Below is Part 2 of 16 monthly installments for Visitant.
Blue x Five: Flu Shot as Lewis & Clark Expedition
As usual, I initial a side-bar of consent DM and sign the bottom of the form date-stamped 2018. With a name like Dot Motley, you can imagine my ongoing struggles with self-image. To be or not to be free-spirited speck floating over lowercase i or, oh wow, First Person I, recapitalized, statuesque, mortgage-free.
Dots are my lower-case defense, not a pastime. For the day’s grocery shopping, I’ve dressed in combat polka dots, bold white on motley blues, depending on my mood and the season—also the store décor. Why be turquoise against marbled red meat? I much prefer primavera cerulean amidst arugula or robin’s egg leaning over two-for-one bagged baby carrots.
Cartography has taught me to brave spandex cotton blends in public. I fear not the geographical stretch as the blue expands and dots race each other around my knees and elbows. Add a silver moon or two to my yonder, and my dark goes deep. Stand behind me in line, and my dots give you something to track. Like a hundred tennis balls at Wimbledon.
Instead, you clear your throat.
Go ahead, wheeze, sneeze, grouse. Mistake my dots for fungal spores, world travelers, source of penicillin, genius of gorgonzola. What’s your brag, a wall of wadded tissues?
. . .
Cover your mouth and follow my dots. . . . . .
2:47 p.m., I’m stuck in the supermarket pharmacy. Waiting for a flu shot, left sleeve pulled-up. Today’s dots are tufted white sequins, needlessly fancy with subtle gleam uncommitted to fluorescent light, waffling in sparkle mode. Wish I may, wish I might skip this shot. I hate needles and that small prick dot.
I shopped first. Big mistake. My cart of food, in need of refrigeration, is sweating little beads, drip, drip, on the tile floor. I gulp down the buttermilk, settle in a one-size-fits-all molded plastic seat. Peeved by the wait, I roll my buggy back and forth to divide an inch.
The bolted row of chairs faces a blank shoulder-high wall. Behind this edifice of public health and hygiene, pharmacists move like puppets, paper heads on sticks. I hear their voices, but only see the tops of their hair, bobbing mounds of smooth brownish and strawberry blonde. I’m clueless of monsoon rains outside this sound-proof store.
Beside me sit two chatting women, easy with waiting. What with high prices at the pump, they’re sharing a ride. The plumper one wears a black shower cap over a head wet with hair straightener. With a sixty-minute product wait, she doesn’t mind pharmaceutical delays, in her case, over generic antibiotics.
Should be on the shelf, I think, rearranging lap dots.
She, too, in blue, sums up my sequins and nods with understanding. I note the slight pause in her smile before her whole face lights up above a dense short beard under her chin. This hairline some other woman might tend, but she doesn’t seem to care.
I’m not one for turtlenecks or fuzzy ruff, but I don’t have to hide an awful scar, an old gash ear-to-ear. The two women leave with the prescription filled no charge. I reconsider proper zones for dots and the value of patience learned in the Big House, prison.
3:03, tall man arrives, wearing tucked-in shirt, neat slacks. He doesn’t bother to sit down. His call-in is ready in the J pick-up basket. Both pharmacists know him. Jack, they call him. Not Mr. Johnson or another J surname.
Pouring out there, he says to me, eyeing the paper bags in my cart, trying to be courteous, since he’s moved to the head of the line.
We need the rain, but I’m tired of wet, I reply.
This is an agreeable man, late fifties wearing a wedding ring and new athletic shoes. Of an evening, do he and the missus powerwalk with a snake stick? I like his sort, church-goer and, from the fine timber of his voice, member of the choir.
He watches me clump sparkle sequins into small mountain chains and flatten them as finger lakes. Patience, he says.
I lack that blessing, I reply.
A burden, he whispers, the trip here always do-twice. They only give me half a refill.
Serious meds for hellish pain. His ears look rolled-up around skull holes too large. The back of his pate is wispy, grown-over like old scorched earth. Did someone set his head on fire? Mean Streets, Desert Storm, is that where he learned patience?
Jared, they call again, fussing for a computer signature re: patient consultation.
He’ll answer to any name to keep on moving. He’s learned the hard way.
Miserable out there, he says. Slick. You take care.
Like he’s reading me a scrip about a magnetic storm caused by sunspots, solar dots, I think. The solar mandate—wait without complaint.
Ten more minutes pass. My sequins are fast losing lady-like demeanor, twitching on their stitching, turning witchy at the edges.
Motley, Dotley, they call out from behind the barrier, and ask for a different insurance card, the new one for meds.
They’re still trying, but this year I’m too old for last year’s shot. No kidding. I dig in my purse, hand over the card, sit down. Both feet flat on the floor, I study my mismatched knee socks for answers about lost data, rogue entries, whim.
Flu is shorthand for influenza, meaning influence of the stars on human happiness. So, where’s my good luck constellation? I need to be more mindful of laundry settings and spin cycle for my cold-water blues.
3:11, in comes suburban mom, wearing a skimpy yellow seersucker sundress, hasty mistake over killer skin. Crimson blisters break like waves of red tide over her shoulders.
Poison ivy, she explains. I’ve been helping the yardman mow behind the potting shed.
But what was Mommy doing flat on her back in tall grass?
With brand loyalty, she asks for a specific antihistamine. $48.25, she says, at CVS, a chain drugstore around the corner.
