Eating Garbage

Eating Garbage

Hey. I’m the Bossman. That’s book, baby.

Naismith Hall, Kansas University, Fall 1966

“We will never run out of food,” stated a brochure for Naismith Hall, a newly opened, private dormitory named after basketball’s inventor, James Naismith. I was a big basketball fan—one of the reasons I attended KU—and in the fall semester of my freshman year, Naismith Hall seemed like a good place to work. This would be my first job in the food service industry. I had no qualifications other than the fact that I was a student with a pulse who had properly filled out an application form.

The promise of delicious, plentiful meals was a motivating factor for choosing to work this gig but once hired, I was given a choice of compensation: either $1.00 per hour or free meals. Though $1.00 an hour was below the federal minimum wage standard, the state of Kansas didn’t bother with such trivialities. I chose the money option. What 18-year-old didn’t want an extra $10 or $15 bucks in their pocket in 1966?

It rankled me, though, when I witnessed trays of perfectly good chicken fried steak, that moments before had been served to the darlings, now must be thrown out. These were the rules. But rules are for fools. When nobody was looking, I planned on feasting.

One of my duties was trash detail. I was instructed to throw out everything that had gone un-eaten except pie and cake, which had a two-day shelf life: A costly lunch item one minute, became garbage the next minute. My system was simple: I lined the inside of an empty five gallon can of vegetables or fruit with paper napkins, nonchalantly filled the can with uneaten cheeseburgers—the most popular lunch item—carefully placed the can in the trash barrel, wheeled the trash out to the garbage dock, pulled out the can of cheeseburgers, then took one bite of 25 different burgers. Seemed less wasteful then eating two entire burgers and throwing away 23 whole ones. I also ravaged the day-old cakes and pies.

When the staff bakers made banana bread for the dorm, I requested they save the peels for me. Time magazine (I think) had published an article about various methods that “today’s youth” were experimenting with to catch a buzz. The inside of the banana peel was purported to have a psychedelic component. The baker ladies thought I was crazy, which I was just beginning to realize—I was. I scraped the insides of a dozen peels, put the scrapings on a tray, baked them for a few minutes, emptied the tobacco from a filter cigarette, filled it with the baked inner peel stuff, went out on the back dock and proceeded to give myself a sore throat. Much more pleasure could be derived from actually eating the banana. The same magazine article also suggested cigarettes soaked in vanilla extract and some concoction of rotted green pepper were buzzworthy. They weren’t. Obviously, I had no weed connection yet.

The food service manager at Naismith was a short guy with a crew cut named Preston. This guy was an archetype of a square. There was not a molecule of hipness in his DNA. I’m sure he went through life without listening to Miles Davis, visiting Amsterdam or ingesting DMMDA. He had a white face and rosy cheeks and always wore a gray suit. Or maybe every suit turned gray when he put it on. I had just turned 18; he was about 28. He thought I was some cool guy because instead of saying “cool,” I would say “boss,” a term I had picked up listening to WVON (the Voice of the Negro) in Chicago. Then he found out my nickname, recently given to me at my fraternity, was Bossman. He called me Bossman and thought he was cool by doing this.

During one back dock feast, after I had shoved an unbelievable amount of food into my always hungry mouth, Preston burst through the back-dock door. I jumped off the dock with my back to the boss. “Hey, Bossman,” he said. “Do we need to do something about all the sweat bees out here?” My mouth was too full for a reply, so I began to furiously swat at imaginary sweat bees while flailing around the dumpster, where I bent down low and spit out the contraband. “Yes, the bees are bad today,” I answered with a straight face, licking a smear of chocolate from the corner of my mouth.

Being a wise ass, I decided to coin a new adjective just for Preston—book. Man, that’s book. I wanted to hear him exclaim that something was “book.” When one day he informed me that he was feeling book, I felt that I had learned something about human behavior but wasn’t sure what.