|Getting a prescription filled, after all, is sort of a private matter. You just have to wonder what’s wrong with each person at the pharmacy that they have to take medicine. That very thought always crosses my mind about the person in line in front of me, so I guess people will think the same of me when it’s my turn: Gee, he looks okay on the outside, so it has to be an internal matter. Anyone standing behind me could easily consider that the medication I’m getting will be applied to the top of my bald head – maybe I’m getting Rogaine. I picked up my pace. If I was going to make it up and down every aisle, I had to start moving. Vitamins? No, they don’t work; you just piss them out. Books? No, I’ve got a backlog of three or four. Magazines? No, such a waste; they mostly have no content. But the swimsuit issue got a quick glance. Cosmetics? No. Clock radio, picture frames? No, no, again.
No candy, wrapping paper, greeting cards, hula hoops, green plastic army men, shaving cream, false eyelashes, combs, brushes or toothpaste. No, no and no.
Tools, light bulbs and batteries. That was a spot where I could kill a little time. It was the second-to-last aisle, and fifteen minutes wasn’t up yet. I parked myself there. There wasn’t a lot of heavy-duty stuff, just the basics: tape measures, picture-hanging kits, all-purpose brown work gloves, black electrical tape, and small hammers that looked more like toys for tapping tiny nails, not robust tools that carpenters would need on the job. Wait! What is this up here? It was an unusual-looking item to be in the hardware aisle on the top row, hanging above the prepackaged, assorted household hardware – screws and nuts and washers.
The label read “2 Gourmet Pig Ears.” They looked awfully real – triangular and semitransparent, and I could actually make out thin veins running through the tough-looking flesh, and fine miniature hairs near the ear tips. How strange that a drugstore was selling real pig ears, and near the hardware! But then I saw what was going on. The hardware blended in with the pet supplies, and the pig ears and other edible items were the beginning of the transition. As I turned my head to the right, I saw other doggie chews and more traditional items, such as the famous Nylabone and rawhide twists. These items were also animal skins and by-products, but unlike the anatomically correct pig ears, they were cleverly disguised to look more like toys, like cartoon bones, than actual severed animal body parts that were swept up from a slaughterhouse floor.
My impulse-buying urge kicked in again, but this time it wasn’t for selfish reasons. I wanted to do something special for my golden retriever, Molly. She’s an especially nice dog, and I hadn’t gotten her a Christmas or birthday present, so I thought she would appreciate the pig-ear treats that night.
I took the package off the hook and examined it closely. I was still quite amazed that a supplier of popular name-brand products and pharmaceuticals stocked this item. I considered that perhaps pig ears were becoming popular for dogs the way buffalo chicken wings have become for humans. At one time, poultry producers probably ground up millions of chicken wings daily into fertilizer and animal feed, because what person would want to buy and eat food that is mostly bone and fatty chicken skin with little or no nutrition? Now chicken wings, or wings, as they are commonly referred to, are a staple appetizer on the menus of most commercial restaurant chains, and practically synonymous with the Super Bowl. It’s quite imaginable that if there were a wings shortage one year, the big game might be postponed until the wings supply could meet the nation’s demand. Perhaps gourmet pig ears were poised for a similar quantum leap, but in the doggie world.
As with the acquisition of the little composition books, my thinking was set regarding buying the gourmet pig ears. The purchase would be made; I just needed to pay for the pig ears and leave the store. They were priced at $3.49 for a matching set in a clear poly bag. I thought I’d leave them there, and then at the last moment, I’d saunter back to the hardware aisle and grab the gourmet pig ears, labeled with a picture of a smiling dog standing next to a fire hydrant, and then shoot over to the pharmacy checkout counter and pay for my medicine, the two miniature composition books, and the pig ears. If I happened to see a neighbor or friend, I would not feel comfortable showing those two hairy pig ears as the product of my impulsive shopping spree. As a matter of fact, I was starting to feel somewhat apprehensive about plopping the pig ears down on the counter when it was my turn to check out.
I began to visualize the scene at the cash register. “Well, okay,” the woman would say, “one prescription with a co-pay of fifteen dollars, two teeny-weeny composition books at a dollar each, and let’s see…what do we have here? (Her voice would get louder at this point.) Two dried-out, veiny, hairy pig ears. Will that be all, sir?” The new me would say, “Who cares what anybody really thinks or says or does? Words are just words and cannot affect me.”
Out of everything jam-packed into that store, I’d chosen the pig ears as a present for my dog, and I had to be a man and stand by my choice, so I just walked right up to the pharmacy counter and boldly place them down with the two mini-books.
“My name is Michael Domino. I’m here to pick up my prescription and pay for these items, too!”
The cashier looked at the strange, dead animal things in the clear package placed before her. Her gaze remained focused on the counter.
“Do you think my dog will like those?” I said.
“Excuse me?” replied the young woman.
I explained myself. “I want to know if you think my dog will enjoy the pig ears as a little snack tonight.”
I got no reply; she continued looking down, keeping her hands busy.
“What? What do you think?” I said.
“I don’t know, sir. Your total is twenty-two sixty-five. Please sign and check the green box, and thank you for shopping at our store. Good night,” she said, throwing my pig ears into a plastic bag as if they were a shrunken head. Now I was more than ready for my nap.
“Good night,” I said.
A Super Guy in a Supermarket
The manager of the Gristedes supermarket told me that he loved his work. This was after I told him that he did a fantastic job setting up the Thanksgiving food and decorative display at the bottom of the escalator. He grew up in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. It was a tough neighborhood but his parents were strict and made all the kids get jobs. They taught them that the only way to get ahead was through hard work. Now his own kids are grown, and he is proud of them: a pharmacist, a chef and a nurse.
