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A few days ago, porchbound in Orange County, I entertained the morbid fancy that my girlfriend's flu had blossomed into pneumonia, the disease that killed my mother last month.
        I was right.
        When I woke up today, Joan was gone.
        As in, not in the apartment.
        Hours later, she appeared bearing an X-Ray stamped "NYU Medical Center."
        "I was in the Emergency Room. I have pneumonia," she said. "Do you want Indian food?"


I hustled Joan's prescription to the nearest Duane Reade™ pharmacy.
        "Have you been here before?" the prescription counter clerk asked.
        "Oh, sure," I said. "Many times. But, um, she hasn't."
        "The prescription is for — my wife," I said, using the term loosely to avoid complicating the situation.
        "Could you fill this out?" the clerk said, handing me a form.
        I filled it out.
        "It will be about fifteen minutes," the clerk said.
        I spent the fifteen minutes shopping for Q-Tips and concentrating on breathing normally.


In Orange County, the world felt like the end of summer. But New York City is in full winter holiday swing. The drugstore was blasting Christmas carols. Not the watered-down, secular, "Frosty the Snowman" variety. No, these were hardcore Christian hymns.

Contemplating your girlfriend's pneumonia — a disease that killed your mother last month — produces a certain level of anxiety. If I were a Christian, the blaring storewide hymns might have comforted me. If I were a religious Jew, they might have added to my sense of dislocation. Since I don't know what I am, exactly, I felt simultaneously alienated and nostalgic as phrases like "Christ the savior" reverberated from the shelves of the garishly lighted store.

After a while, I found a plastic chair under the magnetic shoe insert display, and sat watching the pharmacy clerk, lest I miss the moment that Joan's prescription was filled. The clerk was, I noted, incredibly kind and patient — not only with the endless stream of prescription customers, but also with the many confused wanderers who were constantly interrupting her transactions to ask where they might find Pampers™ or depilatories. Her calm manner stilled the anxious voices in my head.


At one point, the pharmacist came lumbering out to instruct an anxious customer in the use of a non-prescription nutritional supplement. I considered this a great waste of the man's time, since every second he lavished on this indecisive customer was time he might have spent filling Joan's prescription. But all my attempts to telepathically control the pharmacist failed. Fortunately, he remembered his own importance when a shopper asked him where the Epsom Salts were located.
        After a chilly pause, he said: "Ask the young lady," indicating the pharmacy clerk, who was now handling eleven irritable customers. And with that, he scurried back to his office. A moment later, Joan's medicine was ready to go.
        Gathering the precious elixir, I thanked the pharmacy clerk for her patience and tolerance.
        "You're very nice to everyone," I said. "I appreciate that. Your job isn't easy."
        She smiled.


I got a lot of work done today. And spoke to many people on the phone, including friends, clients, and my father. I ate, I cleaned, I even watched a great movie. But Joan's walking in the door with her X-Ray, and the fifteen minutes I spent in the drugstore, are all I can remember.

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