Edward sat, staring at his monitors. “My uncle works at a cookie factory!” He remembered his nephew, Sam, bragging to his class. “The cookies with M&Ms!” Sam’s peers had been duly impressed; M&Ms were a much sought-after candy for preschoolers.
Edward had felt a little proud, but also knew the poor kid wanted some credit for having an uncle drop him off, instead of parents like the others had.
“Do you get to eat all the M. M. cookies you want?” a boy in a red shirt had asked.
“Didja bring us some?!” A small girl in braids demanded. A tiny chorus of, “Oh, yes; did you?”‘s and, “Where are they?”‘s immediately followed her innocent query.
Luckily, their sweet, young teacher came to the rescue. Walking up behind the excited group, she placed her hands gently on Sam’s shoulders and looked up at Edward. “Shhh! Shhhh!” She quietly reprimanded, till the chattering stopped. “I’m sure we can have Sam’s uncle come and talk to us sometime about his job.”
“An’ will he bring cookies?” The girl asked, determinedly.
The teacher smiled at her, then up at Edward. Edward shrugged and looked down at his shyly shuffling feet. “I’ll talk to Ms. Prutt about it,” she said.
As baked desserts and giant mixing machines and oven temperatures automatically scanned beneath his bored scrutiny, Edward easily recalled and replayed the entire exchange. He thought about what he would tell all those eager children if he were to go in and talk honestly about his job.
“Well, kids,” he imagined saying, “First, I get to scan my name badge. Then, I walk to a magical land called a locker room.” Riveted, that girl with braids would yawn. “After changing into a protective jacket, hard hat, goggles, and ear protection, I pick up …a tablet computer.”
At that point, Edward was certain, Sam would ask if Edward got to play games on the tablet. “Yes,” he’d have to answer, “The games are called Spreadsheets and I check little boxes to mark whether the equipment is working.”
They’d be so interested, he might have the entire class asleep two hours before naptime.
He sighed, watching the millionth cookie pass by the electronic eye. He decided a nap on his part might be averted if he went down for another physical inspection. Glancing at the million and first cookie on the conveyor belt, he determined to visit the Inspection and Packing area.
A short trip out of Monitoring, across a catwalk, down some gleaming stairs, through Personal Sanitation, and out an automatic door brought him in front of that same line of cookies. A handful of workers in masks, hairnets, and gloves idly monitored the cookies. The M. M. cookies, he told himself.
“Hey, boss,” a man named Asay said, looking up to see Edward. He probably smiled.
Edward smiled in return. “How’s it going?” He and Asay used to work together in Mixing, before Edward trained and applied for his current position. He’d talked to his friend about moving up as well, but Asay claimed to like Production better. Now that Edward had been an inspector for a few months, he found himself agreeing with Asay’s perspective.
“Bored yet?” Asay teased, guessing accurately. He casually removed a cracked cookie, sliding it amongst fellow discards to the side.
Edward pretended to be indignant. “Of course not!” He continued, “We, in Inspections and Monitoring, are never bored.”
Asay laughed, leaning over the conveyor to look more closely at the new batch. “Hey! These have all blue M&Ms!” He exclaimed.
Curious, Edward walked forward. Sure enough, the first five cookies had all three chocolate candies in a blue shell. “Should we keep ’em?” Asay wondered aloud.
They both watched the cookies move down the line. They reminded Edward of the cute class of preschool faces. Blue was Sam’s favorite color; the boy would love to pull one from a package. Edward could even hear Sam’s exclamations: “Look, Unca Eddie! All blues, just for me!”
Edward, standing near Asay on a busy production floor, turned to his friend. “Of course we’ll keep them. What kid wouldn’t want to find one?”
Asay’s dust mask pulled to each side as he grinned. “Yeah,” he said. “You’re right.”
They both watched the cookies for a few seconds longer; Asay more closely than Edward. Edward had a thought. “I’ll see you around,” he told his friend, turning to leave.
“Okay, bro,” Asay answered, waving behind him.
Back through Sanitation and out the other side brought Edward to the ovens. He continued on, waving at a few people he knew and trying to look authoritative. Soon he was at Mixing and Shaping, his old stomping grounds. Three people worked in this area. The younger two were chatting and watching the enormous mixing machine. Soon the scooping mechanism would deposit balls onto the baking racks. For now, it was churning and the workers were idle.
Edward approached the third person. She was sitting on a special stool just after where the dough would be placed on sheets and given candies. Standing to her side, he spoke loudly, “HELLO, CAROL.”
An old woman turned to smile pleasantly up at him. Her grey curls were kept at bay by a company hairnet and her gnarled, gloved hands rested on a company uniform that covered her lap. “Why, hello, Edward,” she replied warmly. “How are you?”
Edward waved vaguely. “Oh, fine, fine,” he began; then, “I’M FINE. HOW ARE YOU?”
If possible, Carol smiled more widely. Edward had the fleeting idea that she was exactly the sort of worker children would expect to be at a cookie factory. They wouldn’t expect her to be hunched over machines in a hairnet and plastic apron, of course. Carol belonged in a homemade apron, proferring a steaming batch she’d just pulled from her kitchen oven.
“I JUST WONDERED,” he yelled over the mixer and age-related hearing loss, “DID YOU HAPPEN TO SEE A BATCH OF BLUE M&M COOKIES?” He glanced at her face, and caught a wry smile cross the old woman’s lips.
Carol shrugged, raising her clasped hands. “Now, wouldn’t that be a nice surprise for a small child?” She asked him innocently.
The mixer buzzed, startling Carol and her two coworkers to action. Scooping cups lowered to the surface of the dough and began lifting and depositing balls onto baking sheets. Each ball passed beneath the M&Ms depositor and on to the ovens.
The youngest worker pulled the first ball from the tray and ran it through a nearby Composition Tester; it passed. The second watched the progress of the machines, ensuring they were all clean and moving easily.
Carol, as Edward knew well, closely monitored each passing pan. Every cookie must have three M&Ms. If they had more, she was to slide it to the side. Fewer than three, to the other side. When the batch had finished moving down the line, she would carefully place the removed balls onto their own pans. Those with extra(s) had one or more removed. Using a bin of M&Ms to her side, she added chocolate candies to dough balls that had too few.
“Yes, Carol,” Edward answered, out of her hearing. “Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise?” Smiling to himself, he began walking back to his main work area.
“Well, kids,” he now heard his future self saying, “At the cookie factory there is a grandma named Carol.” He planned to look around the room and ask, “Do you have a grandma? Does she make cookies?”
He climbed the stairs, warming to the story forming in his mind.
“Carol is just like your grandma, but she makes cookies for all the children in the world.” He’d bring out a bag. Why not? They got to bring home remnants, as long as they never re-sold them. Holding it so they could all see, he’d say, “Carol’s main job is to put the M&Ms onto each cookie that doesn’t have enough. One day, she pulled three blue M&Ms from her bag. ‘I wonder,’ Grandma Carol said, ‘if any little boys and girls would like to have a cookie with THREE BLUE M&Ms.'”
Sam, the boy with the red shirt, the girl in braids, and the rest would watch him closely; they’d wonder if he had brought them just such an amazing cookie. Edward paused at the door to Monitoring. Could he get a full batch of cookies like that? Maybe he could even get all reds, all yellows, or all greens.
Entering his office, he planned to ask his manager that afternoon.