Walgreens on California

Grandma made me go to the women’s clinic clear on the other side of town.

“You’re sixteen now,” she said, “You’re not a baby anymore. You got woman problems.”

The women’s clinic it is, then. And not the one near us, nope. The good one an hour’s bus ride away. She insisted. Auntie K. tried to come to my defense—“Why you making her go way across town for?” Nobody ever won an argument with Grandma.

So, I go. They set me up with a prescription.

They ask, “Which pharmacy you want us to send this to?”

I say, “I don’t know.”

They say there’s a Walgreens a block over on California Street. I say okay. They tell me they will send it right away.

I get there and the pharmacist says they need 20 more minutes. I’ve got some time to burn then. I wonder, are they gonna give me a hard time for hanging out in their bougie Walgreens for so long? But then I notice the cashiers are Asian ladies. The pharmacist is Filipino (I think). A few Latina nannies with white babies. Nobody seems to notice me, or care, which is the way I like it.

Damn . . . this place is set up! Way more fancy stuff than our Walgreens over on 24th. Not as many locked shelves, either. Shoot, our Walgreens has like ten locked shelves per aisle, and they lock up the dumbest stuff—not just the chi-chi colognes and expensive shampoos but regular old chocolate bars. I mean, why you gotta go lock up the candy bars?

But the thing that messes me up the most about our Walgreens is them locking up the condoms. You try to do the right thing, keeping yourself safe and healthy, and you got to find the little “press here for assistance” button that sets off this loud-ass “Help needed in the Family Planning department!” announcement. Then you wait, and wait, trying to act all cool and nonchalant next to the locked condom shelf while getting side-eye from people. Everyone all up in your business, judging you. After the automatic voice makes its third “Family Planning” announcement, a clerk finally appears—some young dude not much older than yourself—and you gotta be strong and fight back your embarrassment as you point out which package you want. If you’re lucky, he hands you the box and leaves. If not, he says, “These will be waiting for you up at the register” and you get to relive the whole damn humiliation a second time.

But no locked condom shelf here.

I’m browsing through the magazine rack when they call my name: The pharmacist is all business going over the prescription. I don’t mind. I like when people treat teenagers like human beings.

I boost some condoms on the way out.

On my bus ride home, I decide I don’t need any bad karma for shoplifting from that rich people’s Walgreens. When I pass the homeless guy who camps out in the empty shop’s doorway near home, I give him five bucks.

“God bless you,” he says.

“We’ll see.” I sniff.

But walking away, I turn and holler back, “I hope He does.”

Photo used under CC.