In the midst of a great picnic at the park with my son the other day, a feeling of gloom engulfed me. I realized my son is doomed…if his future relies on my lunch-packing skills (and we all know that it does).
Staring down at the browning apple slices in a Ziploc bag in his little hands, I let out a shriek and thought, “I’m becoming my mother.”
I had flashbacks to lunching in elementary school and chewing on brown skinless apple slices, while my friends enjoyed their bags of Lays potato chips and canned soda. I tried to enjoy my apple slices and warm thermos-held orange juice…I really did. I just didn’t fit in (and of course it had to do with the uncool lunches I was eating, why else wouldn’t I fit in?)
I was born in Los Angeles to two Euro-Israeli parents, who found a way to keep the Euro-Israeli tradition alive through me, my lunches and the way my mom dressed me to school; very FOB (Fresh Off the Boat…or camel). Not that there is anything wrong with that style, except when other kids are wearing Vans to school and you are wearing Naot and red ones for that matter. ) (Naot -an Israeli clogs/sandal company.) And clogs were just not in in LA in the early 80’s. Clogs were hip among the Israelis and Dutch, but there weren’t many Dutch or Israelis at my elementary school in Van Nuys.
Just like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and her “Moose Kaka” lunch, I had my “Who Moos?” lunches. Hummus (Not pronounced HUM-Miss, by the way.) My mom would pack gigantic pitas stuffed with “Who Moos” (as my friends, or those that made fun of me, called it). In addition to the heaping scoop of hummus, there were also sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with a side of olives and Middle Eastern pickles in a sandwich bag (not the cool dill pickles that all the other native kids were eating). By the time I got around to my lunch in a pita, it would be soggy from the cucumbers and tomatoes. The hummus would turn a little brown and crispy (but that all ended when Mom realized this and packed my sliced veggies separate in Tupperware dishes and added Blue Ice to keep my lunches cool.) (How could my lunches ever really be “cool?” ) I might as well have had a stamp across my foreheard that read “FOB” but who needed the stamp - when my lunches said it all…oh yeah, and the shoes. I was born and raised in LALA land damnit! Doesn’t that count for anything?
To make matters worse - it was not only the contents inside my lunch box that were humiliating, but the box itself. For starters, I had a Donny and Marie Lunch bag (If you don’t know who they are because I am waaaaaaaaaay older or you were just not into fabulous variety shows in the late 70’s, just look them up on Wiki or something.) It was not that I was a fan of Donny and Marie (but who wasn’t back then, right?), but moreso that my mom was. I have got nothing against the Osmonds, but while my friends had Wonder Woman metal boxes (that I actually was hit in the face with because they assumed I was well, uncool. Weird, I know, right?), I had a soft purse-like Donny and Marie lunch box. I was the only one in the entire school that had one. (I actually found a picture of it online and added it to this post for your viewing pleasure and free publicity for the fabulous duo, now a Vegas act.) Just a side note - (no, I never digress and add parenthical after parentical statement) when my brother was born, my father told me his name was Donny, I immediately asked if they were going to change my name to Marie, all because of my lunch
Ironically, no one liked my “cool” lunch bag, but it was stolen one day. I guess someone did like it, or they really wanted to put me out of my misery. So, whomever it was -I thank you. They are probably sitting in jail today for grand theft auto. Yes, Van Nuys wasn’t a great neighborhood back then either, go figure. (After the year of the stolen lunch bag, I was thrown into private school - a much better experience in a corrupt private school that I’m surprised was never shut down, as they washed children’s mouths out with soap and made us march and sing to their theme song daily - Pinecrest. If you know the song join in- “Pinecrest is the very best…”, but it wasn’t.)
Again, I digress. The good news is - that after my D & M box was revoked, retired or stolen (however you look at it), I was given a replacement. It was all downhill from there. How could it possible get any worse? But it did. I got a new bag, not box, because I had enough of the metal box deal with the scar that was forming at that point on my face from some little Camobodian girl with a strong swing and a cool Wonder Woman lunch box. My new bag was shipped directly from, yup you guessed it: Israel. Woohoo! I couldn’t wait to open the package my Aunt had sent. And there it was. A shiny new red leather purse? To match my tacky shoes? I flipped it over. On the other side it had a picture of a “Sabra” (an edible cactus delicacy in Israel - what else does one eat in the desert -sand?) and if that weren’t enough, it read : From Israel With Love. Come on! If Donny and Marie left me a scar for years on my right cheek (yes, I still remember which side it was on) what now, did my family want me to get shot. (Cambodians obviously weren’t fans of Donny and Marie, what would make my mom think they would be fans of Israel?)
So, this red leather purse was a lunch bag that one was to wear draped across the chest and one shoulder. Picture the Euro-Man look with his man purse. (Not that there is anything wrong with that…IN EUROPE, not here.) (Besides, all Italian men are exceptionally good looking, well, most of them. They can wear a Tutu as far as I’m concerned and look “manly”...but I’m still not a fan of the man purse.) Now I had one IN RED, to carry my lunch in.
So, I did as I was told, cheek scarred and all. I carried my soggy hummus pita bread sandwiches, browning apples, a banana and if I was lucky, Ruffles potato chips in a sandwich bag that often smelled of the banana packed along with it. If I was super lucky that day, I got fifty cents for the coke machine to buy a Welch’s grape soda (that went perfectly with Mid-Eastern cuisine).
Thankfully my red leather lunch bag was never stolen and other kids actually thought it was cool or was the word “neat” back then? Really? Ok. It didn’t matter to me that they weren’t cool themselves, of course. My aunt has never sent me another package since then, either. Go figure.
I have long since forgiven my mom for her choices of lunch items and taught her the ways of the white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Costco potato chip variety pack (I think it was Sam’s Club back then or Fedco…I know, I am OLD).
I can only hope that I don’t traumatize my son the way my mom did. At the same time I’m also thankful to the new veggie movement and Trader Joes for making Hummus mainstream. I’ll just pack it for him in between two slices of white bread. And for the record - it is not pronounced ‘HUM miss.’ Please let Trader Joes know. Thank you and thanks to the little Cambodian girl that taught me that different isn’t always good…but sometimes it is.