When going to CVS is a BFD

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. 

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The unimaginable notion that going to the drugstore is a treat.

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.

The blessing of boredom

Get outside.

The experts speak this as an imperative. The words throb with anxious urgency.

GET. OUT. SIDE.

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They urge us to recess from in-house isolation, get fresh air and do brisk exercise near home. It is health-smart, holistic and good for the body, mind and, if possible, social maintenance, though the latter is rife with rules: keep a six-foot spread between bodies; no physical contact; wear a face mask (we all look ridiculous, like third-rate bandits); spray hissing mists of Lysol® all around, including on your friends, who will thank you later. Or not.  

About all that’s left in outside activity, besides risky trips to the store, is a lone jog, a bike ride or a walk with a fellow homebound relative through the apocalyptically empty neighborhoods of Coronaville, whose population, once robust, plunges by the day.

So there I am, taking a stroll about our idyllic, all-American hood, which is suddenly shrink-wrapped in dread. It’s a breezy 60-something degrees with hazy, semi-blinding sunshine. Blooms and petals swirl everywhere, polka-dotting streets and sidewalks, celebratory confetti for spring’s arrival.

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I wear burgundy track pants and a burgundy hoodie, looking like a tall glass of pinot noir, something I wish I had with me to offset the tedium of aimless ambling. But Cubby the unflappable fur ball is with me (pandemic, shandemic, he woofs) and we walk up the hill, to the thriving rose gardens, him stopping, sniffing and tinkling every two feet, doing the one-leg-in-the-air thing, a kind of yoga that instills both wonder and winces. (Is this Downward Dog?)

We are not alone. I count six other mutts and their masters walking about, puttering and peeing, shouting across the way to waving friends who are well over the prescriptive six feet apart. The gist: Be well, take care, say hello to so and so! Oddly, I hear no one say, This sucks! Spirits are high. We are the healthy ones, strolling in the sunshine. For now.

Despite the fine weather — I strain to call it that, for spring is my second least favorite season — it’s time to go back inside and resume being a stolid, musty homebody who reads, writes, sees movies and does a bit of what you’re looking at. As boredom overtakes outside, it’s time for a new brand of boredom inside, one filled with sighs and gripes and yawns and, in those precious moments of clarity, a reasoned muttering: Thank heaven.