Monthly Archives: August 2017

A Little Hike

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Ivy and Jay had gone on a birthday camping trip with Ivy’s parents, and I’d stayed behind with their housemates.

I like the housemates. They were nice people who talked with me when we ran into each other during the day and invited me to group meals. I felt include.

On the 4th of July, the most outgoing of the female housemates told me the whole crew was going to the nearby national park. Did I want to go along? They were just going to take a little hike.

I wasn’t much of a hiker. I’m still not. I love nature, but I’m fine with plopping down in one spot and observing from there. Besides, I was in the middle of the head cold I’d picked up during my excruciating bus journey from Texas to Utah. My head was full of snot, my throat hurt, and my energy level was low. But a little hike sounded fun.  A little hike would probably do me good.

I got myself ready. Bottle of water. Long cotton pants. Long sleeve cotton shirt. Big straw hat. I was prepared.

We piled into a vehicle and headed to the national park. I don’t remember how far away we were or how long it took to get there. When we arrived, the driver parked, and we all piled out.

The landscape was beautiful in that Southern Utah desert way. The vegetation was sparse. The land was dry. The rocks were red and yellow and orange. It was so different from the lush green I’d grown up in. The stark beauty of this desert astounded me.

A trail started from the parking area. It was paved with asphalt and led visitors to a viewing area. We set off on the trail.

I don’t know how long the trail was, but surely less than a mile. The area to be viewed from the viewing area was, of course, spectacular. The housemates took turns posing on the rocks, and I took photos of everyone. Then we headed back to the car. What a great hike, I thought. That was perfect. What a relief. Now I could rest.

But wait! The housemates weren’t getting back in the car. We weren’t leaving. The perfect little hike we’d just taken wasn’t enough for them. They wanted more! I groaned to myself, but decided to put on a happy face and be a team player.

We walked off into the desert. The sun was hot. My throat hurt. The water in my bottle was lukewarm at best. I was tired. I was not enjoying myself.

The hike stretched on and on. It was no longer little as far as I was concerned. The little hike had turned into a long ordeal.

I hadn’t been paying much attention to where we were going. I didn’t really know how to find my way   around in a natural area with no street signs (and no streets, for that matter), so I left navigation up to the people who knew what they were doing. I don’t know if we were on a marked trail or just trudging through the desert, but I started hearing bits of conversation that included words such as Which way? and Where? We were lost. The very nice housemates had gotten sick little me lost in the wilderness. At that moment, I hated the whole bunch of them.

In reality, I’m sure they were just a little turned around. We probably weren’t really lost. We were probably in no danger. But my throat hurt and I couldn’t breathe through my nose and I did not want to go on any more. I was over this adventure.

Then the most outgoing of the women said cheerfully, At least none of us are miserable.

I raised my hand so she’d have no doubt who was speaking. I am, I said. I’m miserable.

It was official. I’d gone on record. I was miserable.

We didn’t wander through the desert much longer before someone got us on the right track. We headed back to the vehicle. I’d never been so happy to see my transportation out of a place.

On the way back to the tiny town where the housemates lived, we stopped for pizza and ice cream. Pizza and ice cream and lots of big glasses of ice water can cure a variety of woes, and I felt the hatred in my heart dissipate. I felt friendly toward the housemates again.

Back at home, everyone dispersed to take naps.

Before I headed off to lie down, the most outgoing woman said to me, We’ll be going to the rodeo tonight. We probably won’t stay long. Do you want to come with us?

I thought about my throbbing throat, the sadness I’d feel seeing the rodeo’s cruelty to animals, and what won’t stay long might mean to people who thought we’d just gone on a little hike. Within a few short seconds, I’d made my decision and politely declined.

A few hours later, I heard everyone in the house getting ready to go to the rodeo, then I heard the vehicle pull away. I was glad I’d decided not to go. My sick, dehydrated body was still trying to recover from that little hike.

Greyhound Story #4 (Utah)

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At the end of June of my 29th year, I rode a Greyhound bus from Texas to Utah. I was going to the tiny town where my friend Ivy and her partner Jay lived. I wanted to be there for Ivy’s birthday on July 2. My friend Sheff dropped me off at the crowded bus station, and I was on my way.

