Glendale Secondary2

Hands down, the school cafeteria was my favourite place at Glendale High School, just ahead of the Band Room and WAY ahead of the sour sweat-stinky gymnasium.

After the 4th or 5th period of classes, I’d go to my locker and grab the brown paper bag lunch my Mom had made me and head to the cafeteria with Jerome, Renato or Frank (my Ukrainian, Italian, and Hungarian friends) or whichever of my friends was in my last class before lunch.

Passing through the grey-metal, glass-windowed cafeteria door was like entering a whole different world. All thoughts of books or homework assignments dissipated when I was first hit with the heady scent of french fries and gravy wafting through the air, aggressively pushing back at the school hallway’s scent of Dustbane.

There were plenty of calories in our lunch bags to get us through the school day: sandwich, homemade chocolate-chip cookies, muffin, apple. Still, we rushed to the front of the cafeteria and took our place in the line leading up to Mrs. Jack standing behind the serving counter in her blue cotton front-zippered shift. She lived up to her Scottish stereotype by dishing up meagre servings of hotly fragrant french fries into white cardboard boat containers like you get at the beach in summer. We’d always smile sweetly at her – even though we didn’t really like her – and beg her to add more of the crisp, golden potato delicacies to our boat and then go fill whatever gaps existed between the fries with great squirts of ketchup, or nose-pungent vinegar, then sit at the long lines of parallel tables beside other kids.

french-fries2

Just a few more, OK Mrs. Jack???

In my blue-collar “lunch-bucket” Hamilton hometown high school, the tables were filled with Slavic kids with garlic-smelly meat sandwiches. Or Italian boys with names that always ended with the letter “O”…Mario, Angelo, Ezio, Vito.

We’d talk about important things like Mr. Mason’s little coloured peg “rewards” for correct answers in French class or Carole J.’s amazing breasts. Talking about them was the closest I was ever going to get to those babies.

Didn’t everyone go to a Glendale High School …

where cafeterias were staffed by middle-aged Mrs. Jack’s, where the echoing din of voices of hundreds of hormonal teenagers gathered to gab and gossip? And to munch on the chocolate- or caramel-chemical cake sensations Jos. Louis or Ah Caramel?

jos-louis

Probably not… but for a long time I thought they did.

  • I thought that everyone lived just like me in my insignificant east-end “Steel City” home.
  • I thought the whole world was the same as what I could see out my window.
  • I thought that sticky, hot, humid summers and wet, slushy winters were everywhere and all-the-time.

I entered the world naked and clueless, not knowing anything other than what I was surrounded by.

And then one day I accidently stumbled and fell through the looking glass and found a whole new, shiny world that had only existed for me in fancy fiction books, glossy magazines, and newspapers. Like the change of black and white to rainbow-hued Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz.

And not just one new world but a whole big gamut of new worlds and new people and new experiences.

And there would be no going back. No Larry, you can never go home again.

At the age of 20, I finished my medical lab certification at local Mohawk College and then, almost on a whim, went north to spend just a few months in the Canadian arctic before I would return forever to the warm, comfortable womb of my childhood years.

But instead of returning home, I went to Europe and backpacked my way across and around that continent. I married a great lady from British Columbia and went to live in her beautiful mountainous homeland. Later on I ventured to South America and spent time with Incan ancestors in the Andes for a few months. I travelled to China and drank snake wine. I voyaged on boats around warm southern islands. I ate cod cheeks and tongues and bakeapples in Newfoundland.

Arctic Larry

Two + years in the arctic changed my icy heart…

I was changed. I was new. I was improved.

The look out my home’s window wasn’t a whole lot different, but my outlook on the world was transformed.

We’re all going to be dead in 100 years. Everything and everyone we know will be gone, and we’ll just be an eighth note in the symphony of existence. I want my eighth note to be memorable, because I was given this time through the lottery of life. There won’t be a second coming for this non-Buddhist.

We live our lives with expectations and a belief in things moving forward as they have in the past. If I hadn’t left my home city when I finished college, I wouldn’t have changed and I would have lived a lesser life. Not a bad or worthless life, but totally different and less rich with experiences.

One of the life lessons I’m FINALLY coming to realize through my running is that we can’t keep doing the same things and expecting the outcome to change. If I don’t change my training habits, I’ll likely not improve my running results … if I live my life the same way I always have or as others tell me I should, then the results too will be the same. Expanded experiences develop my tolerance muscles.

I’m frightened by change. I get palpitations when confronted by new challenges or experiences. But I’m excited by it too.

We can spend our entire lives in our own backyards. It’s easy to do. Historically, a major reason why we’ve had wars and racism and intolerance and why different countries and different religions fight against each other and amongst themselves is that we’ve never left our own sandbox and climbed into someone else’s. There’s usually a good reason why they like brown sand and I like white sand, but I’ll never know the reason until I sit down and make a sandcastle out of brown sand.

I’d love to go back and have Mrs. Jack serve me up some hot, salty french fries in the cafeteria of Glendale High School. It would be great to sit and be kids again with all of my old multi-ethnic friends.

But what’s really cool is that I’ve discovered that I can pass through cafeteria doors anywhere in the world and love the french fries wherever I go, and I kind of like where the salty winds have carried me so far.

korea-french-fry-party

Now this is MY idea of a french fry feed…

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