I set my tray on the table with a clatter and flop back in the chair. I let my 200 pound backpack slide to the floor and my shoulders sing in relief. It had been an exhausting day. Every day is exhausting when you are a college freshman living in the dorms and your only form of transportation is your feet.
I greet a few of my friends seated at the table. Now that I live a thousand miles from home I treasure the friendships I have made with my fellow dorm dwellers. We exchange a few pleasantries and whine about the difficulties of our second semester college courses. We are all too tired after a long day of trying to comprehend our professors to engage in much conversation.
We tuck into our meals with an occasional word or two and I let my gaze wander around the room. A few tables to the right of mine seats a group of students my friends and I refer to as â€œclubbiesâ€. Theyâ€™re the kids who own nice cars, nice clothes, and are members of the social clubs that exist on the outskirts of the university.
Most of the other tables seem to be filled with students like me who donâ€™t own cars, go home during the summers to earn money for tuition, and have part-time jobs during the school year. Sure, we have to work hard, but who can complain while you are attending a private university and not living with your parents?
As I finish scanning the room I notice a student sitting by himself to the left of our table on the far side of the room. He has short dark hair and he is built like someone who is used to hard work. The boy is wearing a black t-shirt and jeans that while clean, look like they have seen better days. While most of the students in the cafeteria look as if they are excited children playing house, he looks like a weary but tolerant older brother.
I turn my attention back to my table trying to pick up on the conversation. After a few seconds I realize that the conversation is an old stand-by and I reach down, pull my heavy backpack onto my lap and begin digging in the front pocket for some change. If I have to listen to my friends discuss the controversial nature of the evolution lecture given during biology that day I could at least have some background music.
â€œHey, Iâ€™m going to put some money in the juke box. Do you guys have any requests?â€ I ask.
â€œWell, donâ€™t make it a slow one or I may just fall asleep in my mashed potatoes,â€ replies my friend Scott.
â€œUh, maybe you wouldnâ€™t be so tired if you didnâ€™t stay up all night cramming for your English test,â€ answered my friend Debbie.
I ignore their chatter, walk over to the juke box and begin scanning the titles. Letâ€™s see, Depeche Mode? Maybe. Bryan Adams? Heck no! Hhhmmm, what was I in the mood for? Then I see it, number 32, Mountain Music by Alabama.
Normally Iâ€™m not a big country music fan but this song reminds me of home and happy times. I had become familiar with this song when my older sister had a whirlwind romance with a boy who loved country music. My family soon understood that we all had to learn to love Alabama or slowly go insane. At least until the next boyfriend and her new found obsession with Judas Priest came along.
I drop in my quarter, punch in the selection, and walk back to my table. I resume eating my delicious cafeteria food dinner and tap my foot to the music. It was an uplifting addition to the noise in the cafeteria, or so I thought.
Over to my right I notice one of the â€œclubbyâ€ boys shove his chair backward and walk over to the jukebox. He was of average height and build, with a narrow face, and not a black hair out of place.
I watch as he leans down and wraps his hand around the plug and with a quick jerk yanks it out of the wall. Without even looking in my direction Clubby Boy saunters back to his friends and continues on in his conversation as if nothing had happened.
My eyes narrow as I stare at him not believing the arrogance in this, this lout! How dare he insult me so! I wasnâ€™t going to stand for it. I jump up quickly from my table and stalk over to the jukebox. I grab the plug, slam it back into the socket, and with out looking at the jerk I sit back down at my table. Thatâ€™ll show him!
I fork a piece of chicken into my mouth and just as Mr. Alabama starts singing about his grandma and grandpa, Clubby Boy viciously rips the cord out of the wall and throws it to the ground.
My friends fall silent as he stomps over to our table with his finger pointing in my direction. His pinched and angry face looks ugly to me while he says with a biting voice, â€œIf I want the jukebox unplugged it will stay unplugged!â€ All the jaws at my table drop and no one says a word as he marches back to his table.
I sit in shock wondering where to go from here. Suddenly on my left I see the tall, older boy in the black t-shirt stand up, slowly walk to the jukebox, and reach down and push the plug back into the socket. With out looking at me he passes my table and sits back in his seat in the corner.
I look over at Clubby Boy and watch as his lips narrow and his jaw clench. I wait for him to stand up but instead he turns his body away from me as Mr. Alabama sings about his cozy mountain hideaway.
Hah! I won, I feel like shouting over at Clubby Boy. Instead I try to make eye contact with T-shirt Boy to nod my thanks but he is hunched over his meal unwilling to communicate with me.
Slowly I gather up my things feeling like I had learned more in those few minutes in the cafeteria than I did kneeling at the feet of scholars all day.
As I pass by the jukebox I lovingly drop in 4 more quarters and hit number 32 four more times. Walking through the door I turn, give a quick little finger wave to my friends, and head out into the night toward the library.
[Associated Radio Thang Song: Alabama – Mountain Music (Duh!)]