When I planned the trip, I didn’t realize I’d be traveling with crowds of people trying to get somewhere in time for 4th of July festivities. I was only thinking about Ivy’s birthday on the 2nd, but hordes of people were thinking about Independence Day. Every bus was packed, every seat filled when the bus rolled. Every bus was running late too.

It was well past the time to make my connection when the bus I was on pulled into the station in Denver. Still, I hoped that bus had been delayed too, and I’d be able to get on it.

First I had to claim my luggage, a large backpack. I found it among the other suitcases and duffle bags, but when I grabbed it, I saw the brand new self-inflating pad to go under my sleeping bag was gone. It had been firmly attached to my pack, but now it was nowhere to be seen. I shuffled through the unclaimed baggage. Nothing. I asked a totally unconcerned and uninterested worker about it. He didn’t even suggest I fill out a lost-item form. It was simply gone, and I’d have to deal with the loss. (To this day, I think the pad was securely attached to the backpack and was actively stolen by a Greyhound employee.)

When I made it into the terminal, I found my connecting bus was long gone. I also found the information desk and the ticket counter were closed for the night, so I had no way of finding out what bus I’d need to get on in the morning or what time it would leave.

I sat down at a table in the snack bar area, exhausted by hours on the ‘Hound. I contemplated my options. I didn’t know anyone in Denver. I’d never been to Denver. I didn’t know if there were any cheap motels near the bus station. I didn’t really want to spend money on a motel anyway. Although I had a credit card and money in the bank, I was on a tight budget because as an AmeriCorps volunteer, I only received a small biweekly stipend. I didn’t want to waste a chunk of change on a motel room I’d only spend a few hours in. Besides, I didn’t know when I’d need to be back at the station to catch my bus to Utah. I wanted to speak to the person at the information desk or a ticket agent as soon as one of them started the work day. I reached my decision. I was going to spend the night at the bus station.

I got up from the table and heaved my pack onto my back. I went to the restroom where I washed my face with Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, brushed my teeth, and attended to other calls of nature.

When I’d gone into the restroom, the large waiting area had still been busy with the bustle of people, but when I came out, it was officially Late At Night and the space had mostly cleared out. I had no idea if I’d be allowed to spend the night in the station. Would the security guard think I was homeless? Would I be kicked out? If I was, where would I go?

I went back to a snack bar table and sat down. I wondered if anyone would try to steal my pack if I slept. I wondered if I could stay awake all night. I sat there for a while, read my book, but soon I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I was going to have to sleep, even if I only managed a short nap.

How to protect my backpack? I lifted it up onto the table in front of me and wrapped my arms around it. Then I lay my head on it. It made a lumpy, uncomfortable pillow, but I managed to catnap throughout the night. Mostly I was awake.

By the time I was able to ask questions of a Greyhound employee, travelers who knew where they needed to be were already lined up in front of numbered doors. When I explained my situation to the Greyhound representative, there was no apology for the late buses causing me to miss my connection. A new ticket was issued and I was directed to a door with a long line of people in front of it. When I asked if there’d be room for me on that bus, the worker shrugged. She mentioned the possibility of another bus headed in my direction but remained vague.

Once my new ticket was printed, I queued up at the back of the line. Other people filled in behind me. A bus arrived and passengers began boarding. The bus was full long before it was my turn to get on. Passengers started to grumble. I thought maybe a riot would ensue. Finally, a Greyhound worker confirmed another bus was on its way.

Once on the bus, I finally allowed myself to relax a little. I was exhausted and emotional. As we passed through the Colorado Rockies, I cried and cried at their beauty. When I saw the giant red rocks of Utah, I wondered if we had somehow left Earth and landed on Mars.

I finally arrived at my destination and was relieved to see Jay there to pick me up. We still had an hour’s drive before we arrived in a town so tiny it only had a public library (opened four days a week) and a movie theater (opened only on weekend nights). My friends shared a house in the town with their friends who were about to become my new friends.

By the time we pulled up to the house, I was exhibiting symptoms of the cold that would plague me for my entire visit, but I was grateful to eat a real meal, then stretch out on a bed and get some real sleep.

Greyhound Story #3 (Whatcha Reading?)

