Main | Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cat Food

Eckerd Pharmacy, 68th Street & 2nd Avenue

All efficiency, before I left the office for the subway, I'd called my order in to Wok-N-Roll. "Beef broccoli, white rice, egg roll....and have it ready for me at 6:30pm, please. " I don't like missing the beginning of Law & Order.

At the corner of 68th Street, I popped into the new Eckerd. It's been there on that corner for about six months, and I still do a double-take when I see it, as I have always associated Eckerd with my life in Florida. There's an Eckerd on every corner in Fort Lauderdale.

I grabbed a couple of Mountain Dews from the cooler against the back wall. Wok-N-Roll doesn't sell Pepsi products. Third in line at the register, I scanned the screaming headlines of the celebrity tabs. Somebody is pregnant! Somebody is cheating! Somebody is head over heels in love! Yawn, yawn, and yawn.

The old lady in front of me placed 3 cans of cat food on the counter. Fancy Feast. Grilled Chicken Feast In Gravy. She clutched her coat tightly closed with one hand and swung her purse up on the counter so she could reach into it with the other one, while keeping it safely in the crook of her elbow. The clerk, his shirt slovenly untucked, his tie loosely knotted, frowned at the old lady because she didn't have her money ready. People who suddenly realize at the end of the transaction that they actually have to pay for their items...ooh, there's a special place in hell for them. And hopefully, it's at the end of a very long line.

But this time, uncharacteristically for me, I wasn't annoyed at the old lady. She didn't look like one of the typical hard-as-nails Upper East Side old ladies, the ones with their whiskey-soaked voices and their tightly pulled faces and their short leather skirts and their tiny dogs with brightly lacquered nails painted to match their own. Those Ruth Gordon-esque scary old ladies wouldn't be caught dead in an Eckerd anyway. No...the old lady in front of me looked kind of...sweet. Her hair wasn't "done", it was drab. Her coat wasn't couture, it was cotton.

The old lady hadn't reached for her money yet, because she was inspecting a stack of flyers lying by the register. She seemed afraid to actually pick one up, so she pushed her face close to read the flyer on top, not a far trip from her tiny height. She squinted. She wrinkled her nose. She traced the headline with a bent index finger and mumbled the words. The clerk rolled his eyes at me.

The old lady looked up at me, "The handwriting on this is terrible! I can't read it."

Handwriting? I picked up the flyer, "Oh, I can make it out, I think. Want me to read it to you?"

The clerk dramatically slumped his shoulders, which I ignored.

"Can you please?" she said.

I nodded, "Flu shots at this location. Stop by your local Eckerd Pharmacy on October 31st and for a $25 fee, you can get your flu vaccination by a professional nurse..."

"Oh my. $25? Do you think that it's worth it? Oh my."

I said, "Well, I just got my flu shot yesterday." I almost said something like "And old people really need them more than anybody." But I didn't.

"But...$25?" She touched her fingers to her mouth.

I said, "Well, it also says down here, that 'Medicare recipients get vaccinations at no cost when they present a card with valid Part B coverage', see right here?" I pointed at the bottom of the flyer to show her.

The old lady smiled. She clapped her hands together. For a second, I thought she was going to hug me.

"That's wonderful! Thank you so much for noticing that! That's wonderful!"

I felt like I'd just given her a present. And I felt...wonderful.

The old lady counted out a few singles to pay for her cat food. She turned to me and waved before she walked away, "Thanks again, have a good night."

"Oh, you too!"

I smiled at the clerk, which pissed him off. Which made me even happier. I mentally bestowed myself with several dozen Boy Scout badges and paid for my Mountain Dews. When I got outside the store, the old lady had only made it a few feet towards the corner. I watched her clutch her coat tighter as a passing bus whipped the brisk fall air around us. I watched her step into Second Avenue and I wondered if her building had the heat on tonight.

And I hoped she really had a cat.

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