

"Yeah," Mitchell said, sitting up and brushing the crumbs from his face. "They're tough."

"That Munsters roadster is really tough." She smiled at him.

Mitchell smiled back.

Bobby and I didn't say "tough" much after that.

 

 munsters-lunch-box
 

 

August 27, 2010  10:19 AM ET

Nice!!!

Comment #2 has been removed
August 28, 2010  11:34 AM ET

very, very, very nice UB...looking at another career?

August 28, 2010  03:22 PM ET

Allsome work, UB!

Comment #7 has been removed
Comment #9 has been removed
August 29, 2010  01:40 AM ET
QUOTE(#9):

Yeah, I think I hit 3rd grade about 3 years ahead of UB.

We also said wicked a lot. And a jean jacket was a 'tough guy jacket'

Did anyone say 'keen' in real life, or was that just on TV shows like Leave it to Beaver?

August 29, 2010  08:39 PM ET
QUOTE(#10):

Did anyone say 'keen' in real life, or was that just on TV shows like Leave it to Beaver?

I tend to think "keen" was an insert to TV shows to try to demonstrate a good vocabulary. As a word, it is probably more common for usage in Britain.

August 30, 2010  01:20 AM ET
QUOTE(#10):

We also said wicked a lot. And a jean jacket was a 'tough guy jacket'Did anyone say 'keen' in real life, or was that just on TV shows like Leave it to Beaver?

Great story, UB.

My only recall of someone using "keen" was a girlfriend who used to say "peachy-keen-neato-jet".

In my region of the country, once "bitchin" came along in the early 60's, there were no other positive adjectives until "awesome" about 20 years later.

August 30, 2010  08:24 AM ET

Funny stuff UB. I had a metal Dukes of Hazzard lunch box, and my Brother had the He-Man one. We considered them "Bad". Guess thats an 80's kid for you.

August 30, 2010  11:35 AM ET

My Pele lunchbox and Fat Albert lunchbox didn't come with any magnets. The Fat Albert one was plastic, anyway, so magnets wouldn't have done it any good.
I think "tough" was commonly used in Cincinnati well before "boss" was, but that's a weird town. I think we picked up a lot of our mannerisms from the Jersey and California kids whose parents got transferred into our school district's boundaries.

August 30, 2010  11:35 AM ET

The metal lunch box was totally tough. Had the family out at an antique store that had these stacked up. Showed my girls what I had to use to carry my lunch, none of these insulated bags with matching soup dispensers and water bottles (all of which match the back packs!). Went through Emergency!, Car51, and Lone Ranger boxes.

August 31, 2010  09:43 AM ET
QUOTE(#13):

Funny stuff UB. I had a metal Dukes of Hazzard lunch box, and my Brother had the He-Man one. We considered them "Bad". Guess thats an 80's kid for you.


"Bad" was good. Until Michael Jackson made "bad" sound kinda corny and slightly effiminate. A few kids had Michael Jackson lunchboxes. Not Tough. Not tough at all.

One of the best reads on this site, UB.

Sorry if this double-posts from the lag. Some sites don't lag. Forgive my frustration.

August 31, 2010  09:44 AM ET
QUOTE(#13):

Funny stuff UB. I had a metal Dukes of Hazzard lunch box, and my Brother had the He-Man one. We considered them "Bad". Guess thats an 80's kid for you.


"Bad" was good. Until Michael Jackson made "bad" sound kinda corny and slightly effiminate. A few kids had Michael Jackson lunchboxes. Not Tough. Not tough at all.

One of the best reads on this site, UB.

September 1, 2010  10:50 AM ET

To use vernacular from my youth:

Like, omigod! Totally awesome blog, UB!

:)

November 16, 2012  02:57 PM ET
QUOTE(#12):

Great story, UB. My only recall of someone using "keen" was a girlfriend who used to say "peachy-keen-neato-jet". In my region of the country, once "bitchin" came along in the early 60's, there were no other positive adjectives until "awesome" about 20 years later.

There was also "Boss", don't remember if it was before, after, or during "bitchin". In Jr High "Up Tight" kinda meant you were down with everything goin on; by HS it just meant you needed to chill, much as it still does.

And of course there was the ever present "Groovy", I guess the Young Rascals made that hip with "Groovin" circa '67:

November 16, 2012  03:04 PM ET

BTW, my lunch box around the 2nd grade was a train with tracks on the bottom.

The '65 Chevy Chaparral 2D on yours (Jim Hall drove #4) was my favorite car at the time, I even had it in a slot car that I would race at 'Hot Slots'

Any body else hang out in slot car joints as a kid?

November 16, 2012  03:46 PM ET

I was prolly about 5 or 6 years ahead, assuming the '65 Chevy Chaparral in the 2nd grade. I did the Munster model kit in about the 7th grade, so it seems about right.

Different, but not by too much. And keeping up in the language dept. was always of the utmost importance; someone said something you didn't yet understand and you nodded like you did. Then you would get together with your best buds and try to figger it out before you were labeled "lame", which was about as bad as it gets.

I remember one of the hot girls said something about "Gentle on my mind", and not being a Glen Campbell fan didn't have a clue. Glen wasn't cool, but she was, and her incorporating the song into everyday speach made the phrase cool. I was exposed and it still sticks in my memory as one of the moments I felt dorkier than any other.

But, really good stuff UB. Nice little trip in the 'Way Back' machine. Thanks!

November 16, 2012  03:51 PM ET
QUOTE(#13):

Funny stuff UB. I had a metal Dukes of Hazzard lunch box, and my Brother had the He-Man one. We considered them "Bad". Guess thats an 80's kid for you.

We were doin 'Bad' by late MS or early HS; around '60/70. We added the **** later. Seems like it came along about the same time as 'Right On'.

 
November 16, 2012  04:58 PM ET

When I was in 3rd grade, I wrote to NASA. They sent me back a large envelope stuffed with slick goodies about the new Gemini program. I was on cloud nine until my father explained to me that they sent all that stuff to the child of a taxpayer. No bucks, no Buck Rodgers.

I took my lunch to school in paper bags.

I liked girls at a young age.

I was a peace maker. I talked other kids out of fighting. Then, in 5th grade, the complete loser nerd of the school tried to bully me. When he did not respond to my reasonable mediation and tried to pin me under a desk, I threw him across the room. He slid into desks which backed up against the wall and tumbled down on top of him. He was stunned, but cried on cue when the teacher approached him. I got to visit the principal's office and have a personal counselling session with Father Saucy.

Comment

Remember to keep your posts clean. Profanity will get filtered, and offensive comments will be removed.


Start Your Own Blog

Start Now

Recent Posts

Truth & Rumors

MOST POPULAR

  1. 1
    Clippers, Warriors exchange barbs
    Views
    645
    Comments
    356
  2. 2
    Time to penalize NHL's perennial losers?
    Views
    696
    Comments
    267
  3. 3
    Tuukka Rask takes blame for Bruins' Game 1 loss
    Views
    2584
    Comments
    231
  4. 4
    Smush Parker allegedly punches high schooler
    Views
    2243
    Comments
    140
  5. 5
    Quarterback freefalling down draft boards
    Views
    7562
    Comments
    90

SI.com

SI Photos