In the pharmacy line, there are jittery foot shufflers, please-hurry-i’ve-really-got-to-pee dancers, I-don’t-want-anyone-to-see-me face shielders, and ticking-time-bombs-on-the-verges-of-completely-losing-their-shit meltdowners, and Michelle Fletcher was the latter. I know that if you name more than two things, you should use first-named or last-named instead of former/latter but who honestly cares? If you care go write your congresswoman. She’ll love to hear how much you care. She’ll probably send you some stickers. So anyway, Michelle Fletcher of 1427 Manzanita Street in Los Angeles California, Social Security Number Zero Three Six Four Eight Eight Twelve Ninety was currently having a complete fucking meltdown. I’ve been working at the Rite Aid here in lovely scenic Little Armenia/Los Feliz/End Of Thai Town/Whatever the fuck you call it for six years. Before that, I was at a CVS in Covina, California down the street from some Jesuit school for two years before I got the boot because I called out my boss for stealing oxys which she didn’t like very much, and before that I was a student at the Western New England School Of Pharmacy in Springfield, MA. If you’re wondering how I got from Western Massachusetts to Southern California, spend twenty six winters in the Northeast and call me. Or don’t, because your fingers’ll have frozen and fallen off by then.
Okay, so, Michelle Fletcher. When she walked up to the window she was kinda hunched over digging around in her purse and all I could see was this shiny shimmery dark brown shoulder length hair. She was five feet something and she had these little jeans and these lime green Adidas sneakers. I thought she might have been some cute twenty year old looking for birth control because that’s the way my mind works (I’m sorry I’m a literal monster), but when she straightened up I could see the face of a woman who had aged herself twenty years just by worrying. I guess there’s no crime in looking but I always feel like a grade-A sex jerk when I size up a female in my line, but I see so many people a day it’s like, it’s just noticing, right? It’s a big game of looking and matching. Name? Social? Go to rack, find last name, remove judgment from face. Enter insurance info. Hope it goes through. Hand over ball cream, or crazy pills, or make-your-heart-keep-ticking caps, or fuck-how’d-you-get-so-lucky slash what-the-fuck-happened-to-you-you-must-have-been-flattened-by-a-steamroller-this-morning-to-be-prescribed-these.
Just last week a guy came in walking normal, no crutches, smiling, maybe thirty, good looking, clean shaven, middle of the day, not a care in the world, and handed me a piece of paper for liquid Dilauded. LIQUID DILAUDID! They give that shit to people who are dying to make dying a little bit more tolerable. If you give that shit to someone healthy, they’re a melty little puddle-person, sinking into their couch for the next however-long-it-takes-to-finish-the-bottle. I don’t want to assume this guy was in perfect health, but I also rang him up for Lucky Charms, Nestle Quik, a DVD of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and FOUR tall boys of Steel Reserve malt liquor. This was not the mark of a sick man. This was either a brazen, shit kicking scam artist who either found a shady, easily convinced doc-in-the-box, an actor researching a role in a movie about people who defraud insurance companies, or a guy who professionally forges prescription documents for entitled rich kids. It didn’t matter, because he had his co-pay ready and his ID card worked and nothing raised any eyebrows except his grocery list, the stupid smirk on his face, and the fact that his girlfriend was pacing a few aisles away yelling at him “baby? Are we outta Five Hours?” I’m assuming she meant those disgusting little energy shots with those horrible no budget commercials, but that’s really none of my business.
Profiling and observing is not my job. I’ve learned that my shifts go a lot faster if I don’t say much, make sure everything’s on the level from a paper-trail standpoint, take payment, hand over a bag with drugs and way too much printed information about drugs, and call “next.” Then, another person comes up to me and the process repeats. So that’s why the Michelle Fletchers of the world, with their insurance cards clutched to their tight, tense chests and a bone to pick are my worst nightmare. As soon as I saw her face I knew something was going to go sideways. She was all red and she approached the window with the urgency and matter-of-factness of Data.
You know, the robot who looks like he’s got Jaundice? Next Generation. That’s the Star Trek he’s from. God there’s so many of them. Hard to keep track. Before I can think of the names of the other six Star Treks, I hear this robot lady say “Fletcher Comma Michelle,” Rx Five One Seven Six—” and it’s at this point that I’ve tuned her out. It’s not very professional to say this but I had already at this current moment decided that I didn’t need to listen. Right in the middle of her reciting her insurance number. My hands were nowhere near the keyboard. I was still looking at her, I didn’t need numbers barked in my face. But I was a professional. I was working a job and I was good at my job and I want to keep my job and I so smiled and asked, “Michelle with one or two L’s?” “TWO!” she yelped. I helped her along while biting my tongue at every terse correction, fingernail rap on the counter, and vein throb in her forehead until the transaction was so close to being done I could taste it. Everything was in order, so I said plainly, “With co-pay your total is thirty three dollars,” and stood there expecting to be handed money. She just looked at me, not blinking. “No,” she said, fighting back tears, screams, or something in between, “it’s twenty six dollars.” I readied the voice I use when I’m about to say ma’am and said, “ma’am, this particular medicine is, with your particular medical insurance, thirty two dollars. Now, will that be cash or card?” And she unleashed hell. “I’ve come here every two weeks for three years to get these pills. These pills are twenty six dollars. I need these pills. I need them! What is happening?”
Do you ever get the feeling like maybe something isn’t about seven dollars? I mean, things are almost never about seven dollars. I think a seven dollar bet is the only thing that’s ever really been about seven dollars. After taxes a six dollar burger from Carl’s Jr. is almost about seven dollars. But the desperation in Michelle’s eyes was not about seven dollars. And yet, here we were, locked in a game of Who Wants To Be Strangled By Michelle Fletcher? I explained that we at the pharmacy don’t set the prices for the medicine and that it was probably the pharmaceutical company or perhaps her insurance had changed, and I was informed, complete with spittle in my eye which I covertly wiped away, that her insurance is incredibly up to date and that there is NO WAY the price could have gone up in two weeks and where is the manager? I take an unfortunate pleasure in customers thinking that summoning a person who makes ten more dollars an hour than me is going to magically solve all their problems. I’m not proud to admit that I took even more perverse pleasure in telling Michelle that my manager was at H Salt Fish And Chips on his lunch break, but if she wanted to wait, he’d be back in about thirty minutes. It was then that she told me she wasn’t paying, upon which she tried to climb over the counter to, I’m assuming, murder me. The Rite Aid pharmacy counter is, it turns out, just a little too high for Michelle Fletcher’s small frame, and while she struggled to get a leg up, it just looked like she was humping the cash register. I stifled laughter and asked her to please calm down. She told me she was calm, and that if she wasn’t calm, I would know because there’d be a lime green Adidas lodged deep in my small intestine. And then I looked at her. I mean really looked at her in the face. It was red and desperate and strained and she had the eyes of someone that I truly believe would have ended me in that particular moment could she get herself over the counter. But, the heart wants what the heart wants, and that, strange as this might sound, and for reasons I’m sure a therapist would love to be paid to explore, was the moment I fell in love with Michelle Fletcher of 1427 Manzanita Street.
Dave Horwitz is a writer, performer, director, and aspiring adult. He has written for television, a popular streaming service, “the internet,” and once co-authored a book that was sold at Urban Outfitters for twelve dollars. Now you can buy it on Amazon for an actual penny. His very serious author photo makes it look like his jaw is far more pronounced than it actually is, but he’s not apologizing for it. He likes dogs very much but does not have one. He thanks you for reading this and wonders if you’d like to get a Thai noodle soup sometime.