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The Tale of the Almost-Expired Milk

May 18, 2020

This story takes place before faces were on milk cartons. And who thought it was a good idea to do this? Why would you traumatize kids while they’re drinking milk? (image via wikimedia)

My memory isn’t always the most accurate, but I’m pretty sure this happened when I was in sixth grade.  I had a lot of friends in sixth grade, and this story took place in elementary school, and sixth grade back in 1977 was the final grade in elementary school.  This story couldn’t have happened without a bunch of friends around me egging me on.  I had friends in seventh grade too, but that was junior high, and there’s no way this happened in junior high.

The whole thing started when a kid named Kevin sat down with a tray stacked with pint-sized milk cartons from the food line. It was nearing the end of lunch time in the school cafeteria, and everyone except me was done eating.  I have a fast metabolism, so I ate a lot.  If a school gave me 30 minutes to eat, I ate for 30 minutes.  I’ve always been like that.

“They’re giving these away,” Kevin said.  “They expire tomorrow.”  He showed us the expiration date on one of the cartons.

I’d taken only one milk earlier, and I was still eating, so I asked, “Do they have any left?”

“Yeah!” he said excitedly, maybe too excitedly.

A bunch of us got up from the table and rushed to the food line.  I don’t know why everybody was excited about free milk.  I guess it was because it was free.  “Free” makes everything better to a kid.  Most of my friends threw away the milk they got in line every day.  Now they wanted more free milk just because it was there.

The cafeteria ladies gave it to us too.  We asked them to stock our trays with free almost-expired milk, and they did.  They piled the free milk on our trays.  They didn’t even ask us why we wanted so much free milk.  That’s okay.  We wouldn’t have had a reason.

And just so you know, they were all cafeteria ladies.  At least they were female and old.  Back In 1977, no man would work in our school cafeteria.  The men might clean the school, and they definitely did the maintenance and outside stuff, but no men worked in the cafeteria in 1977.  At least not where I lived.  So we called them cafeteria ladies.  And everybody liked it just fine.

Actually, I’m pretty sure not everybody liked it just fine, but I’m getting older, and I’d better start talking like I’m getting older.  It gives the story more of a nostalgic feel.

Looking back (another nostalgic detail), you can learn a lot about bureaucracy from this.  The cafeteria ladies ordered too much stuff, gave most of it away on the final day, and then they ordered too much stuff again because on paper they had run out of it on the last day; that or they adjusted the next order.  Either way, nobody would get in trouble for ordering too much stuff.  It would all look good on paper.  And if the bureaucracy plays funny numbers with milk, they’ll play funny numbers with anything.

But I don’t do math.  I tell stories.  And some of them are even true, like this one.

So a bunch of us boys (no girls were involved with this part of the story) sat at our lunch table with a bunch of full pint-sized milk cartons and maybe ten minutes to do something with them.  We all looked at each other like, what now?  I thought we were going to stack them.  And then knock them down.  That’s what we should have done, built a giant leaning tower of milk cartons and then knocked it down right before the dismissal bell.

When it comes to hundreds of almost-expired milk cartons, there are a lot of bad ideas that kids can get.  And my brain was just starting to get fired up.

Then Kevin started it.  This wasn’t my idea, I promise.  I had a bunch of bad ideas, but this wasn’t one of them.

“”Hey, Jimmy,” Kevin said to me.  “You gonna drink your milks?”

“Some of them,” I said.  I hadn’t even counted all my milks yet, but I was going to drink at least one of them.  I didn’t want to be too wasteful.  Even back in 1977, there was talk about how humans were too wasteful.  If I remember correctly, back in 1977 everything was supposed to have been dead by 1999 because of human wastefulness, so sometimes I get skeptical when I hear people talk about the end of the world.  I remember acid rain, ozone layer depletion, overpopulation, and destruction of the Amazon Rain forest.  We humans were supposed to have destroyed the world by 1999.

The thing is, whenever I mention to doomsayers that we’ve lived an extra 20 years and act like it’s great news, doomsayers get sour (even more-so than normal) and push the date back.  I think now they say we have 12 years, but I’ve lost track.  If we’re still alive in 12 years, they’ll probably get mad.

“I bet I can drink more milks than you,” Kevin said.

Kevin was shorter than I was and kind of pudgy, but he couldn’t put down food like I could.  Or milk.

“No, you can’t,” I said.  I didn’t mean it in an argumentative way.  It was factual.  From anecdotal data that I had witnessed myself, I knew that I could drink more milks than Kevin.  Yeah, there was ego involved too, but I knew he was factually wrong.

“You skinny stick,” he said.  “”There’s no way you can drink as much milk as me.”

You can imagine the circular argument that followed.  And there was only one way to resolve this kind of dispute.  And I’ll get to it in the next episode.

To be continued in The Legend of the Almost-Expired Milk!

From → Dysfunctileaks

9 Comments
  1. Looking back (another nostalgic detail), you can learn a lot about bureaucracy from this. The cafeteria ladies ordered too much stuff, gave most of it away on the final day, and then they ordered too much stuff again because on paper they had run out of it on the last day; that or they adjusted the next order. Either way, nobody would get in trouble for ordering too much stuff. It would all look good on paper. And if the bureaucracy plays funny numbers with milk, they’ll play funny numbers with anything.

    Budgets work the same way. What they do with milk, they also do with money.

  2. I read Moby Dick in Class V. It was in our syllabus. Why shouldn’t I read it? BTW. amazing blog

  3. Doomsayers, yes. No point reminding them of reality. There is always a black helicopter hovering about. No rainbows to be seen. I absolutely hate expired milk, one reason I almost NEVER get it from Walgreen’s, as they only carry Oak Farms, which means you take the expiration date, minus five, and it’s still clumpy by then. Milk should not be clumpy. BTW, in my hundred or so yearbooks, nearly all the cafeteria workers are ladies, and all the men are holding mops and brooms in their portraits. Just the way it was. No lady shop teachers either. And as a woman, guess what? I don’t care.

  4. Great story. I’m hooked and looking forward to remaining. This really brought back memories and you had some great comments on beauracracy and end of the world. Love the perspective through a kids eyes. I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of one culture against the other

    Great title!

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  1. Revenge of the Almost-Expired Milk | Dysfunctional Literacy

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