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Fiction

Bret Easton Ellis

American Lunchroom

 From The Paris Review for Young Readers, Issue 1, Spring 2015

 

In the cafeteria, the headmaster stops by to say hello to McDermott, then notices we don’t have our complimentary cold-pressed verified non-GMO Valencia orange juices, and runs off before any of us can stop him. I’m not sure how McDermott knows the headmaster so well and it slightly pisses me off but I decide to even up the score a little bit by showing everyone my new lunch box. I pull it out of my Santiago Gonzalez Caiman fuscus crocodile backpack (Bergdorf Goodman, $5,550) and slap it on the table, waiting for reactions.

“What’s that, stainless steel?” Price says, not apathetically.

“Brushed copper.” I try to act casual about it but I’m smiling proudly. “What do you think?”

“Whoa,” McDermott says, lifting it up, fingering the custom-molded handle, genuinely impressed. “Very nice. Take a look.” He hands it to Van Patten.

“Picked it up from Barney’s yesterday,” I mention.

“Cool coloring,” Van Patten says, studying the lunch box closely.

“That’s a limited-edition obsidian finish,” I point out. “And it’s got five compartments, not including the side chamber for chopsticks. It’s imported from Japan.”

“Zojirushi?” McDermott asks.

“Yeah. Not bad, huh?”

“It is very cool, Bateman,” Van Patten says guardedly, the jealous bastard, “but that’s nothing … ” He pulls out his backpack and slaps a lunch box next to an iPhone charging station. “Look at this.”

We all lean over and inspect David’s lunch box and Price quietly says, “That’s really nice.” A brief spasm of jealousy courses through me when I notice the vintage design and the well-crafted hinges. I clench my fist as Van Patten says, smugly, “Original 1979 Dukes of Hazzard lunch box by the King Seeley Thermos company, with certificate of authenticity and lenticular-printed art featuring Daisy Duke herself, in her salacious signature cutoffs … ” He turns to me. “What do you think?”

“Nice,” I croak, but manage to nod, as the lunch lady brings four fresh kale-carrot juices.

“Jesus,” Price says, holding the box up to the light, ignoring the new drinks. “This is really super. How’d a nitwit like you get so tasteful?”

I’m looking at Van Patten’s lunch box and then at mine and cannot believe that Price actually likes Van Patten’s better.

Dizzy, I sip my drink then take a deep breath.

“But wait,” Price says. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet … ” He pulls his out of a stash pocket from his messenger bag and slowly, dramatically turns it over for our inspection and says, “Mine.”

Even I have to admit it’s magnificent.

Suddenly the cafeteria seems far away, hushed, the noise distant, a meaningless hum, compared to this lunch box, and we all hear Price’s words: “Dolce and Gabbana. Cork and matte python-belly, with polished gold-tone hardware and gusseted sides, lemon-pattern embroidery and silver-tone jewels … ”

“Holy shit,” Van Patten exclaims. “I’ve never seen … ” 

“Nice, very nice,” I have to admit. “But wait. Let’s see Montgomery’s.”

Price pulls it out and though he’s acting nonchalant, I don’t see how he can ignore its subtle taupe coloring, its tasteful, BPA-free, high-density thermal insulation. I am unexpectedly depressed that I started this.

“Milk shakes. Let’s order milk shakes,” McDermott says. “Doesn’t anyone want to split a milk shake? A salted-caramel milk shake? Mmmmm. Bateman wants that,” he says, rubbing his hands eagerly together.

I pick up Montgomery’s box and actually heft it, for the sensation the handle gives off to the pads of my fingers.

“Nice, huh?” Price’s tone suggests he realizes I’m jealous.

“Yeah,” I say offhandedly, giving Price the box like I don’t give a shit, but I’m finding it hard to swallow.

“…caramel milk shake…salted-caramel milk shake … ” Then McDermott slams his hand on the table, rocking it. “Goddamnit, isn't anybody listening to me?” 

I’m still tranced out on Montgomery’s box—the classy coloring, the astronaut-grade heat retention, the protective metal feet, the print—and I suddenly raise a fist as if to strike out at Craig and scream, my voice booming, “No one wants the fucking salted-caramel milk shake! A milk shake should be triple-thick and totally consistent and have a frothy, foamy top! The milk shakes here are too fucking thin because the shithead in-house barista can’t work a blender! The milk shakes are watery and flavorless!”

To read more of this piece, purchase the issue.