There they have it on the shelf, she continues. Here, only $34.95, but behind the counter.
I listen to blarmy pharmie explain the Not in Our Back Yard policy. Big-box stores like us “don’t like” to undercut prices of the smaller chain-stores next door. So we place said products behind the counter, like family, to safeguard community goodwill.
The housewife in yellow and high rash mumbles run-on excuses at me. Never mind privileging herself at the front of the line but, yes, she still has some CVS product at home, now she knows where to come, that poison ivy around that shed an eyesore but who can afford a landscaper, her husband all thumbs with tools the boys gave him for Father’s Day , , , , ,
I feel the pellet of commas, but no longer hear the words of a liar’s dress rehearsal. I do admire this woman’s presentation. She blushes hot pink lakes between islands of red dots, many blurred by scratching. Toughen up doll-face.
I shrug and resume contemplation of my socks. I could be home polishing silver.
3:18, feeling boxed-in, I stand up and stretch my dots. Enter short middle-aged man with barrel torso on bandy legs, semi skinhead with metal eyes, grizzly brow, and tattoos tailing short sleeves. Mod grunge, his soiled tee, thank goodness, oversize, covers his heft.
Bubba’s weed-whacker glance eradicates me, my sequins and my socks. To everyone’s surprise, he addresses the second shift of pharmacists (the first crew now on break) sotto voce.
Latte? query the pharmacists. We don’t serve coffee in the pharmacy.
Unbelievable this velvet voice. Reverse splendor, a diva in redneck disguise! Judging by the candy aisle and pumpkin pile in the florist’s section, okay to wander in early to Halloween.
Trick or Treat? Do shoppers think I’m in costume as a light dusting of snow on the Rocky Mountains? I sit up, redial, and focus handy-dandy field glasses on the diva. When her eyes blink, the upper lids droop, pause, as if in sleep for an iota….a dot of death, memento mori.
Prego, rosetta. She requests a miniature rose to clench in her teeth while the pharmacist putters with the syringe.
Prego, who couldn’t use goddess bloom?
The pharmacist in training dishes the diva a sunny refrain of HavaNiceDay… NiceDay Hava…DayHavaNice!
3:23, I’ve tired of sharing this look-niche with blow-ins. I raise my eyes. Who knows what lurks up there, staking out positions in the acoustical tiles? I perform a recitatife of malignant vectors verismo: CandidaFlaviviridaePertussisAnophelesplasmodiumRickettsia rickettsii, a.k.a. Rocky Mountain spotted tick fever.
DoraMortley, MoraDortley, they call out mezzo forte in crescendo.
Me! Quick learner, I fluff up my bitch sequins, hop to attention, shove arm out for shot, make a brave fist like Rosie the Riveter.
Calm down, they chorale in lullaby lacrimosa. No shot today. Go home.
Like I’m a weirdo stalking their wall to blot out crappy weather.
Really sorrysorrysorry for the inconvenience, they repeat in oratorio, eyeing the puddle widening under my thawed frozen peas. Like I’ve had a little accident.
Dortleigh, they chortle, the computer’s down. Can’t get there from here. Big Pharm rules. Try CVS across the street.
Mort, Mortadella, Della, Ms. Medley, the older one advises, contact your insurance rep.
Oh, sure, heroic measures. Like hauling dots by flatboat, ox cart, and mule team or climbing snow-capped peaks or minting stacks of buffalo nickels before Native lives mattered.
Dot, I tell myself, find your inner handle, get a grip. No, not grippe, rigor mortis slang for
That weekend, I watch a young nephew play Mister Potato, a waste of food, but fun sticking a spud with plastic eyes and smile, as if the face is the font of happiness—Mona Lisa tuber-style.
So, make that mister mad, says little guy.
Mad at what? ask his twin sisters.
They look at their pretty plump hands, super impressed with the dirt embedded in Mister’s Potato’s thick skin.
Mad at danger, warns little guy, and, good reader, sounds out the box disclaimer about raw food. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Bold assertion in my family where twins are the norm, not coincidence. We expect them.
I turn Potato Bard and sing, Ah, wonderful potato (Solanum tuberosum), venerable tuber from Peru, kin to petunias and tomatoes, baked, stuffed, peeled, chopped as tater tots, smashed, fried, boiled. Add mayo, voilà, the state history of Idaho.
I dunno from Ida’s hoe, jokes little guy, acting dumb as dirt.
(But why write that insult of earth, soil, my people’s upstate toil?)
To make amends, I channel Lewis and Clark along green meanders in Ohio, across the mighty Mississippi and tall-grass prairie, up the Big Muddy, over the Stony Mountains to bleak Blackfeet lands with no game to bag. So, half-starving, westward ho to behold the grand Pacific, toss raccoon caps in emerald surf, catch salmon with bare hands.
Grabby heroes, argues little guy. So, why is their trail a national example?
He’s right. Americans enjoy more access to public lands than to public health.
Why kill Indians, burn bison commons, silt up the Ohio to plant potatoes in Idaho?
Excellent questions, I reply, but Mister Potato is not a demo toy of gender and work ethic. Beware, I say, the sprouted eye, compelling emblem of opinion, is toxic.
My nephew shoves in plastic eyes close together and flips the mouth upside down. There, he says, satisfied with Mister Potato’s frown. This guy looks dangerous.
► Next Installment 11/7 | Camo Stripes: Arcus Eyes