The Meal Ticket

For some strange reason I saved my meal tickets from my resident days at Waterloo. Maybe that’s because I can always say I have a ‘meal ticket’, but who knows what I was thinking. Clearly not me. Anyhow, the meal ticket was kind of like a transit pass, except the photo was put inside a plastic sleeve with a piece of paper that had the evidence that you were entitled to eat at the residence meal hall. Your first clue is that it was in fact referred to as a ‘meal hall’ – not exactly an indication that you would be in any vicinity to a fine dining experience.

The key thing about the meal ticket was that you picked yours out of the holder on the wall (hopefully recognising yourself) and handed it to the lady at the entrance to the cafeteria (and yes, she was clad in white, with maybe a blue accent around the collar), and then you had free rein to the not-so-much culinary delights within the kitchen. However, some people other than me had a different opinion. One of the guys in our residence used to go to dinner when the meal hall opened at 5 and go back around 7 when his meal ticket had already been re-shelved. With predictable results. He is undoubtedly a billionaire in Silicon Valley right now.

I survived mostly on Melba toast and cottage cheese. The worst part was the weekends, when the lucky majority who lived within 2 hours could go home and get some real food. Those of us left to fend for ourselves had to deal with whatever didn’t get eaten during the week, which typically took the form of mystery meat spaghetti. Luckily, cottage cheese was always going wanting.

But I digress. The real story here is my hairdo on the meal ticket photo. In the first one, I have a scarf covering all of my hair, kind of like a hijab, but tied at the back. I’m thinking that the passport people would not permit such subterfuge of appearance, but in the ‘70s it was too cool for school. For some reason, at that time hair washing was a limited commodity. For starters, we had communal bathing facilities and it was a major scheduling issue to get yourself out of bed and into the bathroom in time to get your hair dry before heading to class. So the answer was: just don’t wash your hair. Hence, the scarf. We all had one that would match every outfit in our closet – which wasn’t too hard if all you are wearing is jeans and an Indian cotton shirt.

My second meal ticket is even more unfortunate. I pretty much look like a rugby player who has put his finger into a light socket. In fact, I am sorry to say I kind of looked like Malcom Gladwell in his Tippign Point days. If only I could have pocketed his royalties.