Set the Record Straight! (6 page)

BOOK: Set the Record Straight!
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“Why it isn't so tasty all the time,” I said in what I hoped
was tactful phrasing.

Bob rolled his eyes, and Marcy leaned back in her seat. “I get
it,” she said. “We're the bad guys in this article, right?”

Michael cocked his head. I guess this wasn't going to go as smoothly as
we had expected. “No, there are no bad guys,” he said. “We know
you're
doing your jobs here, and that it's not
easy.”

“Not easy!” said Marcy. “It's darn near impossible!
We've got bureaucracy coming out of our ears! Every time Mary wants to try
something new, they just shut her down. And the restrictions and regulations!”

Bob shook his head. “Phew!” he said. I guess he was a man of few
words.

Carmen was nodding. “Mary's gotta plan out a menu a year in
advance and have it approved by April so the central ordering can start. It's a
lot of work.”

“We're understaffed,” said Bob.

“The food needs to be healthy, and it can't be imported. There are
standards of how much of each food group each kid needs to get each day, plus portion
control,” explained Carmen.

“We're not allowed to give big portions 'cause kids are
getting obese,” said Marcy. Michael and I exchanged a glance.

“What are some other issues you're dealing with?” Michael
asked quietly. We were on the retreat now instead of the attack. My hand was
already sore from taking notes.

Marcy started ticking things off on her fingers. “Gotta make three meals
a day. Lunch is our biggest meal, but we also serve breakfast and an after-school snack
to kids who need extra help. This might be all the food they get for the day.
That's not a problem you two have, I can see, but there's more of them than
you might know.”

Marcy continued. “We need to look out for allergens—no nuts, no
shellfish in the main course—so that knocks out a lot of possible protein sources
for us. Food needs to be cooked to a certain temperature and kept there because of E.
coli and mad cow disease, so a lot of the food dries out. Those last two are per the
department of health and human services. Oh, and the budgets were all cut this year. We
have no money.”

“Also we have to triple wash produce, so we can't serve anything
fragile, like berries or fancy lettuce, 'cause they don't hold up. You wash
it hard three times, and it falls apart or gets bruised. So it's mostly iceberg
and bananas or apples,” said Carmen.

Oh boy,
I thought.
Serving
lunch food that wasn't
gross was a lot harder than we
thought.

“How long have you been working here?” asked Michael.

“Eighteen years,” said Marcy.

“Twelve,” said Bob.

“Sixteen,” added Carmen.

And none of them knew the name of the school paper! I think my jaw actually
dropped.

“So you must like it here, then?” asked Michael.

“Mary's great to work for,” said Carmen with a smile.
“She really loves food, and she makes it fun.”

“Wow. I'm looking forward to meeting her,” I said.

“So what do you hear from the kids?” asked Carmen. “Is there
anything they like?”

I laughed. “The junk.”

Marcy shook her head sadly.

“That's kids for ya,” said Bob.

“Is there anything you can do to make the food . . . I
don't know . . .” I didn't want to say
“better” because it seemed mean.

“Better?” said Bob, echoing my thoughts.

I laughed. “Yeah.”

Marcy spoke up. “Mary has piles of good ideas.
It's just hard to develop 'em and get 'em approved.”

“Takes lots of time,” agreed Bob.

“And with the budget cuts . . .” Carmen added.

I looked at the three of them. “You guys are dealing with a lot. I have
a whole new appreciation for what you're up against and what you're trying
to accomplish.”

Marcy shrugged. “It's what we do,” she said.

“Four thousand meals a week, counting the one hundred breakfasts and
after-school snacks each day.” Carmen nodded with a wry smile.

I put my forehead in my hand. “And there're only four of
you?” I muttered.

Michael stood, ready to wrap it up. We were heading into complaining
territory, and he always has a nose for when the news is done and the repetitive
complaining takes over. “I have to go to practice, so we're going to have to
go now. Thank you so much for your time and your thoughts,” he said.

