It’s Girl Scout cookie season, and you’ve got to hit it early and hit it hard. We had our booth set up on Solano Avenue. It was normally chilly for February, but somewhat of a shock after a hot, gorgeous week that was anything but normal. It’s fun to see the girls sell in a pack. When we first arrive and it’s just me and Shayla, she’s shy and doesn’t want to look at or interact with our potential customers, but once another girl or two are there the group sales mind takes over, and they’re chanting “Girl Scout Cookies” loud enough to be heard way down the block. You’re welcome, Peet’s Coffee patrons. And sorry.
Selling is a strange thing. Many people love buying GS Cookies, a few for the cookies, most for the nostalgia. Often it’s their own girl scout years, but I think some are like me and have fond memories of buying and eating the cookies as kids. It’s like if I see the packaging for Tang Orange drink I get a warm feeling, even if I’d hate the metallic fake taste today. But still, there we are, wanting money from people so we can win prizes and fund our camping trips.
Last year’s sale was a feeding frenzy, and took me by surprise. We were constantly out of cookies and the only thing I could think was that the election had so unsettled people they were desperate for something that felt even a little wholesome and comforting. This year feels different, the demand more subdued. Do they need cookies? Probably not. I feel a bit of guilt when I catch someone glancing at us as if we were the peddlers of credit cards or some scam. The grandmas who gush about their own days selling cookies for 50 cents a box lifts me up, but on the whole a sales day leaves me feeling a tiny bit greasy and sooty.
So it was a delight to have a friend and fellow girl scout mom show up with a gift for me: a cheerful cookie t-shirt (the color system for the different products really is fun, gay pride meets Pantone). How sweet! But there was more: “I can stay with the girls, why don’t you take some time off?”
If a major joy of parenting is being needed, useful, and booked, there’s the corollary: the slightly disorienting disbelief and glee when you realize you’ve got an hour and nobody requires a thing from you. No one knows, or cares, where you are.
I skedaddled to a curry shop where I could sit with my latest book and eat Chana Masala extra spicy as I like it, only myself to please.
My current novel is perfect for the situation; I’m nearing the end of Book 3 of Karl Ove Knausgard’s My Struggle series. These books I cannot put down, but I spend significant time trying to puzzle out the allure. As The New York Times Book Review put it, “Why would you read a six-volume, 3,600-page Norwegian novel about a man writing a six-volume, 3,600-page Norwegian novel? The short answer is that it is breathtakingly good, and so you cannot stop yourself, and would not want to.” I agree that it’s breathtakingly good, but the form of it is so naturalistic and the detail so deep, that I start to wonder if it’s boring. And I guess in some ways it is, long stretches at a time, but it’s also vivid and shockingly beautiful. I cannot convince myself I don’t actually know Karl Ove. We’ve been through the death of his father in midlife. I was there when he met his wife. I’ve heard so much about the kind of dad he is (he’s the primary caretaker of their kids), and now 450 pages covering his elementary and middle schooling.
Should I even try to convince anyone they might like it? Perhaps there’s something specific to me about his taciturn, protestant world view, his intense shame at the smallest failures and embarrassments. Maybe I’m the one he wrote this for and it won’t make sense to anyone else.
That feeling seems to be the central trick, if it is a trick. The intimacy he creates with this reader is intense. Do you remember when trying to talk to a girl was a mind-bending prospect that seemed unimaginable? When being called a name in school felt like the absolute end of everything, and there would not be a way forward? When to make a friend you’d take on almost any shape or form, be almost anyone? I do, and Karl knows how I felt.
I’m nearly done when it’s time to return to cookie land, and to life. Thank god I’ve got book 4 on the shelf, ready for me.