Dylan Love: editorial gun for hire.

The worst CVS in the world

I hope you’ll let me paint a word picture of CVS store #2699, the only store in my Brooklyn neighborhood that presents itself as a familiar chain store from my home of Sterling, Virginia. It’s open for business every day from 7 AM to midnight, and its business is to frustrate whoever dares walk through/into its poorly timed automatic doors.

I may have an unnaturally high bar for this sort of thing — I have specific memories of the CVS of my youth being especially well-run, a delightful place to buy a couple bags of peanut M&Ms and stuff them down your pants before going to the movies around the corner. But this headache factory down the street is clearly a practical joke for the benefit of one maniacal manager, giggling in a dark room by himself, watching his customer service slaughterhouse unroll in black and white security camera footage.

CVS store #2699’s existence is so confusing as to make me wonder what kind of rules it actually is following such that it’s allowed to remain operational. They sell Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, but the containers are punched with screwdriver holes (I buy some anyway). They play music over the PA, but it’s an instrumental cheeseball arrangement of you-name-it-karaoke-nightmare song. They have employees, but their sole purpose is to troubleshoot the self-checkout stations when something goes wrong (and something is always going wrong). All of this happens under an armada of fluorescent lights that bake the hope right out of me.

On more nights than I care to admit, I find myself in this impression of a CVS store clutching a pint of ice cream, standing in a line of Hasidic Jews waiting for the self-checkout stations to become available. A Russian woman has rested her baby carrier on the station’s weight sensor, and according to the computer running the thing, successful checkout is now impossible. The only employee in the building springs into action. He presses the same override button and swipes the same employees-only card to confirm that, yes, the override button was in fact pressed by a CVS employee donned in the heroic red and blue.

Now the employee rushes to a man who was dealing in cash and has been short-changed $45 by the scheming self-checkout station (who is in on the joke). But the Russian woman, the one with the baby from before, is tapping the employee on the shoulder. She wants to parley in her native tongue regarding what the employee had just done to fix the damn self-checkout station that has held her up so many times in the past. The employee stops handling the short-changed man’s problem and turns to to give the woman his full attention. He says politely (and in English): “I…don’t…speak…Russian.”

The woman throws up her hands in frustration and the short-changed man is now passive-aggressively demanding service in exactly the way that makes everyone but him uncomfortable.

Barely different versions of this situation play out every time I take a walk to meet my beloved pals Ben and Jerry. Precious, potentially productive minutes are sacrificed as I wait for the consumer patient to heal thyself, everyone jiggering with self-checkout touchscreen buttons until the employee working that shift (and there’s only ever one of them) comes to the rescue, his Excalibur a magnetic strip on plastic.

The deranged manager’s cackles are nearly audible from his security camera room in back, the collection of devout folks in front of me swells into a hot air balloon of torpor, and yet I keep making the return trip.

As far as I can tell, there are two reasons that I willfully degrade myself so as to repeatedly visit to the inhospitable alien land of CVS store #2699.

1. It is familiar (enough), and therefore comforting.

For whatever reason, I have overwhelmingly positive memories of my CVS from home (store #1424). Going there generally meant fun things were happening — to this day I’m a major proponent of the pre-movie candy run, and as a wispy 12-year-old with a throat infection I remember having “adult” fun at picking up my own prescription from the pharmacy.

Until I left home for college, I never lived anywhere except the same house that my mom grew up in, so I am a sucker for the familiar.

Even though I have to forgive #2699’s abrasive ineptitude to do so, I can draw a little strength (and a lot of ice cream) from this malfunctioning blunder of a retail operation. I simply remind myself of the merits of my beloved store #1424, filling prescriptions and satisfying sweet tooths to this day, and tell myself that there’s at least a little bit of that in #2699.

It’s being nice to a guy you can’t stand because you know his family.

2. I find a particular female employee cute.

Sue me.