In our home, at the dinner table, we created a game out of thin air a few years ago. “20 Questions” with the theme of “school lunch” — specifically, what did the girls eat at school that day — is remarkably entertaining and challenging. Tonight it went like this:
Do you eat it with your hands? [I’ve learned this is an excellent first question, separating the sandwiches and breaded meats from the glop.]
Does it come in pieces? [Again, good to distinguish the food groups of a public school cafetorium.]
Yes. [I was on a roll.]
Does it contain a meat? [Some pause — because this is probably the most difficult question to answer in regards to school lunch. When the girls were younger, it seemed almost impossible for them to distinguish. It’s still awfully vague sometimes. Things called “Teriyaki Dippers” are of some unknown variety of meat that the girls simply believe to be wild, free range “Teriyaki.”]
Is it breaded? [Not my usual question, but I felt like I was really narrowing in.]
[Now, I felt confident and simply went forward towards the kill of the vague yet well cooked and coated meat substance.]
Is the meat chicken?
No. [The answer was immediate, with no internal deliberation. That struck me as odd.]
Hot dog pieces? [I had a sudden image of miniature wiener wraps.]
[Now I was really stuck, and after a pause there was a string of quick, panicked questions: Pork? Ham? Quail? Turkey? Lamb? No to all of these. But it was “meat,” and I began to wonder what the fuck kind of meat substance are they feeding my children, or at least beginning to make my children believe to be meat? Then it struck me that my Catholic upbringing and my children’s sense of meat were different.]
[After a lot of thought:] Was it fish?
[Finally, thank God. I now thought I had this figured out.] Was it fish sticks? [I went right to the answer, knowing I had ruled out all possibilities.
What the fuck? [I didn’t really say this, but I’m sure I looked it.]
I mean, was it ‘white’ fish?
What do you mean, ‘no’?
It wasn’t white. Not really.
[I was sure she was completely wrong, misconceived, or messing with me.]
Was it tuna?
[After another long pause and a lot of thought, I asked what I was sure couldn’t possibly be true.] Was it salmon?
What the hell kind of fish are they feeding you at your school? [Again, I didn’t say this, really, but I’m sure I looked it.]
Finally it struck me: Shrimp. Shellfish. Not technically “fish,” but not a cow, either. More like a bug, really, but Anna was at least kind enough to know I wasn’t going to ask “Was it an invertebrate?” I finally answered “popcorn shrimp,” which was close enough to the answer of “shrimp poppers” to get full credit. It was the most interesting problem of the day. I suppose school lunch usually is.