Max Sticks: Proof that either God is not real, or does not love us.
I have food trust issues. Some people accuse me of being a germophobe, or being a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to sharing (or not sharing) food with others. I don’t like to sample people’s food when they offer it to me, I frequently avoid eating dinner at other people’s homes, and if I share my food, or someone touches it, it’s now theirs. Why is that? I can’t say for certain. But I can definitely point to “Max Sticks” as one of the reasons.
For the uninitiated, Max Sticks are essentially big mozzarella sticks that were endured by many Generation Z pupils in elementary schools across the United States during lunch time. People might not call them “Max Sticks,” as I grew up in Albuquerque, but they certainly will recognize them on sight. To call them mozzarella sticks is an insult to the culinary craft, which is saying something, considering the mediocrity of mozzarella sticks.
The edibility factor of a Max Stick depends on its preparation; at best, it’s an overcooked doughy mess with hard chunks of mozzarella cheese inside that can be dipped in cheap marinara sauce, served at a lukewarm temperature. But at worst, it can be a haunting and life-changing experience, which is precisely what I had to endure. Yes folks, this has become a case of good old fashioned character-building CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
I attended St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School for 7 years as a happy-go-lucky eccentric kiddo. The school was a pretty financially depleted institution, as many of the schools in New Mexico are, but I owe fantastic memories to it. The school followed the APS (Albuquerque Public School) schedule and menu of food items deemed suitable for children to consume. A fatal mistake, to be sure. As I was a rather precocious child, I made sure I could set up my lunch schedule just right so that I could get in on the goods like pizza and chicken nuggets, and avoid “Frito Pies” and those store bought frozen Smuckers PB and J sandwiches. I had a pretty good thing going. Schedule went up, I’d tell my parents which days I needed lunch money or when home lunches would suffice, and the deliciousness went around like clockwork.
However, one fateful day, I made a grave error. Or rather, I was mislead. I noticed an usual amount of “pizza days” on the schedule at the start of a new semester. Rather than have a few a month, it was practically two a week. So naturally, I convinced my mother to dish out more cash and convinced her it was for “salad day.” Some of you might wonder why I didn’t play it safe and simply get a home meal every day. Well, momma wasn’t really in the mood to make a meal with love for 180 days in a row while she had morning shifts.
At any rate, I walked into the lunchroom that fateful day, blissfully unaware of the horror that was to come. I proceeded with the usual demeanor. I chatted with friends, plotted for recess, and was eager to get my chow on. I checked out the line ahead of me and looked at the window where the lunch trays were served. I saw the flash of red and white bread on people’s plates, and watched them vanish, one by one. However, upon closer inspection, I noticed that it was not pizza day. It was Max Sticks.
I had only heard the rumors of the mythical food item in years prior from my older sister. She had told me tales, unbelievable stories, things I would have never thought possible in my wildest dreams. She told me her tale of having to endure a Max Stick once, and it turned her off to cafeteria food forever. I took her story with a grain of salt, seeing as my sister had a penchant for tall tales; she once convinced me there was a movie called “Bobsbick,” the tale of a boy whose underpants took over the world. Needless to say, I was very sad to learn Blockbuster didn’t have it. But I digress…Soon, I would learn my sister was not lying; but rather, she was sugarcoating the experience.
Naturally, I tried to weasel out of it. I insisted that I didn’t have any money, hoping I would get one of the shameful cheese sandwiches the system liked to humiliate the poor kids with (Nutrition? Who needs that?), but to my avail, the worst case scenario happened. One of the school groundsmen and deacon, Brother Peter, took note of my situation, had pity, and almost paid for my meal. I immediately whipped out my cash and stopped him from doing so.
Then, Brother Peter sat me down at a lunch table with my friends, and insisted I eat something. I was in complete panic, but I managed to eat everything around the Max Sticks. As my friends left to recess one by one, I soon found myself sitting alone, staring at my tray, and glancing around the room, waiting for a way to dispose of the damned sticks. Brother Peter stared me down. He approached me and sat down by my side. He took his glasses off, rubbed them with a small cloth, and fixed them back onto his nose. He scrutinized my tray.
“Is there a reason you’re not eating your Max Sticks?”
