Thursday, May 6, 2010
Cookies for Hookers
We were fresh into the new year of 2008, and I was feeling guilty for putting off something I'd meant to do before Christmas. I'd bought a couple rolls of cookies dough, some plastic cups, and gathered together a mixture of holiday candy we'd accumulated since October, and the plan was to fill the cups with the goodies and hand them out at random. Call it random acts of kindness, spreading a little holiday cheer, or just being nice - I wanted to give people who might usually be overlooked a reason to smile. Sugar tends to do that. And here I'd let Christmas some and go without so much as baking a single cookies.
As it was January already, I decided to call it a New Year's Surprise and do it anyway. I grabbed a Sharpie and wrote "Happy New Year!" in English on one side, and in Italian on the other of the red Solo cups, filled them with a stack of chocolate chip and holiday themed sugar cookies, topped that with candy, then sealed them in plastic wrap and a little ribbon. They went into my backseat for the next few days for easy pass-outability.
Two went to gate guards who were always friendly to me, even in the rain. I handed another to the man who always pumped my gas at the Esso between home and work. I took one to a friend at work one afternoon to brighten her day. As I kept them in my car, I sort of ran short of natural opportunities to grab a cup of cheer from the backseat and hand it to someone. If I was thinking about it, I'd take one in with me to a store and give the cashier a treat, but as it was later that week, I still had three left behind my seat, unsure of where they should go.
Then one night I was on my way home from a girls' night. Of course...I'd nearly forgotten them, the hardest working ladies around, the girls who lined the SS1 day and night, rain or shine. Surely they could appreciate a small gesture of sugar-infused kindness, and I would imagine they rarely, if ever, received gifts without strings.
I was almost home, a little less than ten minutes out, and it was time to decide which ladies of the night I'd be visiting. The SS1 is a stretch of superstrada, a non-toll highway that runs through towns, as opposed to over or around them, and this one runs from around La Spezia just north of Tuscany to Rome. The SS1 seems to be spotted with working girls nearly all the way. Different stretches boast different kinds of girls, and the one close to us was mostly worked by male ladies, that is, men in various stages of transformation. Some had clearly had surgery; others, not. Seriously, some of these guys, even up close, had nicer legs than me, and much perkier breasts. It was something to get used to, certainly, but over time the ladies of the SS1 became another part of our Italian experience, and it was entertaining to drive visitors past, and THEN tell them every person they'd just seen was a man. So who would I dare pull up and talk to tonight? I opted to stop near a pizzeria in front of which there were always a few girls waiting around for a car to roll to a stop. I think they were surprised when the window rolled down and it was me.
There were two of them, and only one stepped forward at first. She said hello, as did I, then I extended a red cup to her and smiled. "Buon Anno Nuovo," I said cheerily. Happy New Year. She looked at me with an expression of cautious amusement, and she smiled back, looking over her shoulder to her colleague and then taking the cup from my hand. When she asked me what it was, I simply explained that it was just a cup of sweets to wish her a happy new year, and that was all. She passed this information back to the other, so she also then stepped up to peer into the cup. They were clearly unsure of me, but polite, nonetheless. I handed another cup to the second girl, said Happy New Year again, then said goodnight. When they realized I really was just wishing them well and handing over some cookies, they visibly relaxed, opened their gifts and wished me well, too. We all smiled, said goodnight, and I drove away, my new friends waving as I did.
With one cup left, I pulled over just past the bridge that crossed the railroad tracks close to another pair of ladies, and in similar fashion, offered them sweets and a smile. They were even less trusting, but politely took the cup and opened the plastic to check it out.
The next afternoon when I drove past these very same spots, the girls were gone but left behind were a couple of empty, red Solo cups, rolling around on the side of the road. I hoped they had enjoyed the treats, and didn't just toss them in case I was some crazy out to poison the local sex workers. Either way, I'd made a few simple connections that further strengthened my belief that we're all just people who make decisions. Sometimes those decisions are hard to understand, but most of the time, most people are just trying to do their best to get by and survive. I was happy that I'd managed to at least make them smile, maybe surprise them a little, and hopefully give them a little sugar rush to start the new year.