Forced capitalism mixed with equal parts fear and guilt and junk-food vice is a darn fine way to make your way in the world. — Mark Morford
It’s not hard to find a source for guilty pleasures on the street — everyone “knows a guy.” I could have gone to my buddy Chad, who’s in a band. Or Stephanie the PR chick — she has all kinds of connections. But, I didn’t have to go farther than Jane, my pharmaceutical sales rep of a sister and the closest purveyor of the stuff I wanted.
“You’re going to have to come and get it yourself,” Jane said. We were on one of our early morning jogs. Despite her asthma, Jane always finds enough breath to talk. My asthma’s long gone, but I’m still working on the ability to speak while running. With no breath to spare, I groaned my protest. “Look,” Jane said between huffs, “if you want your Girl Scout cookies, you have to come and get ’em. Walmart or Vons.”
I slowed to a walk so I could catch my breath, and Jane followed suit. “I can’t go to Walmart,” I said. “I’d be too distracted trying to get shots to upload to peopleofwalmart.com.”
“Then meet me at Vons tomorrow,” Jane said. She picked up her pace and soon we were both back at a steady trot, which made it impossible for me to discuss the matter further.
My niece Bella graduated from Daisies and is now a Brownie, making her old enough to sell Girl Scout cookies. Jane, ever confident in her marketing abilities, volunteered to be the Cookie Mom, accepting responsibility for ordering, organizing, and selling cookies for all 26 girls in Bella’s troop.
I was a Girl Scout once. For the most part, it was horrible. My mom was a coleader, and she rocked at helping me get badges, the accumulation of which was the highlight of my short stint in the green vest. The rest was either work or torture. The work was facing rejection door-to-door with a cookie order form in hand. The torture (aside from the meetings hosted by the other coleader, a lady who insisted on serving celery and carrots for our troop-meeting snack) was camping.
For two traumatic evenings, I shared a tent in Rohr Park, ten miles and a world away from my house. The canned beans and eggs cooked over an actual fire was nasty fare. The activities were drudgery — tying knots, running relays... I don’t even remember what we did, only that I vacillated between being bored and bothered.
But that wasn’t the worst part. As a chubby new girl, I was the perfect target for the kind of cruelty that can only be dreamt up by children. I was teased and excluded from joining groups, but that was the same uninspired bullying I’d encountered at school. The real creativity presented itself while I was packing up my things the last morning and discovered the source of the terrible smell that had been permeating my cold, dew-drenched tent all weekend — someone had smashed hard-boiled eggs in strategic locations beneath my sleeping bag.
I did love those cookies, though. Especially the Thin Mints. We would keep those in the freezer and eat them cold. As a kid, I had no idea how much the scout’s parents had to hustle in order to get cookies ordered, sold, and delivered. Mom pushed them on her friends, Dad took order forms to work. Always taking it to the next level, Jane masterminded a cookie-selling empire to help Bella’s troop make the numbers. She had me tweeting, Mom harassing school-district employees, and her husband passing the order form around at work. Her main tactic was to do as many booth sales as possible.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Jane said as we were walking the last stretch back to my place. “I know how you hate it when people push stuff on shoppers outside of stores.”
“Naw, this is cool,” I said. “It’s much easier for me to say, ‘No thanks, honey’ to a little girl than it is to say, ‘It’s none of your business’ to a guy with a clipboard who wants to know whether or not I’m registered to vote in California. Seriously, those people should be banned — I don’t care how much I might agree with whatever their agenda is.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll be there by 11:00,” Jane said. “It would be awesome if you could watch Bella for a few minutes while I’m setting up.”
Because we had a bunch of errands to run in the area, I brought David with me to Vons the following morning. When we arrived, we both gave Bella the pick-up-and-spin-around hug she’s come to expect from us. Uncharacteristically bas couture, Jane was wearing a U.S. flag bandanna on her head in honor of Operation Thin Mint, a program that sends cookies and sweet notes to American troops stationed abroad. I could tell by her expression and frantic manner that she’d had a rough morning.
It was a chilly day, so David and I took Bella and one of her Brownie friends for cocoa at the Starbucks inside. I was tempted to ask the barista to add a shot of espresso to each cup, thinking I’d help my sister by revving up two tiny balls of pure selling zing, but in the end I just asked for extra whipped cream.
Once the girls had their cocoa, I looked around for some form of supermarket entertainment (I heard somewhere that children bore easily). I spied a scratcher lottery vending machine, which conjured fond memories of my Aunt Jane allowing me to scratch her tickets for her in New York.
I bought two tickets and gave each girl a penny. When one turned up a winner — for one free ticket — I allowed the girls to share scratching duty.
Jane found us sitting at the low counter by one of the doors. She looked irritated. “Where have you been? We’re not legally allowed to sell any cookies without the girls,” she said. We hurried out behind her, and Jane said, “Okay, Bella, remember what we practiced?”
Bella positioned herself by the entrance and called out, “Five for 20, get your Girl Scout cookies, five boxes for 20 dollars!”
“How can I resist a pitch like that? I’ll take five,” I said, handing over a 20 note that cost me three bucks to pull from the ATM inside. Bella took my money and returned to her post, where she alternated slogans between “Five for 20” and “Only sold once a year, and they freeze beautifully!”
Now that we had our junk — Thin Mints, Do-si-dos, and Samoas — David and I said our goodbyes and raced through our errands so we could get home and savor a few bites of sugary nostalgia.