The Hot Lunch Lady And the Ice-Cream-Sandwich Scam (an oldie but a – well, you know, one of my favorites)


By Jennifer DuBose

Columnist and blogger

Originally posted May 22, 2008

Do I have "sucker" stamped on my forehead?  Am I a pushover?  Do I look like I was born yesterday?  Apparently the kids at our elementary school think so.

The morning I was slated to make my debut as a hot-lunch lady, Noah asked if I would sneak him an extra dessert at lunch time.

"No way pal.  I'll be sent to the school volunteer hall of shame," I replied.  To his credit he didn't lobby later for an extra dessert, but he did laugh at me when I whispered that I was having a devil of a time and couldn't believe I'd been royally scammed out of some ice cream sandwiches by a bunch of little kids.

Hot-lunch duty isn't for the faint of heart.  Now I understand why all of the lunch ladies of my youth were so crabby and beady-eyed.  It's hard work, especially when the kids try to scam you for an extra dessert.

"Make sure they actually have a hot-lunch," a veteran hot-lunch Mom warned.  How hard could that be, I wondered?  I found out, twenty minutes into my first shift as a lunch-lady. By then I'd perfected the lunch-lady 'look': the 'should I believe you?' gaze where I search the soul of another, discerning the purity of his heart.

"I know you.  I know your Mother!  Hand it over, pal," I heard myself say, to a kid who already had ice-cream smeared on his fibbin' face.  Here's the pathetic part:  I actually have advanced training in school counseling.  I supposedly know how to relate to school children.  Nowhere in my books does it explain how to wrestle an ice-cream sandwich away from a 90- pound fourth grader, however.  That should be required reading, if you ask me.  (The ice-cream sandwich only suffered a minor dent, by the way.  The poor kid gave up when he realized how serious I was.)

By the time I got to the next table I was on to them.  The kids all waved their eager little hands in the air, the 'I'm ready for dessert' signal, but this time, not only did I look down to make sure they actually had a hot lunch, I also scanned for empty ice-cream sandwich wrappers.  "Not so fast, buddy, you already had yours," I smugly smiled.

Figuring I had the ice-cream-sandwich-scam licked, I confidently gave in to a doe-eyed little girl who approached me with her friend and asked ever-so-sweetly for dessert.

"You haven't had one yet?" I asked, bending down to get a better look at her.  I shoulda stopped in my tracks as we all walked back to the freezer, when out of the corner of my new beady eye I spotted her grinning triumphantly at her friend behind my back.  Had I been scammed again?  I scanned her face for clues as I s-l-o-w-l-y handed over the cold dessert, but got nothing.  She just smiled and thanked me.

Ready for a break, I leaned back against the wall next to another hot-lunch newbie.  We laughed about how deceptively difficult hot-lunch duty actually is.

"Looks like she got ya too," she snickered, nodding in doe-eyed-girl's direction.

"No way!" I said, whipping my head around to see what she meant.  Sure enough, doe-eyed girl had brought a lunch box from home.

That does it.  I'm playing hooky the next time I'm called for hot-lunch duty.

Kids Eat Chicago

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