When I was a kid, there was no better experience than walking around a toy store. The smell of bicycle tire rubber, metal trucks that could be transformed into omnipotent robots, GI-Joe men packaged in plastic tombs waiting to be reborn and liberated in the cause of fun, the locked bulletproof plastic case behind which Atari games were buried in case of looting. Aisles and aisles of endless possibility. Never ending fun at every turn.
Then, I became a man and put away childish things. Toy stores turned from bastions of joy to cheap consumer hells. There is no mystery left in toys for me, only price tags and the endless howling of a barbaric wolf pack of brainwashed children who have long since been figured out by the Skinner Box charlatans that wile away their days mastering the art of monetizing dreams.
Surprisingly, as my body decays from a temple of purity to a temple of doom, I have found there is another place that fills me with this same childish wonder that Toys’R’Us once provided me. That place is the local CVS in the Toco Hills section of Atlanta.
I walk through the sliding electric doors and a chill runs down my spine. I immediately make a beeline for the back of the store where the all the serious remedies are kept. I am transfixed by visions of how much I can fix. Rows upon rows of aspirins, antacids, probiotics, fiber enriched gummy bears, earwax cleaners, toenail clippers, vitamins, tooth care products, skin softeners and everything else you could possibly imagine.
The irritable stomach aisle is my favorite. A regular Disneyland for the dyspeptic. I feel an odd pride to live in a nation that has figured out so many possible ways to deal with heartburn. One of the happiest moments in the last year or so of my life was the day I discovered the new antacid flavor chews. I go through a bottle of 250 on a weekly basis. I have more calcium in me than a medium sized herd of dairy cattle. They look and taste like gigantic Skittles. But Skittles with a deeper purpose. Skittles that can alleviate the endless, lava like pain that exists deep in the smoking pit that is my stomach.
After this, I migrate over to the tooth care section. I find myself taking a particular interest in the different varieties of dental floss that come out with startling regularity. There are people somewhere in an office who spend hours upon hours brainstorming ways to obliterate the plaque that accumulates around the edges of human tooth. A life well spent, in my opinion. They have these toothpicks that have a plastic sharpened tip on one end and a small brush on the other side. I think about them constantly. I own roughly twelve packs of 500 of them, which are scattered throughout my house and car. They give me great solace, even on the darkest of days.
Depending on what nagging pain or irritation is top of mind for me guides the next fifteen minutes. Am I waking up in a cold sweat at 2 AM with the usual round of life drama induced night terrors? The sleep section offers me everything from melatonin to Valerian root to the new Nyquil sleep product (inventively called “Zzzzzz”) that makes me feel like my brain has been danced on by elves wearing soccer cleats.
My eyes are itching and my nose is watering (or something like that). Can I be cured? Certainly! A quick visit down aisle 16 will convince anyone who is paying attention that there are enough allergy medications to dam the mighty Mississippi. The true connoisseur of allergy products understands that these are usually useless and if you want to feel any comfort whatsoever, you have to get the pharmacist to go in the back and get you a batch of those pills with pseudoephedrine in them. Great stuff for allergies, but after about three weeks of the maximum dosage Mother Theresa would start firing rounds off of a Texas bell tower. I’ve been taking the stuff for close to ten years and need very little explanation as to why meth heads often lack teeth.
I find myself experiencing an odd, unexplainable form of jealousy as I walk the perimeter of the store. I still have years before I can experience things like a Sitz bath or know electronically what my glucose level is. I cannot reasonably explain spending 50 bucks on a knee or back brace. My eyeball has not been scarred and, therefore, I am in no need of the varieties of eye patches that are offered. I am denied some of the basic freedoms that people with infirmities worse than mine are allowed to experience. Still, there is so much for me that I never feel this longing for very long.
There is comfort to be found in this odd place. A strange feeling of control over one’s ultimate fate. A feeling of wild empowerment over the forces of decline and despair. Backaches, headaches, joint pain, germy hands, smelly feet, chronic everything…all curable, if only for a few hours. Relief only a transaction away.