Butcher (as I dash through the fresh department): You look like you’re in a good mood today. What are you demoing?
Me: Cookies. Everybody loves you when you’re handing out free cookies.
Butcher (to a fresh department stocker): Yeah, that – and steak!
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about abundance lately.
I realized a while back when I was worrying (again) about money that my fear came from a fundamental belief I seem to hold about life: there won’t be enough. Not enough money. Not enough food. Not enough love. Not enough success. Not enough vintage cow creamers or white shirts for work or fast imported cars. I look at life and I see lack as a constant, something that must perpetually be prepared for, guarded against.
I know this isn’t true for everyone. It certainly isn’t true for Jim, who has always operated from the “we can always make more” world view. And objectively, factually, it isn’t true for me. My life has been stuffed full of everything I could ever want or need and more.
But still, on some deep, basic level, I am fearful and my fear is that there is not enough.
So I was pretty amused when I got to work today and saw the piles and piles and piles of cookies Sam’s had assembled for the Cookie Mania promotion. Talk about standing right smack dab in the middle of more than enough! Sam’s had set up three eight foot folding tables in a U shape against an end cap. The two side tables were stacked three rows high and three rows deep with every kind of Mix and Match cookie available (two boxes for $6.27 every day). The front table held a vivid bouquet from Floral – yellow, purple, turquoise and lime green mums, carnations and daisies – and space for my cutting board and sampling tray.
The really impressive cookie storage was behind me, up against the stacks: two towering rolling racks from the bakery, every slot inside filled with a commercial baking sheet and every commercial baking sheet filled with fresh cookies. The smell was overpowering when I opened a case up, ranging from chocolate to lemon to cinnamon.
My assignment was to put together custom tubs of two dozen cookies at the members’ direction – the donut shop approach to cookie purchasing if you will – with the customer specifying “Six chocolate chip, three white chocolate chunk macadamia nut, three double chocolate chip, six oatmeal raisin, two lemon, two coconut pecan, two oatmeal butterscotch” as I pulled from the racks. It was fun. It was fast-paced. I waged an ongoing battle with the sweat dripping into my eyes and off my nose. And, of course, I was also supposed to sample cookies to everyone walking by.
I really hadn’t been excited when I’d seen my demo on the schedule earlier in the week. Not because I knew it would be a ferociously busy day – I would much rather serve samples than stand around waiting for a customer to show up. No, my issue was with the basic unfairness of having to hand out “Ooo! Yum! Dessert!” when I’ve been trying to diet since the beginning of the month. In other words, I knew I would be spending my day convincing everyone else to buy what I don’t get to eat.
I’ve been doing the diet thing on and off since I was nine. I suspect that all the diets through all the years are one of the reasons I see life as not having enough. After all, on a diet doing without is a virtue. Wanting is bad. There is always that sense that you better eat the last cookie right now because tomorrow and every day after that you will be good – and being good means there won’t be any more cookies ever again.
Today I was in “no cookies ever again” mode and I didn’t like it.
Now you can’t spend the day talking to customers about their cookie choices without being reminded over and over that food is culture. Food is family. In fact, in many families like mine (with a grandmother who made chicken and dumplings from scratch for every holiday meal from the time I was a baby until I was in college because it was “my favorite”) food is love.
When you come from a family that is pretty blatant about the “food = love” equation, doing without is about more than a growling stomach. It is about doing without that comforting physical manifestation of love in the odd, contradictory hope that if you can only do without enough, you will end up with a body that proves you are worthy of love in its zero calorie form.
Excuse me, but fuck that. Take the cookie. Take the love.
Me: Would you like a taste of our new lemon cookie?
Young Man in a Baggy T-Shirt: Oh, no! Got to keep this girlish figure!
Me (gesturing like a model): How do you think I got this grandmotherly one? You gotta earn it – one cookie at a time.
When Jim and I split up, I was adamant that I didn’t want to diet with that traditional diet mind set. I’d already lost enough. I wasn’t losing food, too. I was going to hold on with both hands to every single thing I had left – my falling apart house, my aging car, my pleasure in the perfect tomato and basil sandwich on fresh sourdough, lots of mayo.
Food became a huge preoccupation for me. When money was tightest, nothing made me feel more secure than a full freezer. I spent hours figuring out how to maximize the grocery budget. No more fresh or frozen veg – only canned goods. Seventy-five cent packs of mystery meat hot dogs. Big pots of beans every week. Bread from an outlet.
