Rectangle School Pizza: Love comes in a Rectangle

SEASONED RECTANGLE SCHOOL PIZZA RUNNER

I was a pizza runner in military school. And it was my job to quickly secure as much of the rectangle school pizza as I possibly could before anyone else.

Actually, by the time I had spent six years in military school, I had been a lot of things. I had been a private (a few times), a sergeant, a first sergeant, a lieutenant (they had no job for me at that rank, so they put in me in charge of the laundry room, dubbing me the “laundry lieutenant”).

Military School Laundry
I was thrilled with my “Laundry Lieutenant” job

And at all those times, I was a pizza runner. With age comes experience, and the experience was necessary seeing as I was assigned to a table furthest from the kitchen.

Pizza running was an adrenaline-raising exercise. Sweeping the collection of rectangle school pizza (about 9) off the pan and on to the dinner table, then bolting back to the kitchen for more.

It was a job usually relegated to the underclassmen. The little shits who had only been attending for a couple years or less. And yet I was happy to lower myself out of my love for rectangle school pizza. Besides, the “new-boys,” as the shits were called, were too slow.

ONLY A RECTANGLE SCHOOL PIZZA NIGHT RUNNER

I was only a runner on pizza nights. Beef stew nights or corn dog nights? The younger kids could handle the chore of fetching more of that. Which appeared more like a defeated zombie walk, sloshing stew remnants of the tray to the floor as arms swayed. It was not the spirited, full-contact race for the kitchen.

And the real prize for the pizza race was the temperature of the slice. After the first few runs, you would start exhausting the kitchen staff’s pizza stores they had amassed for the onslaught of pizza runners. 

Eventually, you would begin to get slices directly from the oven.

Imagine prepping yourself for an all-out 10-minute spectacle of something that could resemble track with a smattering of field hockey, only to see corn shells lined up in formation on metal trays. This isn’t a pizza night… WTF.

RECTANGLE SCHOOL PIZZA ANTICIPATION

You could sometimes smell pizza night materializing hours before; wafting from the mess hall and intermixing with the hot floral South Carolina Spring breezes. It became far more apparent just before dinner as we stood in formation waiting in agony for the evening count before finally filing into the mess hall and seeing with our own eyes if it really was pizza-night.

There were some pizza-night red-herrings. There was the disastrous taco-night that we had all pegged for pizza. Imagine prepping yourself for an all-out 10-minute spectacle of something that could resemble track with a smattering of field hockey, only to see corn shells lined up in formation on metal trays. This isn’t a pizza night… WTF.

MEXICAN PIZZA IS NOT PIZZA OR MEXICAN

The spring of 1995 taco-night had come just a night after spaghetti with meatballs, and the taco beef was mostly left-overs. They hadn’t even tried masking the beef’s original Italian intentions, just chopped it and scrambled it, and dusted some Old El Paso over the top.

We should have known the taco debacle was coming, there was no way they were putting two straight nights of ostensibly Italian fare in front of us.

That taco night began as a broken dream that would be followed by long bouts of reading time on the toilette later that night into the very early morning hours before reveille. I was reading Walter Mosely’s “Red Death.” And although the book was about a gumshoe navigating Los Angeles during the “Red Scare,” the title was appropriate for my suffering, and I will just leave it at that.

There was also, Fall 1994’s “Mexican” pizza night, which turned out to be one hell of a red-herring. I went to this school for 6 years of my life and only witnessed this once. It was a disaster of refried beans, tomato sauce, cheese, and bread with the occasional lump of breakfast sausage. 

That night sparked a few regional food fights, not a mess hall-wide event, but the damage was still done as “Mexican” pizza would never be served again.

At breakfast, there would be a morning prayer, and after breakfast, a student would read a bible passage, followed by a sermon of sorts from the headmaster and then a benediction.

THANK GOD, LITERALLY, IT’S PIZZA NIGHT

There was nothing better than throwing open the mess hall doors to see tables loaded to overflowing with rectangle school pizzas on gigantic metal pans. Thank the Lord, literally, we had to thank God before eating the pizza. And that could take awhile.

Saying our school was religious would be an understatement. At breakfast, there would be a morning prayer, and after breakfast, a student would read a bible passage to all of us followed by a sermon of sorts from the headmaster and then a benediction. That was every morning (actually, I’m not sure about Sunday, it was an optional breakfast, so I never went, and we were all going to church that morning anyway, so God was still coming).

Lunch and dinner… also were preceded by prayer and other divine jockeying. And those invocations could drone on for several minutes depending on the individual leading the prayer.

Who knows if staff members were just as excited about rectangle pizza night, yet I don’t recall any excruciatingly long spirited calls to God and his angels on pizza night.

Still… any amount of wait with heads bowed, fixing your attention (and sense of smell) to God, and pizza was a wait too long.

I remember one prayer that included “a man…” anecdote, as in “a man who was once my friend had fallen into temptation.” I mistook it for the “amen” gunshot I was poised at the starting gate for.

PAPER; “AY THE RUB”

The thin white baking paper is ultimately what made the practice of pizza running so efficient for our table. While other tables were hastily lifting pizzas from the pan or fumbling it around to the older boys for first dibs, our table treated the operation like an antique magic trick

We used the baking paper to excise the slices of pizza off the pan, safely to the tabletop. And then I would be halfway to the kitchen in a sprint. And whoever wanted to eat right then, could have at the colder slices.

