Pharmacies in NYC during Corona are the go-to spots for oat milk, nuts, sparkling water, taco shells, tampons, chewing gum, and cans of mushroom soup. Unlike grocery stores, CVS doesn’t have a Disney Land line. There has not been a drop of hand sanitizer or roll of three-ply toilet paper for two months, but count your lucky chickens…there is a whole aisle of 50% off chocolate Easter eggs.
Yesterday, I stopped in to pick up two gallons of oat milk and some dishwasher capsules, and just as I was about to succumb to the 2 for 1 dark chocolate Hershy bar at checkout, a man walked in un-masked.
I haven’t seen the lips of a stranger for two days, so a 6 ft 4ish lumberjackesque man striding past close enough ooze stale aftershave up my nostrils peaks the fear-meter comparable to a shark circling or realizing I just touched a park bench then picked spinach out of my teeth.
The woman scanning my oat milk freezes.
“Sir, you are going to have to leave,” says a male from beside the rack of trail mix. “You can’t be in the store without a mask.”
“Just grabbing a tub of ice cream.”
“No, you are not,” says another worker. The red shirts start popping up like construction workers to a halal truck.
Being two months into lockdown, I know how quick a mask request can turn into a tub of ice cream flying towards my head and a swarm of red-shirted, red-faced CVS workers tackling him into a cosmetic’s display.
I watch my oat milk hovering, condensation bubbling, the red light of the scanner inches from the barcode.
“Oh, hell no. He just cracked open some Ben and Jerry’s. Call the police.”
“Sir, if you don’t leave, we are calling the police,” says a male worker with a dinosaur-print facemask.
“Just Ice cream. It is all I need. One thing. I pay, I go,” he says, in an Eastern European accent.
“No, you won’t,” says a female worker, hands on hips, standing in front of the free cash register.
The staff pop out of isles and refrigerators. One stands by the exit and disengages the electric doors. Two others apparate in front of the cereal, and another-a woman with tattoos crawling up an arm-walks up to Ice Cream Craver. He towers over her. She takes a step forward. He shrinks back.
“We are calling the police. You do not have a mask, and you just opened food you didn’t pay for,” she says. If these weren’t Corona times, every syllable would have come with a poke in the chest. Instead, she just keeps stepping forward, and he back until there is nowhere to go but to topple into a cosmetic’s displays.
Watching the ice cream slowly melt and the man cower to red-shirted authority, I am buttered in sympathy. I have done some stupid shit for a Latte. When in Bali, I rode a moped to eight stores looking for soy milk, then paid 9 dollars for half a liter at a straw topped cabana that got me high on incense. In Turkey, I walked for two hours around Istanbul, searching for dried ginger. Sure, I could have caught a bus to the spice bazaar or paid double the price at a boutique delicatessen, but instead, I zigzagged through streets in search of the bomb ginger, the sugar-soaked strips sold from dark corners to nurses, teachers, police officers, postmen and little old ladies craving a calm stomach.
New York Corona cravings are a tad weird. A city that could give you anything can now only intermittently give you a clean ass or disinfectant spray. With subways a no-go-zone, you’re stuck with what’s deemed essential within walking/biking distance. Sure, I am grateful to have a corner store on every corner and more corners than the minitours maze, but they are convenient, not quenching.
January first, I gave up Diet Coke, and instead of drinking two cans of it a day, I drink four cans of grapefruit sparkling water and dream of diet coke in an IV bag. Last week I rode my bike to the grocery store, and while deep in thought about a full fridge, I ran over a pigeon. I guzzle two banana smoothies before sunset, eat pea crisp like I have shares in the company and come five O’clock, I go upstairs to avoid the kitchen and the six bottles of wine screaming ‘just a glass’ from beside the microwave that perpetually smells of burnt popcorn. Ozark is served better with buttered carbs.
But, I try for my cravings to not impede others. It is 5:10 pm, and this man’s Ben & Jerry hankering is keeping me from Friday night wine and the CVS staff from straightening already strait eye drops and antacid. But, back to the action in hand- ice cream melting in the monster grasp of a rather pissed off lumberjack.
He walks around CVS lady #1, weaves through man #3 and #4, digs in his pocket and throws down a $5 note and a palm-full of pennies and dimes.
“There, I paid for it. I’m leaving.”
“No, you ain’t,” says three people, maybe four. I’ve lost count.
“Do you have a loyalty card?’ Ma’m!”
‘Lock the doors,’ says someone from isle six.
The man strides towards the automatic door, which does not automatically open.
‘Ma’m, cash or credit?’
It is only now that I realize she is talking to me. No one has called me m’ am since 2017, not because my age doesn’t warrant it, but because I lived in Australia, then as a hipster in New York (hipsters get called boo, babe, darl, love or yo lady), later on a boat, then on a farm in the UK. People in England say ‘madam,’ but 30-year-olds in the Queen’s country don’t get the designation unless touched by the pope, titled duchess, marchioness, countess, or is that bank teller you need a loan extension from.
At checkout, I forgo the loyalty card and pay cash to make it quick, not that it matters because a sweaty man is pacing in front of the door.
I stuff the oat milk and dishwasher capsules in my backpack and lock eyes with the CVS worker controlling the automatic door. He gives me a ‘we got this’ nod, and I reciprocate with a, ‘thanks, mate,’ smile. I wait like an uber driver at 10 pm on a Saturday, ready to pounce, my position strategic, my engine revved.
Lumberjack looks at the door controller then to the cashier. Everyone is frozen, then Lumberjack takes a step back, turns, and walks down the aisle. I nod, the doors open, and I am on the street. The doors shut behind me, and I turn back and smile at the liberator.
There are no simple trips outside.