A mother and her son just came through my checkout line at work. Now this mother is clearly overwhelmed so I try to distract the kid- he can’t be more than 6 years old. I ask what his name is and he says “I’m Jensen!” and I kind of smile and glance at the mother who glances at me and we share The Look of Mutual Understanding and I wonder if this kid’s father knows his son was named after Jensen Ackles.
Now, the standard format of this show is pretty straightforward—four chefs compete in three elimination rounds, clips of interviews are run, and you get The One Asshole Who Thinks He’s Better Than Everybody, the One Who Keeps Mentioning Their Dead Father, who you rapidly start to suspect is milking it, The One Who’s Just Happy To Be Here and the One With Low Self-Esteem Who Has Something To Prove. (There are variations, but this is the basic line-up.)
You root against the asshole and for one of the others. This is just how it works. (Obviously the clips they show are probably not representative, some of them are probably terribly nice people, but they’re asking leading questions and all. Doesn’t matter. It’s fun TV. With cooking!)
So, the lunch lady episode.
It is really hard to get into a show like this when they run four women eligible for sainthood against each other. Seriously.
Kevin and I laid in bed watching four women say “Well, we’re here for the kids,” and occasionally timidly mention that nobody takes them seriously as cooks because they’re just cafeteria workers, and how honored they are to compete somewhere where they’re being treated like real chefs and how they have to make meals for kids who sometimes are only getting the school lunch to live on, all on a budget of approximately $1.75 per child.
The sincerity oozed from the screen. The judges practically cried every time they eliminated one of these competitors. There was hugging. And it wasn’t the milking-my-personal-tragedy types that you get sometimes—they were acting so damn nice. By twenty minutes in, I was willing to rate lunch ladies as the greatest unsung heroes of our time.
“I have wasted my life,” I told Kevin, as one explained how she always did a pasta meal on Monday because she lives in such a poor area that some of these kids weren’t eating on the weekends, and pasta provides the biggest caloric bang for the buck.
“Compared to these women, we are horrible human beings,” said Kevin grimly, while she went on to explain that she had started a backpack program to provide food for those kids to take home on weekends.
The show went on. There was more crying and more sincerity. Every time one of them said something nice, we would clutch our heads and whimper. The human soul can only take so much awesomenss.
“Smother me with a pillow,” I begged Kevin. “I am NOT FIT TO LIVE.”
“Only if you smother me at the same time!”
Our pillow suicide pact fell down on the point where we would no longer be able to watch the show through the pillows, so we resigned ourselves to living. You couldn’t root for any of them, because they were ALL so damn kind. You couldn’t even suspect them of hamming it up. Your heart was going to be warmed if they had to crack your ribs open and shove a space heater into your chest cavity.
“We’re usually not allowed in the teacher’s lounge because we’re just cafeteria staff…” I fell off the bed and vowed to make the plight of the lunch lady my personal crusade, once I had finished with native plant restoration and taught the universe about endangered farm animal breeds.
It ended. The judges were crying openly at this point. Kevin and I were carefully not looking at each other because you lose serious macho points if you have to admit that you got a little
choked up over an episode of Chopped.*
*Unless it was the one with the priest who gave the money to the other competitor so she could go visit her dying grandmother in France. I mean, c’mon, nobody’s made of stone.
I had a dream… that one day Bill Cipher was at my workplace.
So to explain, I started working Food and Bev service for like two weeks now with a day or two off so those long hour days had bound me to have nightmares of me still working. Then when I finally got a day off and traveled to dreamland, hoping to rest my mind, GUESS WHO SHOWS UP. I posted the conversation that inspired me to draw it out.