History Repeats, Again!

History Repeats, Again!
History Repeats, Again!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lunchtime in the Garden of Good and Evil

I saw the true heart of darkness at age eight.
The experience, like much that is evil, started  banal.

There we were: a rabble of elementary school kids waiting in line to buy our milk at lunchtime.

I remember the smell of dry heat rising off the asphalt. I can still see the sunlight filtering through the eucalyptus trees.

Regular milk cost seven cents, chocolate cost a dime.  An older student, the milk monitor, wheeled the cart into the lunch area and solemnly collected money, dispensed milk and made change.

I bought my milk as always and found a shady place to eat my lunch. Most likely, my metal action figure lunchbox contained a cream cheese and jam sandwich on white bread. It’s a good thing I liked this concoction because it had zero trading value with the other kids.

I was eating my Granny Smith when one of the “bad kids” whizzed past me at top speed. He shouted a battle cry and dove onto the milk cart like a cartoon squirrel. The milk monitor jumped aside and the cart took off, rolling and tumbling, sending milk and money in all directions.

Without a second’s thought, every kid within shouting distance shrieked for joy. We jostled each other for the nickels and dimes, chasing them as they rolled and fell on the pavement.

United we stole. No moral quandary. No fear of consequences. In a burst of collective larceny, we stuffed  undeserved windfalls into our pockets.

The distraught milk monitor, a boy who must have been all of twelve years old, tried to restore order, but he could not contain our lawlessness. The coins disappeared as if vacuumed and then, fast as it all started, we returned to our lunches like a cloud of birds.

The poor, defeated boy picked a few remaining pennies from a puddle of spilt milk. He fought back tears and trundled away to face the certain wrath of the cafeteria matron whose dislike for children was as legendary as her soggy fish sticks.

A few good kids came forward to return their ill-gotten gains and suffer a tongue lashing from the principal.

The instigator was caught but showed no remorse. I’m sure he grew up to be a bank robber.

I remained silent and pocketed my winnings. Amazingly, nobody snitched. I don’t know what else I learned in school that day but the infectious power of a mob is something I’ll never forget.