As I write these words, it's midnight here in the city of angels and I'm haunted by many things.
The wailing of coyotes in Griffith Park. The sound of a woman laughing cruelly, carried to me on the dry Santa Ana winds. The memory of my partner, slumped in a back alley, two slugs in his gut but dying of a broken heart.
But the things that haunt me most don't come out at night. No, this is the time of year you see them in the full light of day. Somehow that makes them scarier, more lethal, how proud and brazen they appear.
Yes, I'm talking about Girl Scouts selling their damned cookies.
When I was five years old, my sister was a Girl Scout.
This was an earlier America, a more trusting and optimistic time when pre-orders weren't mandatory. These cookies would SELL, period. The bakeries couldn't produce too many of them, so cookie-happy were we during this coldest of wars. The Scouts would lug these boxes door-to-door (or, much more likely, parents would sit idling in the driveways, their car trunks stuffed with baked goods that increased the caloric and fat content of an entire nation).
I loved cookies. I was a kid, of course I did! If there were cookies in our house, I knew what kind, how many, and where they were. And I my heart pounded as my sister lugged in box after gigantic box to place atop the kitchen table. There had never been more cookies under our roof than on that day! And while I knew I'd be given some of these cookies, nothing tastes better than a purloined cookie. Nothing.
I was a cookie ninja. You couldn't hide them from me. I knew how to sneak a cookie when there were only four in the jar. The trick wasn't that they would be counted -- just break one in half, and a cookie-checking parent, frazzled from their long day of doing whatever it was that parents did, might look in and think: well, were there four, or just four pieces? The trick was not getting caught with a cookie in hand or mouth!
That day, when no one was looking, I swiped two boxes of Thin Mints and ran to my room. If I ate them fast enough and disposed of the boxes, I'd get away with it.
It was a simple strategy worthy of Sun Tzu ... or, since I didn't who that was at the time, maybe Ultraman. And that was my last conscious thought for some time.
Later that day, my dad is calling me to dinner. He can't find me. He walks through the house, makes a circuit of the yard, scans neighboring yards to see if I'm around. He goes to my mom and they prepare a thorough search of the house again.
I'm discovered somehow wedged between the couch and the wall in our den. I have no memory of going there or what I hoped to accomplish. It's possible I was trying to hide the empty boxes back there, because they are clutched in my trembling hands. Or maybe I was doing what most animals do when they fear they're dying: looking for a dark and quiet place to do so.
When they pull me out, my dad takes one look at me and gasps. He swears to this day that my skin was a light shade of mint green. I was almost comatose from cookie overdose, my stomach and throat literally stuffed solid with dozens of Thin Mints.
Had scientists examined me, they probably would've announced to a shocked and mourning world that I was now more cookie than boy.
My parents knew what was going to happen next. They gently led me to the bathroom, lifted the toilet seat and sat me on the edge of the bathtub facing that porcelain maw. My mom waited with me, pressing a cold washcloth to my radioactive forehead while I moaned and cried.
And soon the retching began. I'd been sick before and that had been horrible, but nothing nothing NOTHING like this. My body spasmed into full-out detox mode. It became a fierce food evacuation machine whose violence would not cease until all Thin Mints were purged from my body.
The smell and taste of chocolate and mint, only hours before such a delight to me, re-emerged to sear my senses like hellfire.
I was so sick they kept me out of school the next day. I lay in bed, pale and sweaty and dehydrated ... with that horrid, acrid taste and smell somehow still in me, a demon that would not be exorcised.
To this day, I love chocolate. And I've been known to enjoy a fine breath mint. But if those two odors or tastes ever cross, they combine into something more toxic and death-dealing than Agent Orange to my system. I literally become my five year-old self again, and the soul-shattering body memory makes me twitch and shudder uncontrollably, and I have to pull or press away from whatever the source might be.
Chocolate-mint is my kryptonite.
The coyotes are howling again. And somewhere in the distance, yet never too far off, a boy cowers in the dark, haunted by visions of girls dressed in mint green uniforms, serving up plates and plates of cookies.
Resist those Trefoils and Samoans. Like the Sirens of The Odyssey, they'll only lure you in closer for destruction. These tables of cookies should be gone by April. Hang in there, kid.