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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

Whatever was there before is wiped so clean away it is not even a memory; it is a level place such as can never exist but in the imaginings of men with heavy equipment. What was there is expunged. What is to come is a drugstore. CVSWalAid, I think.

A mile away, the same scene exactly. In between these, there are already two others, completed.

This, in a town that is hanging on by its own tatters. It is the model city of the future: nothing but pharmacies, to dispense the medications that keep the population from
noticing its despair that there is nothing but pharmacies.

On a chilly dark early evening, I wait in the forbiddingly long line at the back of one of these stores. Everyone is uncomplaining of the wait: this is business as usual, I surmise, and when what you are waiting for is necessary to survival--bread, gas, Lexapro--it does not occur to question or complain. You just wait.

No one much is in the rest of the store; an implacable wall of refashioned corn syrup, bagged for the Halloween holiday just past and marked down seventy percent, stands ignored. In the line we desultorily watch four white-coated employees beyond the counter scurrying to fill the prescriptions, click-clicking little tablets by the hundreds into bottles and then white paper sacks. In a mirror image beyond them, another white-coated employee tends to the cars that have pulled up outside in the dark to a window with a microphone in it.

The only money changing hands this night is doing so over drugs.

So it is in this small city; so it must be in thousands of other towns this very moment. It is America, and America is medicated. Unemployed, disenfranchised, friendless, alone, but medicated. That is maybe why we don't care, or don't notice, that soon all we will have is drugstores. Well, perhaps a few fast-food joints to help fuel the need for the drugstores, and then the rest, drugstores.

We had gone to get a prescription for my son. His Bad Enough mother (who has come to face the fact that she has finally graduated with high marks from the Good Enough Mother soothed of her guilt by Winnicott in the famous paper of that name) had tried to fix the problem with home remedies and over-the-counter ointments and even denial, none of which worked. I generally try to stay away from the entire medical establishment, but this time I could not.

Since I no longer read The New York Times, I don't know if they still run full-page ads bought by an obviously well-heeled German doctor who rants about Big Pharma and its destabilizing effect on world peace and economics and health. He looked of a piece with the raging cranks who likewise bought ads to tout their secret methods for restoring harmony to the universe. Only thing is, I suspect he's one hundred percent correct. Pharmaceutical companies are indeed behind it all. Nothing more insidious, or more pervasive; how many drugstores are there in your town?

When I changed doctors a couple of years ago, a nurse administered the intake questionnaire. Pro forma stuff. Answers scribbled without an upward glance. Until "Medications?" None, I replied. The pen stopped and eyes met mine. "None?" Finally she overcame her incredulity to explain, "I've never had anyone your age who isn't on something."

I'm not sure what the alternative is, or what the disruptor to this endless spiral into a life where we so need our pills, and our pills need us. But it's possible it might be found on Ticetenyck Mountain (as well as on pretty much any motorcycle ride).

The gravel and leaves slipped underfoot as I clambered up the steep old trail, Nelly a few yards ahead but periodically stopping to look back inquiringly--Is this the way? I mean, you intended for us to go this high, right?--her pink tongue hanging long from the effort.

Yes, I intended it, even if it cost me a hard thump on the coccyx on the way back, when I lost my footing and gravity won. I intended it because at one point I would turn, a red-tailed hawk screaming from someplace invisible in the wide blue cloudless above. There, before me, would spread the world. The world as a view of the reservoir from end to end, a 280-degree view twenty miles long, and deep as hope.

I suspect, in all its mystery, that is one alternative.

Just beautiful, isn't it? Municipal
architecture at its most thoughtful.