I stood and shook hands with Marcy, Carmen, and Bob. “We'll come
find Mary another time,” I said. “And we'll probably have more
questions for
you once we shape up the article. I'll be in
touch if we need a second interview.”

“Thanks for coming,” said Bob. “It's the first time
any of you kids ever talked to us, except to ask for seconds.” He laughed.

“Bye!” Michael and I said in unison.

Out in the hall, I slumped against the wall. “Are you kidding me with
that? I feel terrible now that I know what they're up against,” I said to
Michael.

He nodded. “It's crazy. But it's still not an excuse for bad
food,” he added.

“That's pretty harsh,” I said.

He shrugged. “I don't know. You've got to stay
objective.”

“I'd love to hear
your
thoughts on how
they could improve it,” I said. I knew I was being a little testy, but why did he
have to be so mean about the poor cafeteria people? At least they were trying!

“I'd love to hear Mary's,” Michael said, “but
she blew us off.”

“Is that what you think?” I asked.

“You never know,” he said.

“Wow. That's a pretty negative
attitude.”

“I'm just saying you never know. You've got to keep your
antennae up at all times, Sam. Don't let your emotions get the best of
you.”

Ha! Me? Emotions? I'm all about facts. I'm all about being
objective!

Michael looked at me, like he was going to say something else, but then he
decided not to. “Look, journalists are there to report, not to get
involved.”

I set my jaw firmly. “That's not necessarily true. Journalists get
involved all the time. And then they print stories that make change happen.”

Michael looked at me for an extra second. “I've gotta go,”
he said.

“Bye,” I said, looking away.
Journalists
at War!

Were we in a fight? I wondered as I walked away. It felt weird. I was annoyed
at him for being uncaring, but a tiny part of me
did
worry
that he was a better reporter than me. Michael was right. I shouldn't have let
myself feel sorry for the cafeteria workers. And now I was mad because I was embarrassed
at being caught
making a rookie mistake. But how are you going to
write about things if you can't feel them yourself? I know journalists need to
remain objective, but they need to care, too. It's a really hard balance to
keep.

I thought of Tired, and that maybe I was caring too much about her mean notes.
Maybe it was time for me to toughen up and take charge! Why hide from my
responsibilities, just because I was scared off by the rantings of some nut job?
Journalists get letters from kooks all the time!

The
Cherry Valley Voice
office is usually empty at
that time of day. I took a left and strode down the hall toward the office. My heels
struck the floor hard, and rang in the emptiness. I was trying to be brave. But as I
drew closer to the office, I decided I'd only check e-mails. (Yes, I knew Tired
only wrote letters but still. It was a start!)

At the office, I unlocked the door, took a quick look around, and seeing no
one there, I went to the computer that was farthest away, and logged into the server,
then I accessed the Know-It-All file with my password. “Bring it on, Tired,”
I
muttered, confident I'd find nothing.

The computers are slow in the
Cherry Valley Voice
office, so I gazed at the posters on the newsroom wall while I waited for the e-mails to
load. Like the one in Mr. Trigg's office, these were mostly British World War II
posters (“Loose Lips Sink Ships!” and “Keep Calm and Carry On”).
They were kind of inspiring.

Feeling brave, I glanced back at the screen to see if it had loaded, and I
gasped.

There were forty-two new e-mails in the file.

And they were all from Tired.

Chapter 7

IMPARTIALITY IMPOSSIBLE FOR JUVENILE JOURNALIST

I could feel myself turning bright red—whether
from embarrassment or fear or anger, or a combination of all three, I wasn't sure.
I just knew I couldn't breathe. All my bravery and objectiveness had
evaporated.

My hands shook as I clicked on the first e-mail, starting from the
bottom.

Why are you Know-It-All, anyway? You're probably ugly and stupid, and
no one likes you.

