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SCHOOL LUNCH ALONE IS FRESH AND RARING TO GO ON MONDAY

There are few things in this world that are at their best on Monday. Absenteeism on the job is up. Many beauty shops and restaurants close. An author once advised, "Never buy a car that comes off the assembly line on Monday."

There is at least one exception: school lunches. Monday is as good as they're going to get. The bologna is fresh. The bread hasn't been frozen. The four basic food groups are all there. And the paper bag is new, usually with a happy-face smile and the kid's name on it.Mommy is in top form at the beginning of the week . . . making little palm trees out of the pickles and stuffing the celery with cream cheese. There are chips in individual bags and pudding in hermetically sealed containers. There is enough food to feed the faculty.

On Tuesday, there are subtleties that indicate Mommy is putting less into it. Just little things. There's no napkin with a toothpick in it. There is a repeat of the bologna, but the rind is still on. The cookies you didn't eat the day before have crumbled, but they're back in the lineup.

By Wednesday, the supplies are getting low. You have a sandwich made from two bread heels with a piece of cheese jammed in the middle. Fruit flies follow the banana everywhere; they want to be with it when it goes. There is also a thermos of soup. This isn't like Mom. When the contents are revealed, it turns out to be cream of broccoli, which has been on the pantry shelf for three years. This is like Mom.

At the bottom of the bag is a piece of candy with a witch on a broomstick that reads "Happy Halloween."

Somehow you sense Thursday's lunch isn't going to be great when you notice Mom has thrown it in an oversize plastic bag that she brought the new bedroom pillows in. She has also misspelled your name. Inside is a pork chop sandwich with the bone left in. A plastic bag contains the two pieces of asparagus you left on your plate the night before.

You have to give it to the kids who finish out the week. For many years I volunteered in school cafeterias, and the Friday lunch carriers were among the most admired in the school. You could smell peanut butter, but you couldn't see it. Bread often had ice on it. Carrots had the consistency of overcooked pasta. The kids ate quickly on Fridays.