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I thought I wanted to move to Austin, TX. I’d never been there, but it sounded like a cool place. I decided before actually moving there, I should visit so I could make an informed decision.

A friend of a friend had a room in a co-op house in Austin. Since he was more or less living with his girlfriend, he said I could stay in his room while I visited the town.

I took the Greyhound to Austin. I don’t remember anything about the trip. I don’t remember arriving at the bus station to depart the land of my birth or how I got from the station in Austin to the co-op. I must have taken a city bus, because I’m not the type to take a taxi, or maybe the friend of the friend and his girlfriend picked me up in her SUV.

I remember the room I stayed in.  It had cinderblock walls and was very dark. It was tiny and made me think of a jail cell or a room in a mental hospital, although at that time in my life I’d never been in either. The friend of a friend had left it messy, and I didn’t find it very welcoming.

I don’t remember much about what I did in Austin. I know I walked The Strip, the stretch of Guadalupe Street passing next to the University of Texas campus. The co-op where I stayed was close to the University, so I could walk to The Strip easily. One night the friend of a friend and his girlfriend had me over to her apartment for spaghetti. I didn’t go out to listen to live music. I didn’t go out drinking in bars. I didn’t join the residents of the co-op viewing Star Wars after I was invited in the kitchen.

Sapphistry : The Book of Lesbian Sexuality
I did go to Half Price Books near the community health food store. I enjoyed myself there. I enjoyed walking among the thousands of inexpensive books on the closely spaced shelves. I found one to buy for myself as a souvenir of my trip Sapphistry: The Book of Lesbian Sexuality by Pat Califia.

I’d recently discovered Pat Califia when my housemate introduced to the book Public Sex, a collection of essays about sexuality in late 20th century America. From there, I discovered Califia’s collections of BDSM themed short stories, Macho Sluts and No Mercy and her dystopian novel Doc and Fluff.  I enjoyed Califia’s writing style, and the sex scenes were hot, although I realized eventually that I wasn’t into BDSM in real life.

Public Sex by Pat Califia (1-May-2001) Paperback

I’d never seen Sapphistry, so when I ran across it for a few bucks at Half Price Books, I scooped it up.

Compared to Califia’s other works, Sapphistry was more of a how-to book for lesbians. There were no BDSM stories, no hot sex scenes. I was a little disappointed with the content, but as a budding bisexual with precious little experience with women, I thought perhaps I could gain some knowledge from the book.

Other than Half Price Books, I didn’t like much about Austin. I barely gave it a chance, I realize now, but in less than a week, I decided I hated the place and didn’t want to live there.

I got back on the Greyhound and headed home.

I’m not a gregarious, outgoing person. I mostly keep to myself when I can, especially in public, especially on the ‘Hound, so when the loudly talking man boarded, I hunkered down in my seat. I thought if I stayed low, kept my nose in my copy of Sapphistry, and didn’t make eye contact, he’d ignore me.

Wrong!

He chose to sit in the seat behind me. He leaned over into my space and demanded, Whatcha reading?

A book, I replied coldly, thinking I could give him a social cue that I didn’t want to talk.

He didn’t have a clue about my cue.

I know it’s a book! he exclaimed impatiently.  What’s the topic?

There are moments in our lives when we must make split second decisions between telling lies and telling truths. I was living such a moment. If I told the man I was reading a book about lesbianism, would he think I was a full-fledged lesbian and therefore off limits or would I open myself up to homophobic abuse? There was no way to know what telling the truth might bring.

I’ve never been a very good liar. Instead of trying to make up something about the book in my lap, I just blurted out one word: Lesbians!

The man sputtered and stammered and sank into his seat.

I thought he might come at me later with some negativity, so I prepared myself by putting on my headphones and listening to Tool for the next couple of hours. The angry hate music prepared me for battle, but the man must have considered me off limits because he didn’t try to talk to me again.

Wheelchairs and Work Camping

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A reader recently asked me for my thoughts on work camping by someone who uses a wheelchair. I wanted to give as complete and thorough answer as possible, so I decided to make my reply a blog post, in hopes of reaching as many people as possible.

