At 11:00am this Saturday morning, I found myself in a farmacia sweating through my green “Getting Lucky in Kentucky” t-shirt, with my sun glasses on, iPod blasting Roland Kirk’s I Talk to Spirits, and asking the pharmacist for Fortasec (a diarrhea medicine), a tooth brush, and preservatives. And this wasn’t even the first pharmacy I had entered this morning.
On Thursday morning, I woke up at 7:20am (ten minutes before my alarm went off), and rejoiced. I was positive it was Saturday, and I could fall back asleep and enjoy my morning in bed. Ten minutes later when my alarm went off I realized that it was really Thursday and I had to get up for work. Of course, this Saturday morning, I also woke up at 7:20am but couldn’t fall back to sleep.
My plans for the day were to run some errands and get a little shopping done. I never have time to get anything done during the week, so I have to leave things for Saturday morning, and these things have to be done starting at 10:00am. Why? For two basic reasons: first, most things close in the afternoon in my neighborhood, and second, because today was going to be very hot, around 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). If I didn’t go out before it got too hot, I’d literally fry.
Nevertheless, I still had two and half hours to kill at home. Because I am going to Menorca at the end of next week, I decided I should go through my personal pharmaceutical medicine drawer and see if I had the basic drugs one should take with them when they go to the beach: Ibuprofen and a stomach remedy in case I eat something that wants to take revenge against Americans for having stripped Spain of Cuba and the Philippines at the end of the 19th Century (yes, Spaniards are still very sore about that).
I also noticed that my personal stash of condoms was expired. Yes, condoms expire; they have something like a six year shelf life. If you took a look at the expiration dates, you’d definitely think I wasn’t living in Kentucky — all evidence pointed to me not getting lucky. Having condoms expire on you six years after you bought them seems pretty pathetic.
But there is a reasonable explanation, and it has to do with my method of inventory accounting. I strictly use LIFO (Last in First Out). Probably about once a year, I suddenly feel like I am on the verge of moving to Kentucky, and I purchase a large quantity of condoms in the US. Then I bring them back with me to Spain. The last ones in are the first ones out, but unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the art of LIFO liquidation or “Just in Time” inventory management, and my annual projections always fall short.
In any event, today I figured I’d forgo my modus operandi of buying condoms in the US and buy them in Spain. It’s just too much of a hassle, you never know what the government will let you take on flights these days. Therefore, part of my plan this morning was also to put condoms on my shopping list, for no other special reason per se.
In Spain, condoms are called condones, but are more properly called preservativos or preservatives. To be honest, I am not really sure what they are trying to preserve by using condoms, maybe their honor or, well, better not to know. Nevertheless, it is a good word to become familiar with if you live over here. You don’t want to be going to the grocery store asking whether a certain food has preservatives in it, or arguing that preservatives are unhealthy and unnatural (you’d sound like the US government in front of the United Nations arguing for abstinence as the solution to AIDs in Africa). If you want to say what in English means “preservatives”, you use conservantes (as in “to conserve”).
In any event, I left my house this morning at 10:00am with the entire game plan ahead of me. I was first going to a clothing store to buy myself a pair of short paints (I literally own only one pair of shorts), and in particular I was looking for ones with a camouflage design — my nephew Benjamin drapes himself in camou, and I’d like to follow his example.
I had planned on going to my local pharmacist on my way back home. As I have mentioned previously, I like to tell a little story when I go shopping, especially to the pharmacist. With my local pharmacist, I usually start by explaining that I am not a hypochondriac who only comes to see her when he isn’t feeling well. It just happens, by chance, that the only reason I generally need to go the pharmacy is because I am under the weather. Then, I generally talk about why I am sick and put it into the greater context of my life.
But when I got to the clothing store at exactly 10:30am (the time in which it was posted on the store’s door that it would open), the store was still closed. I decided to take a short walk in the heat. I returned to the store ten minutes later, but it was still not open. I noticed that across the street, there was a pharmacy, so I decided to get that part of my day’s errands out of the way.
I walked in and there were two women waiting in line in front of me, and the pharmacist, a 45ish woman, was complaining to one of them that people talk to her too much, wasting her valuable time, and she ends up having to close much later than she should, ultimately exhausting her. Now it was time for the second lady in line. She was a foreigner, but I couldn’t tell from which country, possibly France. She had a sore throat, a bit of a fever, felt weak, and had a general overall feeling of malaise.
