I should have known my friend Bart Grawey was on the level when he said we should eat lunch at Peoria Notre Dame High School. Him being right about the ease with which one alumni and one partial-alumni (me) can enter the building, get visitor passes and have a midday meal in the cafeteria didn’t make the experience any less bizarre or hilarious, though.
We pulled up and parked in the horseshoe near the front door. Bart took the last parking spot there, so I left my car in the lane. There’s a buzzer at the front door—a new addition since the last time Bart ate lunch there—and we walked in behind a student who was granted access. Bart explained to the receptionist that we were alumni (he graduated; I left for Richwoods after my sophomore year), and we were there for lunch. It was “Chicken Thursday,” after all. We got our visitor passes, taped them to our chests and got in line.
Chicken Thursday is somewhat of an institution. And I have no idea why. The patties are of the cheap, frozen, breaded variety and they crank them out in assembly line fashion each week. Some of my more grotesque classmates smashed the chicken burgers to make them go down easier—in attempt to become a Catholic Kobayashi. Urban legend has the sliders being consumed in impromptu eating contests. Bart remembered someone setting the record at eight sandwiches in a lunch period. Another friend thought the number was 15. I got two and a bowl of mashed potatoes with gravy that isn’t quite white and definitely not brown.
Without barbecue sauce you’re pretty much eating clucking-based, de-feathered cardboard. So if you find yourself sitting down on a Chicken Thursday in the future be liberal with the red stuff. The sandwich wasn’t as good as I remember, which is probably something you can say about high school in general.
After lunch we roamed the halls for a bit, reminiscing about teachers that loathed or loved us. No one really blinked an eye as we wandered the hallowed learning halls from my youth. We ran into a friend of mine who’s a teacher there and he showed us his room. He ganked his desk from Ms. Schallau, who was a driver’s ed teacher back in my day and probably still is.
That desk is the schoolhouse equivalent of a 1973 Buick—big, bulky, heavier than a trip to rehab and as reliable as a carpenter’s ball peen hammer. It is made of steel, sweat and the American Dream.
After walking back through the cafeteria we made our way to the gym, and past the loading dock where we used to sneak off to in order to puff cigs. Good times, man. Good times...
Remember pickleball? For some reason that was a thing. As were all-school masses in this gym, where the temperature would climb to Costa Rican heights and hustlin’ kids like Bart and I would take bets on which asthma-ridden student would pass out from the heat and lack of oxygen. Sometimes you gotta sacrifice a few moments of consciousness for the Big Guy upstairs.
Speaking of the Big Guy, several of his more formally-dressed minions were seen in the halls of PND. Yes, just like those boys in that Thin Lizzy song, the nuns are back in town. Bart spotted one before me and blurted out “Holy shit, dude, they’ve got fucking nuns again.” Luckily no one but us heard the exclamation, or else we’d have had some detentions to serve.
We then strolled to the side of the school where the big kids roam like wild tigers hungry for prey. I never made it over there when I was a student in this high school. My junior and senior years were (sometimes) spent in the classrooms and hallways of Richwoods High School. As we looked up at Bart’s graduating class on the wall all kinds of memories came flooding back—most of them about what are now probably-married-women and the not-so-holy things we wanted to do to them. Only the Big Guy knows what the hall monitor thought as we discussed some of the less than godly aspects of our high school heartthrobs.
As remembrances of past flings flowed forth, so did the students. We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a chaotic class change and the cacophonic noise of youth that accompanies it. Kids switched their books, slammed lockers shut and disappeared behind doors to classrooms. In an empty hall Bart found a paper airplane, picked it up and flung it through the air.
“We better get going,” I said in a somewhat cautious tone. “Don’t want to be late to class.”