First of all, I’m not really qualified to write about the topic. While I do have experience as a work camper, I don’t use a wheelchair or crutches or a cane or leg braces or any equipment to enhance my mobility. As of right now, I don’t have any mobility issues. (I know this could change in a heartbeat.) I’ll do my best to answer this question based on my experience as a work camper, but if anyone reading this post knows of an article about work camping while using a wheelchair or (better yet) has personal experience work camping while using a wheelchair, please leave a comment with more information.

Folks should keep in mind that there are a wide variety of work camper jobs available.

Amazon hires work campers during the winter holiday season to pull, pack, and ship items. I’ve not worked for Amazon, but I know people who have. Many of the jobs available require pulling items from shelves and moving those items across large distances in a warehouse from where they are stored to where they are packed from shipping.

Work campers are hired for the beet harvest season in Minnesota, Montana, and the Dakotas. Again, I’ve not worked for a company harvesting beets, so I’m not sure how a person with mobility issues would fair in such a work environment. My understanding is that there are different positions available for members of the harvesting team, so someone using a wheelchair might be able to find a specific job compatible with his/her abilities.

My work camper experience has included two seasons as a camp host/parking lot attendant and my current position as a clerk in a campground store/visitor center.

As a camp host, my duties included cleaning pit toilets, picking up trash, raking campsites, collecting money from campers, and completing paperwork associated with renting campsites. I can’t really say what a specific individual using a wheelchair could or couldn’t do. Different people have different abilities, and may be able to do some or all of those tasks, depending on their individual situations and whether or not necessary accommodations could be provided. The campground where I worked had no pavement, so a wheelchair able to easily roll on dirt would be necessary in such an environment.

If a person who uses a wheelchair feels s/he is unable to perform all duties required of a camp host, one way to handle the situation might be to work as a team. The area where I work has three campgrounds where there are two hosts, each working 30-40 hours a week. In many situations, these camp host teams are husband/wife duos, but such teams could be made up of two friends or a parent and adult child. In most situations, the camp host team would be allowed to divide up the workload however they want, according to their abilities and preferences.

Some work camper jobs involve working in an office, either as part of being a camp host or as a job in and of itself. I don’t have personal experiences with office job work camping, but people in a couple of Facebook groups I’m in have done it. Working in an office may be ideal for someone with mobility issues.

I currently work as a sales clerk in what is essentially a gift shop. Except for breaks, there are at least two workers in the store at all times. I believe everything I do (folding t-shirts, restocking shelves, talking to visitors, opening the register at the beginning of a shift and closing it at the end, ringing up sales, taking payment, and making change) could be done by a person who uses a wheelchair. My co-worker doesn’t like opening and closing the register, so while I’m doing those procedures, he puts out or brings in the furniture that sits on the deck during business hours, carries the snack food in from or out to the storage trailer, and opens all of the windows. We are allowed to decide how we will divide the labor.

The bottom line is, every work camping job is different, just as every work camper is different and has different strengths and abilities. I encourage every potential work camper—with or without mobility issues—to investigate thoroughly any job of interest.  Be prepared to ask a lot of questions. What are the duties of the person who will do the job? What physical abilities are required of the person who will do the job? Does the job require lifting a certain number of pounds? Is a camp host expected to get on his/her hands and knees to clean pit toilets? What tools must be used to complete a job? Is the camp host expected to empty garbage can? Can a camp host team divide the labor however the team members wish? Is the campground paved? Is the camp host site wheelchair accessible? Do your best to make sure a work situation is a good fit for individual strengths and limitations before accepting a job.

I don’t know much about the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), but it may offer protections as to what questions a potential employer can ask and what accommodations an employer must offer to workers with disabilities. If I had a disability and wanted to pursue a work camper positon, I would familiarize myself with the ADA and the protections it offers before I began applying for jobs.

As I said before, I would appreciate if readers with personal experience or links to information on the web would post in the comments section. Otherwise, keep in mind that every work camping job is different and every person using a wheelchair is different, so do your homework and ask a lot of questions about specifics before accepting a position.

Greyhound Story #2 (Fried Chicken)

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I was living down south, in the land of my birth, when I decided to attend an anarcha-feminist gathering in Wisconsin. No one I knew would be there, so I would have a comfort zone expanding experience among strangers.