The pharmacist pulled out a note pad and started to quiz the woman while taking notes. What medicine are you taking and how are you taking it. The poor foreign woman not only had one of those horrible summer flus, but was now being lectured on how she hadn’t followed the precise instructions on when to take her medicine. She must take it 15 minutes before meals, not during or after, and because she wasn’t, it was essentially like flushing the stuff down the toilet.The pharmacist continued to rant and rave. I was wondering why people don’t just go see their doctor first, but in Europe, people use their pharmacists as general physicians. They first go to the pharmacist and then if things don’t improve, they then make a doctor’s appointment as a last resort.
Anyways, I wasn’t sticking around to be shouted at, so I decided to try the clothing store again. This time the lights were on, but the door was still locked. I looked up a side street adjacent to the shop’s entrance and noticed a green cross indicating another farmacia about a block up. What the heck, give it a try and buy some time, I thought. I entered the pharmacy, there were no other customers, and approached the pharmacist (a woman in her mid thirties).
Now unlike a drug store in the US, farmacias are not self serve. There are no rows of products that you pick and choose from on your own. You have to ask the pharmacist what you want, and they get it for you. This is the same in Spanish hardware stores. There are things on display, but generally what you want, you have to ask for, and they find it and give it to you. There isn’t much of a selection either. The farmacias carry generally one brand of each type of product. Also, there are many products that you can only really get in pharmacies and that aren’t regularly sold in grocery stores, including preservativos.
I approached and first asked in an innocent voice if she carried preservativos. She put her hand underneath the counter and pulled out one box of Control brand condoms, put it on the table, and asked, “what else?” I looked at her and said, “why you player hating with that ghetto ass countrified crap, you playing me for a chump?” No, I didn’t say that, but it reminded me of the only other time I had bought condoms in Spain and why I had resorted to getting my supply in the US.
It was my first year in Spain, and for whatever reason it was back then (I can’t quite remember), I was in the market for preservativos. I went to farmacia, asked for condoms and the pharmacist quickly produced one dusty box, as if it were the last one left in the city. I asked if she had any other brands and she produced a second box. I asked what was the difference between the two. She looked at both boxes carefully and then told me that one was more expensive than the other. End of story.
So this morning, I was on guard for this to happen. I asked if the box she produced was the only type of condoms they carried, and she produced three more boxes. They were all the same Control brand and came in those four different varieties which she described. One of which was, in her own words, “a slightly larger size”. I was tempted to ask what exactly the size difference was, but didn’t want to sound like a presumptuous American. Good thing I was wearing my Kentucky t-shirt and not my “Everything Thing is Bigger in Texas” one. I must admit that I did feel a tad slighted that that wasn’t the first box she had produced, even if I am from Maryland (one of the smaller states in the Union). I just chose the menos malo – the lesser evil. I then went on to ask for the other two products that I was looking for.
You can imagine the scene. There I was sweating through my “Getting Lucky in Kentucky” t-shirt, new sun glasses on, listening to Roland Kirk, and asking for something to stop diarrhea and for a tooth brush. I know it’s rude to wear sun glasses indoors, but I never wear sun glass. I have just recently been convinced to wear them (the constant squinting in sunny Madrid isn’t so good for my eyes or wrinkles), and because I never wear them, I am not familiar with the art of finding an alternative to hanging them on my face.
I decided to be polite and turn off Roland Kirk, who I was just really getting into. I was also concerned that suspicions may rise if she knew that together with all of my other pharmaceutical needs, I was listening to a blind man who could simultaneously play three saxophones and a nose flute at the same time with the aid of circular breathing. Thank heavens I wasn’t also refilling my supply of Preparation H.
To justify my purchasing needs, I told a little story. I explained that I was going on vacation, and therefore liked to have the extra protection, just in case, of a good anti-diarrhea medicine, as well as a brand new toothbrush. She told me the total was €13, smiled, and wished me a wonderful vacation.
I then proceeded to find the clothing store open at 11:15am, but with no camou in sight (the obvious problem with camouflage). Good thing I had left it for last. Imagine the story I would have told the poor pharmacist – I am going on vacation with no shorts for hiding in the bush, and I need a new toothbrush, something for diarrhea, and your most ample selection of good connies!