We have to get out, things need to be done. Let’s go to CVS.
Last time I went to CVS, the local drugstore, in these fraught times, I forgot to bring a face mask. So I hiked the collar of my sweatshirt over my nose and mouth, like a two-bit bandit. This time, the other day, I was equipped with a downy mask and steely resolve.
The automatic door stutters open, a blast of A/C, the odd perfume of consumerism …
It’s strange to get outside in a public space, especially one awash in a thrumming florescent glow and paved with homely, hard, high-traffic carpet, Blistex and Duracells dangling from corner racks and Us and Oprah regarding you with sparkly eyes.
Actual real-life people, there they are. Social-distancing is paramount. I find myself heading toward another customer and I abruptly pivot left, down Aisle 4 (toothbrushes, Tums), bodily contact nimbly avoided. Pac-Man pops to mind. (Another comes! Wheel right, into the spread of Hallmark treacle.)
I finally reach the pharmacy without incident. I keep adjusting my mask. I slip on my blue reading glasses for the coming transaction and they instantly steam up, the hot breath in the mask billowing up onto the lenses. I remove the glasses. I can do this. When it comes to pharmacies, I’m all-pro.
At the counter, a laminate folding table is erected between register and customer, a makeshift moat blocking the bugs from infecting all involved. When it’s time to pay and retrieve your items, you have to bend yourself in half, stretch your torso across the table and protract your arms like you’re trying to reach a child in peril. Think yoga, or a hernia.
I get what I came for, a prescription for mellow-yellow pills, 30 tabs for 86 cents, a solid month of cheap chillaxing. (The pills really are yellow — a dull yellow, more like grainy chalk than, say, a glistening Skittle.) They aid in anxious times, or, in my case, any times.
Passing Pringles, People and Purell (snatch it while you can), I make my way out. I suddenly stop at the one-hour photo center and wonder why CVS passport photos are so much cheaper than where I got my last (ghastly) one. I once got a passport photo at a CVS in Texas, and the kid just set me against the freezer glass and took my mug with a flimsy point-and-shoot. (Oh, that’s why they’re cheaper.) It wasn’t great, but I didn’t shudder whenever I looked at it.
I exit the sterile box, which is naturally set in a drab strip mall, nestled between, what else, KFC and Dunkin’, totemic Americana right there. And I think how weird but good it feels to slip quarantine for less than an hour. And how pathetic it is, too. How the most mindless, mundane, unrewarding errand has become a Big Event, a tingly excursion, a literal breath of fresh air. How encountering real humans, not video versions, is at once alien and exhilarating. How once out, there’s no going back. And yet, sadly, there is.