There is a certain thrill of eating in Lewis-Sebring, not unlike traveling back in time to pre-Columbian Mexico or peeking through a hole into the girls’ locker room. Lewis-Sebring decidedly eclipses those other experiences both in terms of quantity as well as quality of ritual sacrifice and tender nudity. The Lewis-Sebring Dining Commons are an experience that I think everyone should get to take part in but I sincerely hope that never happens because it means that my eating there would be less special and important. It is rare that a student eats in the Commons. Other than my classmate and myself, I only spotted a beleaguered student in an electric shock dog collar entreated with the Sisyphean task of cleaning up the never-ending deluge of confetti and balloons that rains down every time a professor enters. Every half hour, the student workers must also mop up the massage oils and the floor of the petting zoo. I pity them, as the whooping cranes are excruciatingly regular. Valentine and Lewis-Sebring are entirely different, you see. To compare the two would be to compare a Slim Jim processed jerky stick dipped in Vegemite to a hardcover copy of “The Joy of Cooking”; the former hints at the concept of food while the latter is decidedly more edible.
Even the air is different in Lewis-Sebring. Before the Lewis-Sebring people decided to loan out Michelangelo’s Pieta to the Vatican several years back, they may have been able to conceal the reason why. Nowadays, without that statue in the way that looked gaudy in comparison to the sacrifices made each and every day by the professors that used to eat along side it, it is easy to note the presence of the humidifier in the corner of the room, its tank full of a mix of liquid dreams and the urine of angels. Therefore, a simple breath is enough to sense a difference, let alone a bite of food. With differences so plentiful, it is hard to decide where to begin to delineate them. I believe it was Dr. Charles R. Drew, Amherst alumnus and the inventor of blood, who never said, “Hey everybody, salads serve as a microcosm for life in general. Oops, I lit my head on fire. Ouch. Put me out. Never mind, I kind of like it. Hey, stop putting me out, dickface.” This was in his later years right before he changed his last name to Cheese, his middle initial to E, and started a then controversial branch of medicine that valued pizza and skee-ball over drugs and surgery.
Heeding the words of the original Dr. Drew, one would be advised to compare the salad bars of Valentine and Lewis-Sebring in order to reveal the true differences between the two. For instance, the Valentine salad bar features a nondescript plastic sneeze guard to protect its foodstuffs from germs. Lewis-Sebring has employed an actual Sneeze Guard; he is a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair named Marty and he dresses as a British Yeoman of the Guard. Though he speaks with a convincing accent, he is actually from just outside Philadelphia, which speaks to his prowess as an actor, my admiration of his skill only enhanced by the fact that he is really only eight years old. While this does make it difficult for him to stand in one place for a long time, Marty is rather diligent when it comes to guarding the salads from sneezes. Marty, like the salads he protects from errant high-speed boogies, is very much the microcosm of life inside Lewis-Sebring. He is sophisticated, fun loving, sartorially resplendent, and works with a compromise of efficiency and hygiene that is the hallmark of all walks of Amherst College dining options. Specifically, he gets two uses of each finger of his white gloves that he uses to intercept sneezes at some point between nostril and nourishment. Following this second round of the digits, he retires the glove to a strange purple solution that also contains a decorative sprig of rosemary and more than a few combs. The rumor is that the strainings of this fluid is used as the base for the suspiciously unlabeled vats of soups at the Valentine salad bar that periodically appear during cold and flu season.
It is odd to eat in the same room as a professor you have once had for class. One in particular, a creaky and ornery fellow in his young hundreds, seemed distant and unapproachable in the classroom. I never stood very close to him, but I imagined that if I were to, his stench would be almost as overpowering as my urge to remove the spiral wire from my notebook and garrote him. When he lectured, he foamed slightly at the mouth. He does not do this in Lewis-Sebring, which leads me to believe he does not have rabies, but rather he has an allergic reaction to youthful excitement. I no longer resent him for I now know that he was making our class deathly boring for the sake of his own health. I never will understand, however, why many female classmates ogled him, especially since he leaked with great abandon. Free of leaks are the decidedly more attractive bowls that contain the salad ingredients in the Lewis-Sebring salad bar. With only two exceptions, the ingredients are largely the same, though the Lewis-Sebring vittles are of course fresher and of higher quality. Beyond that, I can’t distinguish. I am very masculine so I do not eat salads.
For me, telling the difference is kind of like deciding which has more appetizing contents: the dumpster in back of a VD or a VA hospital. I did notice, however, that the croutons in Valentine are puny and broken. They are crushed and powdery to the point of being just short of weaponized. Lewis-Sebring offers croutons that are kindred in name only; they are really cured loaves of bread that could choke an African elephant, if one were so inclined to do such a thing. That bastard professor of mine I think is; though you are not allowed in, try peeking in the window the next time you walk by. I think you will find a surplus of gloating professors donning ivory jewelry, ivory belt buckles, and the occasional tusk mounted on the forehead while dressing up as a pretty unicorn. Meanwhile, you will find hardly any African elephants, due to the professorial poaching as well as to the fact that as exotic as Lewis-Sebring is, it is not technically in Africa.
Also of note is that the Lewis-Sebring salad bar has a bowl of artichoke hearts. While I don’t care for them much, I always make sure to put every last remaining artichoke heart into my salad bowl as I have always suspected that the foamy professor in question is the kind of person who really likes artichoke hearts. My salads become ziggurats of artichoke hearts mounted on a spare leaf of lettuce. Were they excised from small children and not artichokes, my bowl would have certainly resembled the bowl of that same professor, a knowledgeable scholar and well-known pediatric cannibal. Instead, with an elaborate pagan ritual, he prolongs his life by devouring hearts of the young and absorbing their life energy. It really upsets me that the professors are allowed to be so happy when they eat. I would like to have seen jittery hands barely holding onto trembling cigarettes. Messy outpourings from tear ducts and wrists. Or just a button and nozzle for Pepto-Bismol on the soda fountain would have made me feel better. Instead, the professors are left to gently rub their bellies distended not with gas but with pure ecstasy. Acid-reflux disease has gone the way of the dodo: to Valentine.
While it is not uncommon in Valentine to find that someone has spilled a healthy handful of asbestos on the cucumber bowl or misplaced a syringe used multiple times amongst the cherry tomatoes, the staff of the Lewis-Sebring salad bar is doing its part to stave off disease and epidemics of all sorts, most forcibly that of carpal tunnel syndrome. In Lewis-Sebring, the large collection of lettuce available already has small strips of carrots mixed in, saving my pleasantly atrophied wrists from any further wear and tear. I do not know if Valentine does this as well; frankly, it’s not really a concern of mine. I do not eat salads as they are icky and are for pansies.
Admittedly, in Lewis-Sebring I am attracted to the novelty of the whole situation. Had they a tattooing and piercing station, I would almost certainly emerge from my meal looking like the aftermath of a turf war between two vicious gangs of atlases and spiral notebooks. This is a possibility; so lively is the atmosphere in Lewis-Sebring that even the inanimate school supplies become passionate. The closest to this that I have ever seen in Valentine is when the Pizza Girl had to hose down a marauding pack of radioactive mutant Dog People trying to have its way with the stacks of red cafeteria trays over by the bonfire of feared electronics and the weak elderly. I was raised to believe that occasional violence between books was better than the unnatural mating of the radioactive mutant Dog People and plastic trays. But from what I understand, in the lawless and post-apocalyptic Valentine Dining Hall, this is a regular occurrence and helps to explain why the trays are always soaking wet and steamy, as well as frequently giving birth to anthropomorphic hairy plastic beasties with tails wagging in open defiance of natural law.