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Salad days



It appeared one day on the boundary between two houses: the Wendy's salad. It was in its disposable container, abandoned at the foot of a large oak tree to which a "No Trespassing" sign was nailed. There it sat, in a no-man's land, not 10 feet from a crowd of empty trashcans and recycling bins. I noticed the glistening broccoli stalk and iceberg leaves as I hurried past on my way to teach classes at North Carolina State University. Delicious and strangely alone, they awaited their fate.

The salad was still there the next day as I schlepped my stack of books from a distant parking spot (parking in a university lot would be an extravagance on this teacher's salary). Though its tender fronds were notched, the result of an opening salvo by an army of ants, the salad retained the same cheer and appetizing freshness of our previous encounter. It was no less green for its hours in the hot May sun.

Day three marked the disappearance of all organic substances on or around its black container and clear plastic lid. The flatware remained, with the paper napkin tucked neatly into its plastic sheath, but the salad was only a memory, having nourished the silent swarms underground.

Day four and, as my first first semester at my ideal job neared its end, the disposable package lingered. Its persistence was impressive. It neither toiled nor languished, but existed calmly, at peace with the oak and the multitude of students streaming past toward their finals. I, for all my good intentions, did not dare to intervene. The salad's path was clearly fixed by a higher power.

At week's end, the salad bowl met with an uncomfortable circumstance, apparently under the heel of a pettish passer-by: Upside down, smudged with dirt, flattened, one corner cracked open--yet hanging on in its place.

As I've submitted my last grades now, I know how things turned out for my 80 students, but I'll have to take with me the mystery of the salad's future. If our General Assembly will toss us educators a few morsels and I get to come back next semester, I'll be looking for that bowl and wondering if it was fated to make one last move--into the trash--or if it truly had found its niche on the boundary in no-man's land.

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