I didn’t have a car, and my job made my travel time limited. I decided to fly to Chicago, then take the Greyhound to a small Wisconsin town where I’d be picked up in a car and driven to the women’s land where the gathering would be held. I’d probably be the only woman flying to the anarcha-feminist gathering, but I decided to do it because I had the money but not the time.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful. From the airport, I took public transportation to the tiny Greyhound station which I think was downtown. I got on the ‘Hound at the appointed time, and we took off to Wisconsin.

The bus was full. At first everyone was quiet, but as time passed, a few people started talking to their seatmates or the folks across the aisle. I sat quietly and read a book.

As more time passed, passengers started getting restless. I could feel the shift in the energy as people started shifting their bodies.

When are we stopping? someone called up to the driver.

I need a smoke, someone else hollered to the front. The other smokers chimed in with agreement.

The bus driver named a town and said we weren’t stopping until then. The people who knew how far we were from that town groaned.

Knowing how far we were from cigarettes and food did nothing to soothe anyone’s agitation. If anything, people seemed more on edge.

We were on that bus for a long time. I know it’s hard for a smoker when the body says it’s time for a cigarette and s/he can’t have one, but everyone on the bus seemed to be growing increasingly disgruntled.

Then the women in front of me pulled out the fried chicken.

One of the women was young, early 20s probably, and the other was a senior citizen, so I pegged them as grandmother and granddaughter. These women obviously knew the ropes of long distance bus travel because they were prepared to provide for themselves if the bus went a long way without a stop.

The hungry travelers who were waiting for a stop at a restaurant or a truck stop or a convenience store were not happy with the aroma of chicken wafting through the bus. The rumbling of the passengers increased. Those women were braver than I was; I would have never risked my fried chicken with that crowd.

Girl, give me some that chicken! the man across the aisle demanded. I thought he might be ready to start what the future would know as The Great Greyhound Fried Chicken Riot.

The people in the nearby seats held their collective breath. Would the women share their chicken?

This is not a loaves and fishes sort of story. No miracle occurred. The fried chicken was not multiplied to feed everyone on that bus. The women did share even one piece.

I wish I could remember what sassy words the young woman snapped at the man, but they shut him up and slumped him down in his seat while everyone who heard the words laughed.

The women ate their chicken while the rest of us waited for the driver to get us to a place where we could eat too.

 

Greyhound Story #1 (Surprise!)

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When I got on the bus in the Midwestern college town, nearly all the seats were taken. I pushed my daypack into the overhead bin and looked at the woman stretched out across both seats below. She got the hint and pulled herself entirely into the window seat.

She was a white girl, younger than I was, probably in her early 20s. She had lank blond hair down to her shoulders and flat bangs. She had the blank face of someone who’d already been on the bus for a long time.

Our first rest break was at a truck stop deep in the flatlands of Kansas. I used a flush toilet in the truck stop in hopes of avoiding the smelly, swaying restroom on the bus, then filled my water bottle with ice from the soda machine. I saw my seatmate standing outside, drinking a Red Bull.

Once back on the bus, I read, listened to music through my headphones, and dozed as the prairie passed outside the windows. My seatmate had nothing to say.

We had another rest break before we hit Colorado. This time the bus stopped between a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell. I dutifully used the flush toilet, put ice in my bottle, and bought two bean burritos for my dinner. I took my food back on the bus and reclaimed my seat.

When my seatmate returned, she had a Red Bull in her hand.

Red Bull Energy Drink

I wonder where she had to go to get that, I thought as I stood up to let her back into her chair.

It was dark when we stopped again. I did my routine of restroom and ice, looking forward to closing my eyes and trying to get some sleep while the bus rolled through the night. When I returned to the bus, my seatmate was already there, yet another Red Bull in hand. I didn’t see how she’d be getting any sleep.

That’s when she started talking.

She was coming from Chicago or Des Moines or Omaha or one of those other big Midwestern cities. She was going to Utah, to Salt Lake City.

Her speech was rapid, choppy, evidence of all the caffeine coursing through her veins.

Her boyfriend was in Salt Lake City. He’d moved there. She was going to visit him, to surprise him. He didn’t know she was on her way.

