Friday, August 28, 2009

A reprieve from pharmacy

Sorry I've been so remiss about this blog, but with my son home, in that neverland between camp and school, and our family actually pulling off two cheap vacations--biking in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, then a week at Laurel Lake in the Berkshires-I'm pretty well spent. It should have been two straight weeks away, but I tried to fit it around my pharmacy job and kept popping in to do my 8 hour shifts. Speaking of shifts, something did shift. I felt it immediately. Maybe it's a bit of the absence makes the heart grow fonder, but when I walked into Acme Drugs I felt like I was back in high school, the clerks all smiling and yelling "Hi Marsha!" down the aisles. Even Sally smiled at me. I basically just looked at her and said " I had a great vacation," which prompted her to ask where I'd been, and before you knew it, we were talking about vacations. Wonder of wonders.

But still I do wish I could make my living this way, by writing, instead of standing for 8 hours straight which actually turns into 9 and gets me home from my night shift at almost eleven.
I know, I know, I should be happy to even have a job in this god forseen economy. I guess now is the perfect time to put it out there... I'm spoiled. But I spoiled myself, by my own devices, carving out a working life that allowed me to stay at home and put in two to three hours a day. That was my print broker business, in my thirties, when I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and spent mornings cold calling design firms, or visiting a client, then the afternoons reading, often at the Mozart Cafe, or watching some obscure foreign movie at Lincoln Center or The Quad. Looking back, it truly was magical. Control over one's time will always be my mark of success. I just don't know how I could ever replicate it. Did I do something wrong? How is it that such an on-my-own-terms life has morphed into a frantic serving up of pills to 350 people, and that's on a quiet day. This economy really fucked things up. Or was it your basic industrial-age wipeout by the internet. My two loves- writing and my small, little print business-no longer viable.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Comandante pharmacy manager

It's Monday, my day to work at an Acme Drug in a nearby N.J. town we'll call Greenwood. This store is a mirror image of the Thursday store with children's cough medicine to the right, makeup and ladies' hair dye to the left, a wall of vitamins below the pharmacy counter. An identical soundtrack drones out the greatest hits from the 40's and on, with salespitched voiceovers by Leeza Gibbons. It's a parallel universe where even the pharmacy staffs resemble one another: tough-talking techs from East Orange and Newark typing in a mean staccato, a moody pharmacist delegates in a steady grimace. All to the exact bone-chilling degree of temperature.

"Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon" plays for the third time. I think of my mother and how she loved Teresa Brewer. I would never share this with anyone, after all these months I know enough to keep these thoughts to myself. Bringing up the death of a mother, or what one did over the weekend, or that your ten-year-old son just left for sleep-away camp and is terribly missed, would only be cut off by the ringing phones... or met with terse stares from impatient coworkers. Acme Drugs in their relentless bid for increased sales volume has eliminated any chance of intimacy.

Today my boss is Rachel, a tall, blonde girl with gleaming white teeth, in her early twenties and fresh out of pharmacy school. Like Sally, she doesn't hide her distain for me, resents any of my questions... mostly trying to decipher the doctor's sig (written directions), or his refill amounts or the drug itself. "You should know that," she'll say harshly. Often it's easier to simply call the doctor who literally spells it out for me. "N-I-A-S-P-A-N" he says kindly.

As luck would have it, Sally never gave me a code to enter into the cash register so on this day I'm actually performing pharmacy duties, mostly entering prescriptions in the computer. "When is your internship over?" she asks. It's her question to me each Monday. "We really have no budget for you here," she adds.

That night my husband and I fight. He tells me I'm difficult, that I can't get along with people, that I need to learn to better communicate. Later on we watch a National Geographics documentary on the early years of the holocaust, before the gas chambers, when Jews were killed one bullet at a time. I can't help feeling that Acme Drugs is my Babi Yar, that I'm the persecuted Jew and Rachel a dead ringer for the aryan comandante. I'm miserable.