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Friday, September 11, 2009

More Mercury, Please

You might not have guessed it from the foul-mouthed, simmering tomfoolery exhibited on this blog, but I am, in the real, three-dimensional world, a very meek, mild-mannered person.

Those few of you who actually know me personally know what I mean. The thought of me confronting someone or having a public outburst of any consequence is admittedly funny, even to me.

Being meek and mild-mannered, I tend to wait in lines a lot. Impatient people don't wait in lines. They have ways of circumventing lines. They'll either slam their item down and leave the store in a disgusted huff-- a duff, as it were-- or they'll find some other way to achieve their all-important goal of not waiting anymore. Maybe they'll shout at the flustered checkout girl, "Common, will ya?!" as their bluetooth headset flashes with equal impatience and insistence. Sometimes, they'll even budge. I mean, eeep! Don't these guys remember the cardinal rules of the 8th grade cafeteria lunch line? There were pearls of widsom hidden deep within the anonymous brown gorp on those pale pink and green melamine trays.

Today, I went to the pharmacy to pick up my asthma medication and nasal spray, items that all Jewish males are required by law to take. Because these are chronic medications that I will be no doubt shackled to for life (I'm your boy, Glaxo bitches!) the pharmacy tech knows which bag to grab the moment I walk in the door. Most people are on first-name terms with their baristas or their bartenders. Me? I'm tight with the drug lady. I forked over my overzealous co-pay and, as I was shoving my debit card into my wallet, I suddenly remembered that I hadn't yet procured a wedding card for my good buddy who's getting hitched in Vermont this weekend (we're leaving soon).

"Do you carry greeting cards here?" I asked the pharmacy tech. She actually laughed at me.

"Yeah," she said, between guffaws, "right where you walked in."

I turned and stared at a huge display of greeting cards, just where she said they were. I guess I couldn't blame her for laughing at my total lack of observational prowess-- my family has been coming to this pharmacy since the 1970s, and nothing has changed there since then, except that the soda fountains are no longer operational. In fact, I read my first Playboy there. And was caught by the pharmacist, an elderly man who threatened to call my mom. I mean-- who told him to put the nudie mags where eight-year-olds could reach them?

"Oh," I said, sheepishly retreating behind the greeting card rack to find an inoffensive and ungloppy wedding card. I picked a blank one pretty quickly, but it wasn't quick enough, for, when I came back to the counter, I found that I was forced to wait in line. Only behind one person, though. It will be fine.

The one person I was behind, however, was not just a person. She was the person. She was the epitome, the very living essence of the person, the singular person you never, ever, ever, ever want to be behind in line. She didn't have Hershey stains on the seat of her trousers, or an oozing, infected hole in the back of her neck with a couple of hatchlings inside waiting for the return of their mother with dinner, but she was, well, a cheapskate who was there to complain.

"Is that young kid working tonight?" she said. This was the foreplay leading up to the main event.

"Uh, no, he's back in school now," the pharmacy tech said.

"Oh. Well. Here's the thing...."

Oh, Jesus, I thought. I wondered briefly what "the thing" could be, coming from "the person." Could it be that they mixed up her Lopressor with crystal meth? Did they sell her super-absorbent Depends when she only needed "regular moisture control?" Were her PVD medical stockings the wrong shade of "Flesh?"

"I specifically asked him to sell me a traditional mercury thermometer, and he sold me a mercury-free thermometer. For $12.00. Now, I didn't realize that it was mercury-free at the time, but I took that thermometer home and I used it over and over and over again and that thing won't go above 98 degrees."

Well, maybe you don't have a fucking fever, my little cupcake.

"Now, I only use mercury thermometers, because they're the best. And I don't know what kind of item that kid sold me. I mean, maybe it was packaged a very long time ago, and it had just been sitting here....."

The pharmacy tech inspected the box.

"No, it says here "December, 2008."

"Oh, well, I don't know... the thermometer says 'Made in Germany' so, you know..."

No, I don't know. What is that supposed to mean? Is that somehow evidence supporting her contention that the product is defective? Are Germans somehow notorious for manufacturing faulty no-mercury thermometers? I should ask my sister-- she knows about every product that's ever been recalled since the 1984 Ron Popeil Flavor Injector, Pencil Sharpener and Enema Kit.

"Oh, well actually the box says "Grand Rapids, Michigan," she said after more closely inspecting the box. I was in awe of this woman. All she wanted was her goddamn $12.00 back, and yet she somehow felt it necessary to conduct this elaborate and ridiculous song and dance. I couldn't help admiring her, though, for being who she was. She was someone who appreciated the minutae of life, this sweatsuit and windbreaker wearing, bespectacled, frizzy-haired seventy-year-old customer standing in front of me, making my life miserable because her thermometer didn't have enough poison in it.

"Well, all I know is that it won't go about 98 degrees. It won't budge. It absolutely doesn't move." She shoved it in the pharmacy tech's face. "Here! You try it."

"Um, I'm not putting that in my mouth. That's okay."

"All I'm saying is that I have checked this thermometer against my mercury thermometer and this one is definitely off!"

Wait a minute, Mrs. Mercury-- you already have a goddamn thermometer with mercury in it? Then why were you trying to buy another one? Do you have a collection of them? I pictured her house briefly in my mind, and then I quickly shrugged off the mental images. I pictured a cocktail party, with dozens of cats everywhere, jumping on all the guests and shitting in their coat pockets and I pictured her behind the basement wet bar, in her sweatsuit and pink windbreaker, mixing all the drinks with mercury thermometers as cocktail stirrers. And now you know why I avoid parties.

Finally, the pharmacy tech looked over this woman's shoulder at my pathetic corpse standing behind her, immobile, clutching my measly wedding card.

"I can just ring that up for you," she said, barely hiding a smirk. "Do you need a bag for this?"

I caught that evil glint in her eye and I broke out into a smile. Barely able to suppress my laughter as I snatched my receipt I choked, "Nope!"

Waiting in line, an interminable line, sucks. It just feels like your life is draining out your shoes. But I realized this evening that some things are worth waiting for. I knew I had to get out of there soon or I was going to crack up right there in front of this poor, disheveled lunatic, and I just had to fight to control myself. I turned around to leave as the old crone shook the thermometer vigorously and reported,

"Well, it's moving now, but I'll bet it won't go up!"

And as I threw the store's door open, I heard the pharmacy tech laugh, right out loud.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, god. The worst thing about any job where you have to deal with customers is those crazies. What can you do? You can't just decide not to deal with them... you HAVE to. Ugh. When I used to bartend, we'd flip coins to see who'd have to deal with the really annoying people.


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