In the cafeteria, at my kindergarten school, in Jacksonville, Florida, I'm standing in line, waiting for my turn to make the biggest decision of my life: Cereal or Waffles.
Unbeknownst to my five-year-old self, this choice will mark a turning point in my life. It will serve not only to populate my morning with the most important meal of the day, but also to teach me a valuable lesson in respect, humility and hand-eye-coordination.
For the first three days of school, I had chosen cereal. It seemed quick and easy, familiar and comfortable, tasty and nutritious. My favorite was Rice Krispies with a child's handful of smuggled in sugar.
"Cereal or waffles... cereal or waffles? CEREAL OR WAFFLES!?" The chef is staring down at me, hands on hips, awaiting my answer.
"Waffles today." I'm going for something new. I start to think of myself as worldly, soon to be experienced in the ways of variety. Waffles. I'm the man. The chef hands me a plate with two little waffles and two cubic packets of maple syrup.
I wander to a free table and set my tray down, sliding in coolly in front of it. The waffles are still slightly warm from the toaster-top pickup window where they have probably been waiting all morning. They smell great. Fork in hand, I'm ready.
I grapple with a packet of syrup. The metal-paper lid is stuck hard. I can't manage to peel it up but I give it the old elbow-grease.
That little rip is the sound of syrup screaming "Freedom!" from a vacuum sealed prison. My fingers, hands, even my elbow are all covered in syrup. The table captured most of the brown goop but somehow the waffles dodged the explosion completely. The packet is spent. It has nothing left to offer.
"Good lord, son!" The principal is glaring down at me. She's this tall, slender, black lady in a purple Victorian dress. She is furiously disappointed. "Just look at that mess you made!"
I go for the other packet.
"Boy, you best not open that." She holds her arms akimbo, burning me with the Fire Stare™ she learned in Academic Administrative training. She's too late. I'm already gripping it with both hands and yanking with the force of a hungry child. Again, the packet gives way without warning.
This time, the waffles catch some of the sauce. I ignore the remainder of the syrup as it flies out over the heads of my neighboring classmates and I shove the entire first waffle into my gaping maw with fervent voracity. I swallow half of it before the syrup reaches peak height. On its way down I jump up, holding the plate with the remaining waffle. I dive low to the ground to catch a glob of sweet sap. It lands with a palpable splat, filling the fried flower pockets.
Before I get back to my seat, the Principal is there, hand on my arm, pulling me away.
Her arm drips a sugary brown and I smile. When I get home, my step dad teaches me never to choose waffles again.
The next day, I choose waffles.