For 40 years, he and his wife have worked for Gristedes. He remembers when the owner, now a billionaire, had just four stores and used to pitch in and help him bag groceries when it got extra-busy.
Once, when he was a kid and he needed new sneakers, his parents could only afford to get him the ones with plastic soles that they sold at Pathmark for $2.99. He wanted the name-brand ones for $7.99 with genuine rubber soles, which let you jump higher and run faster, but they simply couldn't afford it. He took all the back alleys to and from school so none of the other boys in Hunts Point would see him wearing those supermarket sneakers.
The next day he got a job bagging groceries to be able to buy himself the $7.99 sneakers; once he had them, he left the $2.99 plastic sole ones in his gym locker and never put them on his feet again. He never left the Gristedes Market chain for 40 more years.
“I put in a minimum 60 to 70 hours per week, but I never work the weekends,” he proudly told me. As a result of his hard work, he was able to buy a weekend getaway place in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He bought it when his kids were still young, to escape the city, and that’s where he was headed Friday night.
He was looking forward to his 16-year-old grandson visiting him up there on Saturday. He loves that kid and, if needed, he will take out a second mortgage on his house, as he did once before, if that's what it takes to make sure the boy also goes to college just like his children did.
In three years, he and his wife will retire from Gristedes. Over the years, he had many other job offers but turned them all down because his boss is a fair man.
He’s thinking Clearwater and she’s got her heart set on Orlando. They’ll work it out.
As the escalator took me up, I looked back and there he was, busily stringing orange garlands around the holiday food display. As I reached the top, I heard a young cashier say, “Hey boss, can you please come over here, I need some help?" Off he went in her direction.
This whole experience reminds me how all of us, busily running around from this to that, usually miss the human beings behind everything. In any case, I'm glad I got to show him some appreciation. It made us both feel good. We are all on our separate journeys that sometimes intercept – often in the most unexpected places!
Panic in the Park
I lost our family dog in Central Park one night. The horror!
Lacey is a little white Poodle, 20 pounds, with a hairstyle and a pink bow. She was alone in that enormous park and it was about to get dark.
The worst thoughts raced through my head like a runaway freight train. Sweat poured out of me.
Bloodthirsty foxes attacking her. Swooping hawks and owls. Her little body curled up under a bush, lost in the night. A bad person or even a good person taking her home – a new home.
I searched and searched in utter desperation. I clapped my hands until they became raw, whistled as my mouth went dry as sand and called out until my voice was hoarse.
Still no sign of her.
It was my fault. I let her off the leash in a secluded area. She saw a squirrel and took off! The guilt was unbearable. My family will never forgive me, and she is my best buddy too. I adore that little dog.
People steered clear of me. I was disheveled, frantic, erratic, loud. I certainly appeared crazy. And I was – crazy with fear and panic.
A NYPD scooter cop approached me. “Sir, what’s the matter?”
“I lost my dog in the park!”
“What does it look like?”
“Small and white.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Good luck, sir.”
He did not tell me to tone it down. I’m sure this was not his worst case of the night, but nevertheless he expressed empathy. Maybe he has a family dog too and could imagine the consequences.
It was almost completely dark. I vowed to stay in the park all night if necessary. I could not go home dog-less.
“Lacey, Lacey, Lacey, clap, clap, clap.”
I passed a strolling middle-aged couple holding hands. Like the rest, they veered to the edge of the path to let me pass, looking a bit frightened of this “loud me," breaking the tranquility of the dusky park.
“Excuse me,” they turned back after I passed. “Are you looking for a dog?”
“Oh yes, yes!”
“What does she look like?”
“Small and white.”
“We just saw a little dog like that in the field on the Great Lawn.”
“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you so much!”
I ran as fast as I could to get there as soon as possible.
A glimmer of hope.
There was no sign of Lacey. I stood alone, now under the moon, and gave out a cry, “LA-CEY.” My voice echoed out into the colossal park. I felt as if I was alone in the Amazon. The park seemed as big as Jupiter and Lacey as small as a grain of sand.
She was gone.
I walked back to the path, still clapping, but my mind was beginning to shift from panic with hope to stone cold dread.
In the distance I heard a jingle followed by a yelp. I turned. I thought I could make out a white shape bobbing toward me, but realized it could just be a mirage – my imagination playing tricks on me.
The jangling, panting shape got closer and closer, sprinting across the Great Lawn.
It was Lacey!
I dropped to my knees and hugged her, my sweat-soaked body becoming one with her dirty little face.
“Look at you! Where have you been?”
And Lacey answered me, in her canine way, with the look of relief in her eyes, her small body nestled close to me, and that fluffy tail, moving back and forth rhythmically like a high-speed metronome. I put her leash back on and stood up.
“Let's go home, little girl.”
Off we went, man and canine, so thrilled to be back together that, despite the leash connecting them, they kept looking at each other every step of the way, as if they could not believe their luck.
Sometimes life does throw us a happy ending once in a while.
The Perfect Banana
on the coffee line
I see the cake, doughnuts, and bagels,
but I get the same –
large dark coffee and a banana.
I can't see the bananas
‘til I'm in front
but I wonder what condition
they'll be in today.
spots, soft, yellow,
I expect the perfect banana.
I handle them,
flip them, inspect them
(people don't like this food handling).
I pick the best of the
there is never a perfect banana.
For the first time, today, I
concluded that there is no
such thing as a perfect banana –
they all have imperfections.
Perhaps some have fleeting moments of
perfection followed by
brown spots –
but I know some people who like
bananas that are overly ripe –
so ripe you can smell them.
Sweet – not green like vegetables
Coffee is more dependable,
but that, too, is always either too hot or just
warm, or not as fresh as yesterday
– too strong or too weak.
I had a very good day today
after realizing that there are
no perfect bananas.