The Lunch Bunch
"You got yer deep fried turkey." "Yer cream style turkey." "Yer turkey fried steak." "Would you guys shut-up!" says Fran with her fingers stuck in her ears. We continued. "You got yer turkey frikasee." "Yer turkey loaf." "Yer turkey a-la-king." "Stop it", she says, head down, fingers still in her ears. "What's your problem?" we said. "What did you say?" she says. We were innocent. All we were doing was helping her out with her wedding plans during our lunch hour. You would think that Fran would have appreciated our drive and our passion. The way we saw it, both the ceremony and the reception could take place out on the front lawn under the big circus tent that they would be setting up for the giant textile sale for all of us employees to comb through with our employee discount, before the public was invited. Wow. We used to buy nice sets of sheets with the kind of thread counts meant for rich folks and plush towels from that sister company of ours, before she was twice removed. Or maybe we were twice removed. All I know is somebody broke up with somebody. Those were the days. Hell, Fran could have had her gift registry in that tent and gotten some real nice stuff. But, she had a valid point. We had been beating the Forest Gump, one thousand ways to use up your leftover turkey, to a pulp, for a week. It's a tough habit to break. "I am not getting married here," she says. "And I am not serving turkey at my reception." There are some people that you just can't please. No matter how hard you try. Fran was one of them. Think of all the money you and Grant will save," says Sammy. "Don't start up again," she says, holding her perfect palms out. "I don't mean to brag, but these hands of mine, were in a magazine advertisement back in their day," she once told me. We were all seated at our favorite round table in the cafeteria. The first one beyond the condiment island. A gravitational pull, named Fran, held the six of us together over lunchtime in that very spot for a few consecutive years. It was during the, Tony was the short order breakfast cook, era. He had daily specials too. "Saur kraut again," complained Bea. "It stinks in here." "I love saur kraut!" I would say. Sammy was the only male in our circle of chairs. There was never one wavy hair on that thick head of hair of his, out of place. He never had a wrinkle in a shirt. And there was seldom a day that he didn't have a twinkle in his eye. "If I don't find a woman by the time I turn fifty," he liked to say. "Which is next August." "We know," we would groan. "I'm going to turn gay. At least that'll double my odds." "You can double zero a million times, Sammy," I would say. "But it still adds up to zero." Sunny and Prin both had coarse, almost black hair. Prin's was short with bangs and it framed a face that had a few fun freckles sprinkled around and rich chocolatey eyes. "So last night I was icing my cookies," she starts to say. Prin loved to bake. "And...." "Is that what you call it these days?" says Sammy. "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha." Sunny's same almost black hair, jutted straight out and down and it stopped abruptly, just before it touched a shoulder. "Yeah," she was saying. "So, we were all sitting up in a tree at the park, smoking my mom's cigarettes that day and...." "If I don't find a woman by the time I turn fifty," Sammy says again. "I am going to turn gay. And I told my friend Bob, you know Bob, that he is the first guy I am going to go after. And Bob asked me when my birthday was. And I told him it's August 11th. And told me that he's going to jump off a bridge on August 10th." "Like I said, zero times zero is still zero." "So we were up in the tree smoking cigarettes and..." Our table was the place we all told our stories. And we had lots of them. Between the six of us we had a bunch of marriages. And a bunch of divorces. Fran and I discovered that we'd both been married at nineteen by the same priest. The priest with the prettiest blue eyes on this green earth. And when we both said, "I do," we both meant "I do," to Father Gardner. Fran was easy to tease. She never really got mad. Well except maybe she was that one morning when she found her stuffed animals doing the forbidden number of sixty-nine, on top of her keyboard. "Sammy!" I heard her yell. Who brings their stuffed animals to work? She had a blonde pixie cut and has owned every Coach purse that has ever been designed. She can spit out a patchwork quilt on her sewing machine faster than Stephen King can write a book. And then there was Bea. Bea was the quiet one at the table. She had kinky-brown hair that went past her shoulders to the middle of her back. She always wore a rubber band on her wrist. And she spent most of our break snapping it. "This," she claimed, "is the only thing that keeps me from killing people." Bea was the keeper of the lunch bunch