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This item originally appeared in the November 4, 2004 issue of The Tech Talk.

So, you stayed up late last night studying for that big economics test just to sleep through it. You may as well go to the cafeteria and grab something to eat.

I mean, you gotta eat. Besides, the folks in the cafeteria don't care if you're still in your pajamas and you haven't showered yet. Chances are no one will notice you anyway.

Yeah, right.

As soon as you pick up your tray and the nice lady who serves you slides some mystery meat on your plate, you realize it's just not your day. You probably should have opted for a candy machine lunch.

But since you're here you may as well have a seat and choke down something. Minutes later you look at your watch and realize you've got five minutes to get to the GTM building and up to the second floor.

You stand quickly, grab your book bag and tray of half-eaten food and run into some kid with a "Hey, what's your problem?" look on his face.

And then, to your horror, the once riotous cafeteria grows deathly calm, waiting to see how you'll react to the smashed mixture of corn and gravy on your new pink Tech hoodie and the chocolate milk trickling to the ground from the now empty tray that is dangling from your trembling hand.

Then the crowd erupts. If this had been any other day, you might have been able to muster up enough courage to laugh or maybe even bow in recognition of your applauding onlookers. But all you want to do at this moment is fall through the linoleum floor and die.

I've been there. Only it was mashed potatoes on my favorite jeans and in the middle of the evening rush. After my tray clattered to the floor, I paused. Then the applause, snickers and comments like, "Hey! Smooth move, Butterfingers!" bellowed around me like the steam coming from the macaroni and cheese being heated on a cafeteria hotplate.

Before that day, I had no idea that my face could turn purple without my air supply being cut off. Well, I've never been especially graceful, but that particular incident, I'm sure, has scarred me for life.

But I've learned my lesson. I've decided to never drop anything ever again. Not that I haven't dropped a cup or eight since "the incident," but I have resolved to hold my tray with both hands and make sure there is a clear path from my seat to the counter where the discarded trays reside.

When I'm in the cafeteria and I hear that all too familiar cling and clatter, I'm not the one to scour the area to search for the poor, uncoordinated soul responsible.

Instead, I turn my attention to the lucky ones, the ones born with enough poise to keep their lunch tray upright, to see how they react. I discovered that they don't always have the same response as the above.

Sometimes they are too busy rushing to class to make fun of the kid who dropped his cup of Powerade. Sometimes they do nothing at all.

So, on the off-chance that anyone is reading this while in the cafeteria, I have come up with a few tips.

1. Eat everything on your plate. If there is nothing on your plate, how can you drop all your food?

2. Remain calm and make as little noise as possible. If they don't hear you, they don't see you.

3. Breathe. Sometimes hyperventilating is funnier than having potato salad in your lap.

4. Flee. If all else fails, bolt it outta there (avoiding the pile of food and dishes on the floor, of course).

If you are ever in the cafeteria, look for me. I'll be the one with a troubled expression on my face waiting in the beverage line, juggling a tray. Happy eating!

Rindy Metcalf is a junior journalism major from Bossier City and serves as a news editor for The Tech Talk. E-mail comments to rdm018@latech.edu.


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