UNITED STATES—Dad couldn’t cut the mustard in pre-med. The chemistry was too much for him, so he settled for pharmacy, and perhaps in his mind being a druggist was second best, both materially and socially, to being a doctor. He wasn’t in the same league as the doctors (they had houses on Brewington), but the pharmacy suited his Virgo nature that embraced service and the precision of pill-counting.
Though he didn’t graduate a doctor, he certainly healed and comforted many: no one will ever know how many secret hospital visits he made or how many funerals of customers he slipped into. To judge by the programs from funeral chapels and churches left on his personal shelf, there were plenty.
With the onset of the chain drug store, it seemed like the little guy on the corner was about to be squeezed out, and we were in for hard times. We lived with the idea that poverty was knocking on the door, but the competition was salutary. It led to changes in the store. They started accepting bill payments for PG&E and the phone company, which brought in more foot traffic and more money. The money became too enticing for one young employee, a young woman, Didi, who was kooky. She wasn’t like one of the regular ‘girls,’ like Betty or Gladys who were drug store lifers. They had their kookiness but also were rock solid. An air of unpredictability trailed Didi.
On a Friday, she borrowed five hundred dollars from the till to help out her boyfriend who had lost a similar amount at the horse races. They would go to Tahoe on the weekend and make it all back at Harrahs. It didn’t work out that way. While still in Tahoe she phoned my dad. She was in tears and informed him of the “loan” of the $500. And that story, her awkward honesty, preserved her job. Not without a Bonzoid attack, witnessed by his family.
An account of the drug store would be incomplete without a mention of the Bonzoid attack, a seizure-like condition in fact named for my father who was its chief sufferer—
he was sometimes known as Bonz—and the only known example in the annals of medical literature. It was peculiar kind of fit to which he was prone now and then. Terrifying in its celerity, unpredictable in its origins, but I suspect that part of it may have lay with lingering but unstated dissatisfaction over how he got into pharmacy. The hours and dedication, given so gladly and so appreciated by the community took a slow toll on him, and now and then the steam had to blow.
For one reason or another a tidal wave of nervous rage would overtake his lanky body, his many many keys to the Jefsen Building and coins would shake jingle bells and lightning would come out of his watery blue eyes and through his massively thick glasses (his world was a blur without those thick glasses). Often being in the middle of something, he would be greeted by some apparently innocuous stimuli, and he would spring up and down and shake his arms wildly and blurt out daggers of high-pitched spastic speech, and as the flash force of the attack subsided, in its wake flowed a stammer choked by no small amount of shame and embarrassment.
One perfect example: dad was hounded by salesmen, in part because he was easy prey for them. A really good pitch and he would cave in and buy. In one morning came a man in a pin-striped suit with a briefcase. My dad was in the middle of hand-counting out pills into a tray with a tongue depressor. Looking over and seeing the suited individual in the doorway to the pharmacy perch, his sanctum, the wrists shook a couple times, the voice quavered: “I’ll look at what you’re s-s-selling, but I won’t b-buy a damn thing!”
The man turned out to be an inspector from the Department of Weights and Measures.
Quite a few people were troubled by these attacks, including the man who sold the store to my dad. Mr. Meyer was afraid he was going to have a coronary. He scared off a couple customers and spooked a family friend. For us kids the attacks were terrifying and best avoided. Once one had commenced, the greater part of our efforts was to keep from cracking up, which would only make matters worse.
To be continued…