It Was The Cookie’s Fault

READ SHORT STORY BELOW (about 2000 words)

Riding a bike is easy. Until you try doing it with an armful of groceries seeking escape from a torn paper bag — while eating a cookie.

What’s my secret?

Missing that part of my brain that has to do with common sense. That’s how I get it done!

And it doesn’t hurt (or help?) being addicted to chocolate chip cookies.

If it wasn’t for those golden goodies, I might be a quasi-normal person. But the pursuit of chocolate morsels, encased in fresh-baked flour, butter, brown sugar and eggs gives me powers that would otherwise remain mortal. (Have you tried riding a bicycle while carrying groceries and eating?)

The fact that they add meaning and purpose to life is incidental.

If the can of peas hadn’t torn a hole in the bag, the moment would have concluded with less drama, attendant with the end of a well-regarded goody. Which, by the way, has successfully transpired numerous times. That is, numerous times riding no-handed while carrying stuff. (My proclivity for consuming cookies, while not riding a bike, would be greater than “numerous”).

I’m not sure if it’s undue devotion to a cause or just plain sugar addiction that brought this incident to bear, but it certainly resulted in fewer cookies making it home. Yet, I prefer to think they made a better day for an unlikely cast of characters who came together for an incongruous moment.

It started out warm and cloudy when I set out on my bike. The grocery store is only a mile away, so it was a pleasant enough Saturday afternoon ride. But by the time I paid for my items and was back outside, there was a slight drizzle in the air. If it were really raining, I might have eaten some of the cookies before heading home, but as the drizzle was slight, I hopped back on with nary a thought — other than of the imminent pleasure awaiting in the bag.

Safety professionals might advise against riding a bicycle without holding the handlebars. And to be sure, when starting out, my left hand does hold the bike steady until I build up a little speed, while my right arm cradles the groceries. Shortly thereafter, with enough forward momentum, the bike is like a horse that knows its way home. I can shift my weight to make minor steering adjustments and attend to the more important task of using my newly freed hand to retrieve a treat.

Today, I went exotic and got some macadamia nuts with my chocolate-chip cookies. Typically, I favor the classic choice and get them with walnuts or without any nuts at all. Regardless, that first bite is always a celebratory moment.

While savoring in delight, with the moist, balmy air gently massaging my face as a counterpoint to the rhythm of my rotating legs, I pondered how mankind managed to toil and survive for thousands of years, when this reward was only redeemed about a century ago.

My wonder and contemplation were interrupted while retrieving my second cookie and simultaneously observing that the paper sack was getting damp.

It could be argued that had I not paid notice to the grocery bag, the incident may not have occurred. But it also begs the question: Wouldn’t it merely have occurred a little later? (Albeit, perhaps without creating a weekend traffic jam).

Regardless, I did retrieve the second cookie and noticed the potential for the now-moistened bag to break, which resulted in making a right arm adjustment to cradle the contents more securely. That’s when the peas signaled their escape with the dismaying sound of paper ripping at the bottom, further emphasizing their newfound freedom by bouncing off my right thigh, en route to the side of the road.

Now, readers with the disposition of a Safety Advisor might gloat that this is clearly an example of a misguided practice since riding a bicycle no-handed, while all appendages are duly occupied, leaves little opportunity for correction should anything go awry.

Alternatively, those who are more inclined to the finer points of life’s appreciation might speculate about their own reaction in such a circumstance. Especially, since the remaining groceries were gravitating towards the newly opened bottom, seemingly coordinating an incipient breakout.

Whether my renewed juggling of the bag to secure its contents slowed or accelerated their ultimate demise may never be known, but escape they did and I was left holding a wet, empty bag in one hand and a deserving cookie in the other.

Which, represents the crux of the story: What to do?

For me, there was no dilemma: Enjoying the cookie was the order of the moment. Once the cookie was consumed, I would turn around to recollect the lost items and figure out how to jury-rig their transport home.

It seemed like a reasonable plan at the time.

Enter Mrs. Pagalag, my kindly resident landlady, who managed the 24-unit apartment building where we both lived on different floors. She happened to be driving home and was at the right place at the right time. (Or, wrong spot and wrong moment?)

Anyway, as she described the matter to the police, she had recognized me from behind, due to my riding no-handed, which she deemed a distinguishing characteristic. Upon observing the fallout of my groceries, she pulled over to help pick things up. But when she watched me blithely continuing to ride away, as if nothing happened, she was bewildered. How could I be unaware that the groceries I was carrying had departed?

Nevertheless, as was told to me later in my kitchen, she jumped out of her car — with emergency flashers cautioning drivers in both directions — collected the forlorn groceries, and was getting back into the car, at about the same time that my current cookie’s ultimate purpose was nearing completion.

If there is indeed a God of Good in the universe, he or she seemed to be smiling upon my enjoyment because it was only after I had consumed the last bite and was reveling in its sublime serenity that the misty drizzle transformed into a full-blown summer shower.