dream book. Because it was hers. Did you know that every dream revolves around sex? It's true. She once deciphered one of my Sweet Sven's dreams for me. "So," I said. "He was in a long abandoned school hallway. He was going from door to door trying open them. But they were all locked. And then the next thing he knew, he was pedaling a bike on a deserted country road while eating a peach. He spit the seed out on the pavement. And woke up." Well guess what? My husband is a lesbian trapped inside the body of a man. And he has always wanted to be pregnant. Sven denies this. But Bea said it's his subconscious. So he just doesn't know it. And there was that dream that Sammy had. The one that I was in. He said I was wearing a white dress and I was climbing stair cases that led to nowhere. I didn't slap him right there at the table. But I did say, "Sammy, if you have one more dream like that about me. I am going to have to report you to the PPC." The PPC was the new name for our Human Resource Department. Which Sammy said stands for peanuts, punch and cake. Which is what they always served at all the anniversary celebrations. Which we never missed. That round table is where I heard the famous snail joke. It is where we came to realize that Fran's son's girlfriend was a serial killer. "She is not!" Fran would say. "She is real nice. She is a quiet girl. She keeps to herself." And that is what people always say about their serial killer neighbors. Thank God they broke up. It is the place we commiserated about our jobs, our kids and our lives. Sammy being outnumbered with our female voices would often talk to himself about having had slashed his wrists the night before. Nobody would pay any attention to him. Next he would have plugged in his toaster while sitting in his bathtub. Not a head would turn. And then he'd finally have called The Suicide Hotline to save him. "They showed up at my place about ten o'clock," he would say. "Who did?" It is the table where great minds came up with great plans. It's the spot where the idea for Sammy to ride the United Way raffle prize, the bike with the big bow on the handle bars, through the office, ringing the bell, was born. Although he got a note in his file about it, it was not the reason he was fired. He was canned a few years later. It had something to do with restructuring and he was the odd man out. It was also not the reason that Fran up and quit one day. That had something to do with a bunch of bull shit. It was also not the reason that Prin left. Then came back as a contractor. And then left again And it had nothing to do with the day the carpet was pulled out from underneath Sunny's feet either. Riding that bike was just a great idea that we thought of at that table. Now there are just two of the original lunch bunch who still eat lunch together. Bea and I don't sit at our favorite round table on the other side of the condiment island, with Tony serving up his Saur kraut and hot dogs anymore. The cafeteria is just a big room with a bunch of vending machines now. We dine in the small break room under blankets no matter the season. The lunch bunch glory days are in our past. But the good new is, that quiet girl, the one who keeps to herself. The one who always wore a rubber band on her wrist. The one who used to say, "It's the only thing that keeps me from killing people," no longer wears a rubber band on her wrist. And she has never killed anybody. I know this. If she did, she'd tell me. Because that would be a perfect topic for her to bring up while pouring vinaigrette over her spinach salad topped with strawberries and cashews. Or while spreading her can of hot Thai tuna onto a couple of crackers with her plastic fork. Right? And when I hear the commercial on the radio that says, "If lunch is your favorite part of the day, it's time for a career change," I think, "What are you talking about? What job is out there that could possibly be better than lunch?" Because the bond shared by the people at your table, big or small, discussing lives in common over leftovers and plastic sporks, if you can find one, is big. The same people who one minute will have you laugh spraying your milk across the room, will also visit you in the hospital. They will show up at your loved one's funeral. They will turn your pictures into 300 DPI at the drop of a hat. And they will go miniature golfing with you if you give them a call. Cuz that's just the way it is. "You got yer turkey gizzards." "Yer turkey dumplings." "Yer turkey tetrazzini." "Would you guys shut up!" "You got yer turkey roll ups." "Yer turkey omlets." "Yer turkey pancakes. "Pancakes?" "You got yer steamed turkey." "Yer boiled turkey." "Yer turkey meatballs." "How many times do I have to tell you people. I am not getting married here. And I am not serving any turkey at my wedding." "You got yer turkey crepes...." "Bea, give me your rubber band!"