By: Ellen Nimmo
Stacie started first. A freckly sixteen year old serving up fructose in the form of cookies, icing, and soda pop to hungry shoppers and thirsty mall-walkers. She smelled like roasted sugar; she was making new friends and money. It was 1997.
If you read up on the year or if you remember it well, it might very well cause you to ask the question “What is wrong with the world?” Which, incidentally, I read about yesterday. But, I suppose that could be the case with any year in history. Wouldn’t you agree?
Quick to follow Stacie’s blazed trail as sugar-slinger, The Great American Cookie Company became my first employer, my first real job. Mostly because, to my shock and awe, my mother had agreed to send me on a trip to Europe that summer with a group from school with the condition that I had to earn and save any and all spending money. Mom! Yes, of course I would! Ohmygoshthankyouthankyouthankyou.
I would say we were on the low end of the middle class spectrum. Not that I looked at the numbers, no. Judging solely on how I felt that is where I would have placed us economically, I mean, as a family. We always had what we needed, but I felt like most people had more. Whether that was truly the case or not. And, by the way, it probably wasn’t. My mother was a nurse and my father wasn’t really around in those days (which is another tale entirely). So, the fact that my mother was willing to scrimp around and find the funds to send me on this trip meant so much. It meant enough for me to go hunting for work.
The mall is a strange place. Even if you love malls, you must admit, they are strange. Kiosks selling specialized hair products and diet pills, gumball machines tucked here and there to keep kids pulling at their grandparents knees, mannequins everywhere, Footlocker “refs” pacing the hallway, the draped in black Dillard’s employees whose cologne and eau de toilette announced their arrival far before they rounded the corner, and always, somewhere, a gaggle of goth teenagers prowling the food courts and arcade. Malls remind me of airports. You could sit in a mall all day and just marvel at the fact that here are all these people meandering around. What are their lives about? What are they up to? Where are they going? Some carry bags and bags of stuff. Some stroll, heads on a swivel. Nearly all – fill their eyes and hearts up with the desire for more. They bring their family members, their best friends, their lovers. Some bring money and all spend time. I didn’t love malls, but I was head over heels with the idea of going to the airport. To Europe! So, Stacie, do you think they’d hire me too?
Sitting awkwardly on a bench in front of GACC, I had my first ever interview.
Did you bring a photo id? Do you have good transportation? Are you available nights and weekends? What do you think makes a good employee?
Yes. Yes. Oh, yes. Well, except on game nights; I play basketball. A good employee? I guess, listening to instructions. Definitely. Oh and, following instructions. Yep. Completing tasks. Team work. Hard work. Communication. Respect. No complaining. Being on time.
Eyebrows raised. “Being on time?”
I got the job.
Scoop, scooping, scooped near-frozen cookie dough onto baking sheets. Set the timer and bake! Sugar. Chocolate chip. Chewy Chocolate Supreme. M&M. Domino. Peanut Butter. Pecan Supreme. White Chunk Macadamia. Snickerdoodle. Giant globs of dough weighed, then pressed out into 12, 16 and 24 inch molds. Decorating for birthdays, anniversaries and all the rest. Sodas with the “good” ice packed to the brim. Bags of scraps for the neighboring mall-workers. Maneuvering the dolly to haul heavy boxes of soda and dough. The occasional burn from an oven hot cookie sheet and the latex glove filled with ice that followed. Lots of mistakes. Heaps of lessons on how to deal with hungry, thirsty consumers and tons of laughter. We sold cookies. It was a good job.
I worked and saved. Made money and new friends. Listened to instructions, followed instructions and tried to be on time. Smelling like roasted (sometimes burnt) sugar and sweat, I was looking ahead to the summer abroad, Europe.
“Hot. Sticky. Sweet. From my head down to my feet yeaaaaa”
Occasionally, I felt the pull to go on a shopping spree. Follow the smell of perfume and hairspray all the way down to the big glass doors of Dillard’s, and turn all that dough into a pair of new Z. Cavaricci jeans and a silk shirt or two…but I didn’t. I stayed the course because I knew (in some small way) the sacrifice my mom was making for me. I knew a better something awaited me. So I scooped and poured and figured out ways to try and help the thirsty, hungry people and enjoyed having as many cookies as I could eat and my pal Stacie to go through it all with.
And, by the way, Europe was amazing too.