SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
January 23, 2011

Bay Ridge Bumblerama

 

The first thing I noticed upon venturing outside in my new neighborhood was how unbearably pleasant the people were. They stepped out of each other’s way on narrow paths. They didn’t swing large shopping bags or butt in line. They said “hello” and such when you passed them on the sidewalk. This of course made me immediately suspicious. What was it they wanted? What kind of evil machinations were at work here?

            It took a few weeks to finally conclude that they were just being . . . nice. On the one hand, it was a blessed change after twenty years of rampant Park Slope assholery. But at the same time I’d fed off that assholery. In comparison it was like I’d moved to Stepford. What the hell could I do with that? I can’t feed off pleasant.

            Well, I stuck that in a drawer for the time being. There were more immediate issues to deal with, like finding the pharmacy.

            Finding the building itself wasn’t hard. A large chain drug store dominated a corner two blocks away. The problem arose when I tried to find the pharmacy within the drug store. For some reason, most drug stores these days are criminally dim caverns, with narrow cluttered aisles arranged in the form of a giant maze. After bumping my way slowly down the shampoo aisle, the cold medicine aisle, the feminine needs aisle and the greeting card aisle, I finally found the pharmacy counter, where I gave the pleasant young man all the information he needed to transfer my prescriptions from my old stupid drug store to this new confusing one. He wrote all my info down on several slips of scrap paper and assured me that everything would be taken care of. I didn’t need any pills at that particular moment, but when the time came, everything would be set.

            The time in question arrived three weeks later. When I was ready to refill my prescriptions (after going a few days without), I stopped back into the store and slowly shuffled up and down assorted aisles until happening upon the pharmacy counter.

“I would like to refill my prescriptions, please,” I told the middle-aged pharmacist working that day. She was another pleasant one, who took my name and told me everything would be ready the next morning. I thanked her and left the store.

Here’s where I ran into another ongoing problem. Creating a map of a new neighborhood always takes some time. In that first month I had discovered the drug store, three bodegas, a hardware store, the bank, and a grocery store. That was it. It was pretty much all I needed at the time, but still—I hadn’t even been to any of the three local bars yet.

            The problem in any of these places is finding what I’m looking for. The expansive hardware store is no problem. The minute I step inside the owner is all over me, apparently to prevent me from reenacting a classic W.C. Fields sketch. The other dim, narrow stores are trickier. I need to feel around a lot in order to find what I’m looking for. Basically I grab what’s at eye level and hope for the best. It’s the luck of the draw that I’ll get home to find I’ve brought what I actually wanted to buy. I’ve returned home with strange beers, aloe water (stay away from aloe water), and unrecognizable fruits. But dammit, I keep trying, knowing next time what not to feel for.

            After leaving the drug store I headed into the Korean greengrocer on the next corner. I needed bread, beer and tomatoes. The last few times I tried to buy tomatoes, I’d returned home with blueberries, strawberries, and kumquats instead.

            As I walked into the store, the kid behind the counter was talking to the stock boy. (I feel strange calling them “kid” and “boy,” as both were in their thirties.) Anyway, the stock boy was saying “No market today. Market closed.”

            “What ?” the kid behind the counter demanded.

            “Yeah, no market today. Holiday.”

            “Holiday? What holiday?”

            “Oh,” the stock boy said, snapping his fingers. “It . . . you know . . . it . . . black guy day.”

            “Black guy day? Oh no!” The kid behind the counter yelped. He seemed very upset by this. “I don’t even have the Thing!”

As they worked this out and I pondered what the thing in question might be, I gathered together at least approximations of what I was looking for, and carefully edged toward the counter, trying to avoid setting everything down on the gum displays, the way I usually did. I considered telling these two that it was more properly known as “Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” but opted against it. I left the store a minute later, anxious to get home and find out what I’d just bought.

            The next morning I put my boots back on and headed out to the drug store to pick up my pills. As usual it took me some time to find my way back to the pharmacy, where yet a third pharmacist was working. A severe, intense, fast-talking woman.

            “I’m here to pick up my prescriptions, please,” I said. I gave her my name, and she headed off to the bin where they kept those prescriptions waiting for pick up. Not finding anything there, she headed over to the computer and tapped a few keys. As she did I started getting flashbacks. I had a feeling I knew what was going to happen.

            She made a small noise. “No,” she said. “We have no record of you here. Are you sure you’re at the right pharmacy?”

            “Um . . . yes.”

            She looked again. There was still no record. Then she moved over to the telephone, where she found a small stack of paper slips. A moment later she was standing in front of me again, clutching bits of scrap paper in both hands.

            “Here are four slips of paper with your name on them,” she said. They were obviously the notes the first pharmacist had jotted down three weeks earlier. “But there's nothing here saying what should be done with them. It’s just your name. So nobody’s done anything yet.”

            “I see,” I said.

            “I don’t know why nobody did anything with them.”

            “That is a pickle, isn’t it?”

            I returned home again, feeling strangely satisfied. That was more like it. Maybe this place was just as incompetent and annoying as every other neighborhood. All right then.

            Later that afternoon as I waited patiently for the seizures to kick in and my heart to explode, the telephone rang. It was the fast-talking pharmacist.

            “I’ve taken care of everything,” she said. “Called all the doctors and put everything together. You can pick it up whenever you like.”

            A quiet voice deep in my head shouted Dammit!

 

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