I work as a pharmacy technician at Giant Nameless Retail Giant. This is not my ideal job, mostly because I dislike retail. Every once in a while, though, something happens that makes me like my job immensely. An example: Last Thursday afternoon.
Let me set the stage, paint a picture: Flu season is in full bloom. We’ve been out of flu shots for a couple of weeks. DayQuil and NyQuil and the store’s generic alternatives have flown off the shelves. The media’s constant screaming about a flu epidemic or pandemic or whatever is not helping. Our own store’s overhead commercials are screaming about the importance of flu shots. Hacking coughs and wet snifflings accompany the store’s crappy soft rock music choices. Then, this happens.
I’m waiting on a young woman, early twenties, who’s wearing a knit cap that looks kinda like this:
She works for this wheelchair-bound fellow, a home health sort of deal, and she’s there to pick up his medication. Only it’s not ready, and the reason it’s not ready is that there’s a problem with his insurance. So I’m at a computer, working with her to fix it, when up walks a chick who could audition as an extra on Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead. Skinny, dark circles under her eyes, bad skin, pajama bottoms, cheap, filthy fake fur coat. Totally owning the ghetto trailer park look.
“I’ll be right with you,” say I.
In response, she coughs. Without covering her mouth. Making, in fact, a negative 6 attempt to cover her mouth. She has a pierced tongue. And bad teeth. The last time I saw something open its mouth that wide, it was my cat, right before she projectile-vomited half-digested Meow Mix on my bedroom wall.
Knit Cap turns and says, in what I thought was a reasonable, polite tone of voice: “Could you cover your mouth when you cough? I just got over being sick.”
Meth Chick’s response: “Bitch, I got bronchitis! I ain’t sick, I smoke three packs a day, this’s why I’m coughin, mind you own damn business.”
Wow, I think, that escalated quickly.
I’m not working alone, but my coworkers are occupied with other tasks. I scramble to think of something to do to defuse the situation, because Knit Cap looks pissed.
“Just cover your mouth,” she says. Then she asks to use the pharmacy phone so she can call her patient and get his updated insurance info.
More profanity from Meth Chick. Along with a cough.
I decide that, since the insurance thing is not going to be straightened out anytime soon, I’ll get Mary Meth out of here. I ask her name and leave the front counter to get her prescription.
Then she coughs again. And my back is to her, I’m kneeling down to fish her script out of the bottom bin, but I know, I just know, that she coughed open mouth again.
The next thing I hear is the sound of a scuffle. I get to my feet.
Yup, they’re fighting. Right in the center of Aisle 14, the aisle with the Kleenex. Knit Cap, it turns out, decked her in the face. Then tackled her.
They’re rolling around, and it’s hard to tell what’s happening. All I can think, as my coworkers flock to the front counter to watch, is that I totally nailed how a real fight happens in my novel, when I described it as being something out of an Andy Capp comic strip.
One coworker’s trying to get his phone turned on, so he can record a video of the fight. Another calls the manager.
The manager arrives.
By this time, the fight’s pretty much stopped. Knit Cap is heading to the front of the store, to the doors. Meth Chick is getting to her feet. She has a busted lip. She wants us to call the cops.
The manager calls the cops.
They show up, and the two are issued citations for disturbing the peace.
Knit Cap’s defense for Chuck Norris-ing the cougher?
She felt threatened. By the coughing. Because of her recent illness.