Cookies are a little like crack – they’re highly addictive, they lend themselves to cravings, and they can totally lead to death. Still, he can’t bring himself to quit them, not even when his friends – Big Bird, Elmo, Grover, Tellie, and even Oscar the Grouch – conduct an intervention. He needs cookies more than he needs them.
It’s with a heavy heart that he packs his suitcase with the few belongings that he has, fills a brown paper bag with chocolate chip cookies, and boards an airplane for the west. He’s headed to California, to a land filled with milk and cookies, because a state that rivals Wisconsin for dairy farms has got to have cookies, right?
The first thing he notices is that, compared to Sesame Street, there’s a lot of green in California. The second thing he notices is that, for a state that boasts to have so much dairy, there are just way too many health stores for his liking. It isn’t easy for him to find a decent cookie shop, and then the prices are a little out of his reach.
He travels some, looks around for a place to call home. He spends some time on the streets – grateful that nights in California are much warmer than they are in New York – before he finds an apartment and a job that doesn’t require him to have a high school degree. Dishwashers don’t get paid a lot, and he ends up picking up a second job working as a bagger at a local grocery store, which makes him a little homesick, because it reminds him of old Mr. Hooper’s place. He doesn’t make much money, but it’s enough to keep him in a small studio, and cookies.
It’s at a little hole-in-the-wall bakery, well outside of L.A., that Cookie Monster first meets Clay Morrow, and the man looks just as down-trodden as he feels. Cookie’s nursing a lukewarm glass of milk, licking the crumbs of a snicker doodle off his fingers, because Mama Rose’s snicker doodles are to die for, and he can’t really afford to waste a single crumb, as the man saunters into the bakery.
Cookie’s lamenting that he’ll have to wait for his next paycheck, an entire week away, before he can get his next cookie fix, when the man takes a seat at the bar next to him. Cookie only notices him because the man looks worse than he feels, like he’s suffering an even greater loss than that of cookies; though Cookie can’t really think of anything worse.
“You want cookie?” the words slip from his mouth, before he fully realizes what he’s said, and his last cookie, for a week, is held out in his trembling hand. He doesn’t really want to give it up, he hopes that the tough-looking man will refuse to take it, and his mouth waters in anticipation of how the cookie will melt on his tongue.
The man turns to stare at him, and Cookie gulps, his eyes going wide as he realizes that this man is no ordinary man, but he’s one of those bad biker types that Maude, who also works at the restaurant he washes dishes for, has warned him about. She’s told him stories about biker gangs that would’ve given Big Bird and Elmo nightmares for months. They always leave Cookie with a need to gorge himself on a package of Chips Ahoy.
Though his heart hammers in his chest, and Cookie’s mouth goes completely dry, his hand resolutely holds his last cookie out to the biker. Why is Cookie doing this? he questions himself. Maybe his friends on Sesame Street were right, and the cookies really are making him sick and messing with his mind.
But, no, no, cookies not bad, cookies very, very good, Cookie reminds himself, and he glares at his traitorous hand as it shakes, yet continues to betray him.
The big, bad biker looks at him, sighs, and then smiles sadly, plucking the offered cookie from his hand. Cookie just stares at his empty hand, sees black dots dance across his vision and sways a little on his barstool. Me last cookie, he thinks, and he feels shaky.
The man raises the cookie at him in a mock salute, and Cookie watches as the man takes a bite of the cookie. Not a single crumb falls from the man’s lips and Cookie’s a little mesmerized by the way the man’s throat moves when he swallows the bite of chocolate chip goodness.
Cookie watches with rapt attention as his offering slowly disappears. By the time that the man, who has too many tattoos for Cookie to count, finishes swallowing his last bite, Cookie’s mouth is watering, and he’s blinking rapidly.
Cookie’s eyes follow the man’s fingers – thick-skinned and gnarled with age – as he brings them to his mouth, and Cookie doesn’t even realize that he’s leaned forward in his seat until he’s bumping knees with the man, but he stays right where he is and watches. He feels a sudden camaraderie with the man who is so different from himself, when he draws each finger into his mouth, one at a time, to suck off the crumbs which stubbornly cling to them. Though he’s clad in black-leather and denim, Cookie recognizes that the man is no stranger to the fine art of eating cookies.
He shivers when the man reaches across him and grabs Cookie’s forgotten glass of milk, downing it all in one long gulp, wiping the white moustache that it leaves behind with the back of his hand. The smile that the man gives him afterward is a little wider, and Cookie feels like there are gingerbread men dancing in his stomach.
“Thank you,” the man says, offering him a hand, and Cookie takes it, reveling in the rough feel of it.
“Name’s Clay Morrow,” the man says, and he gives Cookie a strange look when Cookie doesn’t release his hand immediately.
“Oh, ah, me Cookie,” he says gruffly, feeling a little embarrassed because he knows that he doesn’t really talk all that well, and then he lets go of the man’s hand and gives him an awkward smile.
“Cookie?” the man waggles an eyebrow and chuckles. “You remind me of a friend of mine,” he says, and the gingerbread men settle in Cookie’s stomach.
Cookie works odd shifts which make it almost impossible for him to go to the bakery during the day, and when he is there, though he looks and waits, he doesn’t see Clay. It’s when he’s just about given up hope of ever seeing the other man again, of ever sharing his passion for cookies with someone as passionate as he, that Clay walks into the bakery, looking weary and haggard. And it’s almost like that first time, Cookie offering the man his last savory delight, and the man finishing the remainder of Cookie’s milk.
Unsure of himself, Cookie invites Clay over to his place, to share a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, and, though the biker looks at him strangely, he nods his head and says, “Yeah, that’d be nice.”
The almost nightly cookie binges, though, those don’t start until several months later when Clay’s standing outside his door, barely able to hold himself upright, and Cookie ushers him in, out of the rain. The man’s shivering doesn’t start to ease until Cookie’s gotten him dry and wrapped him up in a blue blanket that Baby Bear had given him before he’d left Sesame Street.