Shopping at the A&P
“Hang on, mister, we are going to the A&P!”
When I was a young boy growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, I thrilled to the sound of my mother’s voice shouting those words. A trip to the A&P meant Oreos!
It also meant a visit with Earl. Maybe it was just our local store, but it seemed to me that the men who stocked the shelves and bagged the groceries took immense pride in their jobs. I recall them quite vividly, whisking up and down the aisles like a small army, tending to the needs of their favorite customers. Earl, a tall, muscular black man – whose round, gold wire-rim glasses perching on his nose suggested he thought deeply about life – was one of those men.
At the A&P, Earl always seemed to be there when I needed him, reaching the bag of Oreos I could not or directing me to my mother when I had lingered before some seductive display and lost sight of her. Later, Earl would load our cartful of groceries carefully in the back seat of my mom’s silver Pontiac GTO. Finally, knowing a cookie lover when he saw one, Earl would place the bag of Oreos in my lap. Then, before we had even pulled out of the parking lot, I would have the bag open and be handing Mom her fair share of our Oreo loot.
A Shared Affinity for Cookies
Fifty years later, there is shopping still to be done – although, sadly, Earl is no longer there to help us. Today, Mom pushes her cart through the Winn Dixie aisles with a determination that belies her almost 90 years. As in days gone by, she and I still share an affinity for the cookie aisle. However, we approach the cookie selection process differently. Mom is spontaneous. Although she still loves an Oreo, like a pearl diver in a sea of oysters, she heads towards anything that offers mysterious promise.
I, on the other hand, am a traditionalist. I have a set hierarchy of cookie choices, and Oreos are at the top of that list. When I say, “Oreos,” I mean only one of the two true varieties: the original Oreo made with chocolate wafers, and the vanilla-wafered golden Oreo, the natural yin to the chocolate Oreo’s yang.
Teatime: a Tradition on Grove Avenue
Cookies, you see, are a daily part of my life – and that of my neighbor Brett, too. Most afternoons, Brett texts me at about 4:30. “Teatime?” he asks. “Fen-tour,” I answer. (This is our take on the dated “ten-four.” Since neither of us is tuned into current hipster lingo, we jimmy up our own language. Goofy as phrases like “fen-tour” may be, they amuse us. And that’s the wonderful thing about Brett. He thinks texting weird stuff like “fen-tour” or variations like “twenty-eight” – which is ten-four times two – is amusing. Much to our mutual satisfaction, we have discovered, in that small agreement, and in our love of tea and cookies, a friendship.)
Teatime, then, is our attempt to craft a tradition in an age where tradition seems less than cool. We sit on the front porch at 33 Grove Avenue, sip our PG Tips English tea with sugar and cream, and talk about an array of topics. Mostly things relegated to a man’s world, like ex-wives, our glory days, liquor (and tales of its consumption), politics, history, women, and other subjects that strike our momentary fancies. Sometimes, we invite a guest, like Pete from across the street. But mainly we keep to ourselves, our tea, our own brand of humor – and our cookies: most often, Oreos, either the chocolate or the golden variety (although Brett will sometimes bring along a bag of Pepperidge Farm Classic Collection, one of his favorites).
Name the New Oreo Creme Sandwich Cookie – Win $500,000
As I said, I am a purist when it comes to cookies, so, although I do like a Pepperidge Farm Milano, I prefer the classic Oreo. Imagine, then, how I felt when, a few days ago, I ran across an online ad that read: #My Oreo Creation Contest – You Could Develop the Next Oreo Creation and Win $500,000.
“What the hay is this?” I said with a snort. On the order of magnitude, my disgust over the Oreo cookie contest was a 7.0 quake. But why?
At the age of sixty-and-eleven-twelfths, I have come to understand I am living during a period when all that I have known to be good and safe and solid in the world is changing. If it’s not evil land developers intent on paving paradise, it’s the rush of digital technology to replace people with robots.
