I ended my sophomore year in High School almost failing out of algebra. The D+ I received was generous and my grades in other subjects were pretty mediocre too.
My parents weren’t just disappointed in me, they were livid. Here I was their oldest daughter, failing at everything, and whether their concern was for me, or the way my lack of achievement reflected on them, it didn’t really matter. My parents were divorced. Back in those days, they never spoke. My sister and I would had to have leprosy for them to get on the phone. But my academic apathy was enough to have them talking daily. This was a five-alarm fire, an earthquake, a tsunami. It was decided, without my consent, that I would have to get a job. My Father gave me the news over the phone:
“Stacy London,” he said, “ You do not understand the value of a dollar. Don’t tell me you want to go to Paris! I’ll send you to Paris Island!” (A military base, of some kind apparently)
“You’re a spoiled brat.”
Now, looking, back I completely understand their fury. But then, I thought they were dictators stomping on my constitutional right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
My counter-argument was simple: it was too late in the season to get a cool job like working at Fiorucci or waitressing at Serendipity 3. But ever ready to crush my argument, Mom said she had already secured me a job at the (what was then very famous) flagship store of David’s Cookies. I wasn’t getting out of this crash course in the value of a dollar.
When it comes to the NYC cookie scene, I’m pretty sure that Mrs. Field’s came before David’s. But David’s was better. David’s was the Ben and Jerry’s of their time. The cookies were flat rather than fluffy but with massive chunks of rich dark gooey chocolate. There was regular chocolate chunk, double chocolate, macadamia white chocolate and peanut butter. There may have been oatmeal raisin but who bothers with that flavor.
When I looked up, I found a .45 staring me in the face.
It wasn’t completely uncool to work there, but not by much. Even more uncool was that my Mom actually knew David and he was doing her a favor. Ugh, the humiliation.
Kate, my manager, showed me the ropes. I got to know Tammy and Bill, the two other employees as well. We were cramped with no privacy. There was no back room, just a little nook with a desk out of view from the front of the shop. So we bonded in close proximity and over the cooking baking process. The dough came raw and we scooped balls of it onto big flat industrial trays, then transferred the fresh batches onto fancy display trays,
The shop was an oasis on the Middle East Side. We were a destination. People would line up some nights. Friday and Saturday evenings were especially busy due to the rush of people headed to the Hamptons or upstate. We would shift into high gear around those hours. That flurry was probably my favorite time.
The worst part for me was cleaning and closing. That meant cleaning: the trays, the ovens, sweeping, and polishing. That was hard labor and I would curse my parents quietly under my breath. There was one perk to closing: all the leftover cookies were there for taking every 2 days, not every night.
I wasn’t allowed to touch the money. I knew the 20s, 50s and the rare 100 were underneath the register tray. I knew all of it had to be counted and checked against the total receipts. I knew that cash went into a bank bag. Kate was the one who handled all that. Sometimes, Tammy was allowed. The only thing that really mattered was that the numbers netted out. As long as we were within a five dollar range of discrepancy, there was never an issue.
One night, when just Tammy and Bill and I were working, Tammy cashed out and said there was an extra 180 dollars in the til. Apparently that had never happened before. We helped Tammy cross check cash to receipts a second time. Tammy seemed anxious. But all I thought was: No one screwed up! Extra money for David! Relax. Have a cookie.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed both Tammy and Bill were almost monosyllabic around me. And when all conversation stopped, I panicked I’d done something to upset them.
What. The. Ass. Is. Wrong?
Tammy was the one who spoke first. Since the extra $180 “incident”, Tammy and Bill had decided I was a company spy, placed there to catch them out in a lie or stealing.
“What would make you think that?,” I asked.
“You’re super buddy buddy with Kate now.”
“All we were told was that you knew David and we had to give you shifts.”
“That extra money in the cash register, that was a test right?”
If I’d been in their shoes, I’d have thought the same thing.
“I’m not a spy, just a disgruntled teen with a mom who knows David and parents who are out to punish me,” I said.
That part they got.
Cut to: Tammy and I chilling on a Saturday night. Things had been slow so she asked me to go on look out while she made a phone call. Only Kate was allowed to use the phone. But not being much of a stickler for rules back then, and perhaps because I was trying to prove I was not a spy, I agreed.
I wasn’t paying attention when the man walked in. Tammy was speaking softly. I gave the customer a minute to look over the goods before asking him what he’d like. I’d learned that people make very different choices in their orders when given a few moments to consider their options. That 1/2 lb bag of double chocolate chip could switch to a 1 lb box if given the right length in pause. Sales is all in the timing.
When I looked up, I found a .45 staring me in the face. Even though Tammy was there, she couldn’t see us and I just knew not to cry out.
“Get out the cash and don’t forget the 20’s and 50’s from under the drawer.”
I did what I was told very slowly so as not to incite him, afraid the gun would just go off if I moved too quickly. Yet something inside me told me to look at his face. I would need to remember it later for the police report. So I looked. And then he put the gun to my directly to my head.
“Don’t you look at me, BITCH. Don’t look at me!!!! Put the money in a bag!!!”
To this day, I can’t believe the words dropped from my lips:
“Would you like some cookies?”
(I guess my fight or flight instinct is kind of maternal.)
“Yeah, give me all the kinds.”
“Ok Sir! 2 lbs assorted coming up.”
Before I closed the box, I asked if he’d prefer to keep the cash with the cookies. I put an extra piece of wax paper over the last layer and he laid the cash on top. I mean, who wants sticky bills. Then he left. Tammy was still on the phone and I realized I’d been holding my breath the entire time. I never told on her because I’m not a spy OR a snitch.
Later that evening, after the police had come and gone, I called my father. Instead of crying my eyes out I said quietly with a voice full of venom:
“I almost died learning the value of a dollar. Are. You. Happy. Now?”
Let me tell you I milked that one for a very long time.