Saturday, November 04, 2006

Garbage Cookie

Here is a short story. If you like this one there are more at

Garbage Cookie
Alan Green

Today at work I went to the cafeteria and bought two cookies. The chef in our cafeteria makes some really good cookies. Most are standard issue, like chocolate chip, ginger, and oatmeal raisin. But, this one kind is really really good. It's got pecans or walnuts and, I think, coconut or something like that. I call them Mystery Yum Yum cookies. Anyway, when you mash all the ingredients up in your mouth it tastes pretty good.

So, I got these two Mystery Yum Yum cookies and one of them is fresh and one of them is a day old. I think the price for both is the same, though. Why that would be I can't figure out. It seems like the day old cookie would be cheaper but that's another subject. Since the price is the same and they look the same the only way you can tell them apart is the fact that the day old Mystery Yum Yum cookie is in a plastic bag sealed with a twisty-tie and the fresh cookie is not. Otherwise, they're identical--or so I thought.

I get back to my desk and work while I eat the first Yum Yum cookie, and I'm feeling pretty good cause the day is half over and a good cookie will raise your spirits at any time of day but especially so when the day is half over. So, I finish the first cookie (the fresh one), and I'm still hungry so I untie the twisty-tie that's holding the plastic bag that the day old Yum Yum cookie is in and I open the bag up. The first thing I do is take a whiff of the cookie. I don't know why. Perhaps the next time you open a bag of cookies you might monitor your behavior and see if you don't take a whiff of the cookies before you eat one. I think it's natural. I think we want to smell what we're about to eat. I think everybody does that.

So, anyway, I take a whiff of the day old Yum Yum cookie and what I smell is garbage. No, I don't mean that the cookie was of inferior quality, I mean I smell something that reminds me of the inside of an aluminum garbage can on a hot summer day. Garbage. I know my personal name for these cookies includes the word 'mystery' but I never thought it was anything other than a neato sort of dumb name. This Mystery Yum Yum cookie, however, smelled like garbage. If there was a secret ingredient in this cookie it was no mystery to me. It was garbage.

Let me try to describe what it smelled like. The first and most prominent odor was that of old coffee grounds. You know? After you make a pot of drip coffee--you pull that thingy out from over the pot and gingerly remove the cold wet filter and drop it into the garbage can where it stays for several days until you get around to taking the garbage out. The first odor I smelled was the same as those coffee grounds--like coffee, only mixed with a potpourri of other smells that have nothing to do with coffee. Baked beans, orange peel, burnt toast, stuff like that. But, mostly it was like old wet stale coffee grounds.

Perhaps it was the fact that the day old cookie was in a bag tied with a twisty-tie that reminded me of garbage and triggered a delusion, I don't know, but I was going to get to the bottom of the issue one way or the other. So, here I am holding this day old Mystery cookie and thinking there's no damn way I just smelled garbage, and I take another whiff. Yep. Sure enough it smells the same, only this time I'm better prepared--I have my olfactory senses tuned to 'garbage'. The second time I smell the cookie (I know. I've dropped the Yum Yum from the name) I notice an eggshell sort of smell. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm talking about rotten eggshells. That sort of gooey sulfur smell that clings to the inside of your nose and won't go away even after you've turned your head away and cleared your nostrils with a couple sharp exhalations. Boogers might come flying out but the smell of rotten eggs clings to the inside of your nose.

So, now I'm smelling both old coffee grounds and rotten eggshells, and I'm thinking this is definitely garbage. I was hoping it would turn out to be some quaint combination of oatmeal and cinnamon that, for just a second, had tricked me into thinking I was smelling garbage, but it didn't. In fact, it was even more garbagey than before. I couldn't believe it. A couple theories immediately ran through my mind. 1) I'm going crazy. What other explanation could there be? I had to be crazy to think my Mystery Yum Yum cookie smelled like garbage. Besides, the implication was even worse than the reality: someone had made these cookies using the contents of a garbage can as one of the ingredients. If that's not crazy I don't know what is.

The other theory was unavoidable and stemmed from the logic of the first theory; 2) this fucking cookie was actually made with garbage. Either on purpose or by mistake some dumbass had put garbage in the batter, whipped it up, and baked it into this horrible fucking cookie. And, not just any garbage, but slimy goo. The stuff that was layered at the bottom of the trash can and offered garbage geologists a clue to the history of that particular receptacle and the cooking habits of the Chef de Cuisine. Dig down an inch and you find evidence that the chef at one time must have experimented with banana lasagna. Drill another inch and you find telltale signs of dozens of failed tira misu. If theory #2 was correct, this motherfucking cookie had the most vile ingredients imaginable. There was only one way to find out for sure.

After taking the first bite of the Mystery cookie I could not come to any certain conclusions. It tasted stale but that's to be expected from day old baked goods. I could detect oatmeal, but that's a standard ingredient in cookies. I had suspected that this new hybrid cookie would have at least one traditional ingredient, and it looked like that ingredient was oatmeal. But, that was as far as I got. I could not, with any confidence, identify any other ingredient, no matter how many bites I took. On my second bite I was sure I tasted rotted vegetable matter, but couldn't tell which one. It didn't really have the zing of rotten bell pepper or the pungent tangy quality of a rotten tomato. It was actually somewhat subtle--like a rotten carrot, or some spoiled spinach, and as such was not entirely unpleasant.