I was delighted when I discovered Aldi, where the fifty cent boxes of mac and cheese were only thirty-three cents. I stocked up at the open-once-a-month-to-the-general-public meat wholesaler.
For the first time, my fear that there wasn’t enough wasn’t being driven by a self-imposed diet. A self-imposed overreaction to tight finances? Well, yes, probably. I’m good at overreacting – although my Demo Lady gig has shown me that I’m not alone on that point.
Crazy Lady (pointing at empty sample tray): Can I have a cookie?
Me (smiling as I spray my hands with sanitizer): Yes, of course! It will be just a minute while I put on fresh gloves.
Crazy Lady: Can I have a cookie?
Me: Yes. Just give me a minute.
Crazy Lady (reaching over the floral arrangement to grab a cookie off the cutting board herself): Can I have a cookie? I’ll take that one right there.
Me (taking the cutting board away from her and stowing it behind me): I’m sorry. You can’t touch the food without gloves. Neither can I. I will help you in just a minute – just as soon as I have my gloves on.
Crazy Lady: Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie?
Me (the gloves are sticking to my damp sweaty hands as I try to pull them on): Yes. Just a minute.
Crazy Lady: Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie?
Crazy Lady: Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie? Can I have a cookie?
Me (silently listening to her singsong voice, wondering if she’s mentally disturbed)
Crazy Lady: Now you’re just messing with me. You’re putting your gloves on slowly on purpose.
Me (the gloves are uncomfortable – my fingers haven’t worked all the way down into them): I’m sorry you feel that way. What can I get for you?
Crazy Lady (points and then snatches cookie from me)
Me: I hope you enjoy it!
Crazy Lady: You need to work on your attitude. I should complain about you to your boss.
Me (perfectly even tone): My boss’s name is Boss Boy. They can page him for you at the Customer Service desk. Do you know where it’s located? Or would you like for me to go and get him for you now?
Crazy Lady (storms off)
Demo Young ‘Un (stationed in the next aisle): I saw it all. What the hell was that?
Can I have a cookie? I want so much.
There was a rhythm to my day today. Open four boxes of cookies and chop. Keep refilling the sample tray. Twirl to the racks in back. Fill a tub. Duck down and wipe my dripping face. Replace my gloves. Repeat.
I was relieved when Boss Boy sent The Great Girlfriend Mystery over for backup. I was even more relieved when it was time to break for lunch.
I met Blondie at her demo cart and we walked up front as she filled me in on her on-line dating progress. Since we last talked, Blondie has joined a second dating site. She’s trading messages with a nice man in Tulsa – and a race car driver in New York.
I try to warn her about people lying on the Internet. She’s unimpressed with my caution.
Who needs caution when you’re giddy with the pleasure of discovering all of these new men?
Who needs to listen to me when I’m too chicken to put myself out there and try dating on-line? (Maybe some day when I’m thin. Maybe some day when I have a better job. Maybe some day when all my lacks, my “not enoughs” are fixed. Maybe.)
After lunch – between futile attempts to shoo flies trapped in the cookie rolling racks outside to their freedom – I heard from The Girlfriend about her latest dating experiences on-line. “I’m so glad to get to talk to you,” she says. “What do you think about dating someone older?”
Well, there’s a thirteen year age difference between my mom and my dad so I don’t really have a problem with it. It turns out that was just what she wanted to hear: “Oh, good! Everyone else thinks it’s a bad idea but I knew you wouldn’t disapprove.”
There’s hope there, in The Girlfriend, hope and faith in possibilities.
I don’t have a dating profile. I don’t have any food that isn’t “good for you” in my house. I am tired of not having.
At the end of the shift I count 18 empty boxes – a dozen count each. Every cookie has been cut into quarters and served. I’ve worked my way through piles of chocolate and macadamia nut and raisin and cinnamon chip, taking only one bite (the lemon flavor – I hadn’t had it before and you can’t sell it if you don’t know what it tastes like). It’s strange for me, being surrounded by the remnants of all this available food, being inescapably reminded there really is more than enough.
When I first started working at Sam’s Club the Boss Boy would let us take the leftovers home. Those leftovers were my dinner many a night. Then the rules changed. Now everything left over is pitched in the big kitchen bin at the end of the day. There’s so much we think nothing of throwing the excess away.
So this is what I think about as I start to tear down. It’s OK to want. I am surrounded by abundance. This – this life – right here, right now – is enough. More than enough. Enough to share.