That trend, which has been coming for most of my adult life, was originally intriguing, even alluring if you didn’t really think it through – which, of course, I didn’t. In fact, I joined the excitement, becoming of all things, an IT guy. I just didn’t want to recognize that the small light looming way out on the horizon was a freight train bearing down upon us. Now that I understand the weight of that future event, it is too late.
The Take Away
The fact of our modern existence is this: corporations power the world, and marketers seek to monetize everything around us. The #My Oreo Creation Contest is just one more example that the foundation of my boyhood is being chipped away. The Oreo, the chocolate sandwich cookie that sweetened an entire generation, now stands in the wings, waiting to be sold like chattel on the auction block. The faceless, heartless, number-crunching, bottom-line-eating, marketing giant has set its sights on Oreos.
The end is near.
Arnold, Peacemaker of the Cookie Aisle?
In Winn Dixie, Mom and I find our way to the cookie aisle. For Mom, it’s like Christmas morning. There are more boxes of cookies than she can possibly count. For me? Well, you know my angst. All I can perceive is the ruination of the Oreo Creme Sandwich. An explosion of Oreo varieties I have never seen fill the shelves before me. I am shocked to read names like Fireworks, Key Lime Pie, Red Velvet, Cinnamon Bun, Mint, Chocolate Creme (maybe not so horrible), and, finally, Peanut Butter.
I want to weep.
With Mom on one side of the Oreos and me on the other, a cookie stocker, a rather round man with a stubble of beard, feverishly opening cardboard boxes with one hand and arranging the new Oreos on the shelf with the other, stands between us. A peacemaker? I wonder. I spy a name tag on his red polo Winn Dixie shirt: Arnold.
Arnold, Harbinger of Doom
Horrified over the vast array of Oreo flavors before me, I ask Arnold in a panicky, drug-addict’s I-need-a-fix voice, “What’s up with all the kinds of Oreos, man?” He quickly informs me the cookie aisle is not his regular territory, and if I seek more information, I will have to talk with his manager. “Aw, come on Arnold,” I say, pleading as nice as I can, in hopes of worming an answer out of him. But Arnold is not to be deterred. He is a man on a cookie-stocking mission. “I got work to do, mister,” he says.
I pretend I haven’t heard him and press on. “Do you really sell a lot of these?” I ask, pointing to the Peanut Butter Oreos. Something about the peanut butter strikes a chord within him. He brightens a bit. I think, I bet Arnold likes Peanut Butter Oreos. If only he could remember when there was only one Oreo Creme Sandwich.
Arnold brings me out of my thoughts blurting out, “We sell bunches of those. Lots of peanut butter, that’s for sure,” he says cheerily. Then, realizing he has crossed some invisible line by fraternizing with a customer, he retreats into his shell and reminds me, “I got work to do, mister. If you wanna know more, my manager…” His words trail off.
Shocked at the heinous sight of a wall of strange Oreos, I cry out, “Why couldn’t they just leave perfect alone?”
“What’s that, sir?” Arnold asks.
“Look Arnold, this just seems overwhelming! Doesn’t any of this this bother you? All these damn Oreos for God’s sake!” I hold out hope that Arnold might harbor a secret angst when it comes to Nabisco flooding the shelves with ridiculous sounding Oreo varieties. But instead of finding a glimmer of kinship in Arnold’s eyes, all I see is a giant question mark.
“You OK, mister?” Arnold squeaks. A quick look and I can see he is ready to bolt. More than anything, my ol’ pal Arnold wants to flee and locate his manager.
“I’m just fine Arnold. But go get your manager if it will make you feel better.”
Oreo Lover and Middle-Age Lunatic
Truth be told, if Arnold had returned with his manager, I would probably have them both in age by at least twenty years – and even if I wired their brains together, neither of them would be able to recall the Oreo jingle or remember a time before double-stuffed. They would never understand why a wall of strangely-named Oreos should bother anyone. Their moms had not shopped at the A&P when they were boys. They probably never knew a giant oak tree like Earl or ate a bag of Oreos in the car with their mom. But I did, and my past was the problem.