“Well uh…you see, I’m actually pretty full. And uh, you know, carbs and all. Gotta watch the intake.” (That’s not a gag, I actually said that)
“That’s ridiculous. Kids need to eat their food to be good and strong.”
“No offense, but I’m not sure this thing is packed with nutrients.”
“Maybe not. But it’s perfectly good food! You’re not going to let it go to waste, are you?”
“I guess…not? But do YOU want them, maybe?”
“I already ate.”
“Well, so did I, sort of, so-”
“Please eat, then you can go to recess.”
And with that exchange, I began my grueling journey into consuming what heartless CEOs were pumping down the gullets of children everywhere. It haunts me to this day.
The Five Stages Of Eating A Max Stick:
“He’s not actually gonna make me eat this, right? No way is he gonna take the time to sit down and watch. This has to be some sick joke. Oh my God, he’s serious.”
“Stupid man. Why the hell does he care? No, stupid me. This is my fault. Why did I take the risk? Stupid fatty. Just wanted pizza. This is all on me. Got greedy. STUPID. God, who invented these stupid sticks, anyways? I’d love to meet them, give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“Hey, how about I NOT eat these things, and I just get a salad instead? I won’t just push around the veggies, either, I’ll eat them. No? OK, how about $5 to look the other way. Nothing? Uh, I just remembered, I’m lactose intolerant. There’s cheese in them. Please don’t make me eat these things.”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening to me. You always hear these things happen to someone else, but you never think it’ll be you.”
“Whatever. It’s just a nasty mozzarella stick. There are worse things in life. Fine. Give it here, I’ll just get this-OH DEAR LORD.”
How can I even begin to describe this fiasco? As you bite into the cold, hard crust, flakes of dry, flavorless bread go into your gums and teeth, caking your teeth with dough. Then, the strangely brittle mozzarella stops in for a visit, and if you’re extra unlucky, as I was, there’s a nice lining of ice in the middle. Rather than an everlasting gobstopper of diverse flavors, it’s a Dante’s Inferno of different rings of unspeakable horrors. And that’s just the first bite. Then, you have to manage to hold onto that monstrosity and break it off from the rest of the stick’s body, a tricky process, as the brittle cheese is oddly stringy when it wants to be. And then, you have to chew the damn thing, and experience progressively clumpier and saliva-infused chunks with each chomp. Then, you get the lovely pleasure of swallowing that and feeling it pass through your throat, lining the sides of your esophagus. It’s lumpy. And you do that, knowing that you’re just going to get chubby from doing so, or possibly have to endure food poisoning later, as it’s improperly cooked and very likely past its expiration date, sitting in a freezer for months, maybe years on end. When it hits your lil’ tum tum, you feel nothing but shame and despair.
You think to yourself “That was horrible. Maybe the cold marinara will help?” WRONG. You merely add another unmatched temperature to the rings of doom, and the tomato texture mixed with the chunks of bread make for a sort of paste, akin to plaster.
Alright, now rinse and repeat that process about 12 times, 6 bites for each stick, since little kids have such tiny mouths.
I became agnostic that day. What kind of God would send his servant down to ensure I ate the Devil’s food? Was there a God? Maybe not. I couldn’t really prove it in either direction. But the odds were not in God’s favor. For you see, I was but an innocent child, and I had just been obliterated into pieces by a piece of frozen “Italian” style food that even Chef Boyardee would get squeamish upon seeing. Whatever the case, even if there was a God, then God did not love me. Don’t give me that line that “God works in mysterious ways.” There is no bouncing around it. The answer is very clear-cut. I was harmed. I suffered tragedy. Needlessly. And for what?
To this day, I am still affected by the incident. After that day, I never ate cafeteria food again, not even the chicken fried steak with gravy. I can’t look at plastic lunch trays without feeling nauseous. Whenever I have marinara sauce, I heat it to the point that it splatters and spits all over the place, boiling hot, speckling small singes on my body. When the average person hears the word “Max,” they think of A Goofy Movie. I don’t think when I hear “Max,” I feel pain instead.
But I am stronger than my trauma. I have grown from it. I will not forget it, but nor will I linger on it. There are millions of people like me around the world, and it comforts me to know that I’m not alone. I reached the light at the end of the tunnel and found myself in a better place.
Max Sticks: Just like all things in the digestive system, you came to pass, and you were about as appealing as the end result.