Four days of talk about ending poverty, empowering volunteers and seizing idealism – and my favorite moment didn’t end up being about saving the world. Cookies. They were my favorite moment. As a self-proclaimed awesome cookie baker – I’ve been perfecting it since age 12 – I immediately took notice of afternoon snack time. I wasn’t even dying for the perfect mix of crumble, sweet and crunch. I’d pigged out on some brownie chocolate mousse concoction that can only be made in that oddly duplicated hotel form.
But as soon as the half-dozen glass jars, silver tongs and name cards hit the table, the hunt started. On the way to the registration level – one level below outdoors, daylight and hotel conference dank air – the participants couldn’t hit the crest of the escalator without the afternoon light catching those jars just right like a beacon. Up ahead were the restrooms. To the left was the shortest route away from the tables of confections and pink lemonade.
Even before the first step off the belt, the hesitation started. The eye darts, the head swoop to keep blinders on, even the slight pink blush on women who felt caught red-handed for even thinking of the desserts when the registration volunteers caught their line of sight. For those less fortunate to have will power and go left, they began the awkward swoop. About 10 feet beyond the tables were pillars separating the registration area, cookie area and escalator area into neat thirds. The first swoop took place in the first third. Shoulders were still back, heads were held high and a steady pace was kept as participants headed to the restroom or to talk to volunteers manning badges and bags.
As they circled around back to the escalators they would either complete the loop and make it out alive, or fall prey to the next circle – water. In a fake attempt at health, the prideful would down a tumbler of ice water, pour another and swig it bag as if it stunk in their throat like whiskey. The glass would linger in their fingers and the blank stare at the condensation on the silver pitchers would begin. It was only a few moments, but those moments determined if they’d make it back to the outer loop and ride to freedom, or if they’d circle to the inside of the pillars for the kill. Turns out the water was just a pallet cleanser to calorie hell.
Lined up were the peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip, white chocolate chip cookies. The tongs kept things civil for a while as an equalizer between men who didn’t really care that they’d given in and women who cared too much. They added a moment of pause, but made the treat feel worth the indulgence. Cookies at home aren’t served with sterling tongs and in pretty jars. They’re waiting out a sentence to staleness based on the last sticky fingers’ ability to close flimsy plastic. Their faces would settle from stone cold to guilty to acceptance as their hands reached in for the goods.
As each jar reached half capacity, hotel staff would come in and combine the jars to look like they’d just been laid out fresh. Those with their hands in the jar acted just like that – they’d been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Within an hour enough cookies were devoured so that the half-dozen jars were down to two jars, the tongs and lids were abandoned in the middle of the table and even napkins became an after thought. The move was swift, like an ant colony going to war on a picnic. In two hours, half cookies and crumbs populated the bottom of a jar.
That’s when the loop got confusing. All those before that made it out with a cookie and quickly paced back toward the escalator – shoulders hunched and their hands buried by their side so as not to alarm anyone of a two dessert day – were lucky. They at least had made it out. Yeah it was a guilty pleasure, but life had given them free cookies! The late comers hoping a whole cookie the size of their palm was in the bottom of those crumbs met disappointment. They had the same sheepish look, sluggish shoulders and head hang. Instead of looping toward the escalator, they went backward. Confused. Dismayed. Loop. To the water. Drink. Stare. Swig another tumbler. Loop. To the desk. Talk. Gossip. Look busy. Loop. To the restroom. Back around to the escalator, but this time the long way, just in case a new jar made its way to the table before they hit daylight.