An absolutely true encounter I had at a Duane Reade drug store:
One Friday evening I found myself trudging home fairly early for a New York Friday night, and in the back of my throat I felt the taste for beer. I'd already had a few earlier that evening, and as an unrelenting hop-head, it only seemed logical to purchase a six pack for a nightcap. (I have a chronic condition with two beverages: beer and coffee. If I have one, I generally feel the need to have several. This isn't so bad with coffee; I just get jittery. With beer, however...)
For whatever foolish reasons, I popped into the first purveyor of beer around: the Duane Reade at 42nd St. and 8th Ave., directly adjacent to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. As a consequence, I immediately regretted my choice of beer-buying venue, but having committed to the cause I found the most desirable six pack (Brooklyn Lager) and made my way to the front.
Because it was midnight on a Friday, only four registers were open and each line was about 12 deep with bridge 'n tunnelers, slick with hair gel, fresh off buses from Bayonne and Red Bank and Piscataway buying their Parliament Lights and their Binaca breath spray, gearing up for their nights on the town. For only the fifty-seventh time that day, I wonder why it is I live in Midtown.
I often think Duane Reade should adopt "You'll wait in line and pay too much, but we're everywhere and always open!" as their slogan. That's about all they've got going for them.
After ten minutes of waiting in line, listening to idle Jersey chatter about who was looking "fine" and who's a "slut," I get to the front of the line. I plop my beer on the counter, fumble through my wallet for cash. For whatever reason, Duane Reade is the only place in New York City that makes you verify that you're over fifteen to buy a six pack. Luckily, I've been successfully drinking legally for several years, so I pull my license out and plop it out on the counter.
Like many states, New York notes its organ donors on its drivers licenses. The Empire State, however, boasts this fact in bold, blood red. My intentions to give away whatever is left should I meet full-force with the front of an express bus are clearly noted.
What follows--I swear on my mother's grave--is as close to a verbatim transcript of the exchange I had with the woman behind the counter as my flawed memory will allow:
Counter Lady: Oh, you're an organ donor?
CL: What have you donated?
M: (Awkward pause, fearing I had misheard over the din of Jersey boy chatter). Ex...excuse me?
CL: It says you're an organ donor. What organs have you donated? [The kicker!] What you missin'?
M: (At this point realizing this is NOT a smart ass joke by a retail worker on her last nerve) Um...no, no. That...that means if I die...they can use my organs THEN.
CL: No shit! So THAT'S what that means! ? I've always wondered!!
I choked back laughter, attempted to compose a face that did not belie the underlying shame, pity, and amusement I felt for and at this woman, and trudged out...