This is the second part of a post that begins here.
The worst product I have ever seen in my life was a condom key chain.
We used to sell them at the pharmacy and based on the marketing they were obviously targeted to the teenage audience.
When you bought a box of three—which was the same price as buying a dozen not in a keychain—they would each come in their own little see-through keychain case. Each condom was a different bright color. And the idea is that in a moment of passion, a dude just had to take out his keys and break the plastic open to get at it.
Okay… now let’s consider the reasons why this is a bad idea (and why we probably never sold a single box of them while I worked behind that counter):
- To be the kid to proudly display that you were getting lucky like that by having it on your keychain would take… well… balls. And if that dude did have a girlfriend, would she want it so proudly displayed? Do people like that really exist outside of badly written TV shows and movies?
- What if his keys fell out when he was visiting his girlfriend’s folks? There they would be, on the couch between you and the dad. Seriously, what do you do? What do you say? What!?!
- Do you really want a teenage boy reminded of sex every time they touch their keys or, worse, when they are driving and their keys are in their ignition right in front of them! Teenage boys think of the deed enough, did they need the reminder right in front of them… while they are driving!?!
- What if the keychain broke by mistake? If they could be so easily broken up like they claim on the package, couldn’t it happen when they are simply banged against the other keys?
- And really… just three?
Stupid, stupid, stupid product.
Of course, we did have other birth control products that sold quite well. The generic condoms were always jumping off the shelves, and it seemed to me that no one bought the “trick” condoms more than once.
What was odd was how awkward people felt buying adult items when I was running the register. This was especially true of older people, as if they could just imagine me giggling or looking appalled at the idea of them being naked when they walked away. Yet, on the flip side, college guys seemed to enjoy buying them from me, as if cementing in their mind how much cooler they were than a teenager. They would always make small talk and maybe even lean on the counter in a “I’m so cool” kind of way.
The only time I ever felt awkward around having to deal with our adult supplies was when I noticed a young woman who seemed to be having trouble picking out a pregnancy test. Since there was nothing else going on, I thought I would be helpful (and I did know a bit about all of the products we sold; they would send me out to read the packages of all of our products when we were slow). I only saw the customer from the back so I had no idea who it was until I said in my friendliest voice, “Can I help you?”
It was a girlfriend of one of my cousins.
…And I will never, never forget the look of horror and shock on her face.
She must have made the trip from her town all the way to my pharmacy in the hope of not bumping into anyone she knew. She probably thought she handled it all so smoothly, but she just happened to choose the one pharmacy in the entire area that housed… me.
We both stood staring at each other, a look of dawning realization crossing our faces. Clearly, my cousin had no idea she was buying the test (or had too) and in her mind, I was a time bomb that could go off and ruin everything for her. Everything!
I think we stood there for a minute, maybe longer. Neither of us certain how to go forward with this.
“Ah, how are you?” I asked, casually (as if she was not holding a pregnancy test in her hand).
“I’m fine, fine, fine. So you work here?” Her hands fidgeted as she spoke, obviously considering whether to put the box back on the shelf or not.
“Yes, for a year now.”
Then there was another pause. The box was always in the corner of my eye, and she so wanted to put it back.
Strangely, like a cloud parting and the sun breaking through, I came up with this wonderful fable. “Are you buying a test for a friend?”
It took her a few seconds to realize that I was saving her. But once it registered the smile that she attempted to hide showed she got it completely. “Why yes. Yes, that is it. She is pretty scared and thought…”
So then we played it off, both giving into the lie. A fake laugh here, a fake laugh there. I helped her pick out a test that people seemed to use most often on our shelves. I even rang her up at my register for it.
After she left, Mr. P asked if that was my girlfriend. Which is what he asked whenever I helped a girl near my age.
During my last year at the pharmacy, Mr. P definitely was going through a few things. He would complain about my time off for band… and then he complained when I dropped band as if it somehow affected him.
I believe at one point his fiancée broke it off, or he broke it off with her. Either way he was glum, and he didn’t even flirt a little bit with the people that came to the counter.
When I was approaching my high school graduation, I decided I wanted a clean break from everything. A new start, something fresh. Without the two pharmacists knowing, I began to look into other positions in the grocery store chain. I wasn’t looking for more responsibility, just something different and it might also give me the opportunity to work more since the pharmacy’s hours were always less than the rest of the store.
To emphasize my desire to get away from Mr. P and the sulking Mr. S, I even requested a change to a different store. This time I would be a cashier (since I was finally the right age), and since I had register experience at the pharmacy there were many that wanted me. Okay, I’m sure it wasn’t like something you would see in a business negotiation on TV, but I did have three offers and three different locations to choose from.
When I finally told Mr. P and Mr. S, Mr. P was furious. He told me I was making a mistake, maybe even the biggest of my life. He brushed off my concerns about the hours, explaining that I would get more from working there.
After I explained my decision was already made he became almost boorish with me. I remember there were a few days when he wouldn’t even speak to me (which was fine by me). It was all so odd, and it made me feel again and again that I had made the right decision.
Mr. S on the other hand took it a whole heck of a lot better and even gave me a graduation present (something Mr. P didn’t do, even though I worked for him for almost two years). It was two jazz CDs and I was very moved, thinking that he actually went to the trouble to find something that I was interested in (I was going to college on a jazz scholarship).
Yet… When I was leaving work that day, I happened to grab a snack on the way out. Near the front of the store there was a bin of cheap CDs for a dollar, and in it were multiple copies of the two CDs he just gave me.
The older I get the more I’ve become fascinated with how people come in and out of our lives. In Stephen King’s new novel Revival he compares it to a cast of characters in a play. It is not an original idea. Not in the least. It’s also unfair to those people, making them lesser, only a part of your story, not recognizing that they have their own; and chances are it might be a better story in the long run.
Yet, when I think back to my time at the pharmacy, I can’t put my finger on any certain thing or moment, but I can pinpoint a feeling; it’s deep in my bones. I was in transition, growing up, and I learned a lot of who I wanted not to be from Mr. P and Mr. S.
I didn’t want to lose my time feeling sad all the time like Mr. S. It’s not worth it. Yes, being sad is fine from time to time, but why waste your life always feeling down? If you are that unhappy, step back and reconsider your options. I’ve done that numerous times in my life. A great example of that is when I dropped out of Michigan State University’s graduate program in English Literature , took a year off, and then moved to Los Angeles to study writing at the University of Southern California.
When it comes to Mr. P, however, things get a bit muddy. I can still hear his voice in my head from time to time. He scolds, he mocks a little. There is that condescending attitude. That was a lesson for me, and I always feel guilty whenever I might sound condescending to others.
A few years after graduation, I found myself back in that store. It was on the way to a party, and the people I was driving with wanted to pick up some supplies. It was an odd moment being back there, the equivalent of visiting an old school and thinking about how much smaller all of the lockers are now.
I considered stopping by the pharmacy to say hi, but when I saw Mr. P behind the register speaking to a customer (probably flirting), a part of me oddly and immediately balked and I turned.
I can’t put my finger on exactly why I cared so much right then. It would have been a short exchange. Knowing Mr. P, there was a good chance he wouldn’t have remembered me that much. I was a cast member, long gone from his play, and I liked him being out of mine.
Yeah, I didn’t even say hi. Life is just too short for cameos.
If fiction is more your thing, I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan.
You can find all of these books via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!
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