UNITED STATES—There was always a second banana at the drug store—the relief pharmacist. Johnson Drug wasn’t a one man show. The first relief pharmacist was Chet Turney, a thin wise man, who always carried a thousand dollars in his wallet and was a ham radio operator. He exposed all of us to the word, “Andale” (Hurry up in Spanish).
Then there was Ed Reynolds, a bewhiskered guy with a Corvette (always kept under canvas wraps) and he was living the 70s California bachelor dream. He brought an Asian girlfriend to one New Year’s Party, clad in brilliant silks. He added a risque element and youth to the Johnson Drug roster as well aswide belts, bell bottoms. Somehow I think he ended up in Utah.
Memorable as they were, none of them had quite the importance of Jack Eddy.
During the Carter presidency my dad was sidelined by a skiing accident. He’d gone up to Tahoe for some continuing pharmacy education and a bit of gambling, a favorite pastime. During his recovery from a broken hip, my mom took the reins of the store. The operation of Johnson Drug was complicated enormously during my father’s injury. During the first weeks of his convalescence at home in a rented hospital bed there were 30 relief pharmacists who rotated, and they really didn’t want to do it. Coming to Watsonville was a hassle. Johnson Drug was ready to close its doors when there came along a pharmacist who’d sold his store in Felton, in the deep shaded Santa Cruz mountains, and signed on for a tour of duty that kept Johnson Drug open a few more days.
The allotted 10 days were soon up. Mom already knew that Johnson Drug couldn’t go on. My mom met Jack in the front of the store to let him out before locking it one last time.
“Thanks for everything you’ve done,” she said. “We’re going to be closing tomorrow. For good. I’ve come to a decision.”
Jack looked at her honestly and said, “I’ll open for you tomorrow. I have a job coming up in Monterey, but I’ll see what I can do.”
The day turned into a week, and then many years. I remember his velvety voice answering 724-6554, “Johnson Drug…” Jack was a loyal fellow and a bit of a humbug, at times. He worked for less than the going wage for relief pharmacists. He was a great foil for my dad who worked with his shirttail hanging. The old school and professional Jack supplied his own white cossack-like pharmacist’s uniform, long after they had ceased to be standard garb. Jack saved Johnson Drug.
Jack and I hit it off not so well. After college, I worked for a few months in the store. Bless dad, he kept coming up with carpentry, cleaning and clerking tasks. Whenever I’d greet Jack, I’d say my customary, “Hey.” And he never tired of saying hay is for horses. And funnier still, that hollow jibe motivated by his old school nature, never failed to get my goat. Later, to add interest to the days, I publicized some underpublicized products that languished on the stores’ shelves. One was ‘666 Lineament,’ and I posted a sign, “Yes, we have 666.” The sign didn’t increase sales, but it did succeed in getting one hellfire and brimstone looney into the store. The sign promptly came down. Then there was AYDS dietary candy. “Yes, we have AYDS!”
My parents and the store ‘girls’ were ever vacationing in San Francisco in the guise of going to market. They’d wine and dine and pick out some novel item, like cast iron toy replicas and memory boxes, that would hopefully be the panacea to prop up the front end. That Fall, by the mid-80s when I was clerking arrived a shipment of American flags. They came into the store. I figured if people were going to buy them, they had to see them furled out from the top of one of the fixtures, old glory.
After one lunch break Jack said, “Take that ugly thing down,” he said and added, “You’ve got your father buffaloed.” So I did, putting up my funny signs and selling books of Garcia Marquez from the register that handled the phone bills. I obediently took down the flag.
This was around the time that Killer Klowns from Outer Space was being filmed in Watsonville and Santa Cruz. They asked to shoot a scene in the drug store after scouting the town’s few remaining independent pharmacies. The minute the crew arrived to set up for the night’s filming, the set designer asked where the flag was. Back up it went, to Jack Eddy’s chagrin.
To be continued…