By Phineas J. Stone
Few things are more common from household to household and neighborhood to neighborhood in Boston than the night-time run to the corner store or to the local pharmacy.
I know this because I’ve done my share of 9 p.m. runs to CVS, or the 9:50 p.m. scurry to the corner store to get two or three things that must be had in hand by the morning or that night. It cuts across social classes, income levels and any number of races and ethnicities.
And I know this because on my runs, I see all sorts of huddled masses waiting in line, or searching frantically through the aisles for something that may or may not be within the store’s inventory.
Ping Pong Balls? Maybe.
Strawberry jam? Good chance.
Band Aids? Absolutely.
Liniment is a word that’s totally fallen out of the lexicon these days, but it was a daily discussion in my youth. Old people loved liniment when I was growing up. They talked about liniment on elbows and for the knees…all of that.
I inherited a bit of that mindset, and so it was not long ago I was on the couch after a do-it-yourself project one weekend and the muscles were tensing up. As I zoned out on the tube, my muscles began to inform me that I was no longer young anymore. The soreness crept in and I knew I needed some liniment that night.
Aside from former bricklayers or life-time manual laborers, few know that one of the best liniments for sore muscles is Castor Oil. God knows why, but it does work. My friends from the Caribbean tell me they use it too, but they press the whole plant to get the oil, not just the Castor beans.
In any case, it became clear on that soon-to-be-infamous night that I needed some Castor Oil.
But the cupboard was bare.
As the hour approached 9 p.m., I made the decision to go. When that happens, it means others are going to pile on. If someone knows you’re making a run, they’ll surely need something, and protocol in Boston says you can’t go without telling people. One of the great motivators for a fella’ who has to make a late run with a long list of odd things is the potential for a nice treat.
If anything will get me off the couch after 9 p.m. of a night, it’s a small sleeve of Oreos; maybe chocolate covered mini-donuts, or in the summer – one of those small ice cream drumsticks or a Hoodsie cup (wooden spoon and all!). If not for that, all things could wait until morning.
On the night in question, I quickly tried to sneak out without attracting attention. But I got found out.
Someone asked for a soda, and my wife made the inevitable call for a few rolls of toilet paper.
Still, not bad.
However, my wife was on the phone to her mother, and just as I opened the door to leave, the night changed – and this would become the late night shopping trip that threw off my whole program for months to come.
“Oh, honey, my mom needs some Preparation H and some adult diapers for dad; can you grab those too?” she called down.
Oh no. Not that.
The purchase of dignity compromising products after the dinner hour is the surest way to losing your neighborhood mojo…for good.
I moved through the aisles with stealth. I had hoped the store might be crowded with others so I could blend in and, in haste, my set of purchases wouldn’t be questioned. Naturally, the only cashier on the floor was a lady who was also, during the day, the secretary at my health center.
Now, to fully appreciate my position, after having doted above on the great attributes of Castor Oil for muscle aches, one has to also understand that the more common use today for the product is regularity – as the commercials during the national network news call it.
I laid out my products, ready for the worst. I had to come up with something that would salve over the situation. My purchases included: Soda Pop, Preparation H, adult diapers, castor oil, two rolls of TP and a sleeve of Oreos.
It didn’t look good.
After she rang up the diapers, Preparation H, TP and Castor Oil in succession, I got a sideways look between the beeps of the scanner. Then a small sigh. I was compelled to speak.
“It’s not what it looks like,” I pleaded. “This isn’t all just for me.”
“Hey, I don’t care what you do on your time buddy,” she said. “I work the night shift. I see all types.”
I was innocent; it could all be explained, but her eyes signaled she wasn’t going to buy anything I said. Other cashiers were watching too.
There was no salvaging my dignity.
I was now going to have to find a new late night store, not to mention change my health center.
In such times, all you can do is pay.
Mr. Boston can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]