If memory serves me right, my very first lunchpail was a beat up plastic yellow box that featured Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts gang on it. It was a hand-me-down from my older brother and significantly declined in coolness, and increased in overall wussiness, by a factor of 10 by the time I graduated Kindergarten.
As a first-grader, I was able to grasp the importance of the socio-psycho-economic perceptions put forth by one's choice of a food containment vessel (I've always been an observant lad). For instance:
- Peanuts lunchbox = "Please punch me in the face."
- Casper the Friendly Ghost lunchbox = "Please drag me into the boy's bathroom and stuff my head into the urinal."
- Anything featuring laserbeams, superheroes, or laserbeams = "Don't mess with me or there'll be hell to pay, scoundrels!"
So I articulated the pros and cons of a newly purchased lunchbox to my mother (i.e. cried until I got it, or until my dad put me in a Figure-4 leg lock). After many tears, and a strained anterior-cruciate ligament, I was bestowed with a gleaming metal lunchbox illustrated with the likes of Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and others that would surely beat the stuffing out of Peppermint Patty, Linus, and Lucy in a steel cage match (Well, maybe not Peppermint Patty. She's a tough cookie).
My new lunchbox was awesome and my playground cred shot through the roof. I didn't have to wait in line for the monkey bars or for the drinking fountain as my peers gifted me with "cutsies" upon my arrival. Coincidence? I think not! Once, while sipping milk from my Marvel Superheroes thermos I saw an anonymous egg salad sandwich sail through the air and nail a kid square in the head whose lunchbox was emblazoned with Care Bears. Public school, a barbarous lot we were.
Yet, as we were often taught at that age, it's what's on the inside that counts. Terribly cliche, but it was especially apropos of lunchboxes and what was carried inside these lunchboxes.
My lunchbox usually contained a precious cargo of a peanutbutter and jelly sandwich, a twinkie, and a colorful object that my mother referred to as "fruit" but what I referred to as "free-throw practice". And as my palate grew more sophisticated, I went from a thermos of milk to a pouch of Capri Sun--kinda like moving from beer to whiskey.
This menu of bread and sugar was something I had to fight for on a near-nightly basis. Like most Filipino families, we always had lots of leftovers from dinner. As soon as our plates were cleared, my mother hopped up from her chair, pulled down some tupperware containers from the cupboard, and started filling them with rice, and pancit, and pinkabet, and dinaguan, and whatever else was left from our meal. As she did this, she would look at me and my brothers and say:
"Look at all this food. Why don't you boys bring some to school tomorrow for your BAON?"
It was a word my brothers and I expected after every meal, and it was a word we dreaded. Baon is simply the Filipino term for a packed lunch that you bring to school, work, a magic balloon ride, what have you. Baon (pronounced bah-ohn) doesn't necessarily have to be leftovers, but that's usually what it was in my family. My brothers and I did everything we could to NOT bring our baon to school. We'd usually reply to my mother's Baon proclamation as such:
Older Brother: Gross!
Me: No way!
Younger Brother: I've just soiled my undergarments. Excuse me while I retire to the restroom.
My mother would then just shake her head, and scold us for being wasteful. She'd then say:
"Your dad brings his Baon to work! He brings his rice and pancit! Why can't you? It's better if you bring your baon!!
Well, my mom failed to realize that my dad also mows the lawn in his underwear and blows snot-rockets out of his car window. He doesn't embarrass very easily.
My brothers and I were simply too embarrassed to bring baon to
school. It's sad, but true. For me, I just wanted to fit in. Having a
wussy lunchbox was bad, but bringing strange food to school was worse.
I didn't want to get punched in the face or shoved into a urinal--those things are full of cooties.
I'm sure that there were kids who did bring Filipino food to school. These kids have all probably grown up to be gazillionaires or cage fighters, so more power to them. But I also like to think that there were others just like me, not necessarily Filipino, who were afraid to bring their noodles, tortillas, dumplings, or curries to school. Wusses trying not to be wusses and sticking with the status quo of PB&J.
Of course, I've since outgrown that kind of thinking. I now have a blue insulated lunchbag (fairly dorky) to carry my baon to work. And today, I even nuked some leftover pinakbet in the mircrowave with nary a concern for the nostrils of my coworkers.
While I was enjoying my baon out of a tupperware container at my desk, I had to chuckle a bit at myself. For chrissakes! I'm slowly turning into my old man!
I have to say though, the pinakbet tasted better at work than it did at home. Could’ve been because the flavors had melded and mellowed a bit over night. But I like to think it’s because my mother was right all along: It’s better if you bring your baon. Too bad it's taken me 30 years to realize it.