I kept my mouth shut. There was no sense discouraging her now. However, I wondered if surprising a boyfriend who’d moved halfway across the country was such a good idea. What if my seatmate arrived to find him shacked up with another woman? What if she discovered him satisfying his previously secret bisexual curiosity? What if he was doing drugs or dealing drugs or cooking drugs and she walked into the middle of illegal activity? Personally, I wouldn’t want to surprise a boyfriend (or girlfriend) living in another state. I’d want to give a person fair warning if I was on my way.

I don’t remember how I managed to untangle myself from her. Maybe I just told her I needed to get some sleep. When I closed my eyes, hers were still open, staring out the window into the darkness, the land invisible in the night. Every time I woke up, she was in the same position.

We arrived in Denver to make our connections just as the sun began to peek over the horizon.

I must have gone to the ticket counter to find out which numbered door to line up in front of. Although my seatmate and I were both going to Salt Lake, we were standing in different lines.

She approached me, yet another can of Red Bull in her hand. She was screechy and twitchy from some combination of exhaustion and caffeine.

Why are you in this line? she demanded. Aren’t you going to Salt Lake City too?

I must have mentioned to her that I’d be passing through Salt Lake on my way to the Pacific Northwest. I couldn’t tell if she was worried about me being in the wrong line or if she was concerned for herself.

I explained I was in the line the woman at the ticket counter had told me to get in. I conjectured we were in different lines because her final destination was Salt Lake City, and I was just passing through. My explanation seemed to satisfy her, and she went back to stand with her luggage. Shortly, we boarded our separate busses, and I never saw her again.

I’ve always wondered what she found when she knocked on her boyfriend’s door.

Cookie

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When I was a Brownie, I was a cooking-selling machine.

Part of my success was due to my Aunt Dash. She worked at an upscale clothing store for women, and every year at cookie time, she’d have me come in to sell to her co-workers. I don’t know if the co-workers were just being nice of if they were cookie fiends, but those women scooped up most of my inventory.

I sold cookies to my family too.

My parents did their part to support me, not just by driving me around to make deliveries and handling the money, but also by actually buying cookies. Our nuclear family tried them all, but our favorites were Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, and—of course—Thin Mints. Later, the Girl Scout
Cookie Corporation (or whatever it was called) came out with Carmel Delights, which I was quite fond of, but my parents liked to stay with the tried and true varieties. Personally, I never met a Girl Scout cookie I didn’t like.

Members of my mother’s large extended family bought cookies too. None of my girl cousins were ever in the Girl Scouts, so I had the family cookie market cornered. My MaMa was always good for a few boxes, as were most of my aunts and uncles. My godfather did more than his fair share to support my cookie empire. Other than Aunt Dash, I don’t remember my dad’s side of the family buying any of my cookies, but maybe that was because they lived farther away.

After selling to my aunt’s coworkers and my family members, I took the cookie show on the road.

Despite my mother’s fear of the kidnapping of her children, she’d dress me in my Brownie uniform and help me load boxes of cookies into the family’s rusty green wagon so I could peddle the delicacies through the streets of the mobile home park where we lived. My younger sibling went with me, for safety, in our mother’s mind, but I’m sure the added adorableness didn’t hurt sales.

Stay together, my mother would tell us, and don’t ever ever ever go into anyone’s house.

We’d set out to knock on the front door of each trailer in turn.

I had a routine and a spiel. I’d climb the steps to the front door and knock knock knock. Then I’d run back down the steps to join my sibling next to the wagon full of deliciousness. When the resident opened the door, I’d say Hi! I’m a Girl Scout, and I’m selling Girl Scout cookies… From there I’d let the adult’s questions (How much? What flavors?) lead the conversation.

I was exciting to be out in the world without parental supervision. It was exciting to have a product people wanted to buy. It was exciting to be handed money and be trusted to make change. I felt like quite the grownup until…

I ran up the steps. Knock knock knock. I ran back down the steps. A woman opened the door. In my excitement, I blurted out, I’m a Girl Scout cookie!

The woman burst out laughing. Of course she did! How hilarious is a little girl announcing she’s a cookie? Pretty hilarious!

I felt my cheeks flush with shame. Oh, the humiliation!

I didn’t feel like a grown up anymore, but I was nothing if not persistent.  I’m a Girl Scout, I mean, I corrected myself, and I’m selling Girl Scout cookies.

What could she do but buy a box?