Music to Go Into a Coma To

There’s an old-person radio station here in Florida. Go figure. It’s freaking me out a little bit, because it reminds me of Stereo 99, this FM station we had in Youngstown in the 1960s and ‘70s. It was all old people music, mostly instrumental, with some Perry Como and Andy Williams thrown in there for variety. It was called “easy listening” and it played on the sound systems of most office buildings and doctors’ offices, as well as at Al Tell’s Pharmacy, where I worked my senior year in high school.

Every time I hear this Florida radio station I think I’m back at Al Tell’s, behind the counter, wearing my white polyester pharmacy helper lab coat and waiting on the following regular customers:

. The 100-year-old man who is there to buy his wife’s diapers and wants help picking them out. I’m a senior in high school, Pops, what do I know?

2. A girl I go to high school with who is poor and married someone even poorer and whose baby is allergic to regular baby formula and she has to come in and get the stuff that costs more than the cost of my senior picture package. I so want to help her take a case of this formula out of the store without paying for it, but I know that she’ll put it on her charge and someone from my church will come next week and pay off her bill anonymously with the Love Fund. Her visit is a roller coaster of emotions for me.

. A guy my sister went to high school with asking me for the “extra large” condoms – the big pack. This was back when condoms were behind a counter and you had to ask a 17-year-old pharmacy clerk for them. How far we’ve evolved since then.

4. A married guy with four kids who flirts with me and I swear is munchausening his own elderly mother so he’ll have a reason to stop in at the drug store every single day after work rather than go home to his mom, a frazzled wife and four wild kids.

5. A drug addict that smells so bad I can sniff her coming three aisles away, who brings in this little girl to cough so she can get the Terpenhydrate with Codeine, which is a controlled narcotic. She’ll sign the narcotics book: “Name - Endkld Mejjjdpz Address – Motel 6, South Side” and she’ll drink the whole bottle on the sidewalk out front before the door has finished swinging shut.

During this parade of the freaker’s ball, the radio is playing “Hot Diggidy, Dog Diggidy Boom! What You Do To Me!” and “What Now My Love?” via a strings orchestra.

I have a confession and you probably have already guessed it. I listen to the old-person radio station sometimes. I like to think of myself as eclectic, someone who can listen to Johnny Cash, Johnny Rotten and Johnny Mathis with equal appreciation.

Old people radio stations have a mix of new songs that have been dork-icized, meaning they’re played by orchestras full of people with glasses and slicked back hair; across the board crooners like Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble (those two guys could sing “Smells Like Funk” and sound good on any radio station); and just plain old songs. Some of them were never good and from Day 1 were born solely for old-person radio.

My secret is safe until an unsuspecting passenger in my car hits Saved Channel 4 on my radio and hears a 16-year-old Judy Garland singing “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” and she gets a few key lines out before I can punch the off button without wrecking the car. (“Some fellas search and find the sunshine . . .”) Or I pull up to the drive-through at the bank and forget to turn down the volume and the teller can hear the “Theme from Goldfinger” trumpet solo. She kind of smirks at me. She’s no older than 14. Little snot. Just you wait. Someday you’re going to hear “Californication” being played on violins by the Boston Pops on some radio station and then you’ll know you’re old, too.

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