LET ME TAKE YOU on a trip to the past, to a time long ago, sure, when I was in fourth grade.
I don’t know who was in the White House, and I wasn’t really listening to music yet so I can’t say what was popular. I think the nation was entertained by the antics of the Fonz on “Happy Days,” though whether it was still on the air or we all were just watching it in syndication, or maybe on Nick at Nite, I don’t remember. No, wait! It might have been “Frasier.” (Regardless, it was some CBS show.) Fashionable clothes were the style; and Kellogg’s had recently introduced, with surprisingly little fanfare, a new flavor of Pop Tart. So that should sort of set the scene and give you an idea of what life was like back then for a happy-go-lucky fourth grader such as myself.
At school, I guess to generate additional revenue or cut down on wasted food or prevent the lunch ladies from taking home the surplus of each day’s offerings which they probably did (they were mostly Slovak), the lunch program instituted something called “extras” that year. “Extras” were essentially desserts, though why they weren’t just called “desserts” was anyone’s guess.
Our cafeteria monitor, an overwrought, angry woman (I don’t know why), was stationed at the front of the room with a microphone and barked orders at us constantly. “Sit down!” “Quiet!” “Stop throwing food!” “Don’t run!” “Ted, put your pants back on!” In addition to her duties as grade school lunchroom overseer, she also announced these “extras,” oh, about fifteen minutes into our half-hour lunch period.
This particular day, the hot lunch selection included apple fritters – which I’d never had before and was excited to try. I want to say they were the main course, though today that seems unlikely. But remember, this was back then, before we knew you’re not supposed to serve apple fritters as an entrée to grade school children for lunch.
When I sat down at a table with my meal, a classmate – we’ll call him “Hank” – asked me what the things on my tray were. I told him they were apple fritters. “They look like horse balls,” he replied.
I wasn’t sure whether he meant that they resembled the testicles of a horse (they didn’t really – too small), that they could pass for some sort of deep-fried, batter-dipped horse meat (possibly, but how would he know?) or that they looked like horse manure (they, eh, sort of did). I had been looking forward to these apple fritters, and Hank ruined it for me with his comment – whatever he meant. Now I had to eat them and act like I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I did. Who likes eating horse balls, regardless how delicious they are?
Soon the monitor-lady began rattling off the “Extras.” The day’s selections included the usual cookies and Jell-O, and also, yes, apple fritters.
Hank mimicked her loudly (though not loud enough for her to hear).
“Horse balls! Horse balls for extras!” he announced. He’d ruined my meal, sure, but Hank had certainly made up for it by making our entire table including this peppy little fellow erupt into gales of laughter.
And do you know, to this day, no matter where I am, whenever I hear someone call out, “Horse balls! Horse balls for extras!” I’m immediately transported back in time many years ago to my elementary school cafeteria where apple fritters resembling horse balls were I think served as the main course for lunch at school once when I was in fourth grade, and then available for extras.