It was also in this exact moment that, unbeknown to me, the drama behind was fomenting to a peak.

Just as I was rapidly transitioning from being a slightly damp cookie aficionado into a soaking-wet chaperone for a sopping paper bag, a horn blared from the other side of the two-lane road, as it started to cross over into my lane while passing behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Jeff, the shortstop on our after-work softball team, in his pickup truck shouting at me in alarm, “She’s got your stuff!”

I grasped the handlebars, maneuvered the bike to the roadside and a full stop, turned myself around and gazed upon a perplexing sight.

Yet, my own astonishment must have paled compared to Mrs. Pagalag’s dismay and incredulity as Jeff was bringing his truck to a stop in front of her car, blocking her ability to drive forward, while traffic was backing up behind her.

I couldn’t imagine the scene becoming any more surreal until the local sheriff arrived, on his routine afternoon patrol, less than a minute behind Jeff. With red and blue lights set ablaze, he pulled up next to the confrontation and positioned his car to complete a blockade for both directions of travel.

Did I mention it was raining? And I was standing on the side of the road, holding a parked bicycle and a dilapidated bag? With no more cookies? Nor any groceries?

I might have settled for popcorn if I could keep it dry, for this was surely a scene from a movie projecting itself in real-time.

As the Deputy Sheriff exited his vehicle, Jeff also stepped out into the rain. I could barely hear him loudly proclaiming that he saw the lady attempting to steal his friend’s groceries after he dropped them from his bicycle. Jeff pointed in my direction from about a block away and I sheepishly waved back, acknowledging their attention. I accepted this as my cue to turn the bike around and visit the dilemma.

With traffic backing up in both directions, I could see the officer motioning for Jeff to get back into his truck while he approached the driver of the parked car with emergency flashers blinking away. It was only as I got closer that I recognized Mrs. Pagalag and ascertained Jeff had misidentified an attempted theft. Through the rain, I could see that Mrs. Pagalag was explaining herself and pointing at me while the Officer, once again, was looking my way.

As I was getting close enough to hear their conversation, the officer sought final confirmation with the driver, “So, you two are neighbors and you were intending to return his groceries?”

She responded with a feeble “Yes, Officer.”

He then looked over at me again, as I cautiously pushed my bike near the central perimeter of the traffic blockade, and he motioned for me to come closer.

“Did you drop some groceries?” He seemed irritated, although it could have been because he was standing in the rain discussing a story he wished he had passed before it occurred.

“Yes sir.” I observed his name tag as Officer Wenton.

“Do you know this woman?” His interrogation would not be deemed an attempt at friendly conversation, nor did it seem he was trying to make the situation too much worse.

“Yes sir, I do.” I smiled at Mrs. Pagalag and her shoulders eased a bit.

He seemed somewhat perplexed and asked, “Why didn’t you retrieve your groceries?”

A siren wailed from behind and I looked back to see another police car arriving in the wrong lane, bypassing all the stopped traffic.

I turned back to the officer and said, “It was the cookie’s fault.”

I’m not sure if his furling eyebrows reflected more annoyance at me or the rain, or if he might have been deliberating about the merits, or not, of writing citations while continuing to block traffic. But before he could respond I turned to Mrs. Pagalag and asked if she would pass me the cookies. I pointed to the plastic bakery bag on the passenger side of her front seat, juxtaposed amid my slightly banged-up frozen food boxes and dented cans. She quickly handed me the bakery items. The God of Good was still smiling, as I inspected the evidence, which appeared unscathed by their misadventure. I handed one to Mrs. Pagalag and another to the officer. “If you take one taste, you’ll understand.” Then I walked over to Jeff and gave him one while offering an explanation, “That’s my neighbor. She was going to drive my groceries home. I appreciate that you were looking out for me. Although it’s possible you may have been overly enthusiastic.”

“Oooops!” Jeff rolled his eyes in embarrassment and accepted the cookie.

The other officer neared the vortex of the traffic jam. I tried to give him a cookie, too, while we both walked the several steps back to Officer Wenton and Mrs. Pagalag. However, he shook his head in the negative.

I explained to Officer Wenton that I absolutely had to finish my earlier cookie before turning around to retrieve my groceries.

Wenton seemed slightly less perturbed and split off a piece from his remaining cookie and gave it to the younger officer, “Try this, it’s pretty good.”

Three of us in the rain and two of us in their respective vehicles shared some fresh-baked cookies while a few horns in the surrounding traffic signaled their impatience.

I, for one, was glad I bought a dozen. Otherwise, I would not have had any left when Mrs. Pagalag delivered them to me back at home, after I changed into some dry clothes. We both finished off the bag around my kitchen table while agreeing they were worth the effort and might have even saved one or each of us from collecting some kind of traffic ticket.

by George Alger


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