I cringed. Nervously I clicked on the next e-mail. The next one said:

YOU ARE A FAILURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And the next one:

I hate you, Know-It-All. You ruined my life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tears pricked my eyes. My hands were shaking so badly, I had to fold them
together. I had ruined someone's life with my dumb advice! I thought I was so
snappy and clever, and look what I did! Now this person, Tired, was coming totally
unglued. I wanted to read all of the e-mails, but I was too scared. If these were the
first three, I could only imagine what number forty-two looked like. Part of me wanted
to read them, just to punish myself, but the rational part of my brain knew that this
person had gone crazy. and I should keep away.

Tears poured out of my eyes as I shut the computer down, locked up the office,
and then fled the
Voice
office. I wiped my face on my sleeve
and prayed I wouldn't run into anyone. I had almost
reached
the front door of the school when I saw someone ahead of me, and it was too late for me
to turn away and hide. It was an adult, with long blond hair in a braid. Marcy, from the
cafeteria.

Oh my gosh, I wanted to die. I blotted my eyes on my sleeve again, just as she
turned to see who was coming up behind her.

“Hey, honey,” she said with a smile, but her friendly expression
quickly changed to one of concern. “What's the matter, baby? Are you all
right?”

I nodded, my lips pressed into a fake smile, but tears were streaming down my
face again. I never, ever cry, but every once in a while, it all comes out, and then I
can't stop. I could already tell that this was going to be one of those times.

Marcy was looking closely at me, with a worried frown on her face. “Can
I help you? Is there anything you need?” She bent down and put a comforting hand
on my shoulder.

I shook my head, still trying to smile through my tears.
“I'm . . . okay . . . It's
just . . . dumb,” I said, trying not to sob.

“Oh, honey.” She reached into her purse,
pulled out a packet of Kleenex, and handed me a wad of them. I mopped my eyes and took
big, ragged breaths.

“Here,” she offered me a mint, and I took that, too.

“Thanks,” I croaked.

“Would you like me to call someone for you? Do you need a
ride?”

I shook my head no. “I'm fine,” I said.

Marcy laughed a little. “You don't look fine!”

I laughed a little too, and then gulped. “It's just one of those
things.”

Marcy bit her lip thoughtfully. “I wouldn't want to be your age
again for all the tea in China,” she said. “Things are rough in middle
school. I see it all the time in the cafeteria. Kids don't notice us. We're
invisible. So we see people doing things—being mean to other kids, bullying,
falling in love, breaking up. It's hard going through all that stuff, especially
for the first time.”

I nodded and took a deep breath. My tears were under control now. As long as I
didn't think
about the e-mails from Tired, I could be okay. I
could make it home.

“Okay now, honey?” Marcy tilted her head and looked at me. She was
obviously a mom.

“Yes,” I said with a big sigh.

She reached out and patted me on the head. “It gets easier. I
promise,” she said with a smile. “And hey, I have good news! Mary called.
She's putting a suggestion box in the cafeteria tomorrow!”

I managed a smile. “Great! Thanks!”

“All right now, I'm off. Feel better, okay?”

“Thanks, Marcy.”

We walked out into the late afternoon sunshine. It was chilly, and that made
me feel better. I wished I had sunglasses to hide my red eyes.

“See you tomorrow!' Marcy called, and she walked toward her
car.

I waved. So much for not getting emotionally involved with your subjects.
Michael would have a fit if he knew I'd been practically sobbing at school on
Marcy's shoulder.
Impartiality Impossible for Juvenile
Journalist.

All the way home—it's six blocks to 17
Buttermilk Lane—I speed-walked, singing a dumb Katy Perry song in my head to keep
pace. Anything, just so I didn't have to think.

At home I opened the door, ran upstairs, and threw myself onto my bed, where I
sobbed for fifteen minutes. Between arguing with Michael and the e-mails from Tired, it
was the worst day ever. So what did I do?

I fell sound asleep.

BOOK: Set the Record Straight!
3.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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