I kept eating. After the third bite I had become dedicated to compiling a list of ingredients. Something in me just had to know. It was like this cookie was taunting me. Teasing me. Challenging me to decipher its recipe. I felt as if I was on a personal mission and studied the taste carefully. I knew I was dealing with old coffee grounds and eggshell, but the type of vegetable still eluded me. I concentrated like I was trying an expensive bottle of wine in a restaurant. What rotten vegetable could it be? No matter how I swirled the cookie around the inside of my mouth with my tongue I couldn't place the elusive flavor. Could it be pumpkin? Squash? Perturbed, I chewed on a couple more bites, but to no avail. I was no closer to unraveling this mystery and now the cookie was half gone. As I considered the possibility that I would not be able to figure out what the last ingredient was, something like panic set in. I knew I needed help so I enlisted the help of my friends. "Smell this cookie," I would say to them. "No!" they would respond. "Oh, come on!" I would say. "Smell this cookie and tell me what kind of rotten vegetable is in it." "You're a freak," they would say. Sometimes your friends are so holier than thou. Was it really beneath them to help me identify the fetid material in the cookie? A few people smelled the cookie but they thought it smelled normal. This made me think perhaps theory #1 was correct after all. Maybe I was crazy. I refused to believe this. I'm one of the most sane people I know. I'm level headed and objective. If my senses tell me there is something foul in my cookie then there damn well is! My friends were no help so I continued my quest for the Mystery cookie recipe on my own. Who needs them anyway?

I went back to my desk and reevaluated the situation. I only had one or two bites of the garbage cookie left and I still had no clue what the mystery veg was. I cleared my palate with some water and focused my mind to a zenlike pinpoint. Instead of taking two small bites I would pop the rest of the cookie in my mouth and ascertain the identity of the rotted vegetable with the sureness of a monk deciphering a koan--only I didn't have a lifetime to do it. If I could not determine what it was that made this cookie reek, I would never be able to duplicate it. That's when it struck me. I had grown to like the garbage flavor of the Mystery cookie and wanted to bake some for myself for another time, possibly again and again for the rest of my life. I figured I could bake a few dozen at a time and just keep them in the fridge indefinitely, as their flavor would not suffer too much if they went stale. That way I'd always have a supply on hand without worrying about baking fresh rotten cookies every week or so. However, without the name of that damned stinking vegetable I could never match the quality of this cookie. My cookies would be merely bad tasting, not exquisitely fetid as this one was. That did not sit well with me. I needed to know exactly what the missing ingredient was. Whatever the implications of liking to eat garbage were, I would have to deal with them later. I'm sure there are mental health professionals who are familiar with this particular dietary peculiarity. Right now, though, I needed that recipe. So, I ate the last big bite of the cookie and concentrated while I chewed. I searched my memory, sifting through all my experiences with rotten vegetables and tried to match the flavor of the cookie with some item of produce I had encountered which had been left too long in the back of some refrigerator someplace at some time.

Would black slimy mushrooms do? Was it mushy zucchini I was searching for? If I couldn't identify the mystery veg, I might have to conduct an experiment involving putting common vegetables in my refrigerator and allowing them all to rot. I didn't like that idea either. Eating an unusual cookie was one thing but filling your fridge with rotten vegetables is another. Besides, I'm too lazy to carry out a scientific process like that and I know it. There's too much involved. You have to label each bag with the name of the vegetable because, once it's fully rotted, you won't be able to identify it. Then, there's the whole testing thing--you have to bake a batch of cookies with each rotted vegetable, try it, make notes, et cetera. I'd never finish and the anguish might prove too much. I might go crazy like the mad scientists in old black and white British horror movies. It was too Frankensteinish to consider. I needed to get that recipe now or I'd never have it.

As I chewed the cookie it melted in my mouth forming a viscous batter. But no matter how I probed with my tongue I couldn't do it. I simply did not know what vegetable was responsible for this cookie's subtle rancid flavor. Knowing I had been defeated, I swallowed the last bit of the cookie and washed it down with a gulp of water. When would I ever know such an exquisite blend of enjoyment and revulsion again? Perhaps never. I knew in that moment as the Mystery cookie made its way to my stomach, that I would never be able to precisely re-create the Garbage Yum Yum cookie ever again and the experience would have to be a once in a lifetime thing. That's okay I guess. The memory of eating this cookie is something I'll always have and cherish--and you can't take that away from a person.

I had never imagined I could like garbage flavor in a cookie, but it just goes to show that you have to keep an open mind and allow your horizons to expand as they may. It's wrong to think you know it all or that you truly know yourself. Now that I'm open to new things I find myself wondering what other culinary oddities I might find appealing down the road. I once heard a story of a restaurant that sold carrion. The chef would go out in the desert and find recently dead animals. Some had been hit by cars on the road while others had succumbed to some natural malady. Sometimes vultures would be eating the carcass and the chef would have to shoo them away, but he would always leave some fresh hamburger for them in exchange; although I'm not sure a vulture would consider that a fair trade. The chef would throw the carcass in his pickup truck and take it back to his kitchen where he would prepare the rotted meat in the usual manner. Pot roast of roadkill armadillo with potatoes and carrots; grilled sun-dried buffalo with a cream sauce--the only difference was the meat was so rancid you couldn't get near it without getting queasy. Nonetheless, after it was properly cooked, the story has it, the carrion was delicious in a way that, although vaguely queer, was unique and few people could resist. As a result the restaurant was usually booked months in advance. Waiters would use terms like 'runny', 'ripe', and 'fresh out of the sun' to describe the nightly specials, and people paid top dollar for their dinner. I always thought that was a joke, but now I'm not sure. Perhaps there is such a restaurant someplace. Who can say what people will like if they just give it a chance? At any rate, I feel as if I have grown as a person and that this is the first day of the rest of my life.

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