We got increasingly efficient at this practice. Cadets on the other side of the table slyly gripped the baking paper in their prayer folded hands. While I prayed with one fist, the other hand’s finger pinching the metal lip of the pan.

When the prayer ended, the race was on, and so as you might imagine, there were probably false starts. Unfortunately, there were a few. 

I remember one prayer that included “a man…” anecdote, as in “a man who was once my friend had fallen into temptation.” I mistook it for the “amen” gunshot I was poised at the starting gate for. I had thrown my chair back, already lifting the metal pan from the table before I realized it. 

Everyone was looking at me, like WTF?! Murmurs and chuckling followed, a few craned heads from the commandant’s table, and I coughed as if that would excuse anything. Embarrassing…

When the “amen” would finally sound, I would seize the pan as the cadets on the other side tugged at the baking paper. A two-sided tablecloth trick.

And it was our two-sided tablecloth trick that really bought excessive time out of the starting gate. 

FAILING RECTANGLE SCHOOL PIZZA MAGIC

Some of the other tables tried to master it without asking how we did it (as if we would divulge that kind of trade-secret anyway). So they had to watch our moves from a distance; tables away or across the vast mess hall.

And the end effect was as clumsy as you might imagine. The pizza runner would jump up, pulling at the pizza on the other end with his free hand, all while moving gravitationally towards the kitchen. 

Dumping pizza to the table in spurts. Flipping rectangle pies that would land half-rolled with a sad squelch, or flop cheese-side down, some would fall squarely onto full cups of water, and that was if the runner was lucky. 

Many attempts resulted in dumped pans, ejected pizza over metal folding chairs, and worse, the floor.

In the 90s, the Caesar would give you two pizzas a bucket of spaghetti and Osama bin Laden’s current known whereabouts for less than $10.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT PIZZA AND MILITARY SCHOOL?

Look, I know most people love pizza. But I really, really love pizza. I take pizza the way I take music; I love the classics, I love the critically acclaimed, and I have guilty pleasures (Like Britney Spears and Dominos).

And silly ways to make my own pizza (I have this half-baked deep dish dinner roll idea I concocted once).

And I’m pretty sure military school played a hand in my obsession. Anytime we celebrated anything (sports, good grades, etc.), it was with pizza. Anytime my parents made the trip to watch a parade and then take us out for dinner, it was usually to a pizza place. Pizza was even currency, you could flip a few leftover slices from Pizza Hut into a mound of cash.

If we had a few spare bucks, we would order a pizza delivery at the school’s closed gate. Slyly run over in black sweats under cover of night, pay delivery-dude and run away clutching the prize.

Little Caesar’s was our delivery du jour. In the 90s, the Caesar would give you two pizzas a bucket of spaghetti and Osama bin Laden’s current known whereabouts for less than $10. Which was cheap, but we were all broke. 10 bucks was still an impossible amount of money for a boarding school brat back then. Considering I could and usually did try to stretch a dollar out over an entire weekend.

Little Caesar's Spaghetti Bucket
Little Caesar’s Spaghetti Bucket Circa 1990s (Coshocton Tribune)

So, to score free pizza I would do some mercenary pizza running. Make the payment and collect the pizza fast. It would usually score me a couple slices.

The one thing to keep in the back of your mind, of course, is legend versus reality. I’m sure many of us have put the rectangle school pizza on a pedestal it does not deserve to occupy.

CORONA-VIRUS COMFORT

In the age of sheltering from the shitacular coronavirus, we’ve all needed to get creative with mealtimes. I’m sure many of us have or are close to exhausting our comfort food recipes. 

Well? Why not go back to high school in your own kitchen?

Apparently, there are people out there, like me, who have waxed poetic on the rectangle school pizza. And some of these kind souls have even created how-tos. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised the rectangle school pizza is fantastic, and the internet is, well the internet. Apparently, there are fetishisms for glasses (okay, maybe I’ve taken a sharp right turn here, sorry).

Foodtastic Mom has my favorite “copycat” recipe as it has a ton of pictures, is easy to follow, and begins with some delightful rectangle school pizza musings.

The one thing to keep in the back of your mind, of course, is legend versus reality. I’m sure many of us have put the rectangle school pizza on a pedestal it does not deserve to occupy. So if you create one at home and it’s only just so-so, it might not be just your weak cooking skills.

YOUR MIND MIGHT BE LIONIZING RECTANGLE SCHOOL PIZZA

For instance, there was a local pizzeria near my college in Northfield, VT, that I absolutely adored. In my mind, they were pizza gods and goddesses, and so I was there every Friday at the alter with any extra scratch I could scrounge for a few slices. 

Depot Square Pizzeria Northfield Vermont
Depot Square Pizzeria, my fave college pizza spot in Northfield, Vermont.

If I was fortunate enough to have some extra money, or I was in the mood to abuse my credit card a bit more, I would spring for their Gyro. I actually told a few people over the years that they had the best Gyro in Vermont.

When I returned for my 15th class reunion, I went and grabbed one for old time’s sake, and I can honestly tell you, while I haven’t had many Gyros in Vermont, they almost certainly don’t have the best (their pizza was just as tasty as I remembered, though).

What I’m saying is to limit your expectations when trying to recreate the rectangle school pizza at home. You don’t want to accidentally melt any pleasant childhood memories (as I did with my beloved college Gyro).

When was the last rectangle school pizza you had? Have you made one recently? Even better, have you had one at the source, a local school’s cafeteria? Is it as good as you remember? Let me know below!

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