"this, too, shall pass," opines the man who will ultimately pocket my co-pay. i want to ask whether i could get some non-biblical, less aphoristic comfort if i paid, say, an extra ten bucks.
"nancy will help you check out and schedule your next appointment," and i steel myself, waiting for it. it comes, not because i am prescient, but because people in the people-helping killing fields cannot refrain from touching me. he claps me on the left shoulder.
as most of you know, i don't have a left shoulder, just a mass of infected tissue and the sawed off ends of a clavicle and humerus.
a "clap" differs from a "slap," however, and so he gets a point from me for that bit of restraint. perhaps he remembered as his arm swung down, and he quickly revised the shape of his hand, cupping the palm at the last possible moment. perhaps he remembered nothing, and that was just the fortuitous highlight of my day.
nancy is efficient. she does not believe me when i say i do not need an appointment reminder card. my various purses, bags, organizers, and sac-like anythings-with-zippers are littered with reminder cards. you see "organizers" there in that list, yes? that's where the appointment goes, should i manage to get my hand to grip a pen, to shuffle the pages of my beloved red moleskine to the correct month and day.
i insult nancy, i am sure, when i leave the card on the counter. i am equally sure that someone even ruder than myself, will wrench the memory from her mind's grasp within a quarter hour. maybe a dirty old man will ogle her smashed and quivering cleavage.
when you sit in a wheelchair, often times, you go unnoticed because unseen by the persons on the other side of service dividers -- be they counters, or shelves or desks with the added visual obstruction of a computer screen or cash register. however, some locations have customer care and check-out stations situated on an elevated platform, in which case, ironically, their line of sight is positively perfect and people in wheelchairs are no trouble to visualize, no trouble at all.
this is most often the case at a pharmacy window, and the acting party, therefore, a pharmacist.
what fred and i usually witness is a clear visual check, a thought bubble, and then a choice, the choice being to address fred, who is invariably sleepy and biding the time with ill will. i am the person making the transaction, holding the wallet, the responsible party, but after the visual check, the thought, the choice, i clearly cannot be competent.
once that conclusion is writ in the over-the-head bubble, i used to give in.
fred and i are fans of the absurd, however, being absurdity's familiars.
the chef-jacketed pharmacist asks fred a question. fred asks me the question, loudly. i yell the answer to fred. fred screams it at the purveyor of goods, who adopts the universal look of offended sensibility -- a slight jut to the chin, a supernatural pinch that actually whitens the bridge of a narrow snoot of a nose. incredibly, though, the precise professional does not switch, does not become enlightened, but continues to address fred, who is awake now and having fun.
"will she be paying with cash or with a credit card?" spits the pharmacist, teeth either gnashing or clenched, it's hard to say.
"i dunno, let me find out," hollers fred.
"honey," screams fred, "will you be paying with cash or with a credit card?"
"what?" i yell.
and so on and so forth.
we savor the moment when the credit card receipt needs signing. that affords us the opportunity for physical comedy, so that we can expand our vaudeville act. what usually lessens the tension that otherwise might catapult me through whatever tangible barrier separates me from my pill-pushing sparring partner -- a pane of glass, usually, and a row of neti pots -- are the other customers, because you know that we bring enterprise to a screeching halt.
they're usually laughing like fools. we try to straighten up and make our transaction as fast as possible while still being true to our principles -- these folks might just want a tube of lip balm or a condom, but one surly teen also might be picking up an antibiotic for her twelve year old kid brother who is at home, wheezing with congestion, propped up on two pillows, eating tater tots. we don't want to leave such an angry pharmacist in our wake that he mistake a sulfa drug with a first generation cephalosporin to which young benjamin is allergic, thereby murdering a mere child, who had his whole life before him.
no way, not on our account. not on our watch.
we have other routines. not too many, as i do not get out much.
one i particularly enjoy employs the opposite approach to the skit methods we rely on when appearing together. fred doesn't often leave my side when we are out. i've never asked him to stick to me like a velcro-buddy, but he does, and so serves as a buffer zone, keeping me from people who may inadvertently bump into me or touch me in some way. the few times that we grocery shop together, though, i try to pull my weight and take on half the shopping list, carrying a basket in my lap for the herbs, rices, and dried beans.
let's say i am perusing various prepared broths, deciding just how lazy a cook i want to be, and marveling at the sodium levels in chicken stock, when a shadow looms and a voice booms:
"CAN I HELP YOU REACH ANYTHING, DEAR?"
once my heart regains its normal rhythm, i turn the chair to face them, and whisper in the smallest of all possible whispers, "no thank you, i don't need any help." and then beam at them, making sure my cheeks are as rosy apples but my eyes, crossed. on a good day, i work up a smidgen of froth that hangs from the corner of my mouth.
sometimes it goes on and on, as they then proceed to decide what it is i want. no kidding! whatever it is they choose to plunk into my basket, it comes from the tip top shelf, is usually dusty and sports three different pricing labels.
i whisper something, maybe a line from my fair lady: "I've a right to sell flowers if I keep off the kerb."
my strange helpmate will assume an expression of profound gratitude has slipped through my foaming vocal cords, and continue in the dance of code, proffering a goddamned slap on the shoulder and a screeching, "YOU'RE WELCOME, OF COURSE. NOW DON'T YOU EVER, EVER GIVE UP BECAUSE GOD LOVES YOU."
a few minutes later, fred will spot me in the aisle, come to consolidate my basket with his full-sized grocery cart, and ask, bemused -- but in a voice of normal volume -- "what exactly, are you planning to do with monkey gland sauce?"