Fun at Peoples Drug

On Facebook recently, some old friends have been reminiscing about the town where we grew up. “You know you grew up in Rockville if you remember… blah blah blah.”

One of the themes that arose concerned an ancient shopping area called Congressional Plaza, located on scenic Rockville Pike. Some of us worked at the drug store (Peoples Drug) back in high school, and we have been dredging up memories, like the store manager Mr Nettles, who put up with a lot from us.

At Peoples, I became a sort of utility man and worked the cash registers at departments all over the store. Because I had been there a while and knew the store well, I could handle everything from the main counter up front — which was called “cigar” because that’s where the cigars and cigarettes were — to photo to the drug counter, and even took over cosmetics when Mrs What’s-her-name-with-the-big-hair-and-big-glasses took a break. Couldn’t believe someone could earn a living just by thinking up the weird names for colors of lipsticks.

I spent a lot of time back at the drug counter, and got to know Doc the pharmacist pretty well. One time this pretty blonde was working there, and holding down the drug counter at the back of the store, when a worried-looking guy came up to me at the cigar counter. He told me that he wanted to buy some condoms, but just couldn’t bring himself to ask the blonde, because she looked so innocent. So I went back there, grabbed a box, and took his money at another register.

We had a guy named Ron who worked there, and he was a trouble-maker. This one time I was back with Doc in his raised pharmacy work area — better for security, since you could see the whole store from up there — helping him do something. Ron was manning the drug counter down in front of us. Doc and I had a good view from up there, when a young man came to the counter. He looked nervous, and in a very hushed voice used the key phrase used at the time by nervous young men, “gimme a packarubbers…” Ron had him say it a couple more times, just to see him squirm, as if he couldn’t hear the guy properly.

Then Ron played his masterful bluff: he asked the guy what size of condom he wanted. Now, condoms came in only one size — although one could purchase different size boxes of condoms, 3 or 6 or a dozen or 2 dozen — but Ron figured the kid wouldn’t know that. So while the poor kid was trying to decide what to say, Ron jumped in and said, “Small, huh? OK” and quickly pulled out a 2-dozen box of the most expensive kind we had and put it in a bag. The kid was naturally too embarrassed and flummoxed to say anything, so he wanted nothing more than to pay whatever and get the hell out of there. Ron put the final nail in the kid’s ego when he told the kid as he left, “If that size doesn’t fit right, the next time you buy them, be sure to tell the guy what size you’d like.” What a gas. I figure Ron became a lawyer.

Scott Sandsberry moved in next door to me in ’69, and became my best friend. We both worked together there at the drug store for a while. When Mr Nettles wasn’t around, we liked to take advantage of the PA system. If a customer came to the counter with, say, a box of suppositories, the one at the register would fake like he couldn’t find a price, then get on the microphone and announce loudly, “Hey JD, could you find the price of the LARGE ECONOMY SIZE SUPPOSITORIES?” We would take turns doing crap like that, practicing even when there was no customer needing price help, and laughing our brains out.

Another time — the memories seem to be flooding out now — there was a really pretty girl who worked at the dry cleaners a few doors down from the drug store. She had beautiful eyes, long dark hair, and kind of a big nose. (So who’s perfect?) She came in now and then to buy a magazine or a candy bar. One day she dropped by with a class photo from the 2nd or 3rd grade. She pointed to herself, a very pretty little girl who looked then very much like she did when she was little, and then she pointed to a little boy with glasses; it was me. She said she thought she remembered me from school, and went looking through her class pictures to be sure. She said that she remembered me as a very polite little boy, one who used to hold the door open for her at school, or would hold her chair out for her when she sat down.

Didn’t have the brains to ask her out. Slow thinking was my specialty.

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