When I was little, my parents would never buy my brothers and I Ellio’s pizza because they (correctly) claimed that it was chemical cardboard garbage, and our family just didn’t buy food like that. In first grade though, I was *obsessed* with it- pizza in general of course, fuel of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Ellio’s in particular because it was shaped perfectly for my little hands, it seemed like I could cook it all by myself in the toaster oven, and every box had ACTUAL NINJA TURTLE MASKS on the back that you could cut out and wear. Still, my folks never bought us Ellio’s.

Now, Fridays were of course pizza day at school, and every now and then they’d announce that this week they were having “Pizza Hut Pizza” or some such branded nonsense- honestly, probably the same school-ass pizza but BETTER somehow because we are taught to value name brands early as children. One month, the school lunch menu indicated that on some coming Friday they were going to have ELLIO’S PIZZA. I was jazzed as hell. I even went so far as to check in with the lunch ladies: was this going to be ACTUAL Ellio’s pizza? Real honest-to-goodness Ellio’s pizza with the Ninja Turtle masks on the back that you could cut out, not just square pizza? Yes, she assured me, it would be real Ellio’s pizza. This was gonna be great!

Pizza day came, and with my sweaty little $1.25 all balled up in my Bugle Boys, I hit the lunch line. They weren’t lying! There it was, the ACTUAL Ellio’s pizza I craved so bad! And you could tell too, because peeking into the kitchen you could see the boxes, the McCain logo, all of it. Just great. Tray loaded (chocolate milk, ice cream sandwich, no vegetables whatsoever), I palmed my $1.25 to the cashier.

Then, one of the lunch ladies came floating out of the kitchen- the one I had interrogated to the authenticity of the Ellio’s supply earlier that week. “I see you got your pizza!” she chirped. I had indeed. “Well, I thought you might want these too” she said, handing me a flattened stack of FOUR EMPTY ELLIO’S BOXES, ONE WITH EACH OF THE FOUR DIFFERENT NINJA TURTLES’ MASKS PRINTED ON THE BACK FOR ME TO CUT OUT AND WEAR. It was honest to goodness one of the first moments of unexpected gratitude I felt as a child, and looking back, holy smokes, isn’t that so sweet? Now, this woman probably thought that I had been asking about the pizza and the boxes so hard because my family was struggling or something, and maybe we were in the way that every family kinda struggles, but that’s not why my folks weren’t buying us Ellio’s. My parents weren’t buying us Ellio’s because a parent’s primary function is to not buy you the branded junk food you want so bad, therefore ruining your life.

So I get to my table with my pizza and my boxes, and some kid goes “ummm did the LUNCH LADY just give you TRASH?” and I blush hard because now I am seeing how this all looks to an outsider, and some other kid goes “yeah Dan, why are you taking garbage gifts from the lunch lady?” because to a child the lunch lady is someone to be made fun of, and I go “hahaha I don’t know, she’s probably just a crazy lunch lady!!!” and then I THREW THE BOX MASKS IN THE TRASH BECAUSE I WAS A COWARD AND DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO STAND UP FOR MYSELF OR THIS KIND WOMAN. My parents still never bought me and my brothers Ellio’s, and I never got one of those masks.


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