My problem, yes. But I believe it’s one that comes to everyone eventually. Time just passes us by. The things we hold onto, those million tiny things that act as the glue that keeps our lives together, helping us to negotiate a daily peace with ourselves, simply begin to erode.
Anchors become balloons and float away.
The Real Take Away
I realized, as I stared at Arnold, that he and millions of other people like him will enjoy their Peanut Butter and Key Lime Pie Oreos for years to come. It is their right to do so. Those moments will become stories that Arnold’s kids will share, like the time they ate their first Fireworks Oreo Creme Sandwich. And soon, the marketing guys will make up a new jingle to replace Little girls have pretty curls. It will be a short ditty, one that will live on in the hearts of kids yet unborn.
Realizing I had taken the whole Oreo thing too far, I feel a bit guilty about Arnold. There was no way for him to comprehend the ravings of a middle-age lunatic. He will not feel the shifting of tectonic plates beneath his feet, nor sense that the solid nature of his world is quietly slipping away, for at least another twenty years.
A Playbook from the Past
Luckily, I had not lost all my senses at Winn Dixie. As my mom and I head for home in the old Caddy, I reach behind the seat and grab the bag of Heads or Tails Oreos lurking near the top of my grocery bag. Yes, Heads or Tails is a new variety, one side chocolate and one side vanilla, but, technically, still an acceptable Oreo. As I reach for it, I can’t help but think of Earl and feel a small rush of comfort.
“How about an Oreo, Mom?” I ask, proffering the package as the Caddy rolls slowly down Ponce de Leon Boulevard. “That’s the best idea you’ve had all day,” she says, smiling, and then chomping with obvious delight on her cream-filled cookie sandwich. “Mmm,” she remarks. “Yummy!”
So, it seems that, while our lives have changed, some things remain the same.
A Letter to Nabisco
After we return home and groceries are put away, I feel a bit guilty over my earlier actions. I also realize that, despite my complaints, my world is still intact. Maybe I should participate more fully in the world I complain about, I mused, deciding to enter that Oreo-naming contest – essentially as a peace offering, a tiny baby step toward surrendering to a world that is completely beyond my control.
Here is my entry:
What seems to be forgotten in the rush to name a new Oreo is that two chocolate wafers with a cream center is about as close to heaven as it gets. Forget fancy concoctions like Fireworks or Red Velvet. The mere idea of a variety of Oreo flavors detracts from the essential nature of Oreos. The fact is, people are entering this contest just because they want to win half-a-million dollars. They aren’t thinking of Oreo history. Most likely, your contest entrants are too young to even remember the jingle that started it all: Little girls have pretty curls, but I like Oreos.
A true Oreo is about authenticity and love. It is about a genuine experience that transcends some flavor-of-the week type of mentality. However, if your marketing fellas are hell bent on trying to create a new Oreo flavor, then focus on the basics: When your mom would whip up a batch of cookies, the first thing she did was mix soft butter, sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Remember? And when that was blended nice and smooth, you stuck your finger into that yellow mixture and thought it was about the most mystical substance known to man.
Well? Didn’t you?
So, Mr. Marketing Genius, I am proposing a Butter Cream Oreo – in honor of all the mothers and grandmothers who ever greased a real cookie sheet in a real kitchen. An Oreo that brings Home Sweet Home to mind. An Oreo that’s made with real vanilla, real sugar, real, fresh butter (not palm oil, which is destroying the rain forests, by the way), straight-from-the-cow creamery butter.
You know deep down in your Oreo-loving heart, I’m right. Butter Cream Oreo sandwiches are where it’s at.
Cue the music: Little girls have pretty curls, but I like my Butter Cream Oreos.
A Traumatized (Original) Oreo Lover