As soon as I was old enough to drive, my parents decided I was old enough to work. I worked at a CVS Pharmacy for several years in high school, earning just enough cash to partially support the silver 1983 Dodge 400 they bought me.
I certainly wasn’t looking for a employment on my own but my dad had just turned his attention to my need for a job to support the car. I was ambivalent, to say the least. I had a lot of schoolwork to do and wasn’t too keen on the idea, but seeing as how there would be no driving without some income, I agreed (like I had a real choice). I think my ambivalence was derived from simply not knowing how to proceed. I didn’t want a laborious job, and I didn’t have the patience to work as a waiter or something like that. My mother frequented the pharmacy all the time, saw the other clean cut high school kids working there and thought I would fit in. So, she brought home an application.
If I remember correctly, the manager who hired me had a nephew or son who graduated from my high school, so she was inclined to take a little risk on me. All things considered, it wasn’t a bad job. I would work two shifts a week, about 10 to 12 hours altogether. I always had to wear a shirt and tie, which was no problem because I had to wear that to school, and a red smock with a name badge on it. I think we still have the badge at my parents’ house.
The pharmacy was located in a strip mall in East Haven off Foxon Road. Nestled between a Waldbaum’s grocery store and a women’s clothing store, it had its fair share of eccentric types who walked through the doors. The old men buying tobacco for their pipes. A guy named Marty who wore a dress, carried a purse, and was prone to fainting. I remember a girl from East Haven High with big hair who worked at the grocery store next door and always came in on her break to buy a chocolate bar. I liked to think back then she might have had a crush on me. There were a parade of crotchety old people convinced you were personally out to screw them out of their retirement savings. Come to think of it, those people are probably all gone by now.
I remember ringing a bell to call for help when the line got too long. I remember taking the photo envelopes and writing down all of the names and addresses into a ledger. I enjoyed washing the windows at the end of the night. I also enjoyed carpet sweeping the whole store – it was an oddly zen job. I hated “facing” the store – making sure everything looked fresh, neat, and restocked. I could never get it exactly the way they liked it. I used to have to look up people’s names in another ledger when they wrote a check – CVS was diligent about us checking to make sure we didn’t have any freeloaders. I can only imagine how humiliating it must have been for an adult to have been told by a 16-year-old that their check was no good.
There was one fellow who stuck with me. He was a man most likely in his late 40s – I had no real sense of how to judge an adult’s age – bald, with gray hair on the sides. He came in every time I worked and bought the Italian newspaper. He would come in with exact change – 43 cents – and toss it casually on the counter and walk out. I occasionally bristled at that because I thought he should have waiting in line like everyone else and what if I forgot to ring it up because I got slammed – something like that. Occasionally he would buy short cigars. I remembered him because he was the only person I ever saw buy the Italian-language paper. He never really talked to me much, if at all.
One day he asked me, “do you know who Dom Dimaggio was?” I certainly did. “You look just like him – skinny, dark-hair, glasses,” he said. I laughed and thanked him, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about that – I had read about the Red Sox center fielder because I read all about baseball in the 1940s as a kid, but I don’t think I knew what he looked like. I guess as a Yankees fan I would’ve preferred he said I look like Joe D. himself. As a baseball crazed kid, I think I liked that an adult thought I looked like any kind of ballplayer at all (I wasn’t one at that point, and was a bit self-conscious about it, going to all-boys Catholic school.)
Recently, my girlfriend and I met my parents on the East Haven Green. They were going to listen to old time Neapolitan music. My girlfriend was about to leave on a pretty exciting, but stressful trip, so we decided to go with them just to take her mind off her big adventure (we would be engaged shortly thereafter). We chatted with my parents and listened to the Italian songs, which always makes me a bit nostalgic. I went up to get a bit of Italian ice, and I saw this old man watching the stage intently, standing alone.
I am sure it’s the guy from CVS. I mean, I think I’m sure. I don’t really know, but what’s the likelihood? So I peel off from my girlfriend, mainly so she’s not embarrassed when I accost a stranger, and approach this fellow. “Hi, I’m Steve,” I said. “This is a completely crazy question. But did you go into CVS in the early 1990s to buy the Italian paper?” “Yeah?” “I was the kid who worked behind the counter? Who you thought looked like Dom Dimaggio?”
Tony – I just found out his name – laughed and said he absolutely remembered me. He remembered my mom. And her certainly remembered the Dom Dimaggio line. I think he still thought I looked like the guy. We shook hands warmly, and I left him to the music and I to my girlfriend and my Italian ice.
Because I’ve lived in the same place all my life, I pass over a lot of ghosts. Memories of how places were then and now. Glimpses of people I might have known, maybe for a moment. I did this here. I saw that there. I spoke this person over here. As a nostalgic person, its always every time for me.
Maybe he was telling the truth and maybe he was just being polite, but I’m sure we were both pleased to